Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Go in Peace - Book Reflection

I previously mentioned that in the last year I have come to value the Sacrament of Confession more than any other point in my life. However, I have found it is sometimes hard to know how to have effective confessions when I go more regularly (trying to go once a month). As a result, I have had more of an interest in different versions of examinations of conscience, as well as resources focusing on the Sacrament.

That desire to know more is what led me to read Go in Peace: Your Guide to the Purpose and Power of Confession: 101 Questions and Answers by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. and Sean Brown by Ascension Press. As the title implies, the majority of the book is in question and answer format related to different aspects of Confession. However, at the end of the book, there is also a section on preparing for the Sacrament, an Examination of Conscience, the process of the Sacrament, a glossary of terms, and indulgenced prayers.

The Q&A section examined multiple layers of Confession, such as the an explanation of the Sacrament, the purpose of the Sacrament, the historical background of the Sacrament, Biblical links, the role in (or lack of) in other religions, an exploration of sin, and purgatory. The questions are listed 1-101 without necessarily being broken down into any sub-categories or having transitions between topics; although, the flow does feel logical and there are often connections back to previous discussions in order to have a more cohesive feel.

A few examples of some of the aspects that I appreciated most are:

  • In question 34, there was an explanation of the Code of Canon Law (1457) calling for at least an annual confession followed by a rationale for more regular confessions. The authors stated, "Automobile engines run smoother if they have regular tune-ups by a mechanic, and teeth stay healthier if they are cleaned regularly by a dentist. So, too, the spiritual life of the soul benefits from frequent confession" (p. 32). 
  • When thinking about the status quo in our present day society and the recognition that there is a difference between what is acceptable in the overall general culture vs. what the church teaches, I especially loved the ideas in question 62. It talked about secular influences and the sense that sometimes we might feel like because something is so prevalent, it must not really be that bad. Fr. Pacwa shared a typical reply to those who express the sentiment of basing self-reflection off of cultural norms by stating, "You seem to be a good person, so long as you are comparing yourself to Al Capone. Once the norm for behavior is Jesus Christ, the evaluation may change" (p. 51). While my initial response was to laugh, I appreciated the reminder of what really matters and what should guide us when we are examining our conscience. Before I talked about the power of a priest as a guide because of the strong Catholic lens, rather than a lens based on current larger cultural norms. Fr. Pacwa's words here made me think back to that again, which is another reason for me to value Confession, knowing the priest will be in persona Christi and that the guidance will be in sound alignment with the Church He established for us. 
  • As a parent, I appreciated question 77 that focused on recommended frequency for children, as well as a rationale. Going on a regular basis "develops in them a good habit of examining their consciences, accepting responsibility for their misdeeds, and doing penance for their sins" (p. 62). I had not necessarily thought about the value in those terms, so that will help me as a parent to try to assist my girls in understanding why the Sacrament is relevant to their lives and how it can help them be better people. It is also a good reminder for me as an adult. One area where I realized I can improve is that I have noticed that as I confess I often qualify my sins or try to pair it with something positive about myself, rather than just going in and taking full ownership without trying to soften it or balance it out with positives. The excerpt that I shared from this question helps me to focus on a goal of taking ownership for my sins more fully.
Because Confession can be hard - voicing our short-comings and being vulnerable - this book is a good resource to establish why it is necessary and how it is beneficial for us. The main title Go in Peace emphasizes this.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Transitioning into Vacation Mode - Setting Priorities

For the first time ever, last fall shortly after I had a breakthrough in November with setting strong career boundaries, I realized that in December I could not fall into the same trap once again of having career to-dos take over the bulk of my Christmas break. Instead, I wanted to approach it differently with the recognition that there's always more to do and I will always be able to fill my days with work to-dos. In the meantime, I would be missing out on valuable family time, as well as feeling drained at the end of the break.

Instead, I decided on a compromise. I thought about how my older girls had school for one week beyond my fall term, so I decided that I would still send my youngest to day care and work that week (the first week of my break) in order to then prioritize really taking off the 2 weeks they were off. I can't remember if I was able to firmly stick to my intention last year or not, but I do know that I was able to hit the pause button more than I had any other year since I became a teacher in the 2005-06 academic year. It made all the difference.

This year I decided to do the same. As long as my kids are at home, I want to prioritize pausing work while they are on break. At the end of last week I made a list of what I would like to accomplish during the week in order to set myself up for taking a break without too much worry about pending to-dos. I also built in a day for me to catch my breath in a quiet house, mainly spending some time scrapbooking - something that has been mostly neglected this year. 

As the week went on, I realized the list was perhaps a little too ambitious. With my two priorities in mind - to have at least one day for me and to not work the next two weeks, I decided on another trade-off. Rather than going home early last night, I worked late. I re-considered my list in order to do what I thought was most important to be able to walk back through the door on the first day of winter term without feeling too frenzied. I got a start on some of the other to-dos. Then, I walked out the door with a sense of peace. Aside from needing to click publish on a couple of items for my online graduate classes the Thursday before the term starts, I will be on break. 

This morning I took the browser I use for my work email off my dashboard so that I have to go that extra step in order to check my email. Enough to give me pause and think - do you really need to check that? The vacation automated response is there and I want to try to let it do its job, sending the message that I am on break and will respond when I go back. 

