Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"It's Too Stinkin' Hot Out Here!"

I had a list of many things for my boys and I to accomplish this morning.  Third from the top was "weed the garden".  It was about 9am and 90 degrees outside.  My middle son filled up a cup with ice water and lumbered out with me, with rebel cries of "It's too stinkin' hot out here!", which were echoed by my little 3-year-old (who should not be using stinkin' as an adjective!).  So, after picking one weed (maybe), Walker goes to rest in the shade.  I cajole him into entering back into the garden.  He becomes entranced with big red ants on tomato plants, and weeds that look like cat claws, and something in the neighbor's yard that he's never seen in the 5 years we've lived here.  He became a scientist the moment I asked him to pick weeds!  Amazing!  He gained an instantaneous and insatiable thirst for knowledge of the world around him!  Really, parents everywhere need to know about this connection! 

After picking enough weeds to be able to distinguish the plants, we returned to the much-appreciated air conditioning and formerly detested art project.  Walker delared that "Big boys don't like work, they like works of art (like drawing)."  Well, no kidding!  This is the same boy who acts like I'm asking him to write with his own blood when I ask him to make a thank you note or birthday card. 

All this to say, that the next time I want my boys to do something I know they don't want to do, I'm going to ask them to weed the garden first!  It makes for great perspective!!  And, if today is any indication, they'll keep pretty quiet on the "I'm bored" front, too!  Double bonus! 

Bottom line:  If you have a garden, get your kids in it!  If you don't have one, plant one, and then get your kids in it!  Instead of transforming your children from caterpillars into butterflies, they'll turn into kids who appreciate air conditioning and ice water!

Dear God, Thank you for air conditioning and ice water.  Thank you for perspective.  Thank you for children who make me laugh and scream within seconds of one another.  Thank you for increasing my patience by giving me so many chances to practice it.  Thank you for letting us cooperate with you in growing our own food and participating in our own and other's salvation.  Thank you for the sun and the rain.  Thank you for seasons.  Please bless our efforts as we try to cooperate with you.  Thank you that it depends so much on you and not so much on us.  I love you and your sense of humor!  Amen. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

In the Presence of Greatness

I'm sorry if you've been looking for something from me and there has been nothing new!  Summer and the ever-presence of my kiddos seems to have my brain functioning in a new and much slower way, with considerably less critical thinking going on (unless that includes menu planning and how I'm going to get everyone to be quiet at the same time)! 

However, I want to share with you a brief look into a meal and a very fast year with a very holy man.  A priest.  One of our parish priests is leaving our parish, perhaps prematurely.  Vague statements are made about letters to the bishop, dissatisfaction with his Nigerian accent, and his direct way of speaking.  This priest is one who worked his way into our hearts very quickly, with his booming voice and laughter, and his million-dollar smile.  Above all though, we came to love and respect his love for God and consequently, his availability to us. 

As a cradle Catholic, I've known many priests, but never one who has made himself more available than Fr. Uche.  During Christmastime, my husband secretly bought a statue of Mary for my back patio and as a double-gift, stopped by the Church to have it blessed.  Who did he find enjoying a pizza party, but Fr. Uche?  Upon my husband's request, he dropped everything, and gave the blessing with great joy.

Later in the year, I was having a big religious discussion with a friend and didn't want to make a misstep.  Shortly after, I ran into him during religion class drop off, so I ran my dilemma by him.  He was at my house between the Masses later that day. 

Word came that his time at our parish was coming to a close, so we had him over for dinner this past week.  He was a very gracious guest and we enjoyed his presence immensely.  The presence of greatness and holiness.  His presence has a way of helping you see your own life more clearly.  His passion cuts through confusion while leaving room for respect.  It is life-giving.  As my three-year-old son thanked God for him during our mealtime prayer, I thanked God for him, too.

At his farewell dinner at the Church yesterday, the room was packed.  When he spoke, he acknowledged that we were not there for food (we had that at home) nor even for him, but for God.  However, what he did not acknowledge, is that his love, passion, and presence are God's gift to us, through him, and his docility to the Holy Spirit.

He embodies a goal I will be reaching toward until my death.  The goal of striving to please God more than man. 

