Thursday, November 29, 2012

Oily Hair, No Make-Up, PJs, A Messy House, and A Visitor

I am babysitting a little boy today, my house is a mess because I haven't been home in the morning for the last couple of days (afternoon is naptime, so I am VERY careful not to clean much, for fear of waking my precious sleeping angel!), I haven't washed my hair in two days (which looks like 10 days for most people), and I am still in my pajamas.  At 8:15, I remembered a friend was going to swing by at 9:00!

My first thought when I remembered she was coming was to shower!, get dressed!, put on make-up!, quickly change the sheets that were peed on last night because the whole room was starting to tell on my son!, and straighten up the house!, in that order.

I knew 45 minutes wasn't enough to make progress on even half of the list, so I began triage of my self and house:  Tend to the critical, Leave the serious and minor injuries... but then something occurred to me.  "It will be good for my friend to see me and my house like this!  She always thinks I have it together, and I never raise my voice, and that I have some secret to life that she doesn't have."  Decision made.  Apart from pulling off the nasty sheets and throwing a few blocks in a tub, I did nothing.  I shoved my vanity into the backyard, made a pot of coffee, and awaited my friend in my messy house with a bare face, in PJs.

This move probably has more to do with the very understanding and non-judgmental nature of my friend, and less to do with any personal growth on my part, but it was still a little victory for me.  Maybe if I keep practicing with my friends, one day I will be comfortable doing the same with anyone who comes to my door, without the reassurance of a proven friendship to bolster my courage.

Thank you to Dr. Laura when she writes, "A spotless, totally organized house is not necessarily the most warm, inviting, enjoyable, or appreciated place on the face of the earth.  The warmth of a home comes from the attitude of the people in it, not the decor or the perfection of every detail."

Dear God of House and Home,  Thank you for little inspirations and opportunities to practice humility.  Thank you for the gift of friendship and the lack of judgment that comes with it.  Please help me to care more what You think of me than what others think of me.  Please give those who feel that everyone else has it figured out, the grace to know that there is always something to be endured, as well as something to be enjoyed.  Please give me the grace to overcome my vanity, so that I may enjoy unexpected visitors and open my home to others without fear.  Oh, and thank you for Dr. Laura.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Children Learn What They Live

The other day, I was at the Church bookstore looking for a little something for my goddaughter and came across this beautiful laminated little card entitled, "Children Learn What They Live".  Interestingly, no author was listed to claim the credit for such an excellent summation.  However, as soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew I needed to carry it with me, to remind me of the importance of my role in creating the environment where they "learn what they live".  I wanted to include it in my last post, but it was getting kind of lengthy, so here it is...

Children Learn
What They Live
If a child lives with criticism,
He learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
He learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule,
He learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame,
He learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance,
He learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement,
He learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise,
He learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness,
He learns justice.
If a child lives with security,
He learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval,
He learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance &
friendship.  He learns to find
love in the world.

Home - The Place Where One Learns To Love, Or Not

"For most people, the family is the place where one learns to love, or not...We most likely do not learn to love from our school, or from our place of employment, or from our interactions with the government.  Now we might, when we are older, learn a lot about love from our friends or a romantic love.  But at crucial developmental periods prior to adulthood, if we do not come to understand the contents of attentive, secure, sacrificial love from our family, we will likely be impaired in ways difficult, if not impossible, to transcend in the matter of giving and receiving love."  ~Helen Alvare, "The Family and the Values of Human Life"

What kind of environment did you grow up in?  Do you recognize the environment described above, one of attentive, secure, and sacrificial love?  If not, have you (or do you) get stuck playing the "What if?" game?  What if my parents didn't divorce when I was four?  What if my Mom didn't marry a guy who introduced me to life in the country and bought me my first horse?  What if my Dad didn't marry a woman who has prayed for me and guided me spiritually since the moment I met her?  What if my mom didn't have that car accident and become a quadriplegic when I was 16?  What if?  What if?  What if?! 