What can you do during this holiday season in order to prioritize what is most important even though there are other aspects that might feel important but can really wait? How can you hit the pause button on something that might feel like it has to happen but really doesn't in order to have a more peaceful season?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Coming Soon to my Mailbox

I recently ordered some new books to read throughout the next months. Here's a glimpse into what I am excited to receive:


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Thoughts on Teresa Tomeo's Extreme Makeover

In the summer of 2014, one of my former colleagues sent a Facebook message to me and some other women, "Just finished reading this book and wanted to recommend it to all. It is worth your time, I will be buying it to use as a reference" with a photo of a library copy of Teresa Tomeo's Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ Not Conformed to the Culture.

This past year I read the book twice - once on my Kindle and then again in paper version because I wanted to be able to flip back and forth from different sections easier, as well as be able to share it with others.

One of the aspects that I loved most about this book is that I had a better understanding of the rationale for some of the Catholic teaching when it comes to topics that often come up in culture and the media, such as the Catholic Church stance on birth control, abortion, and the role of women in the Church. Though I had an understanding of each before, the book was able to provide a deeper background, which in turn helps to strengthen my convictions and feel a stronger sense of confidence in the teachings when it comes to the well-being of humans. When talking about women's ordination, Tomeo stated, "Although the matter is considered settled, that doesn't mean we should walk away from a deeper understanding of this teaching. If you're still struggling with this issue, reading and prayerfully reflecting on the above documents and Scripture and consulting a good spiritual advisor or director should help you come to peace with the matter" (p. 123). This is a takeaway for me for any Church teaching - make sure that I am well-informed from solid Catholic resources in order to have a sense of peace through understanding.

Another concept that struck me in the book was the recognition that many Catholic adults have not been properly Catechized. As I have been learning more about my Catholic faith, I have been frequently experiencing a sense of surprise that I did not know or did not understand certain concepts or ideas that help click pieces into place to make the bigger picture make a whole lot more sense. Earlier this year I also saw glimpses of Tomeo in the Symbolon series, another key influence on my faith development.

I appreciated that Teresa started the book by sharing her journey. Though our experiences were very different, I learned so much by reading about her growth and reflections and there were implications about goals for my own faith development. I respected her courage, trust, and personal development over time. This reminded me of the power of story and how we can positively impact others if we only have the courage to share our voices and stories.

Extreme Makeover was one of the resources this year that has encouraged me to view evangelization as part of my role and then inspired me to view ways in which I was already evangelizing without thinking about it and then to also start taking steps out of my comfort zone.

Based on Teresa's inner view of the media, it was interesting to learn from her experiences about the perceptions that are and are not valued in popular media, as well as tensions for those who are living in counter-cultural ways with strong convictions aligned to the Christ's teachings. Tomeo quoted Catherine of Siena saying, "When we are whom we are called to be, we will set the world ablaze" (p. 134). I am grateful for resources such as this who help me to reflect on who I am called to be by strengthening my personal faith development and convictions.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

In the Mix: Approaching the End of the Term

I haven't been posting on my blog as much as I would like to, swept up in a swirl of everyday life. I always love Thanksgiving break during fall term, knowing that we have a little time and space to breathe before shifting into the last week of the term and finals week, followed by a 3 week break before the start of winter term.

One of the things I look forward to during the break is a chance to step back and consider how the term went. I know that I was able to continue with certain aspects of my life that I wanted to (starting the day with daily readings, attending daily Mass unless I had a meeting that couldn't be avoided, weekly Adoration), but other aspects slipped (occasional instead of daily Rosary, not as regular with reading Catholic books, little to no journaling).

I need to reconsider the rhythms and routines of my life during academic terms and think about implications for my vision for the transition to winter term. I also need to be proactive in envisioning how my life will shift once again in the spring of 2015 when we welcome baby #4 into our family. Two days after I published this post where I was finally getting a greater sense of peace and a better ability to let go and trust, I realized that I was pregnant! Once again, I was amazed at God's plan for my life. The delayed answer. His time table. The lesson I needed to learn, the way I needed to grow before getting my answer.

Here I am in the mix of my mid-30s thinking, reflecting, and living. Thy will be done! Help me to live my life according to Your will and to navigate the different options and possibilities. Where there is a clear-cut choice, let me choose You.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Recognizing the Value of Confession

I have never valued the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a regular part of my life until about a year ago. Before then, I went sporadically as a youth and in college and rarely remember going as an adult. In the last three years, two of my girls received their Sacraments of First Reconciliation and First Communion. As part of the parent-child meetings, parents were encouraged to also go to Reconciliation. With my second daughter this year the DRE mentioned that our priest recommended monthly Confession. 

This in combination with Matthew Kelly's Confession chapter in Rediscover Catholicism encouraged me to reconsider the role of Reconciliation in my life. The chapter is one from the book that I have read multiple times and will continue to revisit. The words spoke to me, such as, "In my own personal journey, Confession has played a very powerful role, helping me to strive to become the best-version-of-myself. I find Confession to be a humbling experience, but not a humiliating one. Above all, I find that it is an experience of liberation that enables me to reassess where I am in the journey, helps me to identify what is holding me back, and encourages me to continue along the way" (p. 150). He then went on to discuss how "this sacrament has been abandoned in our own time" (p. 151), which I could relate to since my own experiences in different phases in my life had never pointed toward a strong appreciation for the Sacrament evidenced by regular Confession. The rest of the chapter was compelling for me because of his personal testimony of the power of the Sacrament and why he recommends that people seriously consider it, making me rethink what I knew of the Sacrament. 