You must not let your peace of mind depend on what people say about you.  The construction they put on your actions may be correct or false; that doesn't make a different man of you.  Where will you find true peace, real glory?  It is in me (God), as you well know.  The man who is neither bent upon pleasing his fellows nor afraid of offending them will enjoy great peace.  It is from affections allowed to run wild and from baseless fears that all disquiet of heart arises..." - Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ

Dear God, Thank you for Fr. Uche!  Thank you for Fr. Edwin and all priests who serve You and bring You to us.  Please bless them superabundantly for their fidelity, self-sacrifice, and their love.  Please help them to keep strong in the face of adversity and to adhere to You and Your truth even more.  We rely on them to deliver Your Word, to serve as a visual reminder of  Your Presence, and a million other things.  Thank you for the gift of the priesthood and for all of the men whom have responded to Your call.  Please help me to be more like them in their singleness of purpose, commitment to You, and love for all people.  Amen.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Extraordinary Power of Less

My husband and I had a little date this past Friday night.  So, of course, we got ice cream and headed to Half-Price Books.  We occasionally cross paths once we get there between the Religion and Parenting sections for me and the Military History section for him.  (You probably don't want dating advice from us). 

I found a few prizes, but couldn't wait to sink my teeth into one in particular, Simplicity Parenting - Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne, M.Ed.  I'm a little over halfway through and have found him to beautifully explain many things I've come to believe (mostly unconciously) over time. So far, the gist is this:

~We are "building families on the four pillars of 'too much':  too much stuff, too many choices, too much information, and too fast."

~As our family's architects, "we need to add a little more space and grace, a little less speed and clutter to our children's lives."

~"Relationships are forged in pauses...the ordinary incidental moments that have extraordinary cumulative power."

He seems to answer, in depth, what Thomas Merton eloquently states in Seven Storey Mountain on this same topic:

We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.

I am motivated!!  I am going through every room in my house and trying to cut the "stuff" in half:  clothes, books, toys, etc... and am having a garage sale on Saturday (for those who don't think less is more ;).  I am also changing the toys that are available and in-plain-sight for my kiddos:  out with sensory overload, in with dominos, magnets, building sets, Legos, etc...

There are a lot of other discussions and things pondered in this book, like rhythm, schedules, and environment. He is very funny, too.  I highly encourage you to read this book if you still have kids at home!  I can't wait to finish it. 

Dear Lord, Thank you for people who can explain things that we inherently know, but can't explain.  Thank you for confirmation that life should be more "being" than "doing".  Thank you for your grace.  Help me extend it to others, most especially my children.  Please help me give my children the gift of myself, so that I may not be tempted to "fill in" with other things.  Dear Mary, help me to be the Mother that you are.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


A couple of days ago, I was at the pool with my family.  It was a little bit overcast and the pool was as empty as I've seen it, yet.  But, I saw two people - a man and a boy who made an impact on me. 

On one of the little snack breaks I was taking with my three year-old, we noticed a little boy standing outside the fence.  Not watching the swimmers with envy, but performing for an unseen audience.  He was holding a kid-sized electric guitar and proceeded to move his hands up and down the neck, spin around, and even "play" it behind his head.  So, I watched him play, and play, and occasionally pause to smack a mosquito or brush off an ant.  After a while, I thought he would be pleased if someone actually seemed to notice what he was expending so much energy to do, so I approached him at the fence and told him I'd love to hear him play something. 

He repeated his performance, with great gusto, without ever producing a sound from his guitar.  I told him he was very good and I learned in short time that he's going into the 4th grade, is going to be in a TX band one day (but far away from here), his next guitar, "Axe" is going to cost a million dollars, and he is going to play "A Slow Ride" on it.  I believe him.

The man, I noticed for a different reason.  He was lifted into the pool from his wheelchair.  He was probably in his 20's and was there with his parents and a couple of brothers (from what I could tell).  I had never seen someone enter the water from an electric wheelchair before, and I was eager to see who was going to be the one to carry him around or if they would take turns, and how it would go.  What unfolded was astoundingly beautiful to me.  He was totally independent in the water.  He was able to move around and support his own weight.  He didn't need anybody.  This took my breath away and I couldn't stop watching him. 

I wondered what the vast difference between being confined to a wheelchair and the weightlessness of being in the water felt like to him.  We left before they did, but I wondered if he wished his family would just leave him there.  I wondered if he pines for "water time".

As I reflect on the contrast and similarities between the two lives I was briefly privy to that day, I feel joy.  I feel like there are times in our lives when we are totally unencumbered.  In these cases, one when he has a guitar in hand, the other when he's in the water and wheelchair-free. 

We all have people and things and circumstances that bring out the best in us.  It is beautiful that we can do that for each other. 

