Tag Archives: Christian

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.

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Promises, Promises

I have a climbing rose bush by my garage that I cut back every winter by about half in hopes that it will bloom better in the spring.  All winter long it has looked nothing short of pathetic.  Each year I look at the stubby branches and am convinced it will never grow back.  Miraculously, it is starting to bloom again as my entire lawn and garden are coming back to life.  That is the magic of spring for me – the whole world seems to come alive after a brown and dreary winter.  God never lets me down – each spring He puts on a show which gives me a little spring in my step after a cold, lifeless winter.

God does not go back on His promises.  He is faithful.  He brings the spring back each year.  He breathes new life into us when we are feeling down or hopeless.  He takes care of our families.  He brings us and our children peace and healing as they receive their college acceptances – or not.   He has the back of a child who is struggling with academics or social pressures.  He holds our aging parents in the palm of His hand.

One of my favorite Bible verses is “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28.  God does not just bring about good in the big things.  He brings about good in ALL things – even the small things – in the little details of my life.  I know that despite my short and long-term worries for my family, God will keep his promise to me and take care of my family in ways I cannot even understand.

Just this week Pope Francis talked to a Vatican audience about how God promises the “impossible.”  He asked the audience to hope against all hope.

“Our hope is not based on human reasoning, predictions and assurances,” Pope Francis said.  Real hope arises “where there is no more hope, where there is nothing left to hope for.”  True hope “is rooted in faith and, precisely for this reason, it is able to go beyond all hope” because it is built on faith in God and his promise, he said.

“There is only one price” to be paid for this, he said. “Opening your heart. Open your hearts and God’s power will carry you forward. He will do miraculous things and he will teach you what hope is.”  Just “open your heart to faith and he will do the rest,” he added.  (Source:  CNS)

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope, without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. – Hebrews 10:23

 Your faithfulness endures to all generations;  you have established the earth, and it stands fast. – Psalm 119:90

 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

Positively Lent

After being gone for eight days over spring break, I came home to a giant heap of mail.  I started to sort it into piles – bills, junk, coupons, personal, etc.  As you can imagine, the bill pile was the largest, and the personal pile was the smallest.  With the immediacy of text, email, Facebook and Instagram, it is not every day that one receives a real live letter – one that actually takes a few days to appear in a physical box at the end of the driveway.  I saw that it was from a dear friend with whom I’ve done Bible study for a number of years.

Her letter was a personal one of affirmation and thanks.  She wrote words that lifted my spirits during a particularly down week and gave me hope that what I was doing was not for naught.  I cannot describe how much I appreciated her putting pen to paper and sharing her kind and uplifting thoughts with me.  It was a unique gift of her time and her heart, and it is one I will not soon forget.  And because it is an actual letter on an actual piece of paper, I can keep it, and pull it out when I need a positive thought from a special person.  In her explanation of how she is on a journey of writing 365 letters this year, she said, “It doesn’t have to go viral to be valuable.  Kindness and creativity matter – even one day/letter at a time.”

During a college visit over spring break, my daughter and I went to Mass where the priest was talking to the students about “fasting” from social media.  I am sure for young people (and many older people), this would truly be a sacrifice.  In another example of the power of the positive (in this case, virtual) pen, my friend’s college freshman considered giving up social media for Lent.  Instead, she decided to turn it on its head.  She made a list of 40 people she wanted to affirm.  She put them into random order, and has logged onto Instagram only to post an affirming message and photo to thank and encourage that person who has touched her life.

With the discourse today that we see on television, read on social media, and hear on talk radio, kindness does not always abound.  This is what our children are reading, hearing and seeing as examples of how to speak with and to one another.  Did Jesus speak this way?  Is this the example we have been given about how to speak with one another?  Let’s turn this on its head given what the Word says:

“The Lord has given me a learned tongue, so that I would know how to uphold with a word, one who has weakened.  He rises in the morning, he rises to my ear in the morning, so that I may heed him like a teacher.” – Isaiah 50:4

“Careful words are a honeycomb:  sweet to the soul and healthful to the bones.”  – Proverbs 16:24

“Grief in the heart of a man humbles him.  And with a good word he shall be made glad.  – Proverbs 12:25

“When anyone speaks, it should be like words of God.  When anyone ministers, it should be from the virtue that God provides, so that in all things God may be honored through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 4:11

I know that personally, my Lenten promise is to try and speak more positive words to both myself, my family, and to others, and not swim in the cesspool of negativity that plagues our communications to one another.  Yes, I fully recognize that it is something that I should be doing anyway.  But thankfully, I have fantastic role models in my life that show me the way to how Jesus would have spoken to his friends, family and followers.  The power of the written and spoken word is so powerful, and can lead to a more positive Lent for us all.

