The Return

Good morning!

As you can see I am tinkering around with the ol’ blog. I have moved it over here to WordPress. I wanted to do this a long time ago, but I am technology-challenged, so it’s taken awhile. But here we are. It is pretty plain for now, but I’ll continue to work on it to get some pictures around and make it feel a little more like home.

I need an outlet again, so I hope to write more often. I’ve just had so much going on and usually think the things I have to say are really only important to me, so why bother with the blog? But, I won’t write unless I have an audience (I guess) so I’m going to get back at it.

Today is Ash Wednesday 2016. This year, one of my children is old enough to keep the fast. THAT was a fun conversation last night:

Sarah: I can’t take my turkey sandwich for lunch tomorrow, so I guess I’ll spring for the cheese pizza.

Me: So…you’re 14 now, and should keep the fast.

Sarah: <blank stare> ummm, what?

I explained how the fast works and now that she’s 14, it applies to her. I encouraged her. And she ended up taking a granola bar for breakfast and an apple for mid-day and plans to eat her dinner.

I asked my children what they were giving up for Lent. I don’t think Helen has something yet, but Dani said she is giving up chips and everything like it (so no chips, pretzels, crackers, etc.) That’s a good one because I know that is a true sacrifice for her!

Alas, I have become so terrible with picking a sacrifice over the years. I hadn’t anything picked as of this morning. On my way to work, I decided to pray a Rosary for a special intention I have going right now. As I was praying that Rosary, I realized that what I need to do for Lent is to build up my prayer life. It has gotten so very slack the past few years. So, I decided that I will pray the full Rosary daily during Lent — I am not sure what it’s called, so I called it a full Rosary, but I intend to do each set of mysteries each day, so a total of 20 decades daily, to offer throughout Lent.

This will be a challenge for me and I believe it will require me to get up early and spend some time in prayer before everyone gets moving for the day. But, it should help me refocus a bit more on what’s important.

I’ve lost sight of what’s truly important — I can feel it in my bones and in my heart — something is just not right and I need to get it back the way it ought to be. (I will undoubtedly expound on this in future blogposts.) This most likely means stepping back from working out like I was. Truth be told, I’ve already stepped back a bit, but I keep trying to get back into it, and it’s not providing me the peace it did before. I think that is because the peace I need can only come from One Person and I have to seek His Peace in a more active way. My hope is that spending more time in prayer will guide me to Him in a deeper and more meaningful way.

I thank you for reading if you’ve followed me along this far. I wish you a blessed Ash Wednesday and a fruitful Lent.

Throwback Thursday Reruns: Thy Will Be…

Welcome to another edition of Throwback Thursday Reruns. This post ran in December 2011 after a homily when the Gospel was the story of the Annunciation and Mary’s Fiat. I still find myself praying that God’s will be what I want instead of praying for acceptance far more than I would like. But, awareness is half the battle, right?

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This past weekend’s Gospel was from Luke 1: 26-38. This the the story of the Annunciation, when the Archangel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary and announced that she would conceive and bear the Son of God.

Photo Found Here

In his homily, this weekend, Father put forth an interesting juxtaposition. Side note: does anyone else get excited to use a word like juxtaposition in their blogpost? Yeah, I figured. (I am SUCH a nerd!)