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the gift of swimming pools during a Texas summer.  Thank you for the glimpses we get into other people's lives, that make us better people.  Thank you for times in our lives when we are pleasantly surprised!  Thank you for the opportunities to plant and harvest seeds of grace and joy.  Thank you for "unencumbered" moments.  Help us to live in such a way that other people are enriched, if they pause for a moment and take us in.  Help us to love You and everyone You put into our lives, more!  Amen.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Living Sundays

Last year I read a book called, Look What Happened While You Were Sleeping by a Friend of Medjugorie.  The author has been following Our Lady’s messages for the past 20+ years.  He admonishes us to Observe the Sabbath.  He says we should not be working or paying others to work for us. This includes eating out, entertainment, shopping, etc…He says it is not a coincidence that the Indianapolis 500 and the Super Bowl are on Sunday.  If God wants it, satan wants it, too!  He goes on to say if the power goes out on Sunday, they wait until Monday to call the power company.  He only travels as far as one tank of gas will carry him, so as not to fill up on Sunday.  He even suggests scheduling surgeries such that the gravest take place on Monday, with the hope of being out the following Saturday.  He acknowledges the need for some staff always, but says it can be reduced significantly.  He says that our prayers to end abortion and other such prayers cannot be heard until we start observing the Sabbath.  He notes that even the phraseology has changed regarding the Sabbath.  It used to be called the Sabbath, then the Lord’s day, then Sunday, and now it is called the weekend. 
I thought about this book a lot and have been waiting for the right time to encourage you to read it or at least embrace the spirit of the message.  I am too ignorant about much of what the rest of the book entails…global warming, the UN, education and the like, to really make heads or tails of it, but I think it is a good place to start.  It has been the impetus for many changes in my life.   
I will no longer do laundry, shop, or workout on Sundays.  I spoke to a priest about eating out on Sundays; he suggested eating out on Sunday is not sinful if your motivation is to enjoy the time with your family.  However, if you're eating out three times a day, then it is likely sinful because it is probably a result of laziness. I still feel conflicted about this practice.  So, if someone invites my family to eat out on Sunday, we will accept.  We just don't initiate.  I'm not saying this is a perfect resolution, but it is the one that has worked.  This mentality (of giving God what is His) spilled into other parts of my life, as well.  I pulled a cute little “Happy Easter” bunny out of my landscaping that I paid good money for a few years ago, because Easter is about Jesus!  Not about a bunny!  Just as Santa Claus has overrun the meaning of Christmas, the Easter bunny may be one of Jesus’ pets, but not the other way around. 

As we were driving to Christmas Mass this year, it occurred to me that the empty streets should not just come once a year!  They should be like that every Sunday!Everything should be closed and people should be at Church or with their families. 

Come with me on my “Living Sundays” journey!  If you have not been as blind as I have, you should have said something!  If you have, let’s open our eyes together and reclaim Sundays for our Lord, our families, and for those who need to be refreshed.  We are responsible for each other.

Dear God, Thank you for giving us a day to fill our cup up and rest in Your Presence.  You know us so well; You are our Creator.  You know our need for rest and our need for You.  Give us the wisdom to live Sundays as You intended from the beginning.  Thank you for knowing us better than we know ourselves!  I love you.  Amen.

Friday, June 15, 2012

When Sorry Never Comes

"Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him..."  Matthew 5:23-25

This passage doesn't have anything to say about waiting for an apology before settling with your opponent or what to do if your brother doesn't accept your apology.  The truth here is that it doesn't matter what the other person does.  The only thing that matters is the disposition of your heart. 

Today is the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Let us briefly consider how Jesus handled the many, many injustices in his life, as written in YES!, by Anne Kiemel:

Jesus is the greatest example of a perfect, honest, good man...who was treated unjustly every day.  He not only forgave all the religious leaders and other people for their failures...He never even expected an apology.  Jesus kept His eyes on the Father.  He, like Paul 'laid aside every weight'...pressed ahead...

Thank the Lord for bringing it (whatever or whoever has hurt you) across your path...for all it has taught you about yourself...and how you will, from now on treat others.  Ask God to help you forgive fully, and lay it aside.  Even waiting for an apology will cripple the creative flow of energy that can take you on to higher and better things."

I think we can all easily agree that it is most difficult to forgive when someone continually hurts us or when they can't (or won't) acknowledge they've hurt us.  It is easy to feel like they are tying our hands.  If only they could say, "I understand what you are saying.  I'm sorry I hurt you."  But, it isn't always that easy for a lot of different reasons - pride, differences of opinion, communication has been cut off, or time has run out and the other person has died, etc...

