Thursday, January 18, 2018

OLW 2018: Home

Advent and the Christmas season came and went without any new posts on my blog (though I have had some posts over at Catholic Mom). I have come to love that time of year as a chance for slowing down and reflecting. Part of that includes selecting my one little word that will be a focus throughout the year and setting intentions for the rhythms and routines of my spiritual life for the new year.

Within a broader context of discernment, I have been considering implications for my life, especially as this academic and ministry year concludes in the spring and we welcome our fifth child into our family. One thing is clear - I want to have more time with family, so I selected home as my one little word.

I have had the pull towards needing a better balance between family and other aspects of life for years. Back when my husband and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary in 2012, he reflected on all that had happened during those ten years - births of our children, college degrees, his citizenship... Then, he posed a question, "What do you want to look back on after our next ten years?"

"I want to say I focused on my family," I said, recognizing that though other areas of life had been exciting and carried a sense of accomplishment, they were not more important than family. I knew it was time to reel in my academic and career interests, to be able to have some more firm boundaries and focus on family.

Seven more years have passed - we are within three years of that 20 year anniversary. Nonetheless, I cannot yet say that I was able to truly focus on family to the extent that I intended back when the question was posed. I have made growth in many areas, but new challenges have arisen. For example, I had a breakthrough with my career but have pondered where service and ministry fit into all of this.

This year will be about continuing to reflect on keeping God at the core and attempting to properly prioritize my life - to sift through establishing and maintaining my vocation as a wife and mom as the 2nd most important aspect of my life followed by career and ministry. This year will be about nurturing rhythms, routines, and relationships at home, while also keeping in perspective that my true home is the father's house (John 14:2).

Hello, January. Let the journey begin.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Motherhood Self-Care

About a year ago, while we were downstairs in the youth room with one of our LifeTeen core members leading a LifeNight, another team member who is also an acolyte set up the church for Adoration. I didn't know what he was envisioning. As we transitioned to the dark church with the Eucharist surrounded by candle-light, I kneeled down in prayer and the words flowed in my thoughts, "This is beautiful."

In response an image flashed in my mind of my baby in my arms and the words, "This is beautiful too."

I previously recognized the Eucharist as my most powerful form of self-care. Last night I was pondering how this whisper in my heart during Adoration is being confirmed again and again over time - within my vocation as wife and mother, holding my girls is the biggest gift from God, bringing me more consolation, peace and strength than perhaps any other aspect of my vocation. As my girls get older, the time holding them gets less and less frequent, and eventually it looks more like quiet moments spent physically close together, such as reading, writing or even watching a movie in the same space.

Though I do not like feeling like a jungle gym at daily Mass when my 4 year old is wanting to be held but also restless, there are also those times when she is calm and rests in my arms. Holding my girls in those still moments makes me feel a sense of peace that this alone is enough confirmation of why I am in this vocation, that God wanted me to be able to experience this and that he wanted me to be able to nurture in this way.

With these thoughts in mind, this morning I woke to read yesterday's reflection from The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections that I forgot to read as part of my normal routine on the actual day. Mark Hart's words aligned and resonated with me, "Whether you are a mother through natural birth, adoption, marriage, or fostering, or you are a spiritual mother, God anointed you for this vocation. Your motherhood is the highest affirmation God could pay you. Beyond the sacraments, there is no greater invitation to intimacy God could offer you than your motherhood" (November 21).

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Tomb

Like books one and two in the Living Water series by Stephanie Landsem, The Tomb captured and held my attention. Once I got to a certain point, it was hard to put it down. Using her imagination she pondered what could have caused Martha's worrying and then developed a concept that would give her plenty to worry about with no easy solutions, as well as painting a picture for her perception of her sister's life in comparison to her own. I especially liked that she imagined the dynamics of the family life of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.

At the start of the book, she reminded that she is not trying to write a factual, historical book as there are many details that were not documented. Instead, she took what we do know from the Bible coupled with her research into the time period to create something that was plausible, bringing the Scripture stories to life in a new way. Similar to her other books, there was the focal Scripture inspiration alluded to in the book description with other links to Scripture woven throughout showing glimpses into the bigger picture of how it might have all fit together, how different people from the Bible would interact with each other. I always love this element as sometimes they show up with an element of surprise, while other times I can anticipate them but still enjoy seeing how they unfold.

I appreciate that by having a deeper imagination of the bigger context of what the Biblical figures' lives may have been like also means having a stronger sense of them as people and a fuller weight of the Scripture. It helps me to make more meaningful connections to implications for the Gospel on my life. Like a good homily, Landsem's writing assists me in better conceptualizing the power of the Gospel to inform my life.

