Tag Archives: Lent

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.

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.

 

The Days are Long but the Years are Short

Last week during a visit to my mother’s house during spring break, I found myself having a rare opportunity to relax by myself for a few moments. I was sitting on the beach and watching a little boy about three playing joyfully in the sand. I thought to myself that it was only yesterday when I could not take my eyes off my two busy toddlers as they ran back and forth from the surf. Now my eldest was half-way across the world on the Bearing Witness trip visiting Dachau and Auschwitz, and my youngest was somewhere on the island doing an eight mile run by himself. When the kids were young, the days could feel so very long. I often reminded myself, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

I cannot believe that we are already in third term. Where has this year gone? I have been told that time goes by more quickly the older we get, and this has proved to be true. My daughter was sick this week and was home from school yesterday. We were lying in bed together chatting, and I thought to myself how the next two years of her time at Marist are going to go by so very quickly. In some ways I want to just stop time, or at least slow it down to make the moments really count.

I really enjoy a blog written by a very grounded Christian college student named Grace Valentine (gracevalentine.org). Although this list is written from the point of view of a girl, many of the life lessons could be translated to our sons as well. She encourages young girls to embrace their innocence, and stop trying to grow up too fast.

51 Things I Wish I Knew in High School (from gracevalentine.org, 12/31/15)

  1. Do not spend more than $9 on mascara. CVS sells ones that work just fine.
  2. It won’t matter later on that he was on a high school football team.
  3. Your push-up bra is obvious.
  4. Chill with the eyeliner.
  5. If he cheats on you, say goodbye.
  6. Stop subtweeting or Facebooking your life.
  7. Don’t tell your mom you hate her; you will regret it.
  8. Innocence is beautiful.
  9. Call your grandma just because.
  10. Some people will never like you; don’t let it bother you.
  11. Kill them with kindness.
  12. TPing/Rolling houses is all fun and games till it rains and you have to clean it up.
  13. You were beautiful before he told you.
  14. Don’t believe stereotypes. Get to know people personally instead of judging them.
  15. Don’t let one mistake define you.
  16. But learn from your mistakes.
  17. Eat home-cooked meals. You will miss it one day.
  18. Your mom can see a fake friend before you can.
  19. Your dad can see a crappy boy before you can.
  20. Enjoy your metabolism while it lasts.
  21. There is more to life than Friday night.
  22. If your parents buy you something, whether it’s a McDonald’s or an iPhone, say thank you.
  23. You are more beautiful than you will ever know.
  24. Prom is not the “best night of your life,” but go anyway.
  25. High school years are not the best years of your life.
  26. However, enjoy high school while it lasts, you will miss some of it.
  27. Bad times make you appreciate the good times.
  28. It’s only a bad day, not a bad life.
  29. Stop comparing yourself to others; that will never do any good.
  30. Learn to forgive. Also learn that not everyone deserves your trust.
  31. Learn to apologize.
  32. He isn’t the love of your life.
  33. Sex does not make you mature or an adult.
  34. Stop pretending to be someone you are not to impress people.
  35. Keep a journal.
  36. You’ll regret spending $90 on that Abercrombie fur vest.
  37. Eat the dang doughnut.
  38. Five for $27, appreciate it, and never forget it.
  39. Pray for your future husband every once in a while.
  40. Pray for your future kids too.
  41. Take those ACT prep classes seriously.
  42. Hug your grandpa every chance you get.
  43. Write thank you notes for everything.
  44. Tell your favorite high school teacher she rocks.
  45. Nothing good happens past midnight.
  46. Put others before yourself.
  47. Unless that person is an ex-boyfriend. You deserve happiness – stop worrying about him.
  48. If you love God, then you should love people.
  49. His plan is greater than yours (Romans 8:28).
  50. Stop speeding; especially on turns. Also stop at stop signs.
  51. Enjoy life. It goes by faster than you think.

 

These thoughts of hers make me think that my time is shorter than I think for imparting words of wisdom, values and life lessons on my children before they are out of my reach. Then I have to remind myself that I have been trying to do this their entire lives, and probably will continue to do so even when they are adults! Even my 74 year old mom has moments where she still wants to parent 47 year old me – I think that inclination never quite goes away.

“Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

 I also have to remind myself that I am not perfect. In fact, I make a lot of parenting mistakes and mishaps. However, I pray for guidance, strength and patience, and ask God to help me to be the best parent that I can be.

“Perfect families do not exist. This must not discourage us. Quite the opposite. Love is something we learn; love is something we live; love grows as it is ‘forged’ by the concrete situations which each particular family experiences. Love is born and constantly develops amid lights and shadows.”

– Pope Francis, during visit to Cuba and the U.S. (source: Lifeteen.com)

So I am going to continue to try and train my not-so-young children in “they way they should go,” and hope they remember at least a few of the times that I actually got it right. And I will continue to work on my mission of helping them to know, love and serve God every day on their journey toward adulthood.

“And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.”

– Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, April 24, 2005

If you have a spare moment, take a look and listen to a favorite song of mine called “Blink” by Revive that encourages us as parents to slow down the pace of our crazy life and enjoy these gifts of children we’ve been given. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4itARWKR-A)

Peace to all of you on your journey towards Easter.

 

 

Lent: Not Just Giving Things Up, But Doing Things Differently

When I was in elementary school, there was a lot of emphasis on “what are you going to give up for Lent?”. I would give up candy or sweets and then have a heyday come Easter Sunday when my basket arrived from the bunny. When I attended Marist, the priests and my religion teachers took it a step further, and challenged us to do something meaningful on a daily basis as our Lenten challenge (more prayer, silent, humble acts of service, etc.). Now that I am an adult (when did that happen?), I am always looking for the best thing to do during Lent that will help me to grow closer to God. And I struggle with this every Lent. I start out with the best of intentions, and then fall down on the job.

Last week my parish hosted a Reconciliation service. I waited in line with my memo card of transgressions waiting to see the priest. After I left, it was very clear what I needed to give up this year for Lent – unforgiveness. And not just give it up for Lent, but work on giving it up for good. When I am not forgiving, I am definitely not being the person who God is calling me to be. Unforgiveness hurts me far more than the person with whom I’m struggling. This thoughtful, old retired priest suggested, “Who are we to judge? Leave that to God. We cannot see into another’s soul. We must forgive as we have been forgiven.”

Allen Hunt had just finished a great talk about forgiveness, which he called the most powerful word in the English language. He said that Jesus’ heart is to love first, and forgive first. However, for those of us who are mere humans, that can be a tough road. So what was the suggestion of this elderly priest, this man of faith? He said I must pray for this person daily – pray for their well-being, their happiness, their wholeness. He said as I pray for them daily, my heart will be softened and more open to forgiveness.

This makes sense, because as my aunt likes to point out, we all have a bit of a “bitter bank.” Something bad happens between you and someone you care about, and you make a deposit into that bitter bank. And then another, and then another. Month after month, year after year. And then one day, you make a withdrawal – maybe on purpose, or maybe some conversation or action brings you to the brink and the withdrawal comes out in very big bills. The withdrawal can be a snarky retort or a full-on shouting match. Either way, it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t what God wants for our relationships.

So I went to my bookshelves of “books I should read when I have more time” and pulled out Everyone Needs to Forgive Somebody by the aforementioned Allen Hunt. Here’s what I found:

“Do you want forgiveness? Know that the more you forgive, the more forgiveness you will receive. The more you live a lifestyle of forgiving others, the less you yourself will be affected by bitterness, grudges and resentment. The more you give, the more you get. When you clench your fists, fold your arms, and grit your teeth in anger or hatred toward someone, you have no room in your heart for God to place His hand in yours. Replace your clenched fist with an open hand and watch as God fills your soul to overflowing.”

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  – Colossians 3:13-14

Have a blessed (and forgiving) week and enjoy your spring break!

Hoping for Varsity, Barely Making JV

Spring sports bring me to the realization that if there was a Lenten equivalent for trying out for a Varsity spring sport, I’d be in a bit of trouble. If I tried out for the Lenten Varsity, I just might barely make JV. More likely, I’d be hanging out with the dabblers at the middle school level (still a great thing! – don’t get me wrong middle school parents!). I look to my friends and see people who “do Lent” so much better than I do. They choose things to give up that are quite challenging – and they even succeed! They sacrifice, they change, they make it to daily Mass – every day. Wow – I so admire that. Even my daughter can put me to shame with her level of self-control with her choices of Lenten sacrifice. However, that is not the first time that I’ve learned something from my kids. And I am sure it will not be the last. Can I be them when I grow up?