So, today, let us remember the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  He has suffered greater injustice than any other human being on earth.  His suffering always trumps our suffering.  That is why He is always able to console us.  He knows.  Think about how we have hurt Him in the past and present, and consider how we will continue to hurt Him in the future.  And yet, He is forgiving us the entire time, even on the Cross, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)

Dear Jesus, Thank you for showing us how to forgive without conditions or apologies.  Thank you for forgiving us, even from the Cross.  Please give us the grace to forgive those who have hurt and continue to hurt us, especially when "Sorry" never comes.   Help us to imitate You and lay every weight aside.  We need Your grace to do this and we ask You for it with great confidence.  Help us to forgive ourselves, as You have already forgiven us, if we are truly sorry for what we have done.  Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like your heart.  Amen.     

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Love This Prayer!! Maybe One Day I Can Live It!

Teach me, my Lord, to be sweet and gentle in all the events of my life, in disappointments, in the thoughtlessness of those I trusted, in the unfaithfulness of those on whom I relied.  Let me put myself aside, to think of the happiness of others, to hide my little pains and heartaches, so that I may be the only one to suffer from them.  Teach me to profit from the suffering that comes across my path.  Let me so use it that is may mellow me, not harden nor embitter me; that it may make me patient not irritable.  That it may make me broad in my forgiveness, not narrow, haughty and overbearing.  May no one be less good for having come within my influence.  No one less pure, less true, less kind, less noble for having been a fellow traveler in our journey toward Eternal Life.  As I go my rounds from one distraction to another, let me whisper from time to time, a word of love to Thee.  May my life be lived in the supernatural, full of power for good, and strong in its purpose of sanctity.

~John Henry Newman, nineteenth century

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Regarding Unmet Expectations As "Stables"

I'm reading a book called Spiritual Mothering, by Susan Hunt.  She makes a great point this morning and I want to share it with you.

She is talking about Mary's clarity of purpose (and she isn't even Catholic!).  She discusses the extremes in Mary's life after the angel told her she was going to give birth to a son...the Son of the Most High.  A king.  Most specifically, giving birth to a king - not in a palace, nor even inside, but outside in a stable with the sheep and goats.

She tries to imagine Mary's possible disappointment about the conditions in which she would give birth to the Savior, Jesus, but more than that, her realization that it must be this way.  "Throughout the Old Testament salvation and sacrifice were inseparably linked.  To be the Savior meant that He would be the Lamb - the Lamb who would be sacrificed for the sins of His people."  She imagines Mary saying, Of course, where else would a lamb be born except in a stable!  Lord, you think of everything!

"In defining herself as a servant, Mary had relinquished control to God.  Her purpose was not her convenience but God's glory...For many women today, their purpose in life is shaped by their desire to attain the personal happiness they are told they deserve.  So they are not only disappointed by unrealized expectations, they are defeated."

The key here is to recognize the why behind our existence.  We are here to glorify God.  How do we do that?  Just like Jesus did for His Father, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do"... (John 17:4)

We simply have to do the work He has assigned us (From my experience, this always boils down to loving and serving).  For parents, this is pretty straight-forward, there is always something to do!  For everyone else, it is not as hard as it sounds.  Tell God that you want to do His will and ask Him to reveal it to you.  Look around.  Don't be surprised if He is asking you to serve exactly where you are!

At the end of each chapter, Ms. Hunt offers a challenge.  She asks, "Can you honestly say that you want God's glory to be your life-purpose?"  Can you?  If not, what is holding you back?

Lastly, she offers a little exercise that can bear great fruit if it is thoughtfully done:

Write the statement "I am the Lord's servant" at the top of a piece of paper.

a.  Under that statement, list any hurts, expectations, disappointments, etc. that you are struggling with.

b.  Now ask God to enable you to interpret everything on your list in light of His will for you.  Ask Him to show you how each person, circumstance, or event is your platform to reflect the glory of His grace that has been poured into you.

c.  Ask the Father to help you discover the treasure He has for you in your "stable."

Dear God, Thank you for giving purpose to the "stables" in our lives.  Thank you for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph who have had these experiences before us.  Please give us eyes to see the places where we are hurting because our expectations were not met.  Lord, help us to realize that our expectations are often not based in truth and the only thing that ever matters is glorifying You, and that is always possible.  Help us to see the people and painful circumstances in our lives as part of the treasure You intend for us.  Our growth is an essential part of Your plan for our salvation, and in Your wisdom You know that we often don't grow unless we are uncomfortable.  May You be glorified in everything I do.  Amen.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Wrestling With Mary

God is generous and offers us many means to obtain salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.  All Christians have their church and Scripture.  In addition, Catholics have the Eucharist (Jesus in the form of bread), the Saints, The Magisterium (the teachings of the Catholic Church), and Mary.  Of course, all religions can "have" Mary too, but they overlook her for fear of worshipping her as they think Catholics do. 

