Monday, December 30, 2019

Word for the Liturgical Year 19-20: Adventure

I am about one month in on my 19-20 word for the liturgical year: adventure. This word emerged when I was with my husband celebrating our 17th anniversary - a couple of days away that included spending some time outdoors exploring. I pondered how he is more adventurous than I am and paid attention to my varied responses to his different invitations to join him. As I recognized my natural inclinations of whether or not I am comfortable stepping out of my comfort zone depending on different factors, I could see there were implications for my response Jesus' invitations.

I wanted to spend the year exploring this in depth with a desire to wholeheartedly respond to Jesus', "Come, follow me" with an adventurous heart. Once I had chosen the word, I noticed a couple of things. 1) I began to see how the word adventure had been showing up in my journaling prior, which always evokes a sense of awe and appreciation for how the Lord works, preparing and laying a foundation for the work to come. 2) My definition of adventure was challenged and expanded. My heart was pointed towards previous life events reminding me that adventures are not always about fun and excitement, and I was also reminded that whereas I was envisioning going out on adventures, I was prompted to recognize that a big part of it will be the interior adventure through prayer.

The Role of Saints in the Process

  • St. Faustina - Since surrendering and responding to God's plans for my life requires trust, I am revisiting St. Faustina's Diary and also reading 52 Weeks With St. Faustina. I read Our Friend Faustina right after it was published in the fall, right around the time I had chosen my word, which also prompted me that I had been wanting to reread her diary. 
  • St. Teresa of Avila - During prayer when I sensed that I should keep in mind the layer of interior adventure, I decided to finally read Interior Castle, which I had bought back in 2016 but just never read. 
  • St. John and Mary - I have been drawn to St. John for a while now, specifically thinking about him reclining on Jesus' chest at the last supper, as well as links between his personality and mine in contrast to some of the other apostles. I am currently reading In Sinu Jesu which fits well with St. Faustina's Diary as it is also personal revelation. Though it is specifically written for priests as the audience, it has been speaking to my heart a lot based on the emphasis on time with the Eucharist, as well as connections between Jesus' Sacred Heart, Mary's Immaculate Heart, and St. John. The book is weaving together many different threads that have stood out to me over the years. It also prompted me to recommit to praying the Rosary daily. 

A Phrase on My Heart
Not long after I chose the word adventure, I began a small discernment to consider where I wanted to focus my energy and attention within my career in order to express my preferences to my new dean. I was surprised by one bend in particular but could see how it linked to a sense of adventure - letting go of some layers in order to narrow in on another. Front and center with my discerned focus is the research process for teachers, and the phrase that kept coming up that I decided to have frame my work was the beauty of becoming. I soon recognized how this would connect to adventure and a lens for life in general. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Growth with Inner Peace

Seeing St. Francis De Sales' quote about maintaining inner peace drew my attention. My heart recognized the beauty in living life with peace; yet, I also recognized that I had a lot to learn about not losing my inner peace for anything and wondered how that was even possible. The difference between the quote and where I was at prompted me on an informal inquiry to take notice of how I and others responded to circumstances and what speakers and books could teach me about peace.

Over time I have learned that often it is about recognizing areas of growth but then seeing my limitations through other scenarios. When I recognized patterns of weakness, I found myself rewording the quote to capture an intentional point to reflect on and seek growth, such as, "Do not lose your inner peace for anything, even if you are surrounded by adolescent emotions." If nothing else, as a starting point, it would bring a smile to my face and helping me to move past those initial feelings of being overwhelmed.

Trying to maintain peace where we recognize we tend to lose it prompts reflection on why in order to work towards positive change. I was able to sift through many of the layers impacting my tendencies, such as:

  • Parenting teens felt like a lot higher stakes than teaching teens, where I was able to relax and love the phase of identity construction without as much worry. I saw more beauty in the process because of the freedom from some of the anxiety. 
  • A lot of my fears were based on what could potentially happen or the trajectory that an individual circumstance could eventually point toward vs. what was actually happening. 
  • Those fears often pointed towards a recognition of a lack of control where I most wanted to feel in control in order to protect my girls.
Again and again, the root to the loss of inner peace was fear or a desire for control. Knowing that these are counter to trusting and surrendering to God has helped me to intentionally turn from worry to trust and from a desire to control to entrusting to God. Knowing scripture provided me with words to counteract my initial responses. For example, God's ability to work all things for my good and the good of those I love (Romans 8:28) brings great comfort, being in awe of how God's plans unfold over time fosters hope, and narratives of God's love and promises provide confidence.

These days I have comparatively much more peace when it comes to parenting teens, even though I am certain motherhood will continue to afford many opportunities for growth. In general, the space between when I first saw the quote and now has provided me with a better understanding of how to maintain peace, to recognize those scenarios that challenge a sense of peace and then respond like Mary by pondering things in my heart, intentionally moving towards trust even when I do not understand fully.

In the midst of all of this support to better frame my mindset, God was also at work guiding me through different layers of life, leading me towards simplifying, better prioritizing, and integrating a rhythm of prayer throughout my days.