 

Let Go, Let God – Yes, We’ve Heard it Before

Some parents were laughing at the lacrosse game last night about “control freak tendencies” that we all have to some degree.  There was a stadium sign a bit askew, and one of the moms wanted to run down and adjust it.  I think we can all agree that we try and control things in our lives at one time or another.

This past holiday weekend, I had everything under control.  And I mean everything.  Itinerary for college visits printed?  Check.  Appointment for MRI and surgeon visit confirmed?  Check.  Animals accounted for?  Check.  Son with appropriate supervision?  Let’s hope so.  102 fever when I woke up Sunday morning to leave on our trip?  Not on the list.

I have heard it said that, “We plan; God laughs.”  That’s not to say that it is bad to plan or that God does not want us to think ahead and plan for our lives, but our lives are just not entirely in our control.  They are in God’s control, and as much as we would like to play God and control everything ourselves, we need sometimes to simply be ourselves, and let God be God.  It’s OK to be needy, and it’s OK to ask for help.  Especially if we are needy and helpless in front of God.  As Americans, we like to be proud and self-sufficient – not needing to ask for help, even if we desperately need it.  However, there is a reason that we are all given different gifts and talents.  We cannot do it alone.  We need one another.  We need to be needy in front of our Father.

I am doing a Bible study on the Book of John, and we are currently talking about “Jesus, Our Peace.”  If we let God be in control instead of trying to handle it all ourselves, it will bring us increasing peace.  In the study, there is a great quote:

“Do not look ahead to what may happen tomorrow.  The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day.  Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you His unwavering strength that you may bear it.  Be at peace, then, and set aside all anxious thoughts and worries.” – St. Francis de Sales

There is a Laura Story song called “I Can Just Be Me.”  It talks about being yourself, and not trying to be God.  Not trying to be in control all the time.  Let God be in control, so you can just be you – the you He created you to be.

“I Can Just Be Me”

I’ve been doing all that I can

To hold it all together

Piece by piece.

I’ve been feeling like a failure,
Trying to be braver
Than I could ever be.
It’s just not me.

So be my healer, be my comfort, be my peace.
Cause I can be broken, I can be needy,
Lord I need You now to be,
Be my God, so I can just be me.

I’ve been living like an orphan,

Trying to belong here,

But it’s just not my home.

I’ve been holding on so tightly,

To all the things that I think
Could satisfy my soul.
But I’m letting go

So be my father, my mighty warrior, be my king.
Cause I can be scattered, frail and shattered,
Lord I need You now to be,
Be my God, so I can just be me.

Cause I was lost in this dark world
Until I was finally found in You
So now I’m needing, desperately pleading
Oh Lord, be all to me

And be my savior, be my lifeline, won’t You be my everything.
Cause I’m so tired of trying to be someone
I was never meant to be

Be my God
Please be my God
Be my God
So I can just be me
So I can just be me
I can just be me.

Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Laura Story – I Can Just Be Me lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

See the video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VRUU8UBXCk

“Be anxious about nothing.  But in all things, with prayer and supplication, with acts of thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God.  And so shall the peace of God, which exceeds all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7.

 

The Ultimate Recommendation

This week I was filling out a parent form on my daughter for the college counseling department to prepare her college counselor to assist her on her applications to college.  “List three to four adjectives that describe her.  Describe her greatest challenge and how she handled it.  How has your child developed the most?”

It did make me think, however, what if someone was filling out this same survey about me?  What would it say?  What if God himself was answering the questions about me to see whether I could make it to “the next level.”  Would I like the responses?  Would they make me cringe and wish I could do something over again?  Or would I be proud of what my Father wrote about me?

The good news is, God knows me better than I know myself.  He knows how many hairs I have on my head.  He knows my comings and my goings.  He knows the good adjectives that describe me, and the constructive ones that I know in my heart I need to change.  He knows my greatest challenges, and has even walked through them with me.  He knows the challenges that I have ahead that I cannot even envision right now, and He already knows how they will turn out.  He knows how I have developed as a Christian, and He hopes I will make good choices in the future as I continue to become the best version of myself.