So, just to clarify, Catholics honor Mary as the Mother of Jesus (Who is also God), they do not worship her.  They know that Mary would never allow you to come to her without leading you to her Son.  It is not possible for them to be in competition with one another.  All roads (including Mary) lead to Jesus.

God chose for Jesus to come to the world through Mary.  It also pleases Him that the world returns to Jesus through her.  "Mary does not have an ounce of divinity in her."  Her entire existence consists of leading people to her Son.  No more.  No less. She is special because God chose her and because she was humble and obedient out of love for Him.  No one loved Jesus better than Mary.  We are called to imitate her humility, obedience, and love.

One of the last things Jesus did before He died, was to give John (called disciple) His Mother.  He entrusted her to him and him to her.  John 19:26-27 ~

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son."  Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother."  And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

It is the same for us.  Mary is to be our spiritual mother.

Some people have a natural devotion and love for Mary (maybe because their own mothers were very Marylike, or because they desperately needed a mother, or they are from Mexico and have ties to the incredible miracle when Mary appeared to Juan Diego as Our Lady of Guadalupe).  None of these apply to me.  I just mostly ignored her existence.  It didn't offend or trouble me that some people were strongly devoted to her, I just wasn't.

However, as the years have gone by, I've read more and more about the holy men and women who have gone before us, and have seen what a help Mary was to so many of them.  So, albeit slowly, I have learned to ask Mary for her help:  help to love Jesus as she did, help to imitate her humility, help to bring the greatest glory to God, and help as prayer to obtain graces from her Son.

In fact, after reading one of the best books I've ever read, Consoling the Heart of Jesus, by Michael Gaitley, another book of his fell into my lap.  It was called 33 Days to Morning Glory.  This book is a 33-day preparation to consecrate your life to Mary.  This seemed a little beyond what I was ready to do, but I started it anyway.  On the 33rd day, I was ready to go for it.   I was convicted that Mary always and only wants what God wants, and because of that I could entrust myself to her as my spiritual mother. I knew if I put my life in her hands, she would lead me to her Son by the shortest way possible.

Dear God, thank you for giving Mary the grace to be the Mother of Your Son, Jesus.  Thank you for letting us have recourse to her, as we try to be as closely united to Jesus, as possible.  Thank you for giving us Jesus to understand and love You better.  Thank you for giving us Mary to understand and love Jesus better. 

Dear Jesus, Thank you for giving us Your Mother.  Since she was important to You, I want her to be important to me, too. 

Mary, thank you for loving and guiding us as our mother.  Please lead us to Jesus by the shortest and surest way possible.  Amen.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

One Life For Another

After the Corpus Christi procession the other night, I finally got a chance to talk to this beautiful lady I see every Sunday at Mass.  She is here finishing up her post-doc as a Psychologist and will be moving back to Canada at the end of August.  That is a pretty awesome accomplishment in its own right, but what makes it extraordinary is that she has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and is wheelchair-bound.  She has to have someone get her up, get dressed, get her from A to B, and put her to bed at night.

I know this because my mother is in a wheelchair and requires all of these things as well.  Her mother lives with her and is her primary care provider.  At different times, her entire family has relocated so she can pursue her education.  Right now, her brother (who is also wheelchair-bound with SMA) and father live in Canada.  They can't wait to be reunited! 

I wanted to write about this because I was bowled over by this mother-daughter team!  The mother has poured (and is pouring) her life out for her daughter to chase her dreams.  In this case, it consumes her life.

My mother was in a car accident and broke her neck when I was a junior in high school.  I was one of her primary care providers for several years, and off-and-on after that, depending on the unreliability of the aids who were hired to help her.  She also lived with my husband and I for four months shortly after we were married. 

I tell you this because I know what it is like to care for another full-grown human being.  It is the hardest thing I have done in my life.  I did not do it well most of the time.  I was often bitter, angry, selfish, and joy-less.  Fortunately, my mom has had many people come into her life who are able to love and serve her better than I was able to.  She is still able to live alone, go to Mass and Adoration, host Bible study, and go out to eat from time to time.

As mothers, we are expected to sacrifice ourselves for our children; Especially when they are young, but then less and less as they are able to do more for themselves.  In this case, this mother is still going strong after 27 + years of sacrifice for her kiddos.  I marvel at her level of commitment, love, and joy. 

God has given her a grace beyond all imagining.  Jesus tells us that "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."  This mother has the greatest love I have ever witnessed.

It is ironic that while I was talking to this mother-daughter duo, I was telling them that one of our priests, Fr. Edwin, was the most Christ-like human being I'd ever known.  Upon further reflection, I think I was talking to the other most Christ-like person I have ever met. 

