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.