Saturday, December 21, 2013

I Don't Want to Do This Anymore

Yesterday, I finished facilitating an 8-week study on The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Larraine Bennett.  We were a small group on this final day, but I learned two big lessons. 

The first thing the ladies taught me is that for some people, life is really hard, most of the time.  It's hard for a lot of reasons.  They can't get out of their head.  They want perfection from themselves and other people, and when they don't get it, they're impatient and unkind, which makes them feel worse about a situation they already felt crappy about.  This spiral repeats itself mercilessly, and often seems impossible to break out of.  They carry guilt for all sorts of reasons, including shortcomings in motherhood, feeling like they should be something or someone other than who they are, and not praying well or enough.  A thought that surfaces all-too-often is "I don't want to do this anymore."  After saying this out loud,  reassurances come quickly about not really being suicidal.  But, that doesn't mean it isn't an occasional fantasy.

The second thing they taught me, is that there are more of them than there are of me.  I am generally happy-go-lucky, go-along-to-get-along, and find more joy in life than anything else.  In a word, I am content.  Thanks to the insight of a trusted friend, I learned that while this is great for me, it's a mixed bag for them.  I am a spot of sunshine on a cloudy day, but I also frustrate them and add to their burden.  They wonder what they're doing wrong, and why they don't have the peace that seems to come so easily to me.  I hate this, and am tempted to crawl into a hole because of it.  But, as my friend pointed out, that would be the plan of the devil, exactly.  So, I have to focus on how I can help rather than hurt them.

As it turns out, much of our individual perspectives goes back to the temperament we were born with.  They are "melancholic" and I am "sanguine".  I don't understand why God made us so differently, but I suspect it has something to do with needing each other.  Because I know we do.  I also know that "perfection consists in doing the will of God, not in understanding His designs".

Even though our differences seem great, our commonality is greater, and I want to encourage all who share in the struggle of daily living.  No matter what our temperament is, we have to persevere.  Nobody is getting to Heaven without PERSEVERANCE.  Period. 

I can't find the quote just now, but we must not allow ourselves to be disappointed or surprised at what we are (or are not) capable of at any moment.  We are human, we are sinners, and we will fail continually until we die.  I'm sorry for this hard truth, but the thing about truth is that it doesn't go away.  At the moment we realize we're doing the very thing we intended not to do, or not doing the very thing we resolved to do, we must begin again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  Furthermore, we must do all of this "beginning again" without wasting time and energy wondering how on earth we allowed whatever we allowed.  If we are ever disappointed with or surprised at ourselves, then we have overestimated our capability at the outset, and that is pride! 

"In trying to do anything, we must ask for God's help.  "Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given.  Never mind.  After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again.  Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again.  For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still.  It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God.  We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven.  The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection."  Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

The other secret to thriving day by day, is the PRESENT MOMENT.

"There is not a moment in which God does not present Himself under the cover of some pain to be endured, of some consolation to be enjoyed, or of some duty to be performed.  All that takes place within us, around us, or through us, contains and conceals His divine action."

"The duties of each moment are the shadows beneath which hides the divine operation...'The power of the most High shall over-shadow thee (Luke 1:35), said the angel to Mary.  This shadow, beneath which is hidden the power of God for the purpose of bringing forth Jesus Christ in the soul, is the duty, the attraction, or the cross that is presented to us at each moment."

"The present is ever filled with infinite treasure, it contains more than you have the capacity to hold...We can no longer consider our moments as trifles since in them is a whole kingdom of sanctity and food for angels."

"In the state of abandonment the only rule is the duty of the present moment.  In this the soul is light as a feather, liquid as water, simple as a child, active as a ball in receiving and following all the inspirations of grace."

"What courage would they not derive from the thought that to acquire the friendship of God, and to arrive at eternal glory, they had but to do what they were doing, but to suffer what they were suffering, and that what they wasted and counted as nothing would suffice to enable them to arrive at eminent sanctity:  far more so than extraordinary states and wonderful works.

Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean Pierre de Caussade

Just as we need perseverance and the present moment to triumph in the dailiness of life, there are two things we don't need.

1.  Guilt.  It has to go.  It paralyzes.  We need to shed it like a coat on a summer day.  It is not what God wants for us, and we are deluded to think it somehow pleases God to carry it around:  Say "YES to realizing that carrying guilt is a greater sin than the failures that caused it...that it negates all Christ paid to set us free."  YES, Ann Kiemel

"Whenever you feel guilty, even if it is because you have consciously committed a sin, a serious sin, something you have kept doing many times, never let the devil deceive you by allowing him to discourage you.  My beloved, may every fall...always become for us a small step toward a higher degree of perfection." ~Maximilian Kolbe

2.  Being critical of others:  "If God has not transformed a person, It is because He puts up with Him as he is!  He waits with patience the opportune moment.  Why be more demanding and impatient than God?" Searching For and Maintaining Peace, Jacques Phillipe

Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbor's souls and come to their rescue.

Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbor's needs and not be indifferent to their pains and moanings.

Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all...
~Sister Faustina

Dear God of All Four Temperaments, Thank you for the study we just finished, the fun and growth we had on the way, and most especially the friendships that budded in the process.  Thank you for safe places where being yourself is encouraged and being vulnerable is okay.  Lord, please bless all of those whose everyday living is hard.  When you see and hear those "I don't want to do this anymore" thoughts, please dissipate them with Your Love.  Encourage and sustain them.  Please give us all the grace of perseverance!  And, finally, please help us find You continually in the present moment, under the cover of some pain to be endured, of some consolation to be enjoyed, or of some duty to be performed.  Amen.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Going, Going, Gone

A few stories from the lives of people I love.  People who are saying good-bye or wishing they had the chance...

~I helped a friend go through some of her belongings last night; Some were 50 years old or better.  I pulled stuff out from under her bed and went through her kitchen cabinets.  I boxed up what she didn't want and brought it home.  My friend is 95-years-old, and is moving away to her old hometown, where she can see the ocean from her living room. 

She moved several times within her retirement facility in the last couple of years, and each time, she has gotten rid of things she's held onto for most of her life.  The green dress she wore in Las Vegas once was not about to go, but that was an exception.  During this final purge, amongst boxes of jello, wine glasses, and an old sugar crock, I was fighting back the tears.  It didn't seem to be the least bit painful for her, but watching her have to let go of the simplest things because there will no longer be room nor need of them, were little deaths for me.

In the midst of a season, in a world, where acquiring is life, I know she's on the other side.  She will be moving mid-January.  God willing,  I will see her a couple more times after the Christmas Break, but that will probably be it, for good.  And that is a hard thing to know.

I hate good-byes.  I especially hate them when they are forever.  Although, fortunately, we can only move through life going forward, so I have rarely known these ahead of time.   A friendship made between rides to hair appointments and lunches at Whataburger is going, going,...

~Another friend celebrated her 60th wedding anniversary this year.  She and her husband split up a few months later.  But, only because they had to.  He left the retirement facility one-too-many times without signing out, and became a liability.  (Going to the donut shop is fine, but be careful if you are too young or too old).  His mental faculties are declining, and can no longer safely stay put, with his wife of 60 years.  He was moved to his own apartment in a nearby building, which his wife can reach by a short bus ride.  He calls her all day long.  Her voice is the only thing familiar.  Their marriage, as they know it, is going, going...

~One of my dearest friends over the past nine years lost her daughter on October 30th of this year.  She was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, who had been stalking her for months.  He killed her, set her house on fire, and shot himself.  She was 41-years-old.  A well-loved beauty who loved dogs, motorcycles, and life. 

I was helping my friend clean out her daughter's house a couple weeks ago.  Everything was just as she left it, except it was all covered in soot.  There was plenty of food in the pantry, dishes in the dishwasher, and cigarettes in the ashtray.  The days were marked off on the calendar up to the day before she died. 

On earth, all that is left of Tabitha is the incredible love her family and friends have for her, which will never be able to cover the excruciating pain they feel at having her ripped out of their lives.  From the outside looking in, it seems the only pain that comes close, is that of not getting to say good-bye. 

Sometimes, we get to prepare for the end.  The end of a relationship or the end of a life. 

And, sometimes, we don't.

Dear God, thank you for old and new friends.  Thank you for the way our lives get all tangled up, so that we can't help but be influenced by one another.  I know You hear the cries of anguish from Your beloved people.  Please comfort them, as only You can.  My hands are sweaty on the keyboard and I feel shaky inside, putting these stories together on one page, when each one has impacted me so deeply.  Please, please, please let their pain be fruitful for all who are touched by it - That we may love better and more - That we may forgive and make our forgiveness known - Like we don't have forever to get it right.  Amen.