"An environment is needed for the flourishing of every kind of life...Much more is required; a living environment, circumstances that will allow the person who wishes to live to breathe, grow, and nourish himself. If the environment disappears, so does the life..." ~Fr. Bernard Bro

If we are (at least in part) products of our environment,  how different would you be today if your environment was different, for better or worse?  We can't really know for sure, but we can remember this when we see someone who has done something we would never do.  "If the environment disappears, so does the life..."

Have you noticed that those who were deprived of a loving environment quickly attribute their lack of development, negative attributes, or lack of virtue to it?  They inherently know they didn't receive what was crucial for their development.  And yet, those who were well-loved and provided for, are able to flourish and excel without needing to examine why.  They just know that nothing is holding them back. 

What kind of environment do you create for those around you?  Something like Heaven or closer to Hell? 

"It seems that each one of us creates either heaven or hell on earth for those around us, by what we say and do, by what is in our hearts.  We have the power to bring division and pain, or to bring peace and joy." ~Susan Conroy

The environment we create in our homes is largely unseen by others, and it is all-too-easy to buy into the lie that "there are no achievements where there is no recognition."  "The private world is the world of intimate relationships without which we cannot live fully human or happy lives; it is the realm where the individual is cherished and the memories that give us a sense of self and connection are most readily built." ~Endow study guide

Environment.  Not trees and carbon footprints and global warming.  Your environment.  Think about your space, your home, your life.  Are you creating the environment you intend to create?  Do you like being in the environment you've created?  If you don't, don't worry, because you are the solution!  You can begin changing it as soon as you decide.  Pick one thing and go with it.  Be specific!! 

Being more loving, more kind, less selfish, etc. are nice, but vague!  What does that look like?  Are you going to say more nice things or abstain from saying a few mean things?  Wash the dishes without complaining?  Do one thing at a time?  Spend more time in prayer?  When?  Get up earlier?  Go out (joyfully) when you'd rather stay home, or stay home (joyfully) when you'd rather go out?  Play Legos instead of check email?  The sky is the limit, but keep your feet on the ground and stick with specifics!

Aside from participating in the miraculous creation of another human being, your environment is the most important thing you will ever create.  It is not always easy to see, but it is something that is always felt.

Dear Heavenly Father and Creator of all that is Good,  Thank you for parents who created an environment where learning to love was easy.  Thank you for allowing us to participate in Creation - Creation of bodies and souls, and creation of the environment where we live.  Lord, we lift up those who were left wanting in their childhood, and pray that you send them people who can show them Your love.  Please convict us of the importance of what we are doing in our homes, that which few people ever see.  Help us to reject the notion that what we are doing has no value.  Please fill our hearts with Your love, so that it may spill over onto those with whom our encounters are many and close. Help us to create an environment where love reigns and self serves.  Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Small Crosses Are Still Crosses

Have you ever beat yourself up because you have had a bad day, but it doesn't even begin to compare to someone else's bad day?  How about an example? 

Your Bad Day Scenarios:   You woke up late.  One of the kids had a stomach bug.  You stubbed your toe.  You forgot where you parked.  Someone said something mean to you.  You couldn't get anything done.  An important file was deleted from your computer, etc...

Someone else's Worse, Bad day Scenarios:  They threw up from latest round of chemo.  They can't stop crying because they lost someone they loved.  They are paralyzed and waited for someone to get them out of bed, but they didn't come.   They spent the day in the Surgery or ICU waiting room, etc...

If you're like me, you have felt ashamed for being in the first group, especially if you knew of someone in the second group.

However, as hard as I've tried to imagine being in the shoes of those who are suffering in big ways, I cannot stay there;  Not because I don't want to, but because my real life pulls me out.  I still have people who need me (and they let me know by saying my name a lot!), things I have to do, and all of the emotions that come with that.  I have come to the conclusion that you cannot live in someone else's reality (for very long).