These days I rest in the confidence of Jesus' words, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be" (John 14:1-3).

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Living at the Core 11: Setting Boundaries - Email

The arrival of the mail was always a highlight of the day around my house growing up. The anticipation of wondering whether or not something had arrived for us often prompted races between my sister and I to see who could get to the mailbox first. As soon as one of us caught sight of the delivery car pulling up alongside our fence, we dropped what we were doing and started running. Often one would go out the back door, while the other went out the front door. Towards the end of my high school career email came about, and with it the possibility of on-going arrivals throughout the day and night.

It comes as no surprise to me that when considering gluttony, one related area of growth for me has been frequency of checking email. Recognizing a tendency for it to be easy to be overly preoccupied with connecting via technology has influenced me to opt out of having a smart phone with email access and social media. Even without that access, at different points in recent years, I have noticed that having my email open or checking back all too often - just in case - is a distraction that is an obstacle to efficiently focusing on other projects or being present to others.

I have experimented with limitations over different periods of time, but this fall I set an intention that is the most restrictive yet - a goal of once/day Monday-Friday from mid-August to the end of Ordinary Time. Applying the concept to both work and personal email, as I formalized my intention, I wondered if it was a reasonable restriction or not. What if my students had a time sensitive question on an assignment that was due? Would I receive emails where there is an expectation for immediate attention that I wouldn't see in time? Yet, I also recognized that a big part of it is just the layer of habit. I also realized that likely the "world wouldn't end" if I only checked once/day and decided to move forward and approach it with an inquiry stance. 

While there have been multiple days where I have not met that intention, my checking has definitely decreased as a result, and I have reflected on how to more faithfully align over time. For example, I make notes of emails I need to send or tasks that I need to consult email in order to complete when they come to mind throughout the day and am now focusing on actually remembering to consult that list when I have my email open for the day. When I feel the urge to justify why I should open my email back up for a specific task, I am getting better at asking myself whether there is really a valid reason why it cannot wait until the next day and how I can limit myself to completing that task and getting back out.

When I was crafting my intentions for this phase of the liturgical year, my spiritual director let me know they would help me have a more clear picture of how I am making myself available to God and to others. Voluntarily limiting email access throughout the day has been helping me to focus on different projects. That efficiency is supporting me in being able to protect the time that I have set aside for family.

Detaching from the urge to be connected to email throughout the day has helped me to put the level of need in perspective. As the timeframe of my intentions phases out, I intend to I maintain a strong resolve to be intentional and careful with the role of email in my personal and professional life.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Faith Fundamentals Placemats from Ascension

Recently, I was excited to receive a set of four placemats from Ascension. The Faith Fundamentals Placemats feature: the beatitudes, the seven sacraments, the steps for Reconciliation, and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I appreciate that the placemats can prompt a range of discussions over time as we share meals together.

My 6 year old will be preparing for her First Reconciliation and First Communion next school year, so the Reconciliation placemat will be especially helpful as she prepares for First Reconciliation. As I have helped with sacramental preparation in previous years, sometimes kids are anxious about remembering what to expect or the steps to follow during Reconciliation. This placemat will likely be one more layer in place to help her to feel more comfortable and to focus her attention instead on the excitement of being able to access another sacrament. I also love that the sacraments placemat highlights both of the sacraments she will be preparing for within the context of all of the sacraments.

Since the resource is something to be used again and again, as a mom I can have different levels of interaction/prompting over time. As we used the placemats for the first time, my 3 year old was instantly drawn towards the baby being baptized. Later in the evening, after we had finished dinner, she brought the mat with the beatitudes on it and started asking some questions about it (based on the illustration of Jesus). We can have natural, authentic conversations as they arise over time. Having the mats within our home environment is a good visual prompt to spark the girls' curiosity and to initiate faith-based conversations.

I appreciate that my 1 year old will hear glimpses into conversations and then eventually be able to grasp more and more. The concepts will be beneficial for my husband, teens, and I as well. It is good to have reminders and refreshers of important concepts. For example, I think that the mats featuring the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and the beatitudes can be good self-reflections. Unlike the 7 Sacraments and 5 Aspects of a Good Confession mats, these two do not feature an image for each concept, some of the concepts are more abstract, and the vocabulary is more challenging, so the most fruitful conversations about this for younger kids will likely come from interactions with others who know the concepts and understand how to convey them in a developmentally appropriate way to younger members of the family.

Ascension has another version that I am even more excited about focused on the Rosary - each one portraying one set of mysteries. Though I cannot currently find it on their site, I did find it in another location. I plan on getting this set sometime as my girls already know that I love the Rosary, and they enjoy praying it with me. I appreciate that the set would help them to visually see the mysteries and to prompt additional discussion so that as they grow and pray the Rosary on their own they would have a stronger foundation to meditate on the different mysteries as they pray.