I thank God for the opportunity to talk to these beautiful ladies and for the re-commitment I want to make to serve the people in my life. 

Dear God, Thank you for the example of the limitless love in this mother-daughter pair.  Please bless them abundantly.  Thank you for laying down your life for us, your friends.  Lord, please forgive me for not serving and loving my own mother better.  Please help me to sacrifice for love, more and more.  I cannot do this without You.  Thank you for the people who have sacrificed themselves for me.  I love you.  Amen.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Jesus As Bread - God Likes Matter. He Invented It.

Last night, I participated in my first Corpus Christi procession - it was a privelege just to be there and it was beautiful.  As Catholics, we believe that Jesus is truly present, hidden in the form of bread after it is consecrated, as He told us in John 6:48-58.

I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"  Jesus said to them, Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven.  Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.

C.S. Lewis addresses this idea profoundly, yet with great simplicity:

God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not; He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.

So, last night was a celebration of this truth.  We have Jesus with us and in us.  This Bread gives us life now and for eternity.  Just as God hid His divinity in Jesus' humanity, He hides Jesus' humanity in a piece of bread.  In Matthew, after commissioning the disciples, Jesus says, "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

This is the greatest gift we receive in Catholicism - The Presence of Jesus.  He is available to us, not only as a distant Godhead, but physically present, as near as the next Mass and as close as the Adoration chapel.  This is truly difficult to wrap your brain around, but it is worth an open-mind and a humble prayer to ask God to convict you of His Truth! 

Dear God, Thank you for the Catholic faith.  Thank you for priests who devote their lives to bringing Your Son to us, hidden in the created things of bread and wine.  Thank you for giving us a tangible way to see and receive You.  Jesus, thank you for Your humility and Your patience as You wait for us to get it.  Thank you for being so accessible!  Thank you for being with us until the end of the age.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Unhappy in Heaven

I've heard that people who learn to love the most on earth are happiest in heaven because they have a greater capacity for love.  Everyone is "filled up" in the Presence of God, just some vessels are larger than others.  This makes sense to me.

However, I've never thought about someone being unhappy in Heaven until this morning when I read what Blessed John Henry Newman had to say about it.

Even supposing a man of unholy life were suffered to enter heaven, he would not be happy there; so that it would be no mercy to permit him to enter...were a man to come hither, who had suffered his mind to grow up in its own way, as nature or chance determined, without any deliberate habitual effort after truth and purity, he would find no pleasure here, but would soon get weary of the place; because, in this house of God, he would hear only of that one subject which he cared little or nothing about, and nothing at all of those things which excited his hopes and fears, his sympathies and energies...

I don't want to be that man!! 

We have a fixed, but unknown amount of time to accomplish this "maximum capacity" to love in our souls.  This inspires me to do everything possible during my time on earth to increase my capacity to love God, to be one of the "happiest" in Heaven.  I will do this by loving others and having constant recourse to Him who made us.  What will this look like in my soul?

Blessed Angela of Foligno marks out the phases of our souls:

1.  It grows tender.
2.  Then it pines and grows weak.
3.  It finds strength.
4.  Love grows and pines in the absence of the Beloved.
5.  It is perfectly united to God.
6.  Wisdom and maturity are established.
7.  The soul becomes ordered and strengthened so it can face death.
8.  It possesses God to the fullness of its capacity.
9.  God expands the soul so it may hold all He wishes to place in it.

Dear God, Thank you for the time that has passed to learn how to love You.  Thank you for the time still to come to learn how to love You more.  You tell us that we love You by loving those around us.  Please help me to do this better every day.  Please help me to make great deliberate habitual effort after truth and purity.  I want You to expand my soul so that it can hold all You wish to place in it.  Help me to see and remove the things that I have put there instead.  I love you and I want to be happy in Heaven.  Thank you for sending Your Son to prepare a place for me.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I Don't Want to Be an Olympian

My husband and I have been swimming to keep in shape this summer.  My goal at the beginning of the summer was to swim for 30 minutes (while stopping on the ends long enough to catch my breath).  Now, my goal is to swim a mile (which will probably take me about an hour), as my husband has done many times already.  A couple of days ago, I finished Lap 28 and was set to finish out the mile with 7 more, but a little boy threw up in the pool and everybody had to get out.  Maybe later this week...

Anyway, my husband told me one day, "If you want a model for fitness to follow, you should google Dara Torres."  I say, "Who's that?"  (I'm not exactly up-to-speed on what's going on in the world)  He proceeds to tell me she is in her 40s, a Mom who has won many Olympic medals, and is still training for the Olympics.  Any woman my husband points out to me as someone to be emulated, I'm interested. 