He reminded us all how fearful this moment must have been for Mary. She was young, a teenager, and she was being told that she would conceive a child, (when she had no relations with a man). Without the fact that this child would be the Savior of the World, this was scary. She was betrothed to Joseph who could choose to leave her; becoming pregnant out of wedlock might get her outcast (and that was probably the least scary option); and going through pregnancy, labor and childbirth without going through normal human means to get to that situation…the chances are that Mary might have wondered if there were ANY way at all to bring the Lord, our Savior into this world without having to go through all of this, that she might pray for that instead. But she said, “May it be done to me according to Your will.”
Then he reminded us all how fearful the night before His Crucifixion was for our Lord in the Garden. He prayed that if there were any way at all to accomplish what He needed to accomplish without going through the torture that lay ahead, that He would rather do that. But His prayer, ultimately, was “Thy Will Be Done.”
The juxtaposition was this: Instead of praying with the spirit and intention of “Thy Will be Changed” Jesus and Mary both prayed with the spirit and intention of “Thy Will be Done.”
How often when I pray, do I say the words, “Thy Will be Done” but with my heart and mind I say, “Thy Will be Changed”? I have caught myself more often than I want to admit with the prayer, “Please, Lord, Let it be your will that X, Y, or Z happen.”
I thought about this a lot this weekend.
It’s human to want things in our lives. We think we know what’s best for us. We would like to avoid suffering. We’d like to partake in all the comforts of this life while avoiding all of the discomforts (or most of them anyway). And I think it’s in some of Paul’s writings in the Bible (yes, I’m showing my Catholic laziness by not trying to find the actual Bible verses…sorry) that we are to petition the Lord. He wants us to pray and petition Him. That is how we build a relationship with Him. However, just because the outcome WE desire does not materialize, does not mean God has not heard our prayer or has not answered our prayer.
I think it’s easy to get caught up in our prayers to God and think that we must be praying for what is God’s will because we desire it so much in our hearts. We make ourselves believe that God put that desire on our hearts or else we wouldn’t feel it so strongly. And, then when our hearts’ most urgent and real desires do not become reality, we kind of stomp our feet and say, “Well, why do I desire this so fervently if it’s not Your Will, God!?!?” And sometimes we only pray all the harder for this intention.
It’s hard to remember that God answers prayers on His terms, in His time. And it’s hard to remember that God’s will is not always something we ourselves would choose.
I have a favorite line/quote from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (the first of the series). When I think about what I want versus what God wants, it pops into my head. It is at the end of the book when Dumbledore and Harry are having sort of debrief discussion after the climax of the story. Dumbledore tells Harry,

“–the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.”

Now, of course. humans do not ALWAYS choose something that is worst for them. However, that which is best for us usually entails a bit of work, or some suffering, most likely some sacrifice.
More than likely, God’s will for us is going to take at least some work on our part, most definitely some sort of sacrifice and undoubtedly a bit of suffering.
How often do we see our choices ahead of us and ask God to grant us the way with the least amount of work, sacrifice and suffering? And then, when the way that unfolds for us is the one with the work, sacrifice and suffering, we are sad, we think God didn’t hear us and we surely believe God didn’t answer our prayer if, somehow, He did hear us.
I have found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve thought about this message over the last 24-48 hours. I am challenging myself to honestly assess my prayers and hold myself accountable for where my heart is anchored.
Do I pray with the spirit and intention and request that God’s will be changed to conform with my wishes and desires?

Or do I have the courage, wisdom and fortitude to pray with the spirit and intention and request that God’s will be done in my life?

Lenten Reflection During Holy Week

As I contemplated returning to the blog-world when Easter had passed, I thought a lot about how Lent went this year. Last year, Lent was a mess. I already covered that. And I wanted this year to be meaningful in some way, but I wasn’t sure I knew how to accomplish that. The past 15 months, spiritually, have been weird for me. While I am sure I drew closer to Christ through my sorrow and grief, at times I wonder if I negated some of that growth with my spiritual apathy.

It may or may not surprise you that my prayer life has been a bit sporadic. I do the prayers with my kids (before meals and before bed) and I pray a rosary whenever I run outside. I also attend Mass every week, but how attentive and prayerful I am mostly depends on how my children behave. I’m not proud of this, it’s clear that I’ve been slacking in the prayer department.

Even this Lent, I have had a hard time figuring out how to right this sinking ship. I picked up a Catholic book on spiritual warfare, only to fall asleep every time I tried to read it. I went to confession, but I feel like it was not the “big deal” confession usually is for me. (Note: Typically, I rush my butt to confession when I have one or more of those really horrible mortal sins…and if I don’t have one or more of those, it’s easy to put off confession. So that would be why confession usually is a “big deal.”) I didn’t make it to an extra Mass each week like I thought I might try to do. I haven’t prayed a rosary with my children in a very long time.