*Set provided for review.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Eight Ways of Loving God Revealed by Love Himself

This summer I have been reading Jeanette Flood's Eight Ways of Loving God Revealed by Love Himself from Ignatius. My attention was drawn to this book when I first saw it advertised in a mailing. When I received it I realized that it is a fairly substantial book (at 375 pages) and reads in a more academic/textbook style tone, while still having personal experiences woven throughout. There is a clear organization throughout divided into parts, sections, and chapters broken down by different headings, exploring concepts in detail and having each of the parts intentionally forming a cohesive whole. Feature boxes are sprinkled throughout containing Bible verses, quotes from Saints, excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and additional information or resources.

I appreciated that Flood began the book with a chapter focusing on a rationale for loving God before shifting into a section on trusting God. I could see glimpses into my journey as I read through her ideas. The chapters can also be a reflection aid, considering questions such as: What aligns with what I am already doing? What points towards areas for growth? Of the many potential ideas, what action steps will I take to prioritize growing closer to God?

I always love seeing how thinking interacts. For example, on the same day that I submitted a Catholic Mom post titled Hard Teachings (to be published next week), I came across a heading in her book with the same title. I enjoyed seeing how her ideas complemented mine, as well as how her unique lens provided additional layers to consider. The emphasis on process was another aspect that resonated with me.

I still have about 1/2 the book to go and am looking forward to delving deeper into her ideas. I am enjoying her voice, experiences and the depth with which she is writing about the topic.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Living at the Core 10: Getting Back Up Again

Living at the core means being able to get back up and re-establish once something has slipped away. I have noticed a pattern that when I have a baby, eventually my morning routine starts to slip in one way or another. After having my 5th baby, eventually I strayed from my 5am start time. Even before I had my baby, I was getting up at 5am but felt so exhausted that I sometimes wondered, was I praying or had I fallen back to sleep?

Eventually, I find my way back, but it take commitment and perseverance. It takes discipline with thinking about when I am going to bed. It takes slowly re-integrating by setting my alarm to a little earlier and a little earlier until eventually, I am back to being awake at 5 am. Sometimes it means, even if I am really tired, I wake up, pray and then go back to bed.

This spring break I had the opportunity to meet with my spiritual director. As I talked about how I was still struggling with getting back into a solid morning routine, he reminded me that even tired prayer is good prayer because I would still be in the chair for God. He talked about the danger in the spiritual life of stopping to try. That helped me to come back home with renewed dedication to set my alarm, to show up, and recognize the value of prayer, no matter how awake I felt.

It was just what I needed to hear at just the right time. This month my daughter turns one. She is starting to sleep longer stretches at night. Though I am recognizing I am slipping into going to sleep later than I should and need to focus on getting to bed earlier, in general, I am starting to get better sleep.

I can feel a sense of normalcy come back to my morning routine. Often I am able to have this time while my girls are sleeping; although, sometimes, someone wakes up during the time and it does not all go according to plan. In general though, my mornings are starting to have a sense of rhythm to them again.

By pushing through the resistance and getting back into a routine, an important part of my day has been re-established. Over time my morning prayer routine has looked differently, these days, this is what I have been focusing on:

  • Praying the Litany of Humility, prayers related to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a psalm that has stuck with me since it was part of the responsorial psalm back on the first week of Advent last year, "Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior and for you I wait all the day" (Psalm 25:4-5).
  • Read the readings for the day. 
  • During the month of May, I have then been shifting my attention to some Lectio Divina with narratives of Jesus' healing.
  • I often spend some time either writing or reading some spiritual writing. 
In general, I am able to currently spend up to about an hour, depending on the day. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Introducing Walking Well

The centurion said in reply, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 
-Matthew 8:8-9

Just as the centurion was able to use his background in the military as a lens to understand God's love and power, we can reflect on how our careers and interests connect to how God is working in our lives. My foundation in education provides a powerful means for me to ponder how the craft of teaching and the process of learning have implications for walking well in my relationship with God and with others. 

If you are also an educator, I hope ideas in this series will help you to consider implications for your faith development from concepts that are common in the field of education. I loved Lindsey Schlegel's Don't Forget to Say Thank You, showing how reflecting on motherhood provided her with insight into her relationship with God. The ideas she shared resonated with me, and the concept in general, as she framed it in her book, has drawn my attention to viewing everyday interactions with my girls as a means to understand my identity as a daughter of God. Reading my thinking about educational implications might have a similar two-fold effect for other educators - my ideas might resonate with you and the overall concept could help you to be more aware of different layers of your career that have implications for your spiritual life. 

If you are not an educator, I hope that the ideas will provide you with new angle to consider, as well as probing your thinking about how you can examine how God is using your career, hobbies, or talents to lead you toward him.

In this series, I will provide a brief description of an educational related concept and then transition to why it is relevant to growing closer to God or to walk well with others as they navigate their lives. 

Join me each month during the 2019-2020 academic year over at Catholic Mom as I explore these concepts.
August: Purpose
October: ACEs
November: Learn by Doing
December: Constructivism