Eternal rest grant unto Tabitha, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon her.  May she rest in peace.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Living Paycheck-To-Paycheck In a Little House at Christmastime

It's Christmastime.  Lots of beautiful pictures of beautiful people in beautiful places.  There are Christmas parties, well-lit trees, fires in fireplaces, and drinks for all.

Unless there isn't...

Without any direct proof, I suspect a large majority of us live paycheck-to-paycheck.  I also suspect that most of us feel poorer at Christmas than at any other time.  When you live paycheck-to-paycheck, a Wish list is your nightmare and a credit card's dream, and if you're not lucky enough to have good credit, it's simply a list of Things-I-Don't-Have-Enough-Money-to-Buy (which really isn't helpful any time of the year).  It's all-too-easy to look around and wish you lived in one of those big, beautiful houses with endless presents under the tree (that are already paid off).  And, if you succumb to your looking around, you allow yourself a long ride on the one-way swing from the "Have" to the "Have-Not" tree.

But, wait.  If you happen to be poor this Christmas, just barely making it, or one of those who thinks everyone else's Christmas is bigger, more beautiful, more Christmas-y, or more perfect than yours, venture with me to my childhood mind, for just a minute... 

I have never lived in a big house by American standards, but have only lived in mansions if you're from any other country on the planet.  As a little girl, I remember dreaming about dormer windows and a house with an upstairs.  I loved the thought of a big house, and the idea of all of those rooms, although I couldn't figure out (and still can't) what they might all be used for.  I have never lived in a house that had a room that wasn't used every day, but, I remember driving by big, beautiful houses, and wondering "What is going on in there?" and thinking, "It must be wonderful, whatever it is."     

However, I've grown up, and have spent some time considering what it is that drew me to those big, beautiful houses.  And, I've discovered it!  I always assumed there was more love in a big house.  I imagined something delicious baking in the oven, and someone who took the time to make it.  I imagined a group of people around a table, smiling and laughing (Ironically, all in one room).  I imagined the thoughts, the words, the interactions, the food, and everything in between,  to be beautiful and full of love.  

Pope John Paul II quoted Dostoevsky when he wrote, "Beauty will save the world."  I think I have learned why beauty is so powerful.  It is because someone cares enough to make an effort.  Beauty is the product of Love.  Whether it is the flowers that someone cares enough to water, the cookies someone cares enough to bake, or the decorations that someone cares enough to hang; the love and the someone behind it is where the real attraction is. 

I can still appreciate looking at a big, beautiful house, but I would no longer trade it for my own.  I now know that the someone(s) inside are the real source of my interest.  Scraping by or filthy rich, little house or big house, I have someone.  Many, in fact.  And if I continue with my suspicions, I suspect you do, too.  Celebrate with me, if you have even one person who loves you.  And read this poem any time the world tricks you into thinking you are poor.  Especially if you are living paycheck-to-paycheck in a little house at Christmastime...

If all the world were mine to plunder
I'd be content with just one town,
And in that town, one house alone,
And in that house, one single room,
And in that room, one cot only,
For there, asleep, is the one I love.
-Ancient Sanskrit Poem 

Dear God the Father, Thank you for sending Baby Jesus in His humanity.  Thank you, Mary, for saying "Yes".  Thank you, Joseph, for stepping in and stepping up.  Thank you, Jesus, for being born in a stable.  Not in a mansion.  Not in your own little house.  Not even a room in the inn.  Thank you for showing us that "love grows best in little houses".  Strengthen us as we guard our eyes, that we may not look away from the blessings in our life for any reason, least of all to look longingly at ways you've blessed another.  Please give us the grace to be that someone who strives to make the effort to love, and add beauty to the lives of those around us.  Thank you for those who do this continually, and for their example.  Please be with those who don't have even one by whom they know they are loved.  Let them be known and sought after.  Thank you for the wealth you've given us in those we love.  You know we would not trade them for any amount of money.  God bless us all - the poor who are poor, the poor who are rich, the rich who are rich, and the rich who are poor.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Good Paintbrush

Trusting The Great Artist is an idea that keeps resurfacing in my readings, and most recently at the Morning of Reflection on Friday.  It reminded me of a journal entry I wrote about being a "good paintbrush," a few months back.  (It's funny to me that most everything I write makes its way from my little green journal to you, eventually.)

Anyway, God must think we're pretty awesome.  We get to do, and be, everything that God uses in our transformation!  It's fascinating to me that we are both the canvas on which God, The Great Artist, creates His masterpiece, and the paintbrush He uses to make it.  We are the tool, the medium, and the finished product.  Our job as tool and medium is the same.  To respond. 

September 18, 2013
Help me to be a good paintbrush, Lord.  Content to be in Your Hand for as long as You deem necessary.  Help me to remain docile and content, to paint only the picture You have in mind.  For I know paintbrushes don't have eyes, with which to see what the Great Artist intends.

Just as no one thinks "of praising the quality of the brush an artist used when you look at his painting, but instead admire his skill in using it," help me be deaf to the praise of others, for it is praise of You alone. 

Help me to be blind and deaf to everything but You, and to rest comfortably in Your hand, or wherever You set me down.

A paintbrush has no life of its own.  Help me to be a good paintbrush - One who doesn't fall into the trap of trying to be "powerful, relevant, and spectacular" (Henry Nouwen).  Amen.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Because I Love God, I Love His Will Above All Else

Today's post is a summary of last Friday's Morning of Reflection, hosted by the women of Regnum Christi, for all women.  Members of Regnum Christi hold eight core convictions.  The topic, "Because I love God, I love His will above all else" is one of them.  I will do my best to weave the thread through my notes, so that you may reap the benefit of the content. 

Our first speaker was consecrated woman, Almudena F. Blanco.  She shared her personal challenges in responding to the Lord's call to the consecrated life.  She highlighted the need for courage, patience, and the ability to swim in the unknown...

Think of all the things we do to show our spouse that we love them.  Watch football even though we're not interested?  Make what they like to eat even though we don't like it?  The list goes on.

I love God's will because He loves me...

Ask yourself, "How much does God love me?  How does God love me?"  Stay here.  Don't rush.  God loves us in an infinite number of ways.  It takes time to ponder them...

"If you love me, show me..."  How many times do we say this?  But, how can we respond when God challenges us this way?

We can start by keeping the Ten Commandments.  The basics.  By not offending God.
Absence of sin is actually no more than the indispensable condition for the life of grace...It would be a tasteless insult to think that to love someone means only to abstain from offending him.

Live the question, "Is this pleasing to God?"  Choose the greatest good.  God's will is about the daily surrender; not just the big things.  We have to trust those we love.  God included.

God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son whom he thought would never come.  Abraham was willing to do it because he trusted his God completely.  He withheld nothing.

We have to be careful to resist the temptation to demand a prompt answer, when we finally muster the courage to ask God what He wants from us.  We might lose our courage or feel faint at the thought of cultivating patience, but me must wait on Him as long as He deems it necessary.  Avoid "Answer me, now!" as much as possible.

In the unknown, we are like swimmers in the open water with no sense of where or how far away the land is.  All we can do is keep afloat.  Try not to drown.  God says, "Trust me."  By keeping afloat, we are building spiritual muscle.  We may think we are ready for a prompt answer, but God knows best.  We often need more time to prepare ourselves to do His work.

God is painting the picture of our lives.  Sometimes, He uses colors that we don't like.  "Not black!  Anything but black!"  And we try to dodge the paintbrush.  But, of course, we lack the perspective of the final work.  We're too close to it.  We need to trust The Artist.

Can we join Pope Clement XI in his prayer to God when he says...

I want whatever you want,
because you want it,
the way you want it,
as long as you want it.

Personal Reflection
1.  What has been my last experience of the love of God in my life?
2.  How am I able to recognize God's will in my life?  How does it manifest concretely?
3.  How can I be more sensitive and open to God's will?
4.  What are the main obstacles to following God's will in my life?

Our second speaker was Fr. Michael Sullivan, L.C..  He shared many stories, some from his life and some from others.  I am not re-telling those stories, but simply providing an overview of the main points those stories made.  The stories themselves are too funny or magnificent to be watered down here.

His points (more or less) were as follows:

God's will is better than you think!

Wisdom is the gift given to those who possess charity, according to St. Thomas Aquinas.  Wisdom is seeing things as God sees them. 

