Resolutions – Round II

We are almost ¾ of the way through January, and you may or may not still be going to the gym.  I read recently that gym attendance goes back to pre-January levels by February 15th.  So how do we keep these new year’s resolutions that we felt so good about as 2016 turned to 2017?

I led my CRHP (Christ Renews His Parish) group through a discussion of resolutions tonight, so I’m going to double dip a bit here.  I am sure we have all heard that the most successful people not only make goals and resolutions, but that they put pen to paper and write them down.  If they are written down, we can return to them, review them, and identify how we are doing in relation to moving toward that goal.  You have also likely heard that goals should be actionable and attainable.  You can have a spiritual goal of getting up at 5:00 a.m. daily and making time for prayer, but if you know that you do not function well until 8:30 after half a pot of coffee, that probably is not a realistic goal for you.

My group also talked about accountability.  We know that ultimately, we are accountable to God our father day in and day out for our thoughts, words and deeds.  However, if we have a close friend, spouse or spiritual director that can help us to be accountable for the change we seek in our lives, we may be more likely to power through the difficult transition of change, or at least seek help when we are not succeeding as we would like.

Our group discussed four areas in which we could make resolutions:  mind, body and soul.  The fourth area was “fun just for me” – something we could do to bring joy to our lives so that we can pass that joy onto others.  We shared our spiritual resolutions, as well as ways to make those come to fruition.  One friend suggested that making one spiritual resolution per week made the task less daunting and more doable.  Another suggested finding a word that describes an overall theme to your resolutions – trust, hope, joy – and integrate that into multiple areas and how you wish to change your life and approach others.  I came away from this group filled with hope that I can begin to make some of the changes that I need to make in my life.  I know I have women (and men) in my life who support me in making changes that will help me to be the person that God continually calls me to be.

An author and speaker that I really admire is Matthew Kelly.  He is also an executive coach, and before he works with clients, he asks them to consider and answer some questions.  These questions are not light – they are heavy, and provoke thought and introspection.  Get out your journal, head to a quiet spot or the adoration chapel, and give these a whirl.

13 QUESTIONS THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE IN 2017

“It’s another year. In lots of ways you get to decide what this new year will be like. Sure, things will happen that you have less or no control over. But even in those situations, you get to decide how you will react or respond.

Consider some of these questions:

  • What are the biggest changes you would like to make to your life in the next 12 months?
  • What are the biggest changes you would like to make to your life in the next 1–3 years?
  • What do you want to achieve most in your life?
  • What is your greatest obstacle to this achievement?
  • What are 3 of your biggest achievements to date?
  • What dream have you given up on?
  • What major transitions have you had in the past 2 years?
  • What is the hardest thing in your life you’ve ever had to overcome?
  • Looking at the past 6 months of your life, do you like the direction your life is moving in?
  • What part of yourself have you given up on?
  • What are your primary stressors?
  • What is your definition of success?
  • What would you like your personal legacy to be?

This is an easy list of questions to read. They are not easy questions to answer. Take some time over the next couple of weeks to write out your answers. It will be a life-altering exercise.”  (Source:  Matthew Kelly, DynamicCatholic.com)

We all need a little inspiration and encouragement to make a change in our lives or to break a bad habit.  Fortunately, we have the communion of saints who have “been there, done that” and have come out on the back end on the right side.  We have Mary, our mother, who knows our suffering and intercedes for us.  We have Jesus our brother – fully God and fully human, who experienced our human existence and understands our day to day struggles.  Sounds like we have an awesome accountability group looking out for us and supporting us in our quest to be the best version of ourselves.

Lord of new life, thank you for the gift of a new year.

You have entrusted us with the coming days, weeks and months as stewards of your divine plan;

To live in gratitude, joy and an ever-growing confidence in your Kingdom to come.

We ask for the humility to reform our lives;

The courage to commit ourselves to you no matter the cost;

And the wisdom to shine the light of faith on others.

Open our hearts, give us your Spirit and show us how to share your love so that we may bring hope to a world in need of your justice and peace.

We pray to be a sign of your grace in this new year through your son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

(Source:  ICSC)

 

 

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Hello 2017 – Nice to Know You!

Everyone rings in the new year in different ways – some quietly with family, some spending fun times with friends, some with hardly a nod to the fact that the date has even changed.  My family had a fun cookout with another Marist family (in Florida of all places) before watching TV as the fireworks were going off outside to mark midnight.