Basically, I’m starting to feel like I’m failing at this “raising my kids Catholic” thing. My children get a lot of faith formation at school (it’s why we have them in this particular Catholic school in the first place) but I am slacking at home. The more I’ve focused on things like losing weight and getting in shape and keeping my children in their activities, the less prayer and faith has taken the forefront of our attention. That makes me sad.

Of course I know that unless I discipline myself to pray and focus on growing in my faith, I cannot spur the same in my children. I feel somewhat at a loss as to how to fix this. Our evenings are crazy with volleyball and swim practices and Crossfit workouts for Craig and me. The weekends fill up quickly with outings, birthday parties, errands, homework and chores. It seems like every minute of every day is consumed with something and I wonder…when did I find time for this before? Because the honest truth is, I used to make time for this. I used to go to daily Mass, and I used to pray in the car, and I used to go to confession every other week.

I often wonder if some of the things I’ve taken on are distractions from the devil designed to take my focus away from God. I gotta be honest, though, it’s hard for me to believe that getting to a healthy weight and taking care of my body (my temple) is evil. I’ve needed to take charge of my health for a very long time and now that I’m doing it, it’s difficult for me to find fault with that. I don’t believe I have an unhealthy obsession or anything. I am simply trying to get (and stay) healthy. I also have a hard time understanding how providing activities for my children (that also contribute to their health and well-being) could be “of the devil.”

So, I’m kind of hitting a confusion point. How do I get my (and my family’s) prayer life back on track without giving up the gains we’ve made in other areas? Are we doing enough? I have a hard time believing that — but I can’t figure out if I can’t believe it simply because I will never feel like we are doing enough.


How do you balance the activities you sacrifice to provide for your family and yourself with the need to stay close to God?

Throwback Thursday Reruns: The Decisions I Won’t Regret

Last week, on Thursday, I posted an old post as a re-run and I kind of liked doing that. 

So. I am doing it again. I wrote this post as I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with Vincent. The only thing I could add to this post is that I still don’t regret the decisions since then. We were open to another child and God blessed us with Gregory. Of course, we miss him terribly, but on some level, I feel honored that God asked us to bring the soul of a saint into the world. It hurts that Gregory’s time with us was so fleeting, but it humbles me to realize I am parent of a soul so loved by God that He saw fit to bring Gregory into His presence so early in his life.

Without further adieu…my reflection from May 2011, on the Decisions I Won’t Regret.