Even though we can't stay long, we should enter another's reality as often as possible; especially, if they are suffering in more obvious ways than we are.  We need to love and encourage them.  We also bring their perspective back into our own lives, and gain tremendous gratitude for things we've previously taken for granted.

In the Apostolate for Holy Motherhood, the Christ Child says:  Rejoice in your trials; they are setting you free from the bonds of slavery to sin...All sin must be purified from the soul before a soul can stand before the throne of God in Heaven...Do not fight the cross, rather accept it as the glory it truly is...Fear nothing that unites you to Me, such as your trials and crosses, rather fear only what which separates you from Me, such as pleasures and indulgences of the flesh.  Pray for strength and courage to carry your crosses, not to have them taken away when they are your means of purification or sanctification.  Although the mercy of God indeed includes the cures of many afflictions, it is only in those cases where I deem it as unnecessary for their salvation to carry that particular cross.  If a cross or trial is of great spiritual value, I will not remove it, and you should never wish that it were, for it may be the means of salvation of many, not only the individual soul.

Small crosses are still crosses.  It is important that we acknowledge the little sufferings in our lives, and not discredit them because of their size.  For most of us, carrying these little crosses with faith and love is our path to holiness.  For me, my crosses vary from chasing elusive quiet time, trying to meet the needs of those whose needs only seem to increase with every help given, not being appreciated, being treated with disrespect, moments of insecurity, having to discipline my boys when I'm angry (because I do not do this well), and enduring anything that adds disorder to my life.

I felt tremendous freedom when I realized that interrupted quiet/prayer time and the other things listed were suffering for me.  Small suffering?  Yes, comparatively speaking, but still suffering.  If we can allow ourselves to call our interruptions, disappointments, and delays "suffering", we will be much more likely to use them for good.  If you don't know how, I'm sure it would please Elizabeth Leseur if you used her prayers below:

To give my sufferings and prayers a supernatural intention.

Make of all my trials a work of expiation, reparation, and prayer; help me to practice complete renunciation and to preserve peace of heart.

Purify and transform me by this trial!  Perfect thy humble instrument!  Give me the only grace I desire:  to be Thine apostle with those who are dear to me, with the souls that Thou hast placed in my path, and other souls, too, distant and unknown, for whom my prayers and suffering will obtain from Thee salvation.

Dear God, It is hard even to write it, but thank you for my trials.  They are small in comparison to many, but they are mine.  Show me how to use my trials for good, for eternity.  You give each of us exactly what we need to reach Heaven.  Help us not to minimize our own suffering, lest we overlook it as being useless.  Help us alleviate the suffering of others, according to Your will.  Lord, please give us the strength and courage to carry our crosses, whatever they may be, and open our eyes to the truth that what you've assigned to us, is what is best for our souls.  Please take away our desire to be freed from all crosses at any expense.  Open our hearts and teach us how to be graceful, while uncomfortable under the weight of the cross.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Influence of a Single Soul

If you tried to "read the eternal thought which God the Creator and Father had in your regard" (to paraphrase George Weigel), what would that look like for you?  Which parts of your life are closest to what you think He envisions for you, and which parts are the farthest away?  What can you change, today, to inch closer?

If everyone has something to do for God, as Pope John Paul II tells us, what is your "something to do"?  Who are the people you see and interact with in your daily life?  Have you considered that it is likely you are affecting them (hopefully in a positive way), with your mere presence?

The influence exercised by a person is something subtle, penetrating; its strength cannot be measured.  What powerful preaching there can be in simple contact with a soul!  One single soul can change the whole moral atmosphere surrounding it by its solitary light.  ~Elizabeth Leseur

We can lead people (and be led by them) to Christ without any awareness on our part.  According to St. Augustine, this kind of "leading" was a huge part of his conversion.  Regarding Bishop Ambrose, he writes, "To him I was led by you (God) without my knowledge, so that by him I might be led to you (God) in full knowledge."