I still have not explored any other Catholic fiction authors' work, but I would like to do so soon, and I eagerly await new releases of Landsem's work as she is now one of those authors who I am confident I would love anything she writes.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Scripture Stackers Review

Recently I received products from Scripture Stackers to review, and this evening I enjoyed surprising the girls with the 6 Mini-Figurines from the Old Testament, including: Moses, Noah, King Solomon, Goliath, Baby Moses, and Joseph. Our girls (ages 14, 11, 4, and 18 months) were each excited to choose one of the sets. They come with a picture of the full set on each of the individually wrapped bags, so while they hoped they were getting a certain one, part of the fun was as my 11 year old said - the blind bag concept. My husband and I opened the last two but were not able to put them together as the girls swooped in as soon as the pieces were out of the bags begging to put them together.

As we assembled, we talked about what we know about each person. Moses has been the focus at our 4 year old's preschool lately, so she was especially excited to have both the baby and adult Moses. Noah's sheep was another one of her favorites. She enjoyed switching sets with her sisters and taking them apart and putting them together again.

Though not intended for her age range, our 18 month old was able to join in on the family activity as one of my older daughters put hers together and we were all sitting with her to make sure that she did not put anything into her mouth. She enjoyed turning Goliath around in her hands and watching the excitement of the rest of the family.

The mini-figurines do not come with instructions because each set is self-explanatory as they do not have many pieces, but there is the guide of the put together images on the package that my girls looked at while putting their together.

We also received the 140 piece Nativity Set. Years ago I made an Advent calendar for my oldest girls made of Lego sets and recently had a request to do that again so I decided to use the set for that purpose. I look forward to a couple of more weeks when I will be able to pull out another surprise for the girls. I think they will be even more excited for this set as it is more involved and because it will be a multi-day family activity as we prepare our hearts for Christmas. Later this week on I will have a post featuring that project.

The company that makes Scripture Stackers is still new, so these two sets are the only products they have so far that align with our Catholic faith. They do have an additional set, but it is represents something from the Book of Mormon, rather than The Bible. If you are interested in Scripture Stackers, you can use the code: FAITH25 to receive 25% off of your order through Christmas, though it is recommended you order by around December 14th to make sure they arrive by Christmas.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Genuine Friendship

"Christ is the organizer of our relationships" (location 4322).

Shortly after I read The Friendship Project, I mentioned to a priest how friendship was an area I was thinking about and considering implications for my life. He recommended the book Genuine Friendship by Fr. Philip Halfacre. While The Friendship Project made me think specifically about spiritual friendships, especially with other women, Genuine Friendship explored friendship on a range of levels: friends, spouses, and relationship with God.

Fr. Halfacre distinguished between different types of relationships, including those we may call friends who in reality really are not genuine friends - at least not yet. He discussed prerequisites for being capable of deep friendship and how it is rare. The exploration included motivations behind different types of friendships that position us well (or not) for genuine friendship. He stated, "If we are not men and women of character (men and women who do the right thing even when it is difficult), genuine friendship will elude us--though we can have lesser relationships that resemble them" (location 1165). I appreciated that by reading the book, I was able to see a range of relationships past and present through a new lens with deeper understanding.

An area that resonated with me, giving a lot to think about, was linking the topic to eternal life, stating, "Whether we wish people would, so to speak, take a couple of steps closer, or a couple of steps back, things never seem to come together just the way we would like. It is part of the reality of life in this world, It will be different in Heaven. Here and now, we have many different obligations and commitments, and it can be difficult to balance them all. We wish we had more time to spend with the people we love, not having to arrange schedules and not having to work around other commitments. It will all come together perfectly in Heaven" (location 1443).

The book also incorporated thoughts related to relationships and how they can play a role in our process of sanctification, a purification over time. Humility is one of the foundations to genuine friendship. I especially loved a section on relationship with God, in which he highlighted the spiritual life of Mother Teresa. When talking about her dark night phase, he mentioned, "Why would God deprive her of the experience of his love? It is a mystery, and it is a gift. But did it not draw out of her an even greater gift of herself? Did it not draw out of her an even greater love than would have been the case if she had the experience of God's love to carry her through and lift her up in difficult moments? [...] God permitted all of this. In a sense, he extracted from her a profound gift of self. And that, in itself, was one of God's gifts to her" (locations 3931 and 3937). He also said, "By making a deeper gift of ourselves, our capacity to receive God's eternal love increases" (location 3943). In general, this section made me think of one of my favorite Bible verses, "If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1-3).