On the one hand, part of me is so relieved to say “arrivederce” to 2016.  I have been more than ready to close the door on this year.  It was even a little frustrating to hear at Mass on January 1st that just because the year changes, it does not mean that this year will not have its share of heartaches, disappointments and challenges.  Intellectually, I know this.  I just always want to believe that there are better days around the corner.  I want to have hope in 2017.

Somewhere in the last week I read, “Your year may change, but God remains the same.”  It was comforting to know that no matter what this year brings – happiness, peace, sadness, family challenges – that God does not change, only my circumstances do.  God is with me in the hardest of times, bringing me peace or helping me to cope.  God is with me in my happiest moments, celebrating along with me and reminding me that He is good and all good things come from Him.  God is with me as I make continued attempts to change for the better – you know, those darn New Year’s Resolutions.  Or Lenten resolutions.  Or July resolutions.  God is always with me, and wants to see me become a better version of myself.

I have been blessed to know Fr. Josh Allen, who heads up Georgia Tech’s Catholic Center.  He had some interesting thoughts about resolutions that he posted to Facebook (and I paraphrased a bit):  “Friends, if you are thinking about resolutions for the new year, don’t bother.  If you’re serious, you’ll start whatever it is today without delay — this very moment even.  If you’re waiting for an arbitrary point of the earth rounding the sun to make a change in your life, you’re not gonna make it.  Want to be a better person?  Do it now.  When our Lord calls, he does not tarry with delay.  Each of us can change with God’s grace.  Even the most profound changes.  But we can’t schedule an appointment with God’s grace sometime in the future.  The only moment that matters is now.”

I usually have far more resolutions than any mere mortal can be expected to follow through on.  This year, I’m going to consider this one:  I will recognize that God is truly with me at every moment, and to try my hardest to act in accordance with that truth – to trust more and to have more hope.

An Early Christmas Gift

I feel so very happy – like I have received an early Christmas gift.  Since a week ago Friday, I have had events – both social, and spiritual/church-related (and even better, combined – whoopee) – which have rejuvenated my spirit.  This may not sound like a big deal to you, but it is a very big deal to me.

Last Christmas, my family was dealing with the loss of my husband’s long-time job.  I was not feeling very merry.  My children were not feeling very merry.  We were looking to the future with trepidation and fear.  So what did I do?  I closed myself off to the people I cared most about.  I responded an instant “no” to the Evite of my dear friend Cathy who hosts a lovely Christmas brunch, chock-a-block with incredible Christian women from our parish.  I am sure I also said no to my awesome “boozy” friends who wanted to celebrate with a glass or two of Christmas cheer.  Hey, all are welcome in this place.  We are all God’s children.

This year, despite the recent loss of my dear mom, and my funk of not only feeling poor physically but also feeling perennially behind the eight ball logistically, I said “yes” to more than my usual invites.  It even surprised me, as social as I like to think that I am.  The MMPG Christmas meeting at Pam’s house inspired me to honor my mother who just passed, my parish’s Life Teen Special Needs group reminded to me to dance as if no one was looking, and my Marist Love & Logic ladies group said we are all in this together – no matter what our children’s age.  I also encountered in this small space of time:  my friend Cathy’s gathering of “incredible Christian women whom I seek to emulate,” my former Bible Study’s rock star moms who foster newborns while raising their own families, and lastly – an amazing group of women at my parish “Walking with Purpose” who reach out regularly to moms like me with welcoming invitations to “come and seek.”  That’s a lot for a week during Advent.

Wow.  I feel loved.  I feel recognized.  I feel like someone is seeking my miserable, “Debbie Downer” company.  I feel like even when I am a horrible hermit crab, tucked inside my shell and so barely wanting to venture out, someone wants to draw me out and interact with me.  That feels so great.  What a beautiful reflection of God’s love during this season of Advent!  The second week of Advent the theme was “Love,” as we lit the second purple candle

 “Love is knowing that someone cares for us more than themselves.  Love is the realization someone would lay down their life for us.  Loves involves commitment, and commitment involves sacrifice and time.  God loves us beyond any human love we have ever experienced. Love can be ours this Christmas as part of The Christmas Gift.”

 Source:  St. Brigid Advent program

I leave you all with a note of thanks for those who have invited me (and others who may be like me) to partake in fellowship even though I (or they) may seem like a huge buzz-kill some days (not exactly the most Christian words, but hey, they fit).  I strive to reflect God’s glory, even in my challenges, even in my family’s challenges.  Thanks for continuing to invite me to be a part of your world.  It means the world to little ‘ole me.  I also promise you, that reaching out to others will reap the same fruit.  Keep reaching out to those who are difficult or challenging. To the neighbor who drives you crazy.  To the widow on your street who is always complaining about something.  Love, Love, and Love some more.  Even when it is so, so hard.