We can lead each other through our personal encounters and through prayer.  Thomas Merton relays his experience of being delivered from eternal condemnation through the efforts of an unknown soul:  " soul was rotten with the corruption of my sins...What is more, there was nothing I could do for myself.  There was absolutely no means, no natural means for getting me out of that state.  Only God could help me.  Who prayed for me?  One day I shall know.  But, in the economy of God's love, it is through the prayers of other men that those graces were given.  It was through the prayers of someone who loved God that I was, one day, to be delivered out of that hell where I was already confined without knowing it."

We are called to offer sacrifices for ourselves and others, so we can all grow in holiness; our pursuit of God's will.  We can do this in an infinite number of ways, but here are just a few ideas (as discussed in class earlier today) to get the ball rolling:
1.  Praying for our enemies (or anyone who just annoys us and all of those in between)
2.  Being wrongly accused for something without blowing up like a fanatical monster
3.  Taking care of parents and/or young children
4.  Doing things that we can't do well (Hold on pride, this one's going to hurt!)
5.  Doing anything else that you get no (zero, none, zilch) satisfaction out of, whatsoever, for the love of God and your neigbor (everybody you know, but yourself).

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for leading us to yourself through others who have no idea they are doing so.  Thank you, also, for a turn at the lead.  What an incredible gift to assist another in their journey to You!  It is mind-boggling that this awesome "activity for eternity" is so well-hidden!  Amazing to think that one person can be leading, while another is being led, and yet, neither one knows a thing about it!  This must be another component of your mercy.  We could very well be filled up with ourselves if we knew our own influence.  Thank you for your wisdom in not allowing that to happen, because we need room for You!  As Mother Teresa told us, "Even God Himself cannot fill what is already full."  Thank you, Lord, for the emptiness that we must carry in this life, for that is Your home, until we get to the place You have prepared for us.  Amen."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Celebrating 10 Years of Marriage - Lessons Learned

Yesterday was my 10th wedding anniversary.  We celebrated with a delicious, fancy, and romantic dinner out and my husband blessed me with a beautiful bouquet of red roses midday.  Being the practical woman that I am, I would always rather save the money spent on a dozen roses, but it wasn't my call; I love the thoughtfulness and effort, and they sure look pretty on my atrium table. 

Brett has made me a better woman.  He has shown me what "showing up" no matter what looks like.  Through his steadfast example and God's grace, he has helped me overcome myself, my fear of alcohol, and fear of being left behind.  I've learned a lot in 10 years; some things were welcomed at the time, others not.

After reviewing my sporadic journaling for the past decade, I created a list of lessons learned.  This is, a soul laid bare, with the confidence that something of my experience will resonate with you, and that you will be edified.

Lessons Learned

December 6, 1998 - I need to learn to make myself happy and not rely on other people. 

June 2, 2001 - I’ve realized that alcohol is really a problem for me.  I have learned to tolerate it from my family, but, I don’t have to accept it in someone I am choosing to be with. 

June 6, 2002 - One of the greatest travesties in life, is working (and spending a large part of your life) doing something you do not enjoy and for which you are not appreciated!

~Married on November 9, 2002~ 

January 27, 2003 - Married life is different, in that, you start spending more time alone – even though you are together.  I’m still trying to get used to this phenomenon.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with someone else (in my home) and not be interacting with them in some way, on some level.  The only times I remember anything similar is being with Mike W. and getting the silent treatment.  I guess that is partly why when I am mad, I get quiet, and assume the converse is true…when someone else gets quiet, they’re also mad…Oh, the things we have to unlearn… I’m learning more about myself all of the time.  Never before, have I had such a constant “mirror” if you will, held in front of me.  Another person’s attitude and responses resulting from my actions is, sometimes, a startling picture of the range of emotions that I can carry/experience in a very short amount of time.  I assume it has always been this way, the only difference being that I am not the only one I affect.  I have another half now to whom I am affected by and affect in return.  We are the sum of our experiences, as I was told today.  Nothing is going to change that.  Some days, that is a hard fact to live with.  Other days, it just is.