With his words and the recommendation of our priest in mind, I decided to try to integrate the Sacrament more regularly into my life. Initially, what I found along the way was the first experience that I remember feeling the sense of a priest acting in persona Christi at Confession. I had the same priest on different occasions and as I would reflect back on what he told me, it always seemed to be perfect - exactly what I needed to hear at the moment even though I didn't realize in advance it was what I needed. Yet, there was not always a clear link between the most compelling aspects of his words and what I had confessed. Instead, I would receive targeted feedback based on what I said, and then there were more global, big picture what I really needed right then mixed in. The priest also had a calming presence in general, so he was very comforting. As a result, the Sacrament I typically connected with being nervous or discomfort turned into peace and a recognition of the power of the Sacrament. 

Since then that priest transferred to another parish, but I will remember his smile and his role in connecting me to the Sacrament. In the months since his departure, I continued to go to Reconciliation - often every two months or a month and  a half, rather than monthly. Right now in my Reconciliation journey, I am trying to learn to have good Confessions while going more regularly, including not wanting to sound like a broken record with some of the areas where I struggle in my day to day life as a wife, mom, and educator, as well as trying to be more cognizant of areas I should confess. Maybe it's time to re-read the Confession chapter to see how Kelly's words will speak to me where I am at right now as opposed to the me in early months needing the encouragement to take that first step and go to Confession regularly.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Catholic Resources: Matthew Kelly's Rediscover Catholicism

I probably had Matthew Kelly's Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living With Passion & Purpose on my Amazon wish list for over a year (maybe even multiple years). The book topic was calling out to me. I knew as an adult Catholic swept up in the go-go-go of my career as an educator desperately trying to juggle family and my professional life that I had not been able to invest as much in my faith as I would have liked to. I knew that the book would help me to grow in my faith and to learn more about what it means to be Catholic. Yet, it sat on my wish list without being purchased.

Then, one Sunday I saw a well-used copy of the book in the pew. I was so excited I could hardly wait to ask if people knew whose book it was when Mass was over in order to see if I could borrow it. The response was even better than I could have expected. The person I asked didn't know whose book it was but said it had been a book handed out previously for a holiday (part of the Dynamic Catholic book program) and that the office probably still had extra copies.

That's how the book finally, finally moved off my wishlist and into my hands. I read it slowly and jumped around to the topics I wanted to know most before eventually reading the whole book through beginning to end at a more rapid pace. There are certain chapters that I have read again and again.

This book was an introduction to Matthew Kelly's work for me. I appreciated his voice and his dedication to his faith. The book is organized into four parts: We Become What We Celebrate, The Authentic Life, The Seven Pillars of Catholic Spirituality, and Now Is Our Time. The book opens with a powerful prologue that drew me right in, making me realize that I never really got how great the sacrifice of the passion and crucifixion of Jesus was. The initial pages sparked a deeper appreciation that continued to grow as I nurtured my faith formation. Furthermore, the prologue deepened my sense of gratitude for the Church, a greater sense of pride for being a Catholic.

My favorite part of the book was the third one that walked through seven aspects of Catholic spirituality. Through this section, I was able to self-reflect on which aspects were a part of my life already and areas in which I could grow as a Catholic. There were aspects where I wanted to re-engage, some that felt new, and others where I was just oblivious to the richness. For example, the chapter on Confession gave me the courage to view the Sacrament as something other than an anxiety producing experience and to consider for the first time in my life to start a routine of regularly going to Confession. Though I had prayed decades of the rosary in youth activities growing up, I never learned how to fully pray the rosary - an understanding of the initial prayers and the mysteries. When I think about the shifts in my faith life, especially over the last year, much of the changes connect back in one way or another to this section of the book.

Another powerful aspect of the book is Matthew's call to action tone, inspiring us to continually reflect on how we can be holier in our day to day lives, or as he often refers to it - the best version of ourselves. This resource and the action tone helped to shift my perspective toward the realization of evangelization as part of my role in life, manageable ideas on how to begin the process, and the courage to take steps toward action.

My experience with this book made me realize, sometimes we are just not ready yet. We might recognize a gap in our lives but not yet know how to set healthy limits on aspects such as careers, feeling like there just is not possibly time to focus on our faith development. Nonetheless, the resources are there and available, waiting for us to be ready to nurture our souls. Now on our shelves, there is also a Spanish edition copy for my husband.

I have much more that I could say about this book and the impact it has had on my life. It will be sprinkled throughout blog posts here and there.

If you are interested in nurturing your faith and are not familiar with Rediscover Catholicism, I recommend that you visit Dynamic Catholic for your free copy (5.95 shipping) or better yet 6 copies for $18 (free shipping) in order to read and discuss alongside family or friends. Other Matthew Kelly books available on the site pair well with the book.

*Disclaimer: I am part of the Dynamic Catholic Ambassador's Club, which has helped me to be more familiar with the work and resources available through Dynamic Catholic. However, all thoughts contained in this post are my authentic thoughts and I am posting of my own volition. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

In the Mix

I'm right in the mix of the start of another academic year. A couple of weeks after my girls started school, it was time for the welcome back meetings at my university. In the mix of meetings and getting started with the term, as is typical, I was not able to juggle everything I would like to. Posting on this new blog was something that I often thought of but then did not actually get to composing posts.