“Lord, I love you and know in spite of everything I can depend on your love for me.  As I encounter times that are rushed, even crazy, I will repeat the phrase, “I love you, Lord” to remind myself that I cannot do everything alone.  When my chores, holiday preparations, and gift-buying overwhelm me, and I face more darkness, I will turn to you and your LOVE.  You will point me towards The Greatest Gift that awaits me on Christmas.  Amen.”

Source:  Brigid Catholic Church Advent 2016 Program

 

What? Advent? Already?

Advent has completely and utterly snuck up on me this year.  Maybe it was the unseasonably warm weather.  Maybe it was being sick a good bit of November.  I turned around, blinked, and it was the end of November.  I’m not sure where the last few months went, but here we are, already in Advent.  Needless to say, my halls have not been decked.  In fact, I can’t even get to my Advent wreath or calendar, let alone the Christmas decorations, because my Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations are on the floor blocking my way to the closet.

Not only am I not physically ready for Advent and all that the Christmas season brings, I am definitely not spiritually ready.  I always say “this year will be different.”  This year I’m going to be better prepared so that I can actually enjoy the season and my family more.  This year I’m going to have healthy spiritual habits during Advent so that I can focus on the real reason for the season.  This year I’m going to be more joyful.  And the list goes on.

Tomorrow is the MMPG annual Christmas meeting hosted by the mom of a Marist alumae.  Her house is lovely, festive, and inviting.  Year in, year out, she always graciously hosts all of the MMPG moms – current and past – with a warm smile and an open heart.  It is her gift to the Marist community.  I am hoping that our hostess, the speaker, and all the other moms will inspire me to finally embark on my Advent journey.  I might be getting off to a late start this year, but better late than never.

One of my favorite blogs is “Blessed is She.”  As a gift to myself this week, I am sharing a letter from the editor that echoes how I have felt in years past during the Advent season, and I hope that you consider taking on her call to action.  I am going to try.  And then I better hop on the Christmas train that has left the station without me!

Adapted from Jenna from http://www.blessedisshe.net

Every single Advent, I get caught up in the vicious cycle of buying presents, feeling frustrated that I’m not a Liturgically Amazing Catholic Woman, compare myself to what others have done or not done for the season and for Christmas.

And by the time Christmas comes around (hello! the birth of our Savior!), I am sucked dry. I am empty. I am frustrated that I didn’t get *all the things done* like I wanted to. Or my gifts aren’t thoughtful. Or I am not in a peaceful state AT ALL to celebrate this joyous and incredibly important day.

I almost come to a point of saying, “I hate Christmas and all the stress it adds to my life.”

But if I’m being honest, it’s not Christmas that I hate. Not even close.

I hate how I act during the incredibly important four weeks leading up to Christmas. I hate the Jenna that comes out and is irritable and frustrated and impatient and all the yucky things that we hate to admit we’re acting like.

Ultimately, I dive into every Advent with a chip on my shoulder — I think to myself, This season will be so awful.

But then I make myself stop humming and hawing, and I think:

He constantly offers me another way.

He constantly waits for me to wake up from my pity party of irritability and to see HIM.

He constantly beckons me, kindly, lovingly, with the fading trees and the quiet, dark nights.

It is peaceful outside, at night, in the winter. But it is far from peaceful in my heart.

It is peaceful in relationship with Him. But I am walking in with a chip on my shoulder.

Time to throw off that chip.

Time to dust off the dirt of despair and to soak up the peace of winter, the calm of the season that I so desperately need renewal in.

So, this Advent is the one. I am in a place in my life where I want to build a deeper relationship with our Lord. I have a desire for it, I yearn for it, I long for it.

Do you?

O When the Soup Comes Marchin’ In

I was sick for a solid ten days before I dragged my sorry self to the doctor.  “Bronchitis and Sinusitis,” she said.  Four prescriptions later, I was on my way to recovery, or so I thought.  When the antibiotic kicked in, I was sleeping 12-15 hours a day.  Laundry was piling up.  My feral children were wondering if I was going to throw them some raw meat for sustenance.  I would get up, wander around, and wonder when I could go back to bed.  We were surviving on take-away pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches.  That’s when the soup started arriving.