Faith is knowing God, and God's "stuff".
Hope is loving God for my sake.
Charity is doing (loving) God for God's sake.

We reach Charity through Hope.

God does not give you any desire He doesn't want to fill.  When you seek happiness, You seek God's will for you.  St. Thomas More (prior to his execution) said something like, "God's will is always good, no matter how bad it may seem."

Case studies for heroic Hope and Faith:

Ernest Shackleton -attempted to cross the Antarctic continent in 1914 and subsequently struggled for survival with his twenty-eight man crew for almost two years, as detailed in Endurance:  Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing.

Declan Brown - Died from cancer of the spine, wearing the cassock of a novice at age 14, per his request (after obtaining special dispensation).   As his mother sat at his bedside one day, Declan said to her “Mom I’m a priest.” His mother responded “No Declan, you’re not a priest yet.” Declan insisted, “Mom I’m a priest.” She replied again “No Declan, you’re not a priest. You’ve just received the uniform to begin your training for becoming a priest.” Declan explained “Mom, Christ was a priestly victim when he was suffering on the cross. I’m suffering with Christ on the cross now, so I am a priest.” (Excerpt from Thanksgiving in a Whole New Way by Fr. Michael Patrick Moriarty)

Sinners' sufferings are sterile, useless, and vain.  Saints' sufferings are fruitful and eternal.

Something can be hoped for when it is:
1.  Good
2.  Difficult
3.  In the future
4.  Possible

We travel through hope to faith to love.  The opposite of hope is despair.

The height of immaturity is "The world revolves around me."  The height of maturity is empathy.

When we are faced with those whom we find most difficult to love, imagine them as a child in Mary's lap.  Pray for that kind of love.

In Marriage and Holy Orders, if holiness is gained, it is through service to others.

It all boils down to "Be not afraid, because I will be with you."

Personal Reflection:
1.  What has God done in my life?
2.  What have I ever given to God and regretted it?!

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for mornings of reflection.  Thank you for the priests, consecrated women, and all of the lay people of Regnum Christi who sacrifice personally to make them happen.  Thank you for the people whose stories encourage and strengthen us long after they've gone to join You.  Please bless all who made the effort to attend, those who wanted to but couldn't, and those who know nothing of the sort.  Please increase our hope, so that one day, we may pass from loving You for our sake to loving You for Your sake.  Please forgive us for our impatience and all of the other obstacles we place in Your way.  Increase our faith.  Help us to love Your will above all else, because we love You.  Please give us the grace to want whatever you want, because you want it, the way you want it, as long as you want it.  Amen.








Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Riding a Dog to Heaven

Okay.  Here's the deal.  We are keeping my friend's dog (which was actually our dog that we pawned off on her a few years ago).  We are on Day 5, and I'm not sure how many more days are left.  She went out of state for her Dad's funeral, and wasn't sure when she would return. 

But, before I elaborate on how her dog is going to take (at least) me to Heaven's gates, I need to explain the basis for how these things work, in case you didn't know, or need a refresher.

My son is making his First Communion this year, so yesterday, I spoke to the kiddos and their parents on this very subject, as they prepare to make their first Confession.

If you're not Catholic, this is our belief in a nutshell: 

1.  Jesus redeemed us from our sins by His death on the Cross.  (We are Christians, after all).   
2.  When we are sorry for our sins, He forgives us and heals us in the Sacrament of Penance (Also called Reconciliation or Confession).
3.  Out of gratitude and love for God, we make an effort to make up for our sins, or to do "penance".  Christ redeemed us, but gives us the gift of participating with him in our redemption, and that of others.  If we have "broken" things, or people, or relationships, they still need mending, even after we have been forgiven for "breaking" them in the first place. 

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are at least eight ways to do penance.  They are:

1.  Prayer
2.  Works of charity
3.  Service to neighbor
4.  Offering
5.  Acts of self-denial
6.  Acceptance of our cross
7.  Sacrifice
8.  Works of mercy

So, basically anything (by our intention) can be penance, or means to repair our relationship with God and others.  And not only repair it, but improve it beyond what is was before we messed it up.  We do this over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.  And, as long as we keep trying, through the mercy of God, and Jesus' death on the cross, we hope for Heaven.  We do our little (necessary only because God knows we need it) part, to cooperate with the big and very necessary part of Christ redeeming us.  He is the one thing necessary.

Back to the dog...The potential spiritual gift this dog is to us this week is incomprehensible.  She is 8 penances wrapped in one!  8 in 1.  With Christmas around the corner, I can't even imagine what you'd have to pay for the equivalent in the material world.  Who could put a price on a
Bo-Flex/Swiffer/Flobie/Noiseless Insect Repellant/Clap-on Lamp/Ab Roller/iBot/Boze Sound Wave machine?! 

Let me describe life with Piper, so you can better appreciate what an 8-in-1 penance "Super Buy" looks like:

*She is BIG.  Well over 100 pounds.  Considerably more than any of my kids.  Maybe more than me.  She could flatten my 4-year-old, if he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And it would be terrible to look like a pancake to a dog who loves to eat. 

*She stinks.  Think wet dog, dirt, and pee.  In all fairness, my friend gave her a bath less than a week ago, but it has worn off

*She is a LOVER.  L.O.V.E.R.  Love...Lover...Love-est.  Scratch lover.  She is a LOVE-EST.  She wants to be in constant contact.  Her butt to your kneecap is FINE with her.  She is not at all picky about where or how.  If you are walking and accidentally look at her, she'll throw herself down in your projected path and roll over, waiting for any effort you can part with. 

*She talks.  Growls, really, but in a friendly, I-love-you, pay-attention-to-me, way.  Only, if you don't engage her, she gets louder and more insistent, and pretty soon, she is plain rude.  Especially when I'm making dinner.  And I end up thinking, "You're not my boss!", and then I start feeling a little nutty that I have self-talk about a dog not being my boss.

*She's a little incontinent.  Every time she takes a little step, a little pee comes out.  I wonder if my friend even notices this, because she only comes in at night at her house, and then she sleeps in one contained room at the end of the house.  However, it is cold and rainy, and as much as I want to, I can't leave her outside the whole time!  Unfortunately, one of the reasons we bought and love our house is that it is so open.  No unoccupied, uncarpeted rooms with a door, here.  Wait a minute!  I just realized she could stay in the bathroom!  Ha!  Oh, the irony.  At any rate, my husband and I are mopping up more pee than when we were potty training our two-year-olds.

*She seems to think the trash can is a store where she can afford everything and has a tab, so she just helps herself.  A cloth napkin, a pencil, some foil, and the bones from a chicken breast were a few of her selections today.  The trash can is sleeping on the kitchen counter tonight.  Hopefully, she's not feeling that ambitious. 

*The final thing is that we've been adopted by a cat in the last month or so.  You know how it goes, you can't get your hands on it at first, and then it's sleeping in your bed.  On your face.  Well, this kitty is much loved and adored around here, and you probably guessed it...Piper isn't big on cats.  She corners and chases them.  There's only been one showdown so far, but there's plenty of tension at play while kitty sharpens her ninja and spy skills. 

So, when I say I am riding a dog to Heaven.  I mean, Piper.  And this is how Piper is "getting me to Heaven", as my penance:

1.  I pray.  I pray to God that my friend comes back SOON.  I pray that I don't do anything I'll regret.  I pray that I don't end up in the "loony bin".  I pray that my children will still speak to me when they see that I can stoop even lower than they ever thought possible before.

2.  Act of charity.  I knew keeping Piper would be hard.  We already have a very good, very sweet, very stinky, very hairy dog.  I said "yes" anyway, for love of my friend, who has experienced more tragedy in the last month than hopefully, any of us will in our lifetime. 

3.  Service to Neighbor.  Yep.

4.  Offering my actions.  I should be offering every time I pet her, and every time I have to wash my hands right afterward, for those who can't get to the sink on their own, for my friend, or for all of the people who work as hard as Piper does to be loved, without ever being noticed.  I'll do better in the offering department.  Right now, I offer this blog for all of those intentions, and for you.

5.  Act of self-denial.  She's still alive and she's still in my house.  That's two.

6.  Acceptance of our cross.  In this case, I'm working on it.  This post has been the perfect therapy.  I mean, tool.

7.  Sacrifice.  Check.

8.  Work of mercy.  See number two.

Dear God, Father and Creator of all that is good and all that makes us good, Thank you for Piper.  Thank you for my friend who took her off of our hands years ago.  Thank you for the way she has bonded our family in so many ways, particularly in appreciation of the dog we already have.  Thank you for Your Mercy, Your greatest attribute.  Thank you for Confession, and all priests who make it possible. 