Now that I have settled into the term, I am ready to refocus and layer this back in. During the last year I have been reading and viewing a range of Catholic resources. I thirsted for faith formation in my adult life - something I had missed since the community of middle school/high school youth group, camps, and retreats. This year I finally felt some of the void being filled from the gap in my life once I no longer had an active involvement with a religious group to strengthen my Catholic faith upon graduation from high school.

In the coming weeks, I will be doing a series of posts to highlight some of the different resources that have nurtured my faith development this year.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

God's Will For My Life

Knowing God's will for my life and then taking action to align my life to His will for me has been a focus this year, more than any other year. I decided for the month of July to discern whether or not I am being called to have more kids. Approaching it much like any other time I have thought about whether or not to have kids, I was thinking about the rhythms and routines of the academic year as an educator (hello late spring/early summer babies). My plan was to discern in July and then move forward in one direction or the other in August. In order to help me discern, I decided to pray the rosary daily and then write in my spiritual notebook. 

I have always been a planner, and it didn't take my husband long to notice that about me with many aspects of our life. Early on in our relationship, my husband shared the saying in Spanish, "Si quieres hacer reír a Dios, cuéntale tus planes," which is like saying in English, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." In response, I continued planning away anyway, such as having tables with each family member on one axis and the ages and grade levels for the girls on another axis. Then alongside our current family, there would be columns for potential additional children. I would think through different scenarios for our family based on number and spacing of kids. 

My plan to discern in July was with that same planning in mind. Nonetheless, on the very first day of my rosary and reflecting, I was overcome with a sense that I wasn't the one in control, that everything could change in an instant, and that I couldn't impose my own timeline for an end date to make a decision. Instead, I realized that I would need to be more flexible, more open. 

Nonetheless, I still felt fairly determined that by the end of July I would have confidence and peace in which direction I should be moving. I knew that if I chose to have more kids, my focus would be more heavily on my role as a wife and mother at home (alongside my career that would be necessary to continue to support our family alongside my husband). I knew that I would need to step back from some of the ways in which I have been involved at church just as I had needed to previously. On the other hand, if I didn't have more kids, I would be able to maintain or increase my involvement.

I wanted to know the right answer, the direction in which God was calling me for this point in my life, how He would like to use me. One particular night at Adoration, I felt like I had my response. In my head I heard something along the lines of, "Amanda, you put so much pressure on yourself, carrying around the weight of always wanting to know the right answer." I got the sense that in this particular scenario, there was not a cut and dry do this, not that. Part way through these thoughts, one of our parish priests came in the Adoration Chapel and knelt down behind me to pray. Without any words between us, I could feel an additional layer of solid support and comfort.

I would love to say that I walked away that night fully embracing this uncertainty, but instead, I still wanted to know which route would be best. Soon after, I asked our other priest about having confidence in God's will for our lives, and the statement that stands out to me the most was him telling me to remember Mary's "Thy will be done" as the main thing I need to say and then letting different aspects unfold. The experiences and comments were shifting my thinking. Yet, I was still unsettled. I hadn't been expecting an "either" answer or a wait and see answer. I wanted a do this or do that response. I wanted July to end with a clear path forward; however, the end of the month came and went without that outcome.

An additional conversation with my priest in August pointed me back to leaving the control in God's hands. Then, last week the following video Fr. Mike Schmitz via Ascension Presents showed up in my Facebook feed:
I had comfort in his words explaining scenarios in which there was encouragement to feel comfortable with God's process, including the role of patience in the discernment process captured well in his explanation, "Here's my invitation for you today is to be content and confident to live in uncertainty, or maybe even a better way to say it is like this - to live with a certainty that God has already given you, to live with the clarity that He's already spoken. You know what He wants you to do."

Right before his conclusion, he used Mary at the Annunciation as an example. I instantly made the connection that like my priest, he was linking God's will to Mary as a mentor and guide in how to respond.

Finally, close to a month after my original intended deadline, I was able to accept and embrace what God had been trying to get across to me from my first day, July 1st, and at different points along the way through His presence and the different people and resources He put in my path. He is in control, and all I need to say is, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). While I thought the outcome of my discernment plan would be a path forward for that one specific scenario, instead, I learned something much more vital and bigger picture - I'm learning to let go and trust.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Trusting in the Bigger Picture

*Life begins image from Ali Edwards' Firsts digital kit

Today I dropped my oldest off at the middle school, but it was not until the afternoon that it hit me that this would have been the year. It would have started the first of three years that I would have been her reading and writing teacher had I stayed in our previous community in the K-8 school where I taught and the girls attended school.

Since my transition to teacher education at the university level two years ago, the start of the school year is always bitter sweet. There is about a month where I am back to work before my university students arrive and while K-12 teachers are preparing for and then welcoming their students. I drop my girls off to their schools and miss being one of the teachers within their same school. Once my own classes start and students arrive, I feel more at peace with occasional nostalgia.

This year though, there has been a shift. While I still miss my previous context, I have comfort in the bigger picture. When my husband and I were deciding whether or not to make the move, I did a lot of praying that if a transition to higher ed and a move back home closer to both sides of our families was in the best interest of our family in the bigger picture of our lives, the pieces would click into place. If conversely, it was better to stay, I wanted it to not work out for one reason or another.