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I had the opportunity to talk with my husband’s uncle and aunt at a party recently.  They have two beautiful daughters about 15 months apart who are now grown-up, successful adults (one is a doctor, but chooses to be home to mother her four children and the other is an attorney with her own practice).  Craig’s aunt mentioned that there had been times she had wished they might have tried for one more child.  Through the discussion, I mentioned that when Craig and I have discussed our family, God’s plan for how large it should be and such, one thing we’ve tried to keep in mind was that we would never regret having another child…but we might regret not being open to another child.  Both his uncle and aunt nodded and said that was a wise way to look at it, based on their experience.  These two people were/are very successful in their own careers and about to retire.  They enjoy their four grandchildren as much as any grandparents ever did and I’m fairly certain that they don’t have much to regret, but even if they did have a slight regret about their family size – it is just that – slight and most likely fleeting. 
But as I think about our family and where we stand today, with four active children and number 5 kicking away at my ribs, I think about my chances to regret….and am surprised to find that I really don’t regret much.
I do not regret my nervous discussion with Craig just about 11 years ago when I said I thought maybe we should try to have a baby.  Having children wasn’t really on our radar when we got married, and I was relieved that the most resistance I received from Craig was, “But…I thought we weren’t gonna do that.”  
When Sarah came along, our lives changed dramatically.  What was important before her took a back seat to what was important now.  Particularly, Sarah’s baptism into the Catholic faith was a major turning point for Craig and me to get down to business on knowing our faith so that we could pass it on to her.  I am not sure I could ever convey to Sarah just how very important she has been to her parents.  I’m quite certain that our acceptance of her was the catalyst to our acceptance to all the Grace and Blessings that could be bestowed on two people in the Sacrament of Marriage. 
I could probably write a post per child explaining the non-regret I have for each of them.  They have all brought something new and necessary to our family.  Watching them grow up together brings me more joy than any earthly experience I could ever imagine.
I do not regret my nervous discussion with Craig just about 10 years ago when I broached the subject of learning Natural Family Planning (NFP), which opened the doors to learning the Church’s unwavering teaching regarding marriage and sexuality.  I do not regret tossing those pills, learning how to read my body’s signals through its ongoing cycles, and giving a gift of my total self to my husband in our marriage.  That decision has been a waterfall of love and grace pouring down on my life, blessing me in my husband’s love and devotion, showering me in plentiful hugs and kisses from my babies, and gifting me beyond measure as my children grow up into people who continue to teach me.  Without a doubt, the blessing of NFP in our marriage has been a savior of sorts…much like I cannot imagine where my life might have gone without Sarah entering into it, I cannot imagine what my life would be without NFP.
I do not regret putting our children in our parish’s school.  While every education choice and decision comes with its ups and downs, our school has been a place of spiritual growth and cultivation for our children.  Our parish is a place I flee to when I need to confess and cling to when I need to pray.  We are so blessed by everyone we encounter at Mass, social gatherings, meetings and school functions.  There was a time in my life when if I had been asked if I would place my children in a Catholic school, I probably would have answered doubtfully.  (Maybe someday I’ll write about that.  Maybe not.)  Truth be told, it took a VERY special place to turn my heart around on the subject, and I thank the Lord every day, for our parish and school, providing a place for my children to grow in love of Christ, learn beyond perceived potential and a place where they can daily express the deepest desires of their heart to be close to our Lord and His Blessed Mother.
When we moved 5 months ago, I was going through a closet and found a piece of paper on which I had written goals over the next five years back in 2001.  Of course, we’re now 10 years past that, but it struck me funny how even in 2001, while I was expecting my first child and much of my worldview hadn’t changed from before her conception…that the path I constructed with these goals still lined up with what had happened over those five years.  
One of the goals was that we’d have three kids.  That one made me smile…because apparently, as soon as I grasped the idea of a blessing of one child, I jumped immediately to three (but it was clear from the goals I wrote, that three was the max…in 2001, at least).  One of the goals was to have completed my MBA.  One of the goals was to have met a certain salary requirement.  
Amazingly, even though I’d forgotten about this slip of paper with these 5-year-plan goals…I had met all of them.  We had Dani in 2003 and Helen in 2006 (3 kids in 5 years).  I graduated with my MBA in 2003.  And I had attained the salary that I had set out to attain by the year 2004.
My only sort-of-sad observation was that none of these goals I had written had anything to do with my spiritual life or growing deeper in my faith.  
Maybe what I should take from it is this:  It was never up to me in the first place.

Even though I didn’t set out at any one point in time to get closer to God, I was still pulled in that direction.  And quite possibly the reason I don’t regret anything I have written about here, is because I can see how it’s all led to the one place I want to be more than anything…closer to being in union with God.

I Hold His Hand While Jesus Holds My Heart

I didn’t make it through Mass this weekend without crying. Again.

I asked Craig when we pulled into the driveway as we arrived home, “Will I ever make it through Mass without crying, ever again?” 

And he said, “Yes.”

Being Catholic is such a beautiful thing. I have told people in the past that sometimes, as a “Cradle Catholic” I tend to think I may have taken for granted all the blessings there are in our Faith. Now, as I experience the beauty of our Sacraments with a gaping wound in my heart, I feel more sure I must have taken some of the blessings for granted. Because if I hadn’t, I’d probably never have made it through Mass without crying.

Receiving our Lord in the Eucharist, since losing Gregory, has been the most heart-wrenching yet comforting experience in my life. The Eucharistic prayers, the Sanctus, the Our Father and the sign of peace, the Agnus Dei have all touched me in some way over the past three weeks in such a way that I am overcome. I keep thinking it is grief that I am overcome with, but as I reflect on it, I’m not so sure. Yes, in the main, I am grieving a tremendous loss. But what I’m noticing is more of an awareness of the prayers I say and the fact that Jesus is fully present — Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity — to me at that moment. I am keenly aware that this is my one and only chance to be with our Lord and it’s as close as I’m gonna get until the day, God willing, I can look upon His face.