So, I googled her and found an incredibly beautiful woman with abs that are unlike anything I've ever seen in real life.  Ok, so I know why my husband found her worth mentioning, but I'm more interested in what's happening on the inside.  So, I read a brief bio on Wikipedia, which showed a couple of short-lived marriages, a conversion to Judaism, and a child conceived with her reproductive endocrinologist, whom she dated.

I began to ponder what aspect of her life, if any, I would like to incorporate into my own.  I will be married for 10 years in November.  I get to stay home and raise my kids and swim whenever I want - for fun.  I quickly decided that I was happy with my life the way it was.

Then, I started to think about trying to be a Mom and the best in the world, at anything.  I can't imagine it.  How can you give your life to your kid(s) when all of your mental, physical, and emotional resources are poured into making yourself better, faster, etc...?  I'm not sure how you can give your kids what they need, unless they're getting what they need from someone else. 

I'm not trying to take anything away from Ms. Torres; she could very possibly have it figured out.  After all, you can't become an Olympian without thinking things through and paying incredible attention to detail.  I just know for myself, that simply reading a book can be difficult when you're a Mom. 

The bottom line is that I want to be the one meeting the needs of my kids.  By God's grace and my husband's good job, I am in a position to do that.  I am thankful to live a life of obscurity with as much discipline as is necessary to lead a well-balanced life.  I am thankful that I am me, that I can swim, and that my life is filled with people that I love.  That is enough for me.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Hundred Small Annoyances Every Day

For my friends who read the Magnificat, sorry for duplicating this in your day.   However, it is definitely worth reading more than once and I wanted to share this with those who don't have this awesome resource. 

But as the opportunities for practicing...in a big way come rather seldom, we must take advantage of the small ones which occur daily, and which will soon put us in a position to face the greater trials with equanimity when the time comes.  There is no one who does not experience a hundred small annoyances every day, caused either by our own carelessness or inattention, or by the inconsideration or spite of other people, or by pure accident.  Our whole lives are made up of incidents of this kind, occurring ceaselessly from one minute to another, and producing a host of involuntary feelings of dislike and aversion, envy, fear and impatience to trouble the serenity of our minds.  We let an incautious word slip out and wish we had not said it; someone says something we find offensive; we have to wait a long time to be served when we are in a hurry; we are irritated by a child's boisterousness; a boring acquaintance buttonholes us in the street; a car splashes us with mud; the weather spoils our outing; our work is not going as well as we would wish; a tool breaks at a critical moment; we get our clothes torn or stained - these are not occasions for practicing heroic virtue but they can be a means of acquiring it if we wish.  If we were careful to offer all these petty annoyances to God and accept them as being ordered by his providence, we would soon be in a position to support the greatest misfortunes that can happen to us, besides at the same time insensibly drawing close to intimate union with God.  ~St. Claude de la Colombiere~

Dear God and Father of details, Thank you for being available to us in each moment.  Help us to recognize You in each person and situation that we encounter - now, later today, and every day after.  You give us everything we need to acquire heroic virtue and achieve sainthood.  Help us to make good use of the hundred small annoyances we experience every day, so that we may give glory to You and one day, bask eternally in the peace of Your Presence and Light.  Amen.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

An Elusive Balance - Restoring Wonder and Gratitude

I'm just home from a little vacation at the grocery store.  You know what I mean?  I took a cup of coffee and strolled through, uninterrupted and in peace!  I had to go tonight, because I stopped shopping on Sundays a while ago in order to better observe the Sabbath.  So, I made the most of it. 

Anyway, I'm trying to figure out how to balance a couple of things.  1.  Not overreacting when my kids push me too far (which I've been working on for a while now), but reacting enough so that they understand where they went wrong.  2.  When to tell them "No", even if I can give them what they want and even if I want to.  Why?  I believe they are spoiled or getting spoiled. 

The sense of wonder I had about everything when I was a kid (and still do) seems to be missing in my own kids.  I think we "go" and "do" too much.  This is a tough one because I love it, too.  I love to swim, and watch them play at the park, and get ice cream, and 1/2 price drinks during Happy Hour.  We are at our best when we are outside and having a little adventure, no matter how small.  However, this lifestyle has, not surprisingly, spawned a "When?" or "What's next?" attitude with no appreciation for what's happening now or what has gone before.  Not good.