Everything clicked into place, and I accepted the position just in time to welcome our third daughter into our lives, put our house on the market, and prepare for our transition. Last November, a little over a year in to my new position, I had a significant shift in making some tough decisions in order to have some healthy career boundaries and to allow for more of my focus to be on other aspects of my life.

Nonetheless, trips back to our old community would still make me emotional. I missed my colleagues and the families, I was sad about the girls not having access to bilingual instruction, it was hard to no longer be part of the school where I invested so much time and energy... While I was grateful for my new position and aware of the advantages of the position and being closer to family, it was still hard to let go of 7 years of experiences in another community. In between two trips to the community back in April, I knelt in the pew praying prior to Mass that would be followed by a Chris Stefanick event at our parish.

I got a sense that the reason why I moved back was to be more involved in my parish and to invest more in my own faith development. I thought about opportunities that opened up or were facilitated based on where we are - right here. right now. I considered what was already in motion and what would still be to come. I had the clarity of the bigger picture that I had prayed about; although it was somewhat surprising as it started to come into focus more, something I had not anticipating back when the transition was just a possibility. My thoughts were solely focused on: my career, family, and my girls' education. The realization of a deeper layer to the purpose of moving has helped me to feel settled about our shift.

Today when the thought came that this would have been the year, rather than feeling sadness, I thought about the rhythms and routines of the day. The girls and I attended morning Mass together as we will each Monday because their schools have a one-hour delay on Mondays. Our priest was able to give them a blessing for their first day. If I had been in a K-12 context, I would have been in my classroom and attending daily Mass would not be possible today or any day other than vacations. When I dropped the girls off, I was able to experience the moments as a mom, rather than rushing between mom and teacher. When I walked between the university and the church for a mid-day meeting followed by praying the rosary in the quiet church, I was grateful for the proximity of the university and church, as well as the flexibility of my schedule. I met the girls at the end of the day for a check-in on their day and prayer and then switched back to work.

Sometimes trusting in God's plan for our lives requires us to take a step without knowing for sure how it will all work out and without knowing the why behind being drawn to a certain direction. It requires moving out of comfort zones and taking risks. It requires patience and reflection to connect the different pieces and room for surprise and a shift in direction. This is just the start.

Lead me, Lord. Help me to trust in your plan for me and to take the steps that you would like me to even when there is no way for me to comprehend your big picture. Help me to be amazed with the way you help different pieces come together and to recognize where you are calling me to move.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Priests as Resources and Guides

Last week over at Redeemed Online Andy Lesnefsky posted about the importance of turning toward God, rather than away, in times of doubt and confusion. He reflected on the importance of prayer in these circumstances. Over the last few months, I have also been thinking about the power priests and the guidance they can provide to supplement a strong prayer life.

I can't remember a time in my life when I have had the confidence to ask my priest questions that arose prior to this summer. Instead, I would soak up the guidance from homilies but was sometimes left with lingering thoughts or questions. The first time I asked one of my priests a question earlier this year, I realized that doing so requires a certain level of comfort with vulnerability. I had to set aside worries about feeling like I should already know certain aspects of my faith and shouldn't need to ask, as well as concerns about how my questions would point out my own weaknesses. In that sense, I had to humble myself in order to have the courage to approach him.

Nonetheless, once I got past that, I instantly recognized the resource and blessing available, something that had been there all along but it just hadn't occurred to me to seek - the guidance of a priest in a conversation. Now, just a couple of months and some additional dialogues later, I am starting to realize the value of the unique voice my priest offers in that he will provide me input and clarification through a strong Catholic lens. While my other go-to people for advice are still important voices, it can end up being that they provide the advice they think I want to hear or their advice can be situated in the current predominant social and cultural context of the time, rather than rooted in the faith.

I appreciate that my priest will share what I need to hear from a Catholic perspective with an explanation of why. For example, the first time I was talking about some Bible passages that were hard for me to grasp and relate to for years. However, with some key pieces that he mentioned, it made sense in the overall bigger context. I just hadn't thought about it with those vital points of consideration before.

Through advice and dialogue, I gain a sense of calm but also feel pushed or challenged. My priest will make seemingly simple statements that will then stick with me as I process and turn the thoughts over. As a result, different concepts click into place. For example, talking about what is most important in life, I realized that I probably answered too quickly with the response that I know as correct since a child but then wondered if my life and actions were really aligned to that response or if my actions are really aligned with valuing the concrete more than the eternal. I started asking myself questions like, What would my life look like if...? or If God is really most important in my life, would I be doing this? My responses to these questions help me point toward areas of improvement in my life, such as how I spend my time, how I nurture relationships, and how I forgive. Other times it is just the importance of being reminded of something vital. Then there are times when I am reaffirmed for something I am doing, serving as encouragement.

Now that I am more aware of priests as a resource, I reflect on when to ask, when to pray over time, and when to just move forward. I am grateful for the different ways that I can encounter God's voice throughout my days.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


This week I am grateful for...

  • starting the week with the last day of a weekend retreat at our diocesan retreat center focusing on evangelization and catechesis. There were opportunities for individual quiet reflection (especially with my early mornings), whole group, small group, and one-on-one interactions. 