Father, please "expiate all the sins I have committed this day and during all my life.  Purify the good I have done poorly this day and during all my life.  Supply for the good I ought to have done, and that I have neglected this day and all my life."

Thank you for opportunities to reflect on the ways you allow us to participate in Your Saving Work.  You know we need to show You how much we love You.  Thank you for giving us things we can do to prove our love.  Lord, please be with my friend, and all who are suffering the loss of those who were, and are, dearest to them.  Console them as only You can, and help us to follow Your inspirations when it's our turn.  May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary.  He had to work in Austin, so I drove to meet him.  We spent 24 kid-free hours just being.  We ate, drove around his old stomping grounds, walked around what used to be Lake Travis, ate some more, and enjoyed the pauses in between.  We had grand visions of staying up late, listening to live music, and walking around downtown, but happily pursued Plan B of retiring early after filling our bellies at The County Line.  As we grow old together, we're learning that we're happiest when we don't have anywhere to be.

Our time together was much-needed and overdue.  We've been like two ships passing in the night for longer than anyone would recommend.  No surprise, really with work, little boys, and all of the other things that overtake our calendar.  But, the marriage fleet needs to dock once in a while, to remember why we're working together in the first place, dust off the vision, and re-energize about future voyages.

I think I could live off of this past 24-hours for another couple of weeks (but, please don't tell my husband).  If you've read the Five Love Languages, I'm a "quality timer", so my love tank is Full.  Ahhhhhhh.

On our way back home, I was thinking about love and marriage, and what that looks like when we get to Heaven.  Today's Gospel (Lk 20:27-38) says "those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.  They can no longer die, for they are like angels: and they are the children of God because they are ones who will rise."

I don't really like the way this sounds, because it seems like marriage only has temporary value.  Temporary value is well and good, but it seems like it falls dramatically short of what God intended and like we dreamed the idea up for ourselves.  A lifetime of monogamy and child-rearing?  Really?  This afternoon, I sat down with my head full of questions and uncertainty about reality and what's important in it.  I tried to journal, but only wrote one sentence and picked up The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin, instead.  On page 57 it reads:

The union with and love of God that begin in this life and grow as the spiritual journey progresses will be gloriously manifested and perfected in heaven.  But so also will the union and love that we have had with one another in this life be gloriously manifested and perfected in heaven.  The Father tells Catherine (of Siena) that the particular relationships we had on earth, insofar as they were in the Lord, will actually increase in depth of intimacy and love in heaven.  Friendships and marriages that were lived in and with Jesus will be "saved" and indeed prove to be a love that is truly "forever".  The time for biological procreation will have come to an end-our bodies now transformed in glory, made ready for an eternity of celebration-but, the love, in Christ, that was built up in true Christian relationships will last forever.  We will not only know and recognize one another in heaven, but know and love each other even more!

That's better. 

So, we're not still "married" in heaven, but the love is still there.  Our spouses and children don't suddenly become strangers.  Thank goodness!  Can you imagine?!  We love them even more, and everyone else besides.  Love is great here, but it is not perfect.  It is perfected in heaven.  It is no wonder I can't understand it.  It is beyond me.  But, that's why I'm here.  And that's probably why you're here, too.  We're here to practice loving.  Because practice makes perfect.

Dear Heavenly Father,  Thank you for my husband of 11 years and for the first day of our 12th year of marriage.  Thank you for time away to remember why we got married in the first place.  Thank you for the blessings of our children and the protection you offer a wife and mother, by the very nature of her life.  Please bless all who are married.  Purify and perfect our love.  Give us the grace to put ourselves second, so that we may imitate Your Son, who asked "What is the most I can do to prove My love?"  Thank You for All.  I Love You.  Amen.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

"You Suck!"

I'm tucked safely in my bed on the 46th of 47 floors at a fancy hotel in Seattle.  But, earlier today I was sitting on an airplane in Portland, OR waiting to refuel after a failed landing attempt in the incredibly dense Seattle fog.  Prior to that, we sat on the tarmac in Dallas for two hours waiting for a hydrolic-pump-overheating-issue to be resolved.  

So, after our failed attempt to land, and an uncomfortable while, the pilot finally came on to tell us what happened and what the plan was (to fly to the next city to refuel, because we didn't have enough fuel to circle back around).  

Somebody seated a couple of seats behind me in the back of the plane yelled "You Suck!" to the pilot in the cockpit, a plane length and one room away. 

The sweet lady sitting next to me joked about how we were going to be compensated for the delay.  Drinks? Pretzels?  Better chairs?

I was personally feeling very grateful and pretty sure that the pilot did what he had to do to keep us safe.  I'm fairly confident that a four hour delay impacted his schedule the same as ours.

All of this drama got me to thinking about God and the crap we give Him.  All He wants is for us to land safely (in Heaven). That is the most important thing.  That is the only thing.  

In order to save us, sometimes our plan has to be changed.  We have to be "up in the air", longer than we planned.  Or waiting, longer than we planned.  Or whatever, longer than we planned.  We have to suffer a little inconvenience for the sake of eternity.  And yes, it is little.  Everything is, compared with eternity.

The "You Suck!" admonition came loud and clear.  It wasn't his anger that surprised me, but his total lack of gratitude.  

And that's what makes or breaks us, forever.  We have been given the gift of eternal life, through Jesus Christ, if we choose to accept it.  It is impossible to accept this gift with ingratitude, because ingratitude toward the Giver is a rejection of the gift.  If, in the end, we refuse The Gift and say "You Suck!" instead of "Thank You!", we must accept what we have chosen instead.

Thank you, God, for arriving safely in Seattle today.  Thank you for our pilot and guardian angels who rarely get credit for their work.  Please give me the grace to never reject the gift You've given in Your Son, even for a moment.  Thank you for the little reminder about gratitude and the paramount importance it should have in the life of a Christian.  Please bless the "You Suck!" guy.  He needs an extra dose of Your Love and Gratitude, as we all do.  I offer this post (and the effort it took to type this blog with my index finger on my phone) for his conversion.  Thank you for my friend who is treating me to this adventurous weekend, and for my husband who agreed to it.  Please bless this weekend, my family, and all who read what has been written here.  Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Craving Change and Loathing Transition

Human beings don't like change.  Right?  Wrong, according to Patrick Lencioni, business consultant and author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  According to Patrick, human beings crave change, but we don't like transitioning

After watching a video by Patrick Lencioni about transition management, based on Bill Bridges' work, I want to share what I've learned.  I really feel like knowing what the stages are in a transition, and what to expect at each stage, could highly transform how smoothly and victoriously we embrace change in our lives.  
I am not currently in transition to or from anything, but I know a lot of people who are.  They are in between jobs, have a child who is graduating from high school, preparing for a move, or adjusting to someone new living in their house.  Change, and necessary transition, come in as many forms as there are people. 

My hope is that if you are not in transition, this will prepare you for what's ahead.  And, if you are in transition, that this outline will bring a new perspective.  A new perspective that reinvigorates you and gives you hope, wherever you are in the process.

NOTES:

There are three stages to pass through when going from x to y:

1.  Endings - Saying goodbye to the old.
     a.  Loss
     b.  Response to loss
     c.  Ceremony
2.  Neutral zone - Not sure if the new way is better or if you're ever going to get there.
     a.  Need 2 Cs - Care and Concern
     b.  Need 4 Ps - Purpose, picture, plan, and part.
3.  New Beginnings - just happen.  Once here, you can't imagine life being any other way, and you wonder why it took so long to get here.
__________________________________________________

Endings

When we are in the "Endings" portion of transition, we are dealing with loss.  All change brings about loss.  Several people can experience the same event, but feel loss in different areas of their lives.  The different areas we can experience loss are:
1.  Structure
2.  Control
3.  Identity
4.  Future - How we thought it would play out.
5.  Meaning
6.  Attachments to people
7.  Turf

According to He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciscek and Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, nervous breakdowns happen because people don't realize they have a choice of how to respond to loss.

There are four possible responses to loss (the 4 Rs):
1.  Restore what was lost. 
Examples:  Get lost job back, rebuild damaged house in same location, just as it was before).
2.  Replace what was lost with something similar. 
Examples:  Get a similar job or similar house in a similar neighborhood.  *This is what we usually do.
3.  Redesign.  Change the way we live.  Choose something new.
Examples:  Start your own business.  Live in a different environment. 
4.  Relinquish.  Give up an idea, plan, unrealistic goal, or pursuit. 
Example:  Give up the idea of being an Olympic runner.