Part of the trouble for me (and probably most of the parenting world) is that I am inherently selfish.  I realized this some time ago and am trying to be very aware of my selfish tendencies and act contrary to them.  Let me give you an example.  My boys ask me if I want to play swords.  I don't want to.  But, I know that I am selfish and as an effort to overcome my selfishness, I say "Yes."  Repeat 1-100 times a day, just fill in the blank with a different activity. 

Do you see my dilemma?  I don't want to be selfish, but instead, I am allowing them to be selfish!  Ohhhhhhhhhh!  (I told you I process by writing).

So, sometimes, what is best for them is also what is best for me.  It is best for them that they know how to entertain themselves.  It is best for them that they're allowed to be bored, so their imagination will be forced into action.  It is best for all of us, if they are full of gratitude and empty of entitlement. 

Grateful kids (who don't feel entitled) are kids who know what it is like to want something.  To want something means delayed gratification.  It means you don't get it before you ask, before you earn it, before you exchange something for it, or before you wait a long time to obtain it.

I am grateful that we don't have more money than we do.  We are less "involved" than most people we know, because we can't afford multiple activities per kid.  It seems that when people have a lot of money, saying "No" becomes a lot harder.  As parents, all we want is for our kids to be happy (and to go to Heaven).  In our society, money and the things it can buy are what our kids think make them happy (albeit for a very short time).

So, what now?  For me, I think we'll be staying home tomorrow (except for Church).  I'm going to sit down with the summer calendar and mark out "home" days and "go" days.  I am doing my boys a disservice by overcoming my selfishness to feed theirs.  I am robbing them of opportunities to become creative and self-sufficient.  However difficult it may be for me to stay home on days when fighting is the activity of choice and we all wished we lived somewhere else, I think it is worth the discomfort. 

If all goes according to plan, my boys have many, many more years left on this earth than I do (and 11-15 years left with me).  I want those years to be full of wonder and gratitude!    

Oh, Dear God, Please give me wisdom!  I want to raise my children in a way that pleases You.  I know that You let us figure things out on our own most of the time, but I don't want to get this wrong.  Please help me to raise my children with a sense of wonder and gratitude.  Thank you for my children.  Thank you for loving us perfectly.  Please help us to do the same.  Amen. 

The Cleansing of the Temple

God in his very essence is truth and light, and when he enters his temple he drives ignorance and darkness out of it, revealing himself in all his brightness.  When truth enters in and is recognized, then trafficking must go out; truth can tolerate no trafficking with God.  God is not selfish, but in all his works he is free, being directed wholly by perfect love...

And let me insist:  As long as a man in all his good works seeks or desires as his controlling motive what God may give him as a recompense, so long is he like the traffickers in the Temple.  If you will be over and done with all such trafficking, then do all the good that you do for God's praise alone, and stand as entirely free as if there were to be no return made to you.  Then your good deeds become entirely spiritual and Godlike.  Then are all traffickers driven out of the temple of your soul.  God alone dwells in the soul of a man that in his good works takes him and him alone into account.  This is then the purifying of the soul from all self-seeking, God and his honor becoming the end and purpose of all.

-Father John Tauler

Friday, June 1, 2012

All is Well That Ends Well - Rough Beginnings are Just That

Is it just me or do you put a little pressure on yourself to start summer off on the right foot?  Set the tone, as it were.  Well, my poor beginning started yesterday when I took a rare midday nap when my youngest went down.  I woke up to the sound of my boys knocking on the front door to get in after school (normally, I meet them at the corner or halfway down the street).  This is the only time this has happened in their school career.  Not my proudest moment.  That was followed with my oldest boy's horrible, find-something-wrong-with-everything attitude.  After a few hours of that, things looked up after homeade pizza and a trip to the swimming pool.

This morning, my middle son woke up with a bad attitude and then it was a morning of asking them a million times (or at least 3) to pick up this or wipe down that.  After no serious effort to pick up the Legos in their room, it was amazing to see how fast they moved when I just started vacuuming in there.  I must remember this for the future...Ask them to pick up once and just start vacuuming!  Magic.

All this to say that just because it's not all blissful chore-doing and overflowing gratitude to be alive and living under my roof, doesn't mean that this summer is going to hell-in-a-handbasket.  It just is what it is, and part of what is going to make this summer one full of joy and refreshment, is taking things as they come and letting molehills be molehills. 

The second reading from yesterday is well-timed for the summer and a much needed shot-in-the-arm. 

Romans 12: 9-16 - Brothers and Sisters:  Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.  Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation.

Dear Lord, Thank you for this beautiful day and the cool morning we had!  Thank you for the slower pace of summer.  Help us to be fervent in spirit, love one another, and serve You!  Amen.