  • making a decision about what my role will be for this academic year at church - co-leading high school youth ministry. 
  • the start of my 11th academic year as an educator. I am grateful for my journey as an educator and all that it has taught me about life, relationships, and priorities over time.
  • family, including my niece's 22nd birthday dinner at my mom's house and a lunch with my sister on Tuesday.
  • a conversation about Jesus's three-fold love: unconditional, sacrificial and forgiving, as well as a reminder later in the week to keep it at the forefront of my mind and reflect on implications.
  • documenting life alongside Ali Edwards and am looking forward to putting all of my photos and words together into one of her kit albums. The album that held my first four years of completing the project, Week in the Life, filled up last year. I look forward to taking some time to revisit all of these years - from one community to another, from 6-8th grade to a sabbatical replacement back to 6th-8th grade and into a permanent position in teacher education, from doctoral student to Ed.D., from family of four to a family of five. I love seeing the glimpses into our rhythms and routines over time and how our life has shifted. 
  • quiet mornings. I have been working toward a goal of starting my days at 5 AM - daily readings, daily devotional, and praying the rosary. Then whenever Manuel comes out, I like calm time with him knowing the end of the day might be chaotic. Then I typically have some more time to read or write. This morning I had some time to read more of Matthew Kelly's new book Rediscover Jesus: An Invitation

  • the every once in a while spontaneous adventures as a family. My husband just woke up and our school clothes shopping in town with just the big girls and I just turned into a day trip as a whole family. Off to get ready...

...and so much more.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Work in Progress: On the Continuum

My spiritual life looks drastically different today than it has at any other point in my life. While my faith life was fairly strong at different points, in recent years it became more of a struggle. The closest I got to feeling like I had a strong beyond Sunday routine in recent years was when I would read my Living Faith daily reflection and then the daily readings from the light of my Kindle while pregnant with Camila. I continued the routine when she was born but then it slipped away when we moved and I started back to work.

When she was about a year old, as part of my One Little Word reflections, I wrote, "Filling out my April monthly card, I knew that the words I wanted to use to capture this point in time was feeling so busy. Then those same words caught my eyes. They were already stated in January and March. I know that February was not much different. I am realizing again and again that sense of feeling like I am drowning from time to time. Though I am getting better with the mental side of busy, today I have been feeling like the word to describe it is coping. Yet, I want to go beyond coping. [...] When life feels like this, it seems that nutrition and exercise often take the back burner as I grasp for air or dog paddle, depending on the moment."

Then about 5 months later, last September,  I wrote, "It feels like there is always one thing that if I can just get past it, I will be able to focus on [goals]. [...] And yet, I want to do so much more than just 'get through'. [...] I feel like there is so much going on, I can't focus too much on anything related to my word other than my general mindset and coping in order to minimize stress."

When Ali Edwards prompted us to write letters to ourselves in October of 2014 as part of her class, I noted, "This year has been a busy one - not unlike recent years. There always seems to be some big change or event that takes up so much time and energy. As you look forward to November and beyond, you hope for a change in the rhythms of your life. [...] You will need courage Amanda, to continue on this path of not allowing the pressure of some to overrule the decisions you have made about your own priorities."

Then that month is when it felt like so much was set into place and the momentum has built.

Realizing that evangelization is a part of my life's purpose is closely linked with a natural pull to impact the lives of others. As I think of ideas and implement different aspects here and there in implicit and explicit ways, the concept of a continuum came to mind. If someone would have told me last year that even though I felt like I was drowning, right now part of my core routines would include: re-engaging daily Bible readings and reflections at the start of the day; a daily rosary; daily Mass; and weekly adoration, I would have felt exasperated and stressed out. I probably would have been defensive, inclined to say I really didn't know how that would be possible.

Yet, here I am. So what changed? What was the catalyst? How did these different pieces click into place as the core to be prioritized, that once in place would help me to feel more at peace and provide guidance for my decisions and priorities in other aspects of my life?

Those questions provide me with a lot to untangle, but what I know for sure is, back then, I just wasn't ready yet. Instead, I was led to have a thirst for something different, something more. In the swirl of gratitude and business and reflection, I was prompted to take steps that would lay the groundwork for where I am now. I was living life experiences that would provide a rationale based on contrast so that I could value these core aspects of my life more.

Knowing what I know about my faith journey in recent years, when trying to positively impact others, I want to keep reminding myself that others are also on their own continuums. If it doesn't seem like my words and actions are prompting shifts that I would like to inspire, I will still persevere knowing that there's always a lot going on under the surface. I will remember that maybe some people just aren't quite ready yet. Maybe the foundation is building.

Today I received a letter that Matthew Kelly sent to Dynamic Catholic Ambassadors, in which he stated, "When I first got started in this ministry in the early 90s, a holy priest took me aside one day and said, 'Never get discouraged. You will only ever see 1% of the impact you have.'" These words spoke to me, reaffirming thoughts that were already swirling in my mind.

Where are you at on your own continuum? How can you honor where others are at on their continuums? How can you learn from others? How can you teach others?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fueling the Passion: Focused on a Purpose

I couldn't sleep. Eyes shut, I shifted stomach to back and side to side. I had woken up with Camila. While she was only awake very briefly, I could not fall back to sleep. Instead, I thought and processed, ideas taking shape.