Ceremony:  To end the "Endings" phase of transition, we need ceremony.  We need ceremony because when we don't let go of the past, we get stuck in it.  Ceremony is how we make sure the past is left behind. 
Examples:  When Cortez's ships finally landed, he burned them.  There was no going back!  We have a wedding ceremony to indicate to all (especially ourselves) that we are no longer single!  We need an external event to signify the internal change/shift. 

Neutral Zone

When we enter into the neutral zone, we experience the greatest anxiety, fear, growth, and innovation.  To maximize our productivity and progress, we need the 2 Cs (take care not to poo-poo these.  Bad things happen if we don't get them!): 
1.  Care
2.  Concern

If we don't get these 2 critical things during this time, one of three things will likely happen:
1.  We will go back to the "old".
2.  We will leave.  Opt out.
3.  We will quit and stay where we are. 

In addition to the 2 Cs, we also need the 4 Ps:
1.  Purpose:  Remember why we're going through this difficult time.
2.  Picture:  Where we are headed.  Why it's going to be better.  What it's going to look like when we get there.
3.  Plan:  Lay out a bare minimum plan.  Manageable chunks/steps to be taken to achieve goal.
4.  Part:  Play your part.  If in a team setting, make sure all who are involved have an active role in being a part of the solution.

New Beginnings - Celebrate!  You made it through the transition!


Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the rain and for safekeeping through the storm last night.  Thank you for reminding us of Your power.  If fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, as the Scriptures say, increase my fear of You.  I would rather fear You too much, than underestimate You.  But really, I want to love You more than I fear You, which I do.  Thank you for opportunities to gather together with fellow believers, and learn more about the transitions that are inescapable in our lives.  Help us to resist the lie that transition "shouldn't be this hard", so that we can accept it for what it is, and keep moving forward.  Help us to remember that "This too, shall pass."  Please bless all of those who are in transition.  Especially those who are trying to say goodbye to something because it has been taken from them.  Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Top 10 List of God's Love for Me

I attended a morning of reflection on Friday morning, and was asked for my notes afterward by a couple of friends.  I saw several women holding babies (which makes it difficult to take notes), knew several people who wanted to be there but couldn't, and know there are far more who can't come than who can, so this is for you.  Following, are my notes based on Fr. Michael Sullivan's talk entitled Top 10 List of God's Love for Me.  He has graciously given his permission and shorthand outline for the cause.  It is not as visually tidy as I'd like.  Apparently, blogger doesn't believe in the tab button, and the space bar forgets its job on the left margin.  But, in spite of that, I hope to render justice to all that he covered, and that it will bless you as it blessed me.  

You need to run in such a way so as to win.  Win what?  Two letters on the front of your name when you die.  S and T.  For me, it would look like this:  St. Heidi.  Here's hoping...

Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize?  Run so as to win.  Every athlete exercises discipline in every way.  They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.  1 Corinthians 9:24-25

1.  God's love is needed.
     Example:  A knowing shepherd removes a grass seed imbedded in one of his sheep's eyes.  It could not remove it on its own, nor could any of its fellow sheep.

2.  God's love is defined.
      Love is willing a good for another for their own sake.  It is not a friendship of pleasure or utility, but of virtue.   Christ loved us: 
a.  First. 
b.  Gratuitously (while we were still sinners).
c.  In deed (by dying on the Cross).

3.  God's love is gratuitous (undeserved, unmerited, and unearned) and reconciling.
     Example:  Many times God holds our hand and leads us by His grace.  But, as with St. Paul, there are times we receive the fullness of God's grace in an instant.  God meets us where we are, in whatever state of sinfulness we are in, and leads us out.

4.  God's love is life-changing.
     Example:  St. Therese of Lisieux:  On the stairwell of her home, after an encounter with her father which saddened her, St. Therese explains a definitive change within her, one she could not effect for herself, though she had tried for years.  Her explanation of it was something like this, "I felt charity enter into my heart, the need to forget myself and to please others, and I have been happy ever since."

5.  God's love is un-begrudging and forgetful.
     Example:  Peter.  Peter denied knowing Jesus three times between His agony in the garden and His scourging at the pillar.  He denied Him at a time when Jesus most needed a friend.  Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected before they met again.   The risen Christ simply asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?  There were no harsh words spoken or explanation demanded.  Only love.

6.  God's love is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
     Example:  After a lifetime of praying for his father's conversion and reconciliation with God, Fr. Michael got a call that his father was ill.  Their time together (40 days and 40 nights) began with Fr. Michael giving his father the Sacraments of Reconciliation, the Eucharist, and Anointing of the Sick, per his father's request. 

7.  God's love defines us.
     Example:  John - The Beloved Disciple. 
*When you're all-powerful, you make stuff you like. 
*Hell exists because of God's love - He loves our freedom as much as He loves us.
*When God stops thinking about you, you stop breathing.

8.  God's love is shown in its effects.
     It is obvious.  If you know someone who has joy, peace, and compassion, they are probably "in relationship" with God, and experience His Love.

9.  God's love is grown in
      The best way to grow is to look at your sins (But, only as a catapult to God's mercy!), and look at God's goodness. 
*Think of your love for God as a flame on the wick of your soul.  All flames are different heights.  Venial sins do nothing to shorten the height of our flame, but they increase our threshold for sin. When our threshold for sin increases, we are more likely to commit a mortal sin, which extinguishes the flame.  A hiking analogy:  There is no harm in walking near the edge of a cliff.  However, if you fall off, the question begs to be answered, "Why were you so close to the edge?" 

10.  God's love is vulnerable/delicate.
       Our sin causes this.  Example:  God, as our friend, picks up the phone and calls us.  The call goes something like this:  God:  "Hey!  Do you want to come over and play today?!"
                                  Us:  "No.  I don't want to come over and play today."
                                  God:  "Oh.  Okay (disappointed).  I'll call you again later."
*If we continually say "No" to God's call, our conscience dulls, and we stop hearing the phone ring.

Points to consider:  Is there a fa├žade, an unmet neediness, or addiction in my life that makes me unavailable to God or others? 

What are ways in which I have been loved?  List them...  (Have an ample supply of paper)

Suggested Reading: The Voices of the Saints, Bert Ghezzi
Testimony of Hope, Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan
Simon, Son of John, Do You Love Me?, Encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI
Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for this GORGEOUS weather.  Thank you for the gift of Yourself at Mass this morning.  Thank you for the morning of reflection, and my Regnum Christi sisters who put it on.  Thank you for Fr. Michael's availability, wisdom, and zeal for souls.  Thank you for my friend, Janet, who gave a beautiful testimony of God's everlasting love, and the way she has experienced it in her life.  Please bless all of the people who read this blog, and lead them closer to Yourself.  And if that happens, thanks for letting me help!  Amen. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Four Motherless Children

Disclaimer:  I am not a perfect mother.  I am not even an excellent mother; I know a lot of moms who are better at motherhood than I am.  But, by the grace of God, I love being a Mom (most of the time), and I am either with or available to my boys.  Once disorder sets in, there are a lot of circumstances that cannot be helped.  Addiction and divorce are two of them.  I am not criticizing the mothers below.  I could easily be where they are, if my circumstances were the same.  I simply pray for them, and grieve for their children. 

I spent three and a half hours at the skate park with my two older boys yesterday afternoon.  The skate park is almost always a win-win because they're doing what they want to do, and I get to be outside, sitting.  Two of my favorite things.  But, if you've read some of my other posts, you already know that sometimes I leave with a heavy heart.  Yesterday was one of those days.

The first heartbreak (and joy) was spending the afternoon with my little four-year-old buddy.  He was there before we arrived and stayed until who-knows-when after we left.  His 7th grade brother was also there, and everybody knows them, but the just-turned-four-year-old is still pretty much on his own.  At some point, his older sister showed up to bring him lunch.  A sandwich, chips, and a Capri Sun.  She left right afterwards.  His brother "stole" his chips, and they were ultimately spilled on the ground.  It was the first time I ever saw him cry.  I was getting ready to head home to supplement his lunch when one of the girls hanging around offered to buy him another bag, which was the first act of kindness I've seen there (that part was refreshing).    

I asked the boys if their Mom ever came to watch them.  The little one said, "No".  The older one said, "Sometimes."  While I was thinking about my four-year-old at home napping, and seeing my little friend's  "thousand yard stare", I was struck by such a feeling of helplessness.  After sitting with him the whole afternoon, I had to tell him it was time for us to leave because I had to make dinner.  The helplessness struck again.  He can't cross the street by himself and he can't come home with me... 

