Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Living In the Kitchen

My niece moved here a few weeks ago.  She sleeps at my mother-in-law's house (2 doors down), but spends a lot of her time here.  She's learning what life looks like at the Dixon residence.  As she walked in last night, she said, "Every time I come over here, you are standing in the kitchen."  I agreed, and we sat down to dinner.  After dinner, I was back in the kitchen, and she asked on her way out, "Is your life fulfilling?"

I said "Yes" (after making a mental note of the magnitude of this question, and the cynicism dripping from her voice), rattled off something about how important it is, and then toyed with her question through the night and most of today.

Do I find my life to be fulfilling?

What is fulfilling about "living" in the kitchen?   Preparing and cleaning up after meals three times a day, 341 (365 -24 if you eat out twice a month) days of the year.  1023 times if you're really into Math...There are definitely other areas of my life that don't involve the kitchen, but it really is the biggest part of what I do.  Biggest in terms of time, and biggest in terms of mental energy!

Some people might find it fulfilling because they're really good at it, or maybe it is a form of artistic expression for them.  Others may love it, simply because they love food.

Three strikes, here.  I don't find "living" in the kitchen to be fulfilling for any of these reasons.

As time has passed, I have come to realize it is necessary for people to eat.  It is one of the few legitimate activities we engage in, as human beings.  If left to my own devices, I would graze throughout the day (almonds, cheese, apples, etc...), and quite possibly, never so much as warm something up.  Needless to say, I  LOVE eating out because it takes me out of the whole eating process!!  One of God's greatest gifts, really.  I digress...

Back to finding fulfillment in the very-necessary, food preparation responsibilities that come with being a wife and mother:

I think the highest calling in this life (and therefore, the most fulfilling) is to love our neighbor for love of God.  The people God has entrusted to me are my most important neighbors.  When I cook and clean for them, or whatever else I do to meet/ exceed their needs, I am engaged in the most important activity on the face of the earth.  Further proof that these actions are approved by God, is that they demand humility!  Most often, the only reward I receive for my efforts (besides generous praise and gratitude from my husband) are words of disapproval regarding the menu, or complaints about how long it took to put it on the table. 

There are so many things we can do in this life.  Many look fulfilling, but are not.  And just as many look unfulfilling, but are.

So, yes, my life is fulfilling.  But, that does not mean it is always comfortable or without its doubts.

Just today, I had to have an "affirmation" lunch with my husband because I'm back to feeling like I can't please anyone for very long, which always makes me think I must be doing something wrong.  However, he assured me that the fruits of my labor are to come.  In the future.  The very distant future.  At the end of our meal, he handed me a fortune cookie, and jokingly said, "Maybe your answer is in here."  It read, "Ships are safe in the harbor, but that's not what they are built for." 

My I-can-relate-anything-to-anything interpretation of that was "We can't use comfort as a sign that we are doing what we were made to do".  A ship isn't battered by waves until it is doing its job.  Just because I lack the comfort of being surrounded by people who are happy and grateful all the time, doesn't mean I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing.  I am.   Therefore, I am fulfilled.  Fulfillment is only possible when you know you are "the-best-version-of-yourself" and doing what you were made to do.

Yes, my life is fulfilling.  And, I am tremendously grateful to my niece for asking the question to begin with.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for Dallas and her question.  Thank you for having such confidence in me that you continue to place people in my life to love and serve.  Please forgive me when I stop communicating the joy that always comes with doing Your will.  Thank you for my husband, his words of encouragement, and his belief in me.  Thank for a kitchen to work in, and a home to welcome and love those You send.  Please remain with me and all of those who struggle with their vocation, especially when it appears to be of little value to the world!  Thank you for pithy little statements in the middle of a cookie.  Thank you for all.  I love You.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fear, Hope, or Love - The Reasons for Every Action Since the Beginning of Time

Fear.  Hope.  Love. 

One of these three things motivate every action of our life.  They dictate how we suffer interiorly, and how we treat others.  They are often very hidden, but the absence of clamor doesn't nullify their existence or change their power.  If anything dictates everything in my life, I want to know about it.  I like to know what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.  If you don't have clarity about what you're doing, it is impossible to act with purity.  Purity of intention is acknowledging and removing all selfish intent when performing an action, and doing it for love alone.

To do good to others in the hope that, in turn, our Lord will be good to you is a supernatural motive, even if it is self-centered.  To do good to others with the consciousness that Christ asks it of you is less egoistic.  To do good to others because you are convinced that Christ will consider it as having been done to Him personally is a sign of pure love of God.  To do good to others because you can please God, and you want to give Him the best you can, is perfect love of God.
The Hidden Power of Kindness, Lawrence G. Lovasik

Fr. Lovasik didn't refer to doing good to others to avoid going to hell, but it is a possible motivation nonetheless.  In the same way, fear, hope, and love dictate our response to suffering in our lives.

According to Rt. Rev. Dom Lehodey in Holy Abandonment, there are three degrees of conformity to God's will in response to suffering:

In the first degree, we have no desire for suffering; in fact, we avoid it as much as possible.  However, we are willing to endure it if it is the only way that we can avoid committing a fault [for fear of condemnation].