As an educator, this isn't new to me. In my dissertation I included a narrative about not being able to sleep in my hotel room following a career fair when I was in my teacher preparation program: 
The gears in my brain churned away, screaming at me to get out of bed and start documenting the flow of ideas. I tiptoed to my backpack to grab paper and a pen and sat on the floor next to the hotel window, not wanting to wake my master colleagues. A bit of sunlight was streaming through the crack in the blinds, just barely enough to see. My hand flew across the paper, and I felt the great feeling that comes with writing thoughts onto the page. 
At the education fair I had eased into a free-flowing conversation with a co-principal about how I would teach reading to high school students who were still struggling. I felt an instant connection, and though I did not even know when the interview process would begin or if I would get the job, on the inside I was already buzzing with excitement about the possibility. I relived the chance meeting the day before as my ideas spilled out. 
Once I could not think of anything else to write, I tucked my notebook back into my bag. Later I would add to the list, revise it, and eventually shape my first units. A few weeks after the education fair, I had accepted a position for the district that ignited so much passion from a single conversation. (pp. 74-75)
Now alongside my career passions, I have another fueled by a purpose that has emerged as part of my One Little Word 2015: Core. At the start of the year, I wrote the following as an intention, "Begin to live with this mission in mind: Strive to live life according to God's will by nourishing spiritual life and nurturing connections. Conscientiously focus on showing family is important, value self care, and work with joy."

If you would have asked me not too long ago what my vocation is, I would have stated being an educator. This year part of my personal development has included me being able to see the bigger picture, recognizing that my vocation from a Catholic lens is married life, which in my context includes being a wife and a mother. Being an educator is still a huge part of who I am, but I am now seeing beyond wrapping so much of my identity into being an educator alone and instead am seeing the bigger picture of my life's purpose.

One part of my journey this year that helped position me well for this shift was Tsh Oxenreider's course Upstream Fieldguide. Back at the start of the year, as I went through the process of the sessions, I drafted a purpose statement based on my intention, revised to say, "My life's purpose is to live life according to God's will, which includes courageously prioritizing breathing room in order to nourish spiritual life, nurture connections, empower others, and live with joy." Tsh prompted me to consider the larger context of my life - not just the phase in which I find myself right now, which made all the difference. 

I found that at the start of the year I was not really sure what shifting my focus to living according to God's will would mean in a specific way. I began to pray, reflect, and focus on investing in further developing my faith formation. In recent days, I have been realizing that living according to God's will is more concrete in my mind - my purpose is evangelization. Through different resources, again and again the concept of the purpose of my marriage being to help my husband get to heaven/aid in his journey to live a holy life and the concept of leading my girls to heaven as my most important role as a mother have been coming up. Stewardship beyond my immediate family also entails impacting others around me in a positive way, just as they can support my faith development in a collaborative community. Before this year, I did not view evangelization as part of my role, and it is definitely not a part of my comfort zone. However, a range of resources, including those from Dynamic Catholic, Chris Stefanick, and Redeemed Online helped me to recognize just how integral this purpose should be in my life. 

Yet, the question is still there - how can I best accomplish this at different levels in my life? With all the ideas swirling around, I know that I have personal limitations based on time, resources, and the different roles that I fill. This morning one idea emerged as a starting point, something that would be relatively small but that would push me out of my comfort zone, help me to build confidence with my emerging purpose, and hopefully set some positive change in action. I'm ready to develop that idea with the intent to implement it in September (and will provide an update with more details at that point). 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Daily Mass with a Toddler

Right after I realized that I wanted to go to daily Mass every week, it was about time to transition into summer break. There were still some days that my toddler would be in day care while I worked a little bit here and there, but there was a 2 week period when she would not be going to day care at all. I told myself that I would still go to daily Mass every day to at least try, regardless of how easy or hard it would be.

With my older girls (currently 9 and 12) kindergarten seemed to be when they turned a corner and it was easier for them to behave in a way that was not stressful for me at Mass. Once our toddler got past the infant stage and was no longer quiet enough at Mass, my husband was often staying home with her, knowing that one of us was most likely going to be out in the hall with her rather than inside the church anyway. However, that ended up being detrimental to our family as the older girls would sometimes resist going to Mass (such as: If Papi's not going, why do we have to go?). Of course, I also knew that while it was so nice for met to go with the big girls and be able to focus on Mass that it was not okay that my husband was back home missing Mass completely.

Instead, we started to go to church as a family but take our toddler down to babysitting offered during Mass. However, every attempt to have her in Mass on days when daycare was not available were not that successful. I remembered some recent attempts in which the stress of trying to keep her in the pew and quiet made me sweaty. In an examination of conscience, with a laugh I knew for sure that one implication to my life for "You shall not covet your neighbor's goods" was: You shall not covet your neighbor's calm and quiet children in Mass. Needless to say I was not able to focus and fully participate in Mass and was far from the calming sense of peace that usually comes with Mass.

I thought about the minimum of 10 week days without day care with dread. I longed to be able to participate in daily Mass but knew it would be more challenging with my toddler in tow. In my mind there were two thresholds that would constitute celebrations - 1) being able to stay through the homily and 2) receiving the Eucharist. I prayed for perseverance for the 10 days and any other summer days when there wasn't a reason why I had her in day care.

Nonetheless, I also considered the positive aspects. The shorter daily Mass time might be an opportunity to build her stamina and for her to gain a better understanding of Mass expectations. I knew that my stress level would impact her, so I tried to go in with as calm as possible of mindset in order to try to set the tone.

To my surprise, by the second day, I had a sense of "we can do this." It wasn't always easy per se, but I felt completely different, namely calm. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was no longer a "have to" but a "want to." One day when I went on my own, I realized that I missed having her there - not the feeling I expected to have at. all.