This year my one little word has been filled. There was a lot in this book that linked to that concept as he explored friendship throughout the ages with regards to who we are at the core and how we were created for intimacy and interaction. I appreciated this book for the range of concepts it facilitated pondering. It is a topic that will be relevant throughout my life and into eternity.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Time for God

Time for God, the third Fr. Jacques Philippe book I read, like the other two, provided a similar tone and feel that I had come to love with his books and content to stretch my thinking about relationship with God.

Earlier this summer my priest and I crafted a mission statement for our faith formation programs - To facilitate transformative family-based programs focusing on dispositions that nurture authentic Christ-centered lives. I loved how reading Time for God enriched my thinking about this statement and the potential I hope for in our faith formation programs. For example, towards the beginning of the book, Fr. Jacques Philippe said, "If the life of prayer is not a technique to be mastered but a grace to be received, a gift from God, then talk about prayer should not focus on describing methods or giving instructions, but on explaining the necessary conditions for receiving the gift. These conditions are certain inner attitudes, certain dispositions of the heart. What ensures progress in the life of prayer, what makes it fruitful, is not so much how we pray as our inner dispositions in beginning and continuing it. Our principal task is to try to acquire, keep, and deepen those dispositions of the heart. God will do the rest" (p. 13). I loved this quote both in relation to my personal growth, as well as from a ministry stand-point in order to consider my role to understand and help try to inspire these dispositions, while recognizing anything accomplished is God working through me and that it will be his grace that can accomplish any transformation that occurs. This quote gets at the core of the first portion of the book titled - Mental prayer is not a technique but a grace.

The other portions of the book are: How to use the time of mental prayer, The development of the life of prayer, Material conditions for mental prayer, and Some methods of mental prayer each deepen and extend on that goal of "acquire, keep and deepen those dispositions of the heart". He provides encouragement for persevering in prayer, as well as a focus on prioritizing prayer. He also highlights that through growth we can ever-increasingly give ourselves to God.

I appreciate Fr. Jacques Philippe's practical advise presented in an accessible manner and recognize that I can benefit from revisiting his thinking often.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Interior Freedom

Because I had recently read and loved Fr. Jacques Philippe's Searching for and Maintaining Peace shortly before I went to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, when I was in the gift store two other books by Fr. Jacques Philippe stood out to me. I read Interior Freedom on the plane ride home.

This book is also fairly brief at 134 pages but packed with thought provoking ideas for spiritual growth. He talked about accepting sufferings for the sake of progress and purification, as well as loving and serving God with joy, regardless of whether or not the context around us makes it easy to do so. He addressed worry and how to approach situations that can provoke anxiety, a sense of a spiritual counter-attack in order to respond with hope and trust.

Another area that stood out to me was related to understanding God's will and trying to navigate contexts in which we are not sure what God wants us to do. This was especially beneficial to me as I have pondered trying to recognize God's will and the realization that I needed to move forward in faith, rather than complete assurance. He also talked about the importance of focusing on God's will for us in the day to day, rather than an over-emphasis on expending our energy on larger-scale choices to the detriment of a proper understanding of the rhythms of our daily lives.

Some of the quotes that I marked were:

  • "The worst thing that could happen would be for everything to go exactly as we wanted it, for that would be the end of any growth" (pp. 50-51). 
  • "If we were always sure we were doing God's will and walking in the truth, we would soon become dangerously presumptuous and at risk of spiritual pride. Not always being absolutely sure we are doing God's will is humbling and painful, but it protects us. It preserves us in an attitude of constant seeking and prevents the sort of false security that would dispense us from abandoning ourselves to God" (pp. 54-55). 
  • "It is an extraordinary source of hope and a great consolation to know that, by virtue of God's grace working in us (if we remain open to it by persevering in faith, prayer, and the sacraments), the Holy Spirit will transform and expand our hearts to the point of one day making them capable of loving as God loves" (p. 68). 
  • "Disappointment in a relationship with someone from whom we were expecting a lot (perhaps too much) can teach us to go deeper in prayer, in our relationship with God, and to look to him for that fullness, that peace and security, that only his infinite love can guarantee" (pp. 70-71). 
  • "That others are sinners cannot prevent us from becoming saints. Nobody really deprives us of anything. At the end of our lives, when we come face to face with God, it would be childish to blame others for our lack of spiritual progress" (p. 72). 
  • "The only free act we can make in regard to the past is to accept it just as it was and leave it trustingly in God's hands" (p. 81). 
In general, this book addressed many areas that I have been pondering and extended my thinking.