June 6, 2003 - I am continually amazed as I think back over my life about the times when a change has felt imminent or necessary, yet, seems impossible for logistical and financial reasons if nothing else.  And yet, the Lord continues to open the next door at the perfect time and after walking through it, everything just falls into place.

I’m sure this is the next normal phase in a relationship – the lustful, enamored stage has faded away and what’s left is what’s real.  I’m sure this is when some people feel like they are falling out of love.  In fact, I’ve brought that up, too.  In reality, I think love changes and as every married person I’ve known has said “It’s work.”  The little things crop up more and more frequently.  I guess the learning curve is still existent here.  I think that’s why people say the first year is the hardest.  It involves learning to live with someone (whom you are otherwise not related to), what their likes, dislikes, pet peeves, real anger triggers, modes of dealing with unpleasant things/feelings, and intolerances and learning these things about yourself at the same time.  Going to bed together rarely happens it seems and it doesn’t seem to matter.  I guess we’re learning to be independent of one another under the same roof.  This is altogether new and different, but probably for the best.  I miss feeling like I’m his world, but it could not last forever.  I feel as disconnected from him as I have been (except for the moments when I’ve felt distant from the entire world secondary to some perceived wrong).  I’m sure it is natural and probably healthy, but it is still an adjustment.  Time and prayer are my allies.

February 27, 2004 - It’s hard to leave yourself at someone else’s mercy, even if he is your unfailing husband.  I guess, much like everything else that is uncomfortable at the time we are experiencing it – is character building.

June 7, 2004 - I guess the point that needs to be realized if someone is asking (if you mind if they do such and such), they want to hear yes and in order to avoid conflict, a 100% yes is the only smooth road…Otherwise, I guess it is best to be true about feelings and if anyone feels slighted by the end results, it won’t be because your feelings weren’t known…“Above all else, to thine own self be true”, immediately comes to mind, but, I don’t think this philosophy has a place in Christian marriage:  sacrificing for one another, putting your spouse first, etc…

April 16, 2005 - I have a very strong primeval instinct about Brett being in the company of other women who are within 10 years or so, on either side of him; essentially breeding age, I guess.  I wonder if most women have this instinct, only to a lesser degree?  I don’t think most women are like me in this regard…  However, I know it is the thing I hate most about myself and do not admit to it easily – to myself, much less to others.  So, in the future, until this instinct dies (God willing), I am going to admit to myself what it is and admit it to Brett (he already knows anyway).

May 16, 2005 - It’s Monday and I’m wondering what I’m supposed to be doing.  The only thing I feel 100% certain of is that time spent with my son is time well-spent.  Not a moment is lost or untreasured.  If God were in the driver’s seat – Where would he be taking us?  What would he be doing in his free time?  I hardly think he would be reading a murder mystery and catching some rays.  What’s really important?  How can I have a whole day and not know what I am supposed to do?!  Our time here on earth is supposed to be spent getting ready to go to heaven…What am I supposed to do?  Spend the days with the lonely, poor, disadvantaged lot?  Where are they?  Who are they?  Am I supposed to study the Word all day long – looking for the answers to these questions?  God – Please let your will be done in my life…May I be your light in the world.  Please shine through me, Lord.  I Love You!  Fixing fences, mowing lawns, cleaning house…Are we wasting precious time?

August 5, 2005 – Friday Night 

I want to say how unspecial he makes me feel

My thoughts can be fleeting, but they still feel so real. 

I didn’t know that dullness

Could be sharper than a spear

Thank God for my baby and motherhood

To keep my heart in a working gear.
November 10th, 2012 - Dear God, Creator of earthly and eternal covenants, Thank you for the gift of marriage, and specifically, my husband.  Thank you for the times that my cup has overflowed with joy, contentment, attention, and a sense of all being right with the world.  Thank you, also, for the Friday night on August 5th, for all the times I ached for love, and times when I have been burdened with a sense of confusion or betrayal.  Thank you for the hurts and hard truths that harvest more fruit than anything that feels good at the time (specifically not being needed, but wanted).
Please help me be the wife that Brett needs, to encourage him to be the godly man that you envisioned, before you knit him in his mother's womb.  He has made me a better woman through his love and fidelity.  He, more than any other, helps me to believe in Your love for me.  Please bless him abundantly for his faithfulness and love.  Amen. 