In less than 2 weeks we will go back to our regular work/daycare routine, where I was anticipating I would breathe a great big huge sigh of relief when it comes to daily Mass. Instead, I am thinking through how I might reverse our daily routine some days to go to Mass together first and then to drop her off before heading to work. There will be some days when I go on my own, including when I am scheduled to fill in as a reader or Eucharistic Minister, but I will no longer view a daily Mass with Camila with stress and worry.

Some benefits that I found along the way/influences in the shift were:
  • I sit toward the back with plenty of space to feel like if she makes some noise it is not as distracting (though I know she can be heard at least some of the time). 
  • The first days I brought a bag with books or small family scrapbooks. Then I realized that step was unnecessary - better for both of us.
  • Even on the morning towards the end of the first week when I thought it was definitely going to be a lost cause and wondered why I was even attempting to go because she seemed like she was crankier than ever at home when getting her out of bed, I realized upon arriving to Mass that it was one of our best days yet. If I just get there, God will help me with the rest.
  • Many of the mornings I have needed to get her out of bed to head to church. I opted to quickly check her diaper and then take her in her pajamas. Some mornings, she snuggles into me almost the whole Mass. Those are my favorite moments - staring into her eyes, holding her, and listening to Mass (and thinking about what a blessing she is). 
  • The priests and other parishioners have made positive comments about her and ask about where she is when she is not there.
  • There are other moms who take their kids, some with multiple young kids. Seeing others provides moral support to persevere when it is challenging or to feel like it is okay to have a bit of noise from time to time from kids. Previously, I had a stereotypical impression that daily Mass would mainly be older retired people who would not appreciate the noise of a toddler. To the contrary, as mentioned above, many go out of their way to greet her and to ensure that I feel welcome with her.
  • Maybe most importantly, daily Mass is a perfect opportunity for her to start to become aware of Catholic traditions. I started to think about ways to help her tune into different aspects of Mass so that she will start to recognize the rhythms that she can come to expect. I know that these will be anchor experiences that she will better understand the significance of over time. She loves dipping her hands in the holy water, she sings along with Alleluia, she shakes her hand during the Eucharistic prayer along with the sound of the acolyte ringing the bells, she looks forward to shaking hands during the sign of peace, once she imitated bowing in front of the Blood of Christ, and she kneels down to pray with her hands folded. Earlier this week I was trying to tell her that she could not leave the pew, but then when I finally gave her some leeway, she stepped out of the pew and genuflected. I realized that the reason she wanted to get out so badly was because she had walked into the pew before me but then saw me genuflect and wanted to do the same. All of this matters. All of this is laying a foundation. 
Oh, and in case your wondering how frequently we have made it to the thresholds of the homily and the Eucharist, 100% of the time. We haven't had to completely leave a single time (and we are now on week 5 - with just a few daycare days thrown in there). We have moved over to the confessional or the entry way occasionally, but for the most part, we have been in the main church. I truly think this is because of my conscientious attention to knowing that she will take note of my stress level. The calmer I am, the calmer she seems to be. 

By bringing her to Mass, I know that I am aligning my actions with God's will for my vocation as a wife and mother. Furthermore, the moments together are a special time for quiet, calm, and bonding. Though I couldn't recognize it at the onset, I am grateful for this string of days all together and my decision to go anyway, rather than putting my commitment to daily Mass on hold until I got back to my regular work schedule.

How would God like to surprise you in your daily life? What would you like to do related to your spiritual life or faith formation that you are worried about being able to do based on different obstacles that you foresee? 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sunday and Daily Mass: Vacation Edition

Not too long ago, if we were going to be out of town, we would not necessarily figure out church locations and Mass schedules, especially not in a completely new town. However, this year with a better understanding/consideration of missing Mass on Sundays as a mortal sin and with the realization that I choose to have daily Mass as a part of my core, I noticed a shift in myself as I was preparing for a recent family trip.

Since we don't have SmartPhones or data plans, we can't use our cell phones to navigate on our trips, so Mapquest as our guide it was. In addition to a packet that I printed off to get from hotel to hotel for the different stops along the way, I also found the closest Catholic church to each hotel and noted the Mass times. The closest church was less than a mile away (0.4 mile) and the furthest was only 3.4 miles away.

I didn't really think I would make it to daily Mass every day during the week but wanted to have the information just in case. However, it worked out that we attended Sunday Mass together as a family (Father's Day), I went to daily Mass on Monday with my toddler while everyone else was sleeping, and the rest of the week I went to daily Mass on my own. It ended up that the early start times allowed me to slip out of the hotel while everyone else was still sleeping and then come back in time to get started with our day.

Just as I was pleasantly surprised that daily Mass fit perfectly into my work schedule without it being much of a struggle, I found it continued to fit well while on vacation without impacting what our family's plans would have been otherwise. Yet, it makes all the difference in how I feel about the start of my day - a sense of peace and inspiration for my day to day life.

The week pointed toward something bigger for me. It was one thing to realize that I wanted to have daily Mass as a part of my regular routine at home. Making the effort while on vacation, requiring me to step out of my comfort zone - both with driving solo in unknown cities and going to new church communities - helped me to realize just how important daily Mass has become for me. It is now a place holder in my schedule that I prioritize around. Dentist appointment scheduled that conflicts? Call to reschedule. Hard to go to daily Mass during