The awareness is also connected to Gregory. I’d be a fool to think otherwise, since I never had this keen awareness until I experienced the loss of my son. I didn’t have words to comprehend the awareness and what it meant with regard to Gregory until a woman who brought us a meal in the week following Gregory’s death said this: “I bet you feel really close to him (Gregory) at Mass.” And the tears came because my first thought was that I seem to feel separated from Gregory at Mass. The awareness that I am able to be one with our Lord in the Eucharist seems to illuminate this great chasm between heaven and earth for me right now. Because Gregory is in heaven and I can’t be there with him, it feels incredibly far away. But her words made me think of it differently. Instead of feeling the space between heaven and earth, perhaps it fills that space and provides an avenue for me to be closer to Gregory, closer to Jesus. That makes sense because Jesus instituted the Sacraments to provide a way to be closer to Him. 

The oh-so-close-yet-so-far-away effect creates the tears. It is almost as though I could touch my sweet boy, but…I can’t.

Going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist have been an important, non-negotiable part of my weekend much of my life. It seems, however, that only now that I’ve lost something precious, do I even approach some sort of understanding. It’s not that I didn’t care before, it’s more like I thought I DID understand it. It seems to me that I now have a very different level of understanding — one with pain, suffering, loss, and tears. 

My desire for the Eucharist was strong before. 

My desire for the Eucharist is now urgent, or perhaps a bit more fervent.

It is almost like it’s my lifeline — even with the sadness it evokes and the tears that come that I cannot control. 

The Eucharist is the way I feel connected to Gregory. It’s the small way I get to be with Jesus — just a little bit, just like Gregory is with Jesus.  It’s a time where I feel like I can hold his hand while Jesus holds my heart.

Tenth Avenue North

Incarnation – Crucifixion: The Mystery of Christ’s Life

During the days leading up to Christmas, I read a piece of writing reflecting on the idea that Jesus was  born to die, and contesting with the notion that Jesus was only born to live for us.  The writer wrote that he was “sad that anyone could reduce the mystery of incarnation to the tragedy of crucifixion.” 

I bookmarked the piece and thought about it for the past few weeks.  Why does it not bother me to think of Jesus’ birth as simply the means to his death?  I celebrate Jesus’ birth fully and am overcome with gratitude that my Lord and Savior humbled himself to become like me – a human – though he retained his divine nature.  Do I consider his death to be more important than his life?  Why do I pair his crucifixion with his Incarnation as though they are equal and desirable pieces to the puzzle of my faith?

A recent e-mail in my inbox titled “Read the Catechism in a Year” (day 76) contained a Catholic perspective on this very topic that I’d like to share with you:

The Catechism states [in Part 1:  The Profession of Faith, Chapter 2: I believe in Jesus Christ, the Only Son of God, Article3, Paragraph 3 (pertaining to The Mysteries of Christ’s Life)]:

512     Concerning Christ’s life the Creed speaks only about the mysteries of the Incarnation (conception and birth) and Paschal mystery (passion, crucifixion, death, burial, descent into hell, resurrection and ascension).  It says nothing explicitly about the mysteries of Jesus’ hidden or public life, but the articles of faith concerning his Incarnation and Passover do shed light on the whole of his earthly life.  “All that Jesus did and taught, from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven”, is to be seen in the light of the mysteries of Christmas and Easter. (emphasis, mine)

We do have some stories of Jesus’ life in the Gospels, but those stories that are present in the Gospels are written down “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”  As humans, we desire to see Jesus more as the “man” and less like the “God” but our faith, as Catholic Christians, is that he was equally man and God, therefore, we cannot make one nature greater than the other.  Only God could endure the suffering Jesus did, no mere man.  I think these assertions that we should focus more on the fact that Jesus came to live for us, as it is put in the article, are more like attempts to mold God into our image, as opposed to maintaining the truth that man is made in God’s image.