His mother is alive, and lives right across the street.  I can't blame her because I don't know her, and justice is not mine to meter out.  But, I know what I see (and have seen many, many times), and that, for whatever reason, is a motherless child.

The second heartbreak was running into an old friend who told me "Things aren't so good at home right now."  I pressed a little, and he told me that his wife (and mother of his only son) is strung out on prescription drugs and alcohol.  She was recently arrested for public intoxication after she lost her son at the store.  She just went through a drug rehab program, and according to him, things look the same as before.  I overheard one of their friends say, "I hate seeing her like that.  She wouldn't even talk to us."  Her son is the same age as mine.  And right now, he is a motherless child.

The third heartbreak was when my friend told me that a mutual friend moved several states away, to live closer to her daughter.  The closer-to-her-daughter part was good, but she had to leave her two boys behind with her husband.  Again, they're about the same age as my guys.  Until they rendezvous for the summer or holidays, it seems to me, they are motherless children.   

I have to admit, my boys don't seem like they need me most of the time.  But, I cannot imagine being separated from them for much more than a week.  Anything less than that, I fantasize about.  But anything more, I cannot fathom.  I can't imagine saying goodbye, or leaving them in my rearview mirror, or not being "there", for whatever

I ache for these mothers, for I know their love is no less than mine.  I ache for these children, for I know their love is as boundless as any child's love.  I am powerless to reunite them or swoop in to fix what's been rent.  But, I can pray for them, and love more intensely, because the thought of living in any one of their shoes, unable or unwilling to guide the children God entrusted to me, leaves me numb. 

And to the parents in my community, who lost their 4-year-old son last week when he was accidentally killed in their driveway, please keep loving.  The kids in this world need your love.  We all do.

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for Your Mother, who was present throughout Your Life, and most especially at the foot of the cross, when very few were left.  Thank you for a mother's heart.  Help us to intercede for those children, mothers, and families where something has gone awry.  Please comfort those who need more love than what they receive.  Please help us to take our responsibility as parents seriously, for it is the greatest work on earth, and we will have to give an account of how we've done.  Please be with parents of older children who have to make them live somewhere other than home, to keep them safe.  Please hear the cries of those parents who have lost their children.  The pain of trying to imagine it is unbearable.  There can be no words for the pain of living it.  Please give us the grace to love well while we can, since we do not know how long we get to try.    Amen.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Funeral of a Stranger

I attended a funeral yesterday of a person I met only once, for about five minutes.  She was a 64-year-old woman who battled cancer for a year and a half.  I  met her about a month ago because she signed up to be a substitute driver for the transportation ministry I coordinate at my Church.  At that time, I made an appeal for drivers at the end of Mass, and she approached me afterward.

She had a very short crop of white hair and walked with a walker.  She said she had cancer, and would especially like to drive anyone else who had cancer.  We spoke briefly about her chemotherapy sessions, and I learned that she was usually alone and read during her treatment.  This was interesting to me, as the only other person I know who has gone through chemotherapy, always had at least one person (and often many) to pass the time with.  My friend, a mother of ten, has a never-ending list of people who love her and who were eager to take a "slot". 

This woman, though, was an only child and never married.  There were 35-40 people at her funeral, most of them co-workers.  If it weren't for the brief account of her life given by her best friend, all I would know about her is what I learned from her; She was willing to serve until the end of her life.  And that is why I was there.  I want to be like her.  I want to be willing to serve long after the world says I am relieved of my duty to do so. 

I never thought I would want to be cremated.  Before yesterday, it always seemed an unnecessary desecration of the body, and it disturbed me to think about my body going through an incinerator.  But, yesterday, upon entering the Church, I was struck by the beauty and profound simplicity of what she was leaving behind.  Her remains were in a simple white box, resembling a small treasure chest, and the only other thing on the 2x2 covered table was a single red rose.  I love it that the only other thing on the table was something simple, and yet exquisitely beautiful.  I really, really wanted to take a picture, lest I forget the impact this visible reality made on me.  However, I hope sharing it with you will etch it in my memory, just the same.   

The absence of her walker leaning against the table reminded me of how encumbered we can become in this life.  All of her earthly possessions were dispersed (and generously given by her).  There was no casket, and no ceremonious carrying of the casket by six strong men.  There was no funeral procession, and no cemetery plot.  There were no extravagant flower arrangements.  There was no crucifix, and no Rosary.  Simply proof of her existence, and something beautiful.  God's handiwork.     

I don't remember where I saw it, or who said it, but "All that is not given away is lost."  The only thing of value from our life, after our life is over, is what we have given to others.  The love we have sown in the lives of those who care enough to come to our funeral is the only thing we can claim, and the only thing that remains after we are gone.   

Dear God of Life and Eternity,

Thank you for the opportunity to meet Nancy, albeit briefly.  Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon her.  May she rest in peace.  Thank you for her willingness to serve until the end of her life.  Please give me the grace to imitate her.  Thank you for my husband and children, and all of the joy and love that come with loving and living so intimately.  Please draw near to those who are traveling through this life alone.  Help us to know them when we see them, so that we may bring You to them.  Thank you for funeral Masses and experiences that demand an honest assessment of where we are and where we're going.  Thank you for beauty and love, for they always point to You, their source.  When I die, please let me have retained nothing for myself.  Let the simplicity of my life reflect the truth of Your Life.  Thank you for all that was, is, and is to come.  Amen.          

Saturday, August 10, 2013

On Being Born and Growing Older

The phone has stopped ringing. The Facebook alerts have stopped coming.  My incredible breakfast, lunch, and dinner dates are snugly filed away for future reference, and I am basking in my post-birthday love hangover.  Today is my first day of being 36-years-old, and it's pretty awesome.  Awesome in an ordinary way.  Ordinary like sleeping in, playing in the sprinkler, working on a puzzle, and going to the library-ordinary. 

I love getting older.  Are you familiar with the "mental age" idea?  I don't remember who I heard it from (Lauren, was that you?), but the idea is that everyone has a mental age.  It's the age you are in your mind, ignoring the actual number of years you've lived, or what your body is screaming at you (like, "You are 112!!!").  Maybe I like getting older because I haven't reached my mental age, yet.  I'm 42 and my husband is 67 (or somewhere around there).  I know some ladies who like to say they're 21 and holding, so I guess they're 21.  Maybe that's why they hate birthdays and find it rude when someone asks their age.  Not me.  No way.

I love that I'm "middle-aged".  Done with the drama and angst of being a highschooler, college student, and new wife and mother.  There's still plenty of excitement to be had in life without riding on a roller coaster.  This week, all week, the excitement came in all sorts of packages.  My sister sent a gift early in the week, which tipped my boys off that it was my birthday.  She is usually sending stuff for them, so they were highly disappointed (and maybe even a little offended) when they found out it was for me.  But, then they went to work like little elves, wrapping up all kinds of stuff that was laying around the house and dragging huge cardboard boxes down the street from a neighbor's front yard, while riding on their skateboards. 

All wrapped in Christmas paper with lots of tape, of course, I got a painted board, a couple of popsicle stick rafts that were made months ago, a Guinness book of world records, and a piece of cardboard.  The most fun, though, was to watch the 3-day-mammoth-effort in the sweltering garage, to build a cardboard house that was made to look just like ours (doors and windows in all the right places) that had two coats of paint and a paper towel roll for the chimney.

However, the best gift of all, was knowing that each one of these gifts was the spontaneous manifestation of their love.  No one made them do it.  They wanted to do it.  To make me happy.  And that is the best gift of all.  That whole "It's the thought that counts" bit is for real.  Especially with your own kids.  Because most of the time, they're thinking about themselves, and it's easy to wonder if they love you, or even like you, or even know you're alive (outside of the times you're getting them something to eat).  

Another thing I love is the way the world recognizes the magnitude of the birth-day.  There is no other day that we celebrate the value of a person more than on the day they were born.  It makes me  wonder about the possibility of choosing whether or not a baby will be born at all.  If someone believes that the choice should exist, they still celebrate birthdays with as much gusto as those who don't.  Why shouldn't they?  Someone they love has been born!  But, on one hand...the day of one's birth is Awesome!  Extraordinary!  Unrepeatable!  Worthy of Recognition and Extra Effort by All!  On the other hand...it's optional.  Holding these ideas together in a pair of hands is confusing to me.  Sort of like trying to put two magnets together that have the same charge. 