In the second degree, we don't wish for suffering, but when it comes, we accept it and endure it willingly because we know that suffering is a part of God's plan for us.  We have a love of suffering, but this love is only a consequence of our love for God. [Hope in God's goodness and plan]

In the third degree, which is the most perfect of all, we are not content with just accepting the trials that God may send us and suffering cheerfully out of our love for Him...our love for God is so great that we long for trials and we rejoice when they come to us because we know that they come from the hand of God and are ordained by His adorable will. [Love]

 [What is contained in brackets is my interpretation, based on St. Bernard's summation]

According to St. Bernard, beginners as a rule have only resignation derived from fear; proficient bear the cross with a willing heart, a more generous conformity begotten of hope; the perfect embrace the cross with ardor, which complete conformity is the fruit of holy love.

Since we are all looking for happiness, it is good to know that we can have something even greater.  That something greater is joy.  It transcends happiness because it is not dependent on people or circumstances.  "Authentic joy is a deep interior peace and satisfaction that we experience as the fruit of wisdom and understanding." (Endow study guide)  It is the result of placing our expectations on Jesus, and not on others.  It comes when we do all things with purity of intention - the intention to love our neighbor for love of God.  Even, and especially, in our suffering. 

In his letter Salvifici Doloris, Pope John Paul II gives us four reasons our suffering can be seen as a reason for joy:

1.  It clears the way for the infusion of grace which transforms human souls.
2.  In it, there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ...
3.  ...human sufferings, united to the redemptive suffering of Christ, constitute a special support for the powers of good, and open the way to the victory of these salvific powers.
4.  Faith in sharing the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person 'completes what is lacking in Christ's afflictions'; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of Redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters.

So, basically, our suffering (IF we unite it with Christ's suffering by our intention to do so), can serve for our own salvation and that of others. 

That is a reason for real joy.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the rain, roofs that don't leak, and bread machines.  Thank you for loving us.  Thank you for fear to motivate us when our love is not yet perfect.  Thank you for hope along the way, and your love to imitate.  Please give me the wisdom to know what motivates me.  I want to do all things for love of You.  Please grant me the grace to act with purity of intention and detachment from all that is not You nor leads me to You.  Please give me the joy that comes from understanding your love for me, and your plan to bring good out of everything, especially suffering.  Thank you for the opportunity to participate in my own salvation and that of others.  Thank you for Pope John Paul II and the continued guidance of your Church since you gave Peter the keys to your Kingdom.  Thank you for Pope Francis and for his love.  Amen.

Pope John Paul II, pray for us!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Swingset, a Slide, and a Lie

Jesus told Sister Faustina, "The greatest obstacles to holiness are discouragement and worry."

If you need to be encouraged to drop discouragement and worry like a hot rock, consider the following bits of wisdom:

"Don't give in to discouragement...If you are discouraged, it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers.  Never bother about people's opinions.  Be humble and you will never be disturbed.  It is very difficult in practice because we all want to see the result of our work.  Leave it to Jesus."  ~Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

"Wherever there is discouragement and despair, we are sure to discover a deficiency of faith in God and a failure in patience and humility."  ~Endow study guide

"All the reasons that cause us to lose our sense of peace are bad reasons." ~Jacques Phillipe, Searching For and Maintaining Peace

"If we are discouraged or have lost our peace, "We don't believe that He [God] is capable of utilizing everything for our good and that NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, would He leave us lacking in the essentials - lacking anything that would permit us to love more.  To grow or to enrich one's spiritual life is to learn to love.  Many of the circumstances that I consider damaging could, in fact, be for me, IF I HAD MORE FAITH, precious opportunities to love more:  to be more patient, humble, gentle, merciful, and to abandon myself more into the hands of God."  ~Jacques Phillipe, Searching For and Maintaining Peace

Today's Gospel reading (John 20:11-18) was about Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb, after Jesus had risen.  The angels and the Lord himself, asked her, "'Woman, why are you weeping?'  She has come to her own fatalistic conclusion about what happened to Christ - 'They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him' - and it is from this pessimism that she must be converted...Something Greater than our sorrow is now at work in the world.  It is the reason why, even in our weeping, we bend over and peer into the tomb, full of expectation." ~Magnificat 

We are an Easter people.  We have the joy of the risen Christ!  We cannot allow discouragement and worry to rob us of it.  Like Mary Magdalene, we cannot be caught crying outside the empty tomb!  We know where our Lord is.  No one has taken Him.   He has not been laid anywhere.  He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.  He is interceding for us, and we must not forget that.  Ever. 

No matter how dour our circumstances, we must reject the notion that we are justified in our discouragement and worry.  We are not!  They are simply the fruit of too-little faith.  We can understand discouragement and worry best as a swing set, a slide, and a lie.  A playground for human weakness, where the Truth is stuck outside the fence. 

Dear Risen Christ, Savior, and Redeemer, Thank you for the rain today.  Thank you for the empty tomb.  Please forgive our temptation to discouragement and worry.  Please give us the grace to remember You, Your intercession, and Your power in every circumstance.  Please forgive our forgetfulness and lack of gratitude.  Thank you for the example of Mary Magdalene - her great love, and her flawed humanity.  Thank you for loving us, still.  Amen.