First, a frozen batch of tomato bisque arrived from my friend Cathy – a definite “open in case of emergency” soup.  Next, my friend Gae brought Italian Wedding soup.  It fed my family for three to four meals.  My daughter said, “Thanks for the nice dinner, mom.”  I told her to please thank Miss Gae instead – I could take no credit. When all this ran out, St. Tricia of Alpharetta came through the back porch with baked potato soup with all the fixings.  That’s when I realized that soup is love.  Soup warms the tummy and the soul.  It is comforting and sustaining.  Soup is communal and often comes from a family recipe that means something to the giver.  Soup is little bit of love.

Jesus said, “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”  When you donate a bag of rolls to My Sister’s House, make a homemade cake for the men’s shelter, donate onions or apples or a turkey to Campus Ministry at Thanksgiving, you are feeding people both body and soul.  You meet their immediate need of hunger, but also their deeper need to know that someone loves them and cares about their well-being.  You are feeding their need to be seen and recognized as important and as a valued member of the body of Christ.

I promise that there are far greater needs in our Marist community and beyond than my small and temporary situation.  I just hope that my recent example reminds you that as Saint Mother Theresa said, In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

Here’s to all the small things that we can be thankful for in this week leading up to Thanksgiving.  I am incredibly thankful for my family, friends and faith community who sustain me body and spirit during good times and not so good times.  Small gestures are never forgotten by the receiver, and are certainly never forgotten by our Father in Heaven.

I know that our children are coming up on exams, which brings stress and anxiety.  Here are some prayers for both exams, as well as for older children who are traveling back from college or work to be with us during the holidays.

Wishing you all a peaceful and blessed holiday with friends and family.

Prayer During Exams

 Notre Dame, Our Lady, they call you the “Undoer of Knots.”

Turn your eyes to us during our exams, and undo the knots in our minds,

that we may think creatively and compellingly in those critical moments.

Undo the knots in our bodies, that we may channel stress

in good health and with noble composure.

Finally, undo the knots in our souls, that in our study and success,

we may not become puffed up with the wisdom of this world,

but come instead to know the Wisdom of God, and the heart of your Son, Jesus,

who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Amen.

(Source:  Fr. Chase Pepper, CSC – University of Notre Dame)

 

Prayer for Exam Anxiety

Heavenly Father,

Only your peace can sustain me through the anxiety and stresses of exam nerves.

Your peace surpasses all understanding.

I ask for this gift and choose to lean upon you at this time.

Lord, come and remind me of your unfailing love.

Remind me that you hold me safe, you understand me, and you cherish me.

I lay down my fears before you.

I leave them at the foot of the cross, for you have overcome the world.

I choose to give you all my concerns, worries and fears of failure.

I trust that your loving hand will hold me through these exams and lead into a bright future.  Amen.

(Source:  living-prayers.com)

 

Prayer for Travelers

 God of the journey, your grace and favor has always been with us as you called us by name before the foundation of the world. Thank you God for your faithful, steadfast love. Jesus traveled from his home to share your good news with all lands.

May the Holy Spirit surround all who are going to new places or sites of past visits. Lead the pilots, drivers and all passengers to be patient at all points. Remove all fears and anxieties about those left behind and those one meets at the end of the trip. Open my eyes, open my ears to see You and hear You each moment of the path. Amen.

(Source:  Rev. Jim Bracke, CSC – University of Notre Dame)

 

St. Christopher Motorist Prayer

Grant me O Lord a steady hand and watchful eye.

That no one shall be hurt as I pass by.

Thou gavest life, I pray no act of mine

May take away or mar that gift of Thine.

Shelter those, dear Lord, who bear me company,

From the evils of fire and all calamity.

Teach me to use my car for others need;

Nor miss through love of undue speed

The beauty of the world; that thus I may

With joy and courtesy go on my way.

St. Christopher, holy patron of travelers,

Protect me and lead me safely to my destiny.