Life is a gift.  It's not always easy and it's not always fun, but sometimes it is.  And whether it's good or bad, happy or sad, it is always worth living. 

I have promised Peace but not leisure, heart-rest and comfort, but not pleasure.  I have said "In the world ye shall have tribulation":  so do not feel, when adverse things happen, that you have failed or are not being guided, but I have said "In the world ye shall have tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."  God Calling, August 10

In my thirty-sixth year, I am learning to wait on the Lord.  In the meantime, I hope to live with increasing generosity and joy.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Brothers and sisters:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully,
Each must do as already determined,
without sadness or compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
Moreover, God is able to make every grace
abundant for you,
so that in all things, always having all you need,
you may have an abundance for every good work.

Dear King of Birthdays and Harvests,

Thank you for loving me into existence through my parents, and all of the people that came before them.  Thank you for a week-long love song, as sung by sisters and brothers, little boys, a husband, parents, and friends.  Thank you for days afterward to take it all in.  Please help me to cast off my selfishness and replace it with generosity.  Please give me the grace to sow bountifully and give cheerfully.  You know how generous my friends and family are to me.  Thank you for them, and their example.  Please help me to imitate it.  Thank you for birthdays and every reason you give us to celebrate life.  It is the greatest gift, for without it, we cannot return Your love.  Please grant me the grace to be ready for death at any moment.  Please help me make a good return to You on all that I've been given.  I love you, and I thank you for thirty-six years of life.    Amen.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Case For Kids

My boys are coming home from my friend's house today.  They have been gone for 4 1/2 days.  I am eager to see them, hug them, and hear all about their adventures, but I also have thoughts like: 

1.  More noise
2.  More chaos.
3.  More mess.

I am ashamed that these thoughts precede all of the other good things about them being home, which are eternally greater in value, and exponentially greater in number:

1.  More love.
2.  More laughter. 
3.  More joy.
4.  Stories at bedtime.
5.  Seeing them sleepy-eyed in the mornings.
6.  Child-led prayer at mealtimes.
7.  Bike rides to the park.
8.  Having people to swim with in the deep end.
9.  Never have to jump on the trampoline alone.
10.  Never bored.
11.  More generosity.  Less selfishness.
12.  Having a reason for driving 45 minutes to the nearest skating rink.
13.  Unbridled enthusiasm over something seen or imagined.
14.  Always having a date for Happy Hour at Sonic.
15.  More humility.  They do not care who I think I am.

List B is the substance of my vocation.  List A are merely the accidental effects of my vocation, and every vocation has some.

This week proved it is possible for a house to be cleaned and stay clean.  I will not be stuck in the hamster wheel of cleaning for the rest of my life.  Good to know!

Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.  Proverbs 14:4, NIV Student Bible

Translation for parents:  Where there are no children, the house is clean, but from the lives and love of children come an abundant harvest.

Just as the farmer has to guide the ox for an abundant harvest, we have to guide our children for the same.  How do we do that?!  By asking the perfect question!

My friend, Janet, texted me the other day about something she was reflecting on.  Her text read, "My reflection for this afternoon:  if my love for my children is a reflection of the way God loves us...me...I wonder if I had a day with God in person, would I feel happy if he interacted with me the same way I interact with my kids?"

I told her I was "stealing" this idea (with her permission, of course), because it really is the true test of what we're doing as parents!  If we were on the receiving end of our parenting, as administered by God, how would we fare?  I love how she used the word "happy".  Would I be happy if God engaged me (or not), fed me, played with me, prayed with me, and disciplined me, the way I do these things with mine?

Dear Lord,

Thank you for keeping my children safe while they were away.  Thank you for my friend who kept them.  Thank you for Janet, and her wisdom.  Thank you for canoe trips down the Brazos River, and finding a perfect arrowhead on that sandbar.  Lord, please forgive my negative thoughts about motherhood, and all that it entails.  Thank you for time to reflect on many (but not all) of the irreplaceable gifts that my children bring into my life.  Thank you for the substance of my vocation.  Please help me to keep List B in front of me at all times, and to tuck List A away under the bed to gather dust.  You are an awesome God!  In every piece of tree that has turned into rock, fossils from animals that lived who-knows-when, and clusters of shells from an old ocean floor, I think of Your Majesty, Your Timelessness, and Your Fidelity to Your creatures.  Thank You. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Running Away From Home

I have an incredible friend who offered to keep my boys for five days.  (No, I will not email you her contact information :)).  Today is Day 3.  I talked to them last night and 2/3 wanted to come home.  This morning I texted with a friend who I am planning to sit with during her chemo treatment this afternoon.  She is the mother of ten.  Incredibly beautiful, holy, and wise.  When I told her that I would be there unless I had to pick up my kiddos, she said, "I never talk to my kids when they are away in the evening.  Things always look brighter in the morning."  Lesson learned.

Anyway, the past two days have been incredibly quiet, extremely productive, very relaxing, and awesome, in general. However, considering my time may end shortly, I've been thinking about what I enjoy most about being "free". 

*I like waking up early and not having to be quiet, for fear of waking someone up.
*I like choosing what to do next.  Filling up the hours of the day is fun, when you're not dragging a string of little people behind you.
*I like being able to run away from home.  Somewhere other than on my street, because I don't want to be out of earshot when my kids are home. 
*I like eating lunch out of town, just because I can.

In a word, I like the ability to "Go".  I never feel more free than when I'm heading out to cover some great distance.  Over the years (and prior to children), this has been on horseback, on foot, in a canoe, on a bicycle, or in a car.  On horseback, I competed in endurance riding.  Riding 25, 50, or 100 miles in a day.  My first experience with the sport was driving a truck and trailer for a lady (in a group) who did this across the Pony Express trail.  We were gone for two months, and they rode 2,000 miles.  Prior to that, I biked across Kansas the long way (which is about 400 miles), with a guy who pushed his way in a wheelchair.  After kids, almost every summer, my husband and I drive a long way, to hike a long way, in some part this incredible country.

One day, I'd like to walk across England (an article in a magazine that gave me that idea), the Appalachian trail, or the Continental Divide. 

I've never really thought about why these things appeal to me so much, but if I had to guess, it would probably be because I like to feel free.  I find God most easily in the quiet and in His Creation.  And when I spend a prolonged period of time in the quiet and in Creation, I find Him most profoundly.  There is also something planted deep within me that tells me I am made for a journey.  And when I perceive with all of my senses that I am covering distance with my Creator, that something rings true. 

We were not created to lead drab, narrow, or constricted lives, but to live in the wide-open spaces.  We find confinement unbearable, simply because we were created in the image of God, and we have within us an unquenchable need for the absolute and the infinite.

Interior Freedom, Jacques Phillipe

However, as much as these first thoughts are noble and true, there is also part of it that rewards my selfishness - the shedding of responsibility.  The escape.  Which just goes to prove that all godly things don't have to feel bad.  They can be good for God, and me.  And they usually are.  But, it doesn't really put life (especially a very blessed one like mine) in a very nice light - to talk about it as something that needs to be escaped from.  It is not a prison, or a plantation before the Civil War. 

Monotony, stress, exhaustion, etc... are only some of the accidental effects of any given vocation.  What you need to get hold of, and examine, and pray about, and give thanks to God for, and not allow to go to waste is the substance.  It is the vocation itself about which you must be sure:  when you have got the cause right...You will begin to see a pattern about your life.  It will not be a muddle of dreary duties that are mercifully interrupted every now and then by pleasures:  it will be a related whole; it will have unity.

The greatest pleasures in life are not those that are superimposed - any more than they are those that represent escapes.  The greatest and most lasting pleasures are those that emerge out of life itself.  They are these that come in virtue of the vocation, not in spite of it.  The taste of the fruit is not the sugar you put on it...As a rule, it is not that the fruit is bitter, but that we have a wrong idea of sweetness.

Holiness for Housewives (and other working women), Dom Hubert Van Zeller

*Note:  A vocation is a strong inclination to follow a particular course of action; a divine call to God's service or to the Christian life.

Back to unity and reality...I have three kids who have zero interest in riding their bikes beyond the park that's only two blocks away.  So, how do I create unity between these critical parts of who I am to them and what I want/need for me? 

For now, I will work it out in little ways.  Take the dog to Lick Creek park and "disappear" for a couple of hours.  Go swimming at the local pool until I can't pause long enough on the end to catch my breath.  Drive an hour to the National Forest and hike until I'm ready to stop.  Canoe the Brazos.  And of course, continually take my kids with me, as far as they're willing and able to go.