It is not a natural human inclination, to dwell on the death of our Savior.  As humans we eschew all that is pain and suffering and cling to anything that makes us feel good.  However, just because we, as humans, have a hard time understanding that Jesus’ suffering through His passion and death was freely chosen by Him and lovingly endured in order to save us from our sins doesn’t mean that it isn’t truly the point of his coming.  What other point was there for him to take on humanity?  The author of the article contends that it was to show us how to live.  I would contend that God had been doing that for centuries before Jesus’ coming.  Did He not provide the Ten Commandments to Moses?

And while I understand the desire to focus more on the life of Christ rather than his death,  the honest truth of the matter is that most of Jesus’ life is not written down anywhere for us to reference and learn about.  The Catechism speaks to this as well:

I.                    CHRIST’S WHOLE LIFE IS MYSTERY

514     Many things about Jesus of interest to human curiosity do not figure in the Gospels.  Almost nothing is said about his hidden life at Nazareth, and even a great part of his public life is not recounted.  (emphasis, mine) What is written in the Gospels was set down there “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”

I’m not sad when I see a message reminding me that Jesus was born to die.  I know what He died for and that I’m not worthy.  Jesus’ death and resurrection is not tragic – it is beautiful.  And I believe it has every bit of a place paired with his Incarnation.  His death and resurrection brings the greatest purpose of all to His coming.  Earth, to my understanding, cannot compete with the beauty of heaven.

We celebrate His birth, not because he died, but because he humbled himself to become man at all. We celebrate His death, not because we’re masochistic and that 33 years of his life were meaningless, but because his death was the Victory over sin and death itself. We celebrate Jesus as our savior because life on Earth is NOT eternal life, it is temporal and it is not free of suffering and sacrifice and we look toward the life after death in union with our Creator.

I DO believe Jesus came to live for us, but my faith remains that the death and resurrection of Jesus conquered sin and death once and for all and is the only reason for him to humble himself to humanity at all.  And THAT is why I celebrate the Crucifixion alongside the Incarnation.
PHOTO CREDIT



 

NFP Awareness – The Fear

One obstacle that my husband and I had to overcome as we embraced Natural Family Planning (NFP) early in our marriage was fear. Not mine, but the fear I perceived was his.
I can’t say I was ever scared of learning NFP.  I wasn’t even scared of using NFP.  I try to limit the amount of fear I allow myself to have.  I’m the kind of person who will just plow forward and understand that I don’t know what’s ahead, but cling to my faith that there’s nothing out there that I can’t handle.  
And so it was with NFP.
I was aware enough to understand, that I needed to have some empathy for my husband.  I think the leap was a little farther for him when it came to NFP.  Perhaps he was afraid we’d never have sex.  Or maybe he was afraid we’d have more babies than we could handle.  
Over the years, he’s been a bit more afraid than I when it came time to “plow forward” into the unknown abyss of another child.  I’ve learned to accept that his fears are well-grounded and I’ve maintained my patience and trust that God would get the two of us on the same page eventually.  I haven’t always believed it was my husband who needed to get on my page, nor do I feel that way today.  I try to remember that God may, and does, move my heart to be in line with my husband’s whatever place that might be.
It’s a good reminder that NFP can and often is difficult for many people, for different reasons.  We live in an instant-gratification culture, which has applied “I want it now” so thoroughly to sex that many kids “hook up” before they make it official and go exclusive with someone.  There’s the mentality out there:  “Yeah, I guess I *could* use NFP…but why WOULD I?  Or why SHOULD I?”
I have found my discussions with non-Catholics about this topic don’t change too many hearts and minds.  I’ve had some minor success encouraging Catholics to open their hearts to acceptance on the Church’s teachings.  But a non-Catholic doesn’t have the same draw on the issue, and therefore the stakes don’t seem that high (to them).  Personally, I think that the NFP way of life would be beneficial for everyone, but without a common ground rooted in faith, it seems I don’t have a way to connect. Often, the fact that five children accompany me most places I go is enough to shut down the conversation (even though I could explain that we were quite open to receiving all five of them).

The fear I perceived that my husband experienced with regard to NFP is the norm among a large percentage of people in our society.  It’s encouraging that this issue has taken hold and many young people are spreading the good news about life without sterilization and artificial birth control and the benefits it brings.
Honesty about fears and potential struggles will help us soar to new heights of awareness.