(Source:  Catholic Online)

 

You Are Always Welcome Home

The times, they are a-changin’.  Despite the 80 degree temps around these southern parts, the leaves are finally starting to turn fall colors.  The election coverage promises winds of change.  Our children are growing out of the clothes we just bought them (ahem).  We are also about to change our clocks back.  (Thank you God!)
This Homecoming week has also made me think of the many changes at Marist.  The campus has grown in remarkable ways – the Foundations, peer leader and parent mentor programs all help to build the Marist community – a community like none other.  We have our large and welcoming Campus Ministry with retreats for every grade.  When I look around this beautiful space, I cannot help but think that the many physical changes have made Marist a better place for our students, parents and alumni on a far more than physical level.
When I started Marist back in the dark ages, I had braces, wings shellacked back with tons of hair spray, and my fair share of pimples.  I was ready for the next step after elementary school, but I had no idea where I was going or where I was to end up.  When I left Marist, I was a completely different, fundamentally changed person.  Marist’s mission of forming the whole person in the image of Christ through academic excellence, Catholic education, and the spirit of Mary initiated the formation of who I was, as well as the person I am today. For that, I will be forever thankful.
 “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”
 
– Thomas Merton
My film-making-crazy son has been creating the “hype” videos for Marist this past football season.  This week, he created a Homecoming video which gave me a bit of a chill.  The lyrics to the song he chose say, “Come to me.  Oh, your weary soul…is always welcome home.  You’re always welcome home.”
This lyric not only spoke to me as an alumae who always feels welcome at Marist, but as a Christian, who is constantly being called home to communion with my Savior.  I am always welcome home, no matter how many mistakes I make.  No matter what I do outside of the box, I am always welcomed home.   I just need to ask.
I cannot believe I am quoting my son, but here we go.  His words from his video said, “Let’s stand side by side.  The young and old.  Current and former students.  All those who have shaped this school into making it what it is.  Let’s celebrate that our alumni are home again, because we can all call our community a family, and Marist, our home.”
I couldn’t have said it better.  Welcome home, students, parents, and alumni.  Welcome home, Marist.  You always have a place.  “You’re always welcome home.”

Talking and Walking

When I drive to my parents’ house, I always love to take the back roads.  It takes a bit longer, but I find it peaceful driving through old southern towns with antebellum homes, through the pretty countryside littered with fields of cotton, as well as past a family of cement geese that are always bedecked in the clothes of the season (I’m not kidding.  They live in Blackshear.)  I also love seeing the funny and thought-provoking signs outside the churches that dot the towns south of Dublin once you get off I-16.

During this week’s trip, as I was heading to my parents’ house to clean out 50 years of memories and everyday items, I saw a church sign that spoke to me.  It said simply, “YOUR WALK TALKS LOUDER THAN YOUR TALK TALKS.”

Hmmmm.  How is my walk actually talking these days?  That gave me something to chew on for the next few hours.  And it didn’t always taste that great.

Then, in classic form, God continued to hit me over the head with the same message the next day.  I joined a friend Tuesday night for a Mass being said for her husband, who died earlier this year.  The priest asked us to “live the faith we profess.”  So clearly, I am hearing that it is not just good enough to say we are Christians.  We have to live it.  We can’t just talk to our kids about what they should and should not do, but we need to model it for them (eek).  We need to do more than just show up at Mass or services on Sunday, but work on our prayer and service life during the week.  We need to dabble (or more than just dabble) in Corporal Works of Mercy.  We need to get outside of our comfort zone and do the hard work that God has called us to do.  Yes, that means me.  We can’t just wear a cross on our neck and say we are Christians.  We need to, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

I know for many Catholics, the whole “evangelical” thing is hard and not part of our normal M.O.  But we are called to be more than just disciples.  It is easy to say we love God, and that we are Christians.  The hard part is living that – day in, day out.  We are called to proclaim the good news.  That’s the challenging part.

It can be hard, and it can be embarrassing.  I got into a long conversation with a Marine named London in Wal-Mart yesterday.  He seemed anxious to tell me his story about his tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.  He had been shot six times, and showed me his severed finger.  He was going back to Syria for his final tour in a few weeks, and then he plans to retire after 20 years of service.  This man could not have been 38 years old.  I promised him I would keep him in my prayers.

You know how you might say to someone, “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” and then you just don’t do it for whatever reason.  It doesn’t even have to be a bad reason.  I think I really need to walk my talk and not just talk my talk and actually pray for London.  I need to pray for his safe return to his mom after his final tour.  I need to pray that he gets a good job when he returns after giving the last 20 years of his life for our country.  I get to give a face to the “American soldiers fighting for our freedom” who we pray for every week at Mass that I can’t always get my head around, even though I have family members in the military.

“Do as I say and not as I do” might be easier for us as parents, but I am going to work on the “do as I do” part a little more.  Thanks St. Francis.  Thanks random church in south Georgia.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

 “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”  – 1 John 3:18