Which reminds me -  I am at home.  Alone.  And the day is stretched out before me.  Catch you later.

Dear Heavenly Father and Author of All That is Good,

Thank you for time to reflect on all of the good things You have given.  Thank you for the phone call while I was writing this that said "All is well. Everyone wants to stay."  Thank you for being available to me every second, of every minute of my lifetime.  Thank you for the wisdom of mothers who have raised ten children or any one child, well.  Thank you for a husband who I love to soak up the time with.  Thank you for the beauty and wonder of Your Creation, and the way it draws us to You.  Thank you for all of the opportunities in my life to set out on a journey.  Thank you for the journey I'm on now, and for those to come.  Please forgive my selfishness and help me always to recognize the substance of the work You have blessed me with.  Please bless all parents!  Especially those who are at home with little ones, who take two naps a day.  Please bless those on the other end of life who are dying from loneliness - The ones who would give anything to spend a day with a child.  Especially, Ms. Eva.  Thank you for this day, and all days.  Thank you for a home to be comfortable in. A home that I'm happy to leave and even happier to come home to.  I love You.  Amen.

 
     

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Friendship and the Power to Change the World

It's barely 8:00 on Sunday morning, and I have walked for 30 minutes, prayed the Rosary (during my walk), and finished my morning prayer.  All of my boys are still asleep.  I cannot tell you how good this feels!  I want to share this with you, because it's new and it's happening because of the influence of one person. 

Yesterday, I downloaded the Couch to 5K app on my phone, and headed out the door at 6:45am to begin Day 1.  I arrived back home in 30 minutes sweaty and satisfied.  I dropped my gym membership about a year ago, and haven't done much of anything since then.  I just couldn't commit nor did I even want to.  Until two days ago.

Two days ago, I got together with a friend who has three boys (like me) and a 7-month-old baby girl.  She was wearing her workout clothes when we arrived, so I pressed about her exercise routine.  She told me she gets up early before her kids wake and walks/jogs for 20 minutes, and she's not a runner.  One of her earliest nicknames was "Turtle".  This blew me away.  She has one more little one than I do, is not "good" at running, and she was still finding a way to exercise! 

Just knowing that she was doing it, was all I needed!  She changed my world.  There was other fruit from the time spent together as well, and I found myself marveling at the impact she made on me in the span of a morning.

It just so happens that my boys and I have had a lot of friend time this week, and I felt similarly inspired and challenged after each encounter.  Feeling very blessed in friendship, pondering the impact of those friendships, and making concrete changes in my life because of them was the perfect thought environment to enter into the Living Life With Passion and Purpose talk by Matthew Kelly I attended yesterday.

He had a lot of compelling things to say about the voice of God, personal clarity, Jesus, and being who you should be, and I plan to ponder them for some time.  I highly encourage you to check him out if you are looking to change your life in a powerful and positive way. 

One of the things that really stuck with me was the idea of a Spectrum of Engagement.  In any given area of our life (marriage, parenting, work, play) we engage anywhere from 100% to not-at-all.  "We engage or disengage in EVERYTHING we do".  He discussed what their research has shown about the two qualities highly engaged people always have:

1.  They're committed to continuous learning.
2.  They're hungry for best practices.  (Who's the best in the world at this and what can I learn from them?)

He also discussed the idea of universal talent vs. unique talent.  Universal talent is something we can all do.  Our universal talent is the ability to make a difference in other people's lives.  But, because we all have it, we tend to de-value it.  This is in contrast to unique talent (being exceptional at something), which is the type of talent our culture is obsessed with.  "Our culture takes what's important and makes it trivial, and takes what's trivial and makes it important."

These ideas took me back to thinking about my friends.  My friends are highly engaged people.  Only I never would have thought to label them before.  This is what attracts me to them.  This is why they challenge and inspire me.  This is why I need to make a better effort (which in my case, is any), to spend time with them. 

I am the beneficiary of my friends' universal talent - Their ability to make a difference in the lives of others, and specifically, my own.  In my conscious thought, if I could choose between being the best in the world at something, or having the power to impact another's life for good, I would choose the second.  Every time.

But, in my subconscious mind, it is easy to fantasize about the first and overlook the second.  The "bests" in the world are easy to envy.  Their lives are so "pretty" from the outside.  But, this past week with my friends, and listening to Matthew Kelly reminded me of the power contained in friendship.

Fr. Scott Reilly says, "Every person is a world.  Change one person, you change a world." 

I don't know who is the best in the world at being a wife, a mother, or a friend.  But, I know who are the best in my world, and that's all I need to know.


Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for my friends, and the power of their example!!  Thank you for the opportunity to listen to Matthew Kelly speak yesterday and the seeds that were planted.  Thank you for friends who reach out, even and especially when it's not "their turn".  Please forgive my selfishness and lack of generosity.  Please help me to value what is important, devalue what is trivial, and know the difference.  Thank you for couch to 5K phone apps, and rosaries on podcast.  Thank you for Sundays and the freedom we have in this country to worship You without fear.  I love You and I thank You from the bottom of my heart for giving me companions on this journey who make me better.  Amen.



Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Golden Calf named "Certainty"

 I just got home from my Holy hour and am too excited to sleep about the epiphany I had when I was there. 

I worship a golden calf named "Certainty".   

I am willing (and greatly desire) to sacrifice my freedom to know that I am doing God's will.  I beg God all the time, "Just make Your Will known to me, and I will do it."  I'll accept anything from God except not knowing what He wants from me.

However, now that the hook I've been hanging all of my certainty and plans on for the past two years has been removed, I'm becoming a little more open-minded.  The hook removal (not being accepted into the Spiritual Direction program) was also a good lesson in humility and detachment.  Leaning too hard on anything, if it is not God Himself, is dangerous.  Even if it is something good.  Even if it is something you think He wants. 

I've read several things over time that all came together tonight.  Like when you pass the tipping point in Solitaire.

The progression went something like this...

"Does the way seem a stony one?  Not one stone can impede your progress.  Face the future, but face it only with a brave and happy heart.  Do not seek to see it.  You are robbing Faith of her sublime sweetness if you do this."  ~God Calling   

"And Christ still sends me roses.  We try to be formed and held and kept by him, but instead he offers us freedom.  And now when I try to know his will, his kindness floods me, his great love overwhelms me, and I hear him whisper, Surprise me. ~Mariette in Ecstasy, Ron Hansen

"Can we surprise God?  Probably not in some ultimate metaphysical sense; God knows all in his dwelling place in eternity.  But in our daily relationship with Jesus, I wouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand.  We crave certainty; "instead he offers us freedom."  This opens the door to surprise.  Even if we don't surprise God, we can surprise ourselves."  a simple life-changing prayer - Discovering the Power of St. Ignatius Loyola's Examen, Jim Manney

It makes sense that we crave certainty because we recognize how important doing the will of God is in the life of a Christian.  It is paramount.

"The only thing that really matters in life is doing the will of God.  Once you are doing the will of God, then everything matters.  But apart from the accepted will of God, nothing has any lasting reality.  So, If God wills that you should be bowed over the sink instead of over the pew in your favorite church, then washing the dishes is for you, now, the most perfect thing you can possibly do."
Holiness for Housewives (and other working women), Don Hubert Van Zeller

So, my freedom isn't the curse that is often feels like...Should I do this or that?  Work or stay home?  Write or not? 

There is not a pencil thin line drawn through my life that is "God's will".  It is not something that I should fear missing or messing up.  It is not something I need to lean forward to catch a glimpse of, or strain my eyes to see.  I am robbing Faith when I do that.

"God made the angels to show Him splendor - as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity.  But man He made to serve Him wittingly, in the tangle of his mind."
~A Man of All Seasons, Thomas More

My freedom is God's gift to me, and He does not intend to exchange it for certainty.  About anything.  This makes sense, because now I know that certainty is its own god.  And my God will not put up with that.

Dear Awesome and Gentle God,

How could anyone but You make me feel good about the realization that I'm violating one of Your ten commandments?!  How can an all-powerful God nudge so gently?  I have been worshipping a false god, and I didn't even know it.  Thank you for nights like tonight when the stuff of years aligns itself.  Thank you for friendships which help me to know You, myself, and others better.  Please forgive my attachment to all that is not You.  Please give me the grace of Your Presence, rather than knowledge of Your plan.  I'm sorry I've been trying to take something You never intended to give, and robbed Faith of her sweetness.  I love the idea of trying to surprise You.  I think I'll try it.  I love You.  Please make me love You more and more.  Amen.