Thursday, November 8, 2012

Being "Hot" Lacks A LOT

To love God is to love the attributes of God Himself:  Truth, beauty, and goodness.  He is "The Ultimate Good".  Fr. Scott Reilly describes everything that exists as having these qualities.  He calls them the "3-legged-stool".  When an idea, something, or someone is whole/complete, it has "proportion, harmony, clarity, and brilliance."  However, if one of the legs is missing, the stool is broken and cannot stand unaided.

Let me share his real-life example of a broken stool with you, because it was the impetus for this post and a recent class discussion of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty jogged my memory about it... 

There is an accepted standard of beauty, which is called "hot".  "That's hot."  "She's hot."  "He's hot."  If you care anything about what people think about you, you may feel this pressure to be "hot".  (By the way, if you care more about what people think about you than what God thinks about you, that is the sin of vanity:  placing your security and self-esteem in others).  I'm guilty of this and always have to guard against pleasing others as my motivation. 

Have you felt this pressure?  Do you feel it?  I do.  It seems to me that if you are "hot" in our culture, everything else is way secondary or doesn't matter at all.  If you don't have sex appeal, you have NO appeal.  As with every ill-behaved child that ever lived, it seems that getting attention for the "wrong" reason is still better than getting no attention at all.

So, what's wrong with it?  Why should this not be our goal?  What does being "hot" lack?    Fr. Scott says, "Being hot lacks goodness and truth."  Is there a woman out there who wants her beauty to be separated from her goodness and her truth?!  If there is, I haven't met her.

St. Augustine wrestled with lust and attachment to people more openly than most.  He writes in his ConfessionsIf physical objects please you, praise God for them, but turn back your love to their Creator, lest, in those things which please you, you displease Him.

For I had my back toward the light, and my face toward the things on which the light falls, so that my face, which looked toward the illuminated things, was not itself illuminated.

Our souls...may lean on those things which you have created and pass through them to you, who created them in marvelous ways.

So, I want to encourage you (and myself) to resist the pressure to be "hot" and use your beauty to lead others to their Creator, not to yourself.  In other words, to pass through you, to God.  This is not most effectively done with cleavage and a mini skirt.

In a discussion with a male friend the other day, he gave this analogy:  When women dress in such a way to accentuate their breasts and butts, they are taking the necessary steps to turn a man on sexually.  Men are visual creatures and women know this.  If a man did the same thing to a woman (took whatever steps were necessary to turn her on),  it would be ridiculously insulting and she could, by rights, slap him.

All this to say, that beauty has its place, but it is not something that should be manipulated into a word, "hot".  Beauty is a gift from God Himself and should be used to lead others to Him. 

In view of a greater good and for a higher purpose, even to watch over my bearing and my dress; to make myself attractive for our good God's sake.  

Great and holy ideas and profound convictions often reach souls only through the personal charm and attraction of those who present them.  "By their fruits you shall know them..(Matt 7:16)...devotion, charity, radiant faith, and also by those flowers that first strike the eye and precede the fruit; those flowers are called sweetness, charm, nobility and exterior distinction of manners and ways, serenity, equanimity, friendliness, smiles, and simplicity.    ~Elizabeth Leseur

Dear True, Good, and Beautiful God,  Thank you for another gorgeous day and many opportunities to enjoy the beauty of your creation.  Thank you for allowing the beauty of your Creation, including your creatures, to lead us to You.  Please help us to use our beauty to this end.  Do not allow us to lead people to the dead-end of ourselves.  We can't give them what they're looking for.  Lord, help us to learn how to "use" everything in this life to know and love You more, and to remove those things that are obstacles to our love for You.  Thank you for forgiving our weakness and inclination to cling to the good opinions of others.  As long as we know we need your help, we are getting closer to the Truth.  Amen.