Tag Archives: Challenges

Losing Lent

Oh, the season of Lent.  The most important season of the year next to Easter.  The season of fasting, penance, and almsgiving.  Or in the case of me, the most important season of the Christian calendar when I fall seriously down on my job as an adopted daughter of God.  Why oh why does Lent always fall during the busiest time of my family’s calendar?  I know that I have no say in the matter, but it always brings me down.  Advent, that I can do – albeit half-way.  Lent?  It falls during – dare I say it out loud – spring sports season where my entire family lives in a state of constant and utter chaos.  (Please forgive me – yet again – Lord.)

Does God want me in a state of constant chaos?  He does not.  He wants and hopes that I stay in the holy season of Lent.  He wants me to give my mind, heart and soul to this holy season and all that it offers me as a person.  It offers me such growth – such promise.  And then life takes over, and I get taken away in a fast current of track meets, lacrosse games, stinky laundry, and meals at 10:00 p.m.  Oh yeah, I also have dogs and a spouse.  I lose Lent.  It loses me.

So, I head to my parish’s Penance Service last Monday with my “memo card of sins.”  It is my turn, and I am face to face with the kindest face I’ve seen in a long time.  The priest is a jolly, older Irish man, and when he sees my “memo card of sins,” he jokes, “Is that the litany of Saints?”.  Phew.  I got a good one.

I know that reconciliation is full of graces that I will never fully comprehend.  Sometimes I leave feeling worse than when I walked in, but most of the time I feel the compassion and mercy of my heavenly Father, the sacred heart of my brother Jesus who walks my same roads, and the Holy Spirit who guides me through my crazy, 2017 life.   Most of the time, I leave armed with the armor of God – ready to do battle.

This time (and please forgive me for oversharing), but I confessed that I have not done a good job of holding onto my Lenten promise.  And let’s be clear – my Lenten promise is something that I should be doing anyway.  It wasn’t something above and beyond the pale.

This kind, sweet, loving old priest said to me, “Jesus himself fell beneath the weight of the sins of the world three times.  Even though he knew Calvary was ahead of him, he got up – three times.  When you fall, just get back up.”

I cannot begin to tell you what that simple message said to me.  “Just get back up.”   When you mess up once, don’t berate yourself.  Just get back up.  Do the next right thing.  When you make that mistake that you always make – you know the one – try not to make it again the next time.  Use positive self-talk telling yourself that you want to be the best version of yourself.  Pray to the Holy Spirit to redirect your thoughts and actions.  Ask forgiveness.  Again.

The priest said to me that we are close to Easter, but there is still plenty of time to work toward my Lenten promise.  Just get back up.  Here’s to getting back up.  We are all in this together.

Those Darn Teenagers

I know this goes along with the territory of being a parent, but I worry about my teenagers.  I not only worry about my own teenagers, but I worry about their friends.  I not only worry about their friends, but I worry about teenagers I do not even know, the children who go to our school.  There is something universal about being a parent.  When one child suffers, we as parents all suffer.  When one parent despairs, we all despair.  When something unfortunate happens to a child, it could have just as easily been our child.  We are all one in these moments.  No one parent is immune to the influences of our crazy world on our dear, beloved children.

What do I worry about?  Probably the same things you worry about.  The big stuff, and the small stuff.  Their grades, their immediate futures, their long-term futures, their circle of friends, their driving to and fro.  Their stress level, their happiness, their lack of happiness.  Their faith life, and the times they question their faith.  Their temptations, their reliance on the electronic devices in their lives, their ability to say no when they need to say no.  Their ability to say yes when they need to say yes.  Will their college roommate speak to them if they continue to make mountains of dirty laundry in the middle of the room?  Did they take their multivitamin today?  Ok, whew.  One less thing to worry about.  Is it not so much harder to be a teenager today than when we were teenagers?  I feel like a 45 record in saying this (hello child of the 70’s), but it is exponentially harder to be a teenager today than it ever was for us – and we felt like we had it rough!

I would like to say that I “give it all up to God” when it comes to my children and their daily challenges.  However, I don’t.  I feel like I can fix it.  My husband feels like he can fix it.  However, as parents, we can SO not do this alone.  We need the unconditional, non-judgmental support of our friends.  If we think we are alone in our challenges, we are not.  We need our faith communities – youth group, positive and faithful adult role models, or just a great relatable priest, youth minister or religion teacher can make a huge difference to a teen.  We need the model of the Holy Family – a mother and father who lived simple lives but still had the reality of raising their child to be a functioning adult amidst normal day to day challenges.  (Did Joseph regularly grab any milk on the way home from work?)

And of course, most of all, we need prayer.  There is a line in the Marist Mother’s Prayer Group prayer that says, “whatever we may do for our children, let us never fail to pray for them.”  Our role as parents is to help them to know, love and serve God.  No short order in our current, crazy world with distractions galore.

Here are two prayers I found, one for both a boy and one for a girl. (source: http://www.lords-prayer-words.com)

Prayer for my Teenage Boy

Dear Lord,

Help me to love, without expecting anything in return.
Help me to engage, even when I don’t fully understand him.
Help me to provide, quietly and gently to give good gifts.
Help me to speak, not to sow criticism but encouragement.
Help me to say sorry, to own up when I mess up.
Help me to forgive, even when I feel hurt or ignored.
Help me to hope, to breathe out joy and vision for the future.

Help me to carry my son, through the patchwork of hopes, dreams, hurts, worries, anger and the joy of teenage years.
Help me to remain open and soft
To understand and not to judge
My brilliant son.
Amen.
Prayer for my Teenage Girl

Dear Lord,

Help me to love, when she is angry and upset.
Help me to engage, when she needs a friend and a listening ear.
Help me to provide, to accept her needs and give out when she is needy.
Help me to speak, not to sow harmful words, but encouraging ones.
Help me to say sorry, to apologize when I fail her.
Help me to forgive, each day to provide grace and a new start.
Help me to hope, to pour out love, acceptance and truth.
Help me to carry my daughter through the patchwork of hopes, dreams, hurts, worries, anger and the joy of teenage years.
Help me to remain open and soft
To understand and not to judge
My beautiful daughter.
Amen.
We are all on this journey of parenting our pre-teens, teens and young adult children together.  Let us support one another in words, deeds and mutual prayers.  The occasional knowing hug, or well-timed text message.  Let’s get all these monkeys to heaven.

 

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)

 

 

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

 

The Storm Around Us

This past weekend, my daughter and I were trying to escape the literal and virtual storm that was surrounding us.  Hurricane Hermine had blown through south Georgia and northern Florida, and somehow we had escaped with only a temporary loss of power and a lot of debris strewn around my mother’s house on Amelia Island.  We were fortunate, compared to so many.  However, the hurricane of loss that swirled around our family could not be escaped.  My mother and my children’s grandmother was gone.  My mom’s house – full of family, flowers, and food – felt so very empty without her.

More than 20 years ago, my husband and I were also in a hurricane on the island.  The day following, we went shell-seeking, as the storm tossed some real treasures on the beach.  We collected lots of shells that still adorn my mother’s house.  My daughter and I thought that maybe we would be equally fortunate.  We desperately needed to get away from all the swirl of of planning and executing a funeral – for just a short time, for our our own well-being.

Of course, if we had been logical, we would have realized that the storm came from the Gulf, so we should not have expected any real finds.  However, she and I walked hand in hand to the end of the island, unsuccessful in finding any shells, but tossing lots of “live” sand dollars back into the surf to survive another day.

We have had a tradition in our family the last few years of collecting sharks teeth.  Each of us has a bowl with our personal booty.  I said to my daughter, “I feel like I’ve been looking down so much for sharks teeth and shells today that I haven’t even enjoyed the beauty of what’s right in front of me.”  Because of the hurricane, the sky was as beautiful as it has ever been – it was bright blue, and full of big, fluffy clouds.  She reminded me, that despite the immense beauty of the sea and the sky because of the storm, that there was still tremendous beauty as I was looking down at the sand in front of me.

Given this past summer, that struck an incredible chord in me.  I have been looking down all summer – mostly at the floor of a hospital room.  My head has hung low.  My heart has hung even lower.  I have been looking down, and not out.  Not up to God.  But down at my own sadness, fear and anxiety.

But as my daughter reminded me, in looking down, there was still immense beauty.  The sand was full of shells in all colors, shapes and sizes.  It demonstrated the beauty of God’s creation, in its most simplest form.

In the lowest points this summer, when I could hardly look up from the floor, there were nurses who did the hard work of caring for a dying soul, who they did not know, but who mattered to so many in real and concrete ways.  There were friends of mine and my mother’s who took the time to reach out to me and to my family in practical and sincere ways.  When I got home from the hospital late at night, my mother’s friends fed me, and welcomed me into their homes, before I collapsed in a heap in the bed.  Just to start again the next day all over again.

As a Catholic, I did not overlook the fact that my mother was in a hospital named for St. Vincent de Paul – whose members “serve individuals who are in need and are part of an international society of friends united by a spirit of poverty, humility, and sharing, which is nourished by prayer and reflection.”  Every day as I walked to the cafeteria for coffee by a statue of St. Vincent de Paul meeting a man in need, I knew I had a cheerleader by my side.  Every day I saw families in much greater need than me, caring for their loved ones in the best way that they knew how.  Truly, pain, suffering and grief do not have an zip code or a social class.  We are all one.

I am thankful for my daughter for reminding me that beauty resides not only in the big picture, but also in the very smallest parts of our lives as well.

Open My Eyes

Open my eyes that I may see the deepest needs of men, women and children

Move my hands that they may feed the hungry;

Touch my heart that it may bring warmth to the despairing;

Teach me the generosity that welcomes strangers;

Let me share my possessions with people in need;

Give me the care that strengthens the sick;

Help me share in the quest to set prisoners free;

In sharing our anxieties and our love,

Our poverty and our prosperity;

We partake of your divine presence.  Amen.

– Vincentian Prayer

 

It Bears Repeating: Humility and Simplicity

Marist School cycles through a series of six themes each year that reflect Marian values and the pillars of the Society of Mary. This year, our students have been reflecting on the theme of “Humility and Simplicity.” From the first opening Mass with Bishop Zarama to the last day of classes, students have been challenged to consider how they live their lives with these two values, in a school geared toward achievement and success.

We have incorporated this theme into our family in both a serious and a lighthearted way. If we hear something said that might be a bit out of line, we will say “humility and simplicity please!”.

I have often said to my friends and family that we tend to live in “La La Land.” Our lives are so abundantly blessed. When we do not leave our bubble of comfort, we forget that there are so many who have considerable need. We forget that our problems are merely “first world problems.” Thank God for Marist school, where are children are gently marinated in the lifelong importance of quiet, humble service.

Without our choice, my family learned to live humility and simplicity in the past year as well – albeit to a much smaller degree than most. My husband learned that he was to lose his job of more than 15 years around Christmas of 2014. He was very happy at his job, and was at the height of his career. We went through all the emotions you can imagine in the year following – how is this going to change our lives? Our future? Our childrens’ futures? Why is this happening now when the children are so happy at Marist? When we are so close to college? We prayed, we went to adoration, and we had many moments when we lost our trust in God and God’s plan for our family.

Father Tom Ellerman (Class of ’58) is a regular fixture at the MMPG rosary on Friday morning. All the moms love having him, and he has added both humor and guidance to all of us gathering to pray. In a Marist Way meeting in September, Fr. Tom was speaking on Marist values, and told the group that the Latin word for humility comes from the word “dirt.” He reminded the group that listening to the voice of God and opening our minds with a humble heart will, as Jesus did, make all things new. He said that in the end, we are “dirt,” and to dirt we will return.

For a while, my husband and I felt a bit like dirt. We had to do things we didn’t think we’d ever have to do. We had to say things we didn’t think we’d ever have to say. We made changes to our lives that we didn’t think we’d ever have to make. We were humbled.

Humility can certainly be expressed through simplicity. We were forced to simplify our lives – we stopped doing certain things that were part of our routine. We started doing new things. For one thing, when you are on a strict budget, you do not eat out. Or get Starbucks. Or shop because you are bored. Instead, we regularly ate family dinners together that were homemade. Was it a blessing? You bet it was. There is nothing like getting a teenager to talk like sitting around a proper dinner table with comfort food to get them to open up and tell you about their day. Through this experience, we were truly blessed, and our children learned a lot of powerful lessons in both humility and simplicity.

We have tried (I emphasize tried) to teach our children not to boast. However, we should encourage them to boast of what their God has done for them. I was touched by the second reading last Sunday from Romans 5:

“We boast in hope of the glory of God.

Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,

knowing that affliction produces endurance,

and endurance, proven character,

and proven character, hope,

and hope does not disappoint,

because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts

through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

So I would like to boast that through our family’s challenges, God has continued to pour out His love for us. Our brother Jesus walks with us daily. The Holy Spirit continues to guide us on our journey, and we continue to be strengthened by the Spirit of Mary that touches each member of our family.