Just as I look forward with a mix of joy and trepidation to the next year of college applications with my daughter, I know that the years ahead will be a mixed bag for me as well. Thankfully, my Counselor will write me the ultimate recommendation, and I just need to keep striving to make sure I make the final grade that really matters.

“No single act for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted.” – Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel

Disciple’s Prayer

Jesus, my Lord and my brother, let me do your work for Your sake, and not for my own pride or self-satisfaction.  As long as I want what You want,  I will act prudently and safely.  If I fret at my failures, I am working for myself and not for You.  Your will is to be done, not mine.  I hope to attempt all the good within my reach, but I will not be over-anxious about the results.  If I lose my presence of mind and my peace of soul it is because I am thinking more of Your work than of Your will.  I need only do my best.  The rest depends on the people around me and Your grace.  Let me never think I am bigger or more able than You.  I now put all things into Your hands.  Amen

 

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.

 

Ladybugs and Cardinals

My daughter and I experienced a “God moment” this week together.  I do not know if there is a formal definition of “God moment,” but I could define it as a way that God speaks to me in the ways of my every day, normal, mini-van-driving-mom existence – through an unexpected experience, a “chance” or not-so-chance encounter with someone or something, a song on the radio, or a scripture reading – however you might define it.  But it clearly leaves me with a sense that God and His Holy Spirit are truly with me.  And I do not mean that in a creepy way – just a true sense of what I already know in my heart and soul but often forget – that God is with me at every moment of every day if I would just open myself up to Him.

I think we all know that God speaks to us in many ways:  through His Word, through other people, in the Sacraments, and the list goes on.  It is not every day that we see a billboard from God screaming:  “Hey!  Yeah!  YOU!  I’m talking to YOU!”  However, God chooses to “wink” at us all the time in unique and personal ways that says, “I see you.  I’m here.  I want you to hear my voice today and always.”  The trick is opening your heart, mind and incredibly busy existence to how He wants to speak to us.

My daughter is going down a path that is different from many of her friends and classmates as she prepares for her future.  It is right for her, but may not be right for others.  Some of her friends are supportive, encouraging and curious.  Other friends are disdainful and making her question her choices and her dreams.  We were watching a program on TV the other night together, and the excitement it created in her was contagious.  We took what we learned and jumped on the internet to learn more.  We were both excited, and knew that this very random show on a random night was no accident – no coincidence.  A God-incidence, perhaps?

A friend of mine shared with me a story about a special sign in her life.  She was going through a challenging time with one of her adult sons.  In the midst of it, lady bugs began to visit her daily.  They literally starting appearing all the time and in many different places.    As a devout Catholic, she looked up the significance of this.  She learned that the lady bug is actually named for “Our Lady’s Bug.”  In the middle ages, a pestilence invaded the land, and the people asked Mary to intercede on their behalf.  Lady bugs swarmed the land, and ate the pests.  My friend knew in her heart that the lady bugs in her situation were there for her uniquely – it was her mom (who gifted her the special devotion to Mary) letting her know to give it all to Mary and to trust in her intercession with God.  She loved the lady bug visits, and through them, she learned to trust.  One day, she realized that the lady bugs had not been to visit in a while.  She realized that her son was in a wonderful place, and that peace, at least for a time, had come back to her family.  She prayed that the lady bugs had moved on to someone else who needed those sweet little visits as much as she did.

I have also heard that cardinals have long been a Christian symbol of visiting those who have been saddened by a loss – in particular, a “Cardinal Loss” or a heart-rendering loss of a loved one.   I am no theologian, so please do not quote me, but birds have long symbolized the soul’s ascent to God above material things.

The cardinal has traditionally held spiritual meaning in the Christian faith. The cardinal’s distinctive red color symbolizes the blood of Christ, representing the everlasting vitality of Christ’s blood and the fire of the living spirit.  (source:  reference.com)

I first heard of the visit from a cardinal from a very devout friend of mine after her long-time partner died of cancer.  When I saw a bright red cardinal by the marsh where my dad and I always loved to fish, I was shocked and amazed – I had never in more than 20 years seen a cardinal there.  Now, after losing both my mother and father in a few short years, I regularly see male and female cardinals outside my kitchen window – and cardinals mate for life.  Coincidence?  Easily.  A God-wink from my Father in Heaven letting me know my parents are OK?  Possibly.

Either way, my faith is renewed, and my hope is restored.  Bring on the cardinals.  Bring on the lady bugs.

To the God-moments and God-winks in our lives!