So I’m sitting in the pew at our parish’s Lenten Mission on Monday night and listening to Allen Hunt – such a rock star. He inspires me whenever I hear him. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, he was a highly successful Methodist pastor of a very large flock who converted to Catholicism. He was on WSB radio. He continues to be a very accomplished author and speaker. He is probably one of the most humble people I have ever heard speak about his faith. He is as real as real gets.

Despite giving an hour-long talk to a full house, one of the first sentences that he spoke touched me the most – not the crescendo or the powerful thesis at the end. At the very beginning of his talk, he said that this Lent is an opportunity for you to step one step forward in your Lenten journey. This is a Lenten journey for you, just you. Not the person in the pew next to you. Not the woman or man in your Bible study who knows more than you. This is your Lenten journey. If you take just one step forward, Jesus steps towards you, with true joy. If you take two, you might just make a major change in your spiritual life. I loved hearing that it was my unique journey towards the Easter miracle. My journey looks different than your journey. But isn’t it incredibly beautiful that we are all walking together in our own unique ways? We can help one another – no doubt.

So don’t compare yourselves to others. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I have heard this so many times, but do I really take it to heart? No. I need work here. Just do what YOU need to do to move towards the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Lent and the joy of the Easter miracle.

I pray that all of you move on your own time to reach your Lord where you are, when you can. He is waiting for you! Do what you can do, and if you can do more, do more. Either way, all is good, and all is God.

 

Now Hear This!

My family and I have been praying for a special intention for more than a year now. It is fundamental to our family’s life and immediate future. We got an answer to our prayer last week, but it did not look close to what I had in my head. In fact, I was downright disappointed and discouraged about the answer. When I called my mom and shared the news, even she said, “We got the answer. It just wasn’t the answer we were looking for.”

So then of course, I start questioning myself and God. You know the swirl that can go on in your head. “Seriously?” I started to think. “This is probably the worst of both worlds!” (And by worst, I don’t really mean worst. It’s always relative of course.) I proceed to call my wise Christian friend and ask for counsel. She told me to stop calling myself a brat (which I was doing), and reminded me that I was human, and my feelings were normal. She said it was OK to feel befuddled.

She helped me to realize that my prayer now needs to change. Now I need to ask God to help me to react to this answered prayer in a way that both honors my feelings and supports my family as we proceed. I need to feel a little more gratitude, and a little less attitude. I need to live today, and ask God to trust in His plan for right now. This answer may not be a permanent answer, but God is putting this in front of us right now.

My friend said – “Now. Here. This.” God’s plan is in front of me right now. It is right here. It is this that my family will be facing and coping with. Will it change? Maybe. But it is our path at this time. Maybe God is actually using this as a way to draw me closer to Him – to rely on Him more and myself less. Maybe just working through this will help me grow and change for the better. Am I scared about the future and the changes we will be going through? Yes. Do I trust that God is so much bigger than my fears? Absolutely.

I found this great devotional passage from Sarah Young in Jesus Lives – Seeing His Love in Your Life.

The Future

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! I am a God of surprises – infinitely more creative than you can imagine. The universe displays some of My creativity, but there is more – much more. I am making a new heaven and a new earth. Moreover, I am preparing My people – all around the world – to live there with Me in endless ecstasy. Let the eternal perspective strengthen and encourage you.

As you journey along your life-path with Me, refuse to let the past define you or your expectations of what lies ahead. You may feel as if the road you are on is tiresome or even a dead end. That is because you’re projecting the past into the future. The roadblock you are straining to see up ahead is really just an allusion. The future is in My hands, and I can do surprising things with it!

Your gravest danger is giving up: ceasing to believe I can still do wondrous new things in you and your world. Your assignment is to keep moving forward in trusting dependence on Me. Stop focusing on obstacles you might encounter, and concentrate on staying in touch with Me. As you continue taking steps of trust, expect the path before you to open up in refreshing newness. I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

 

Have a blessed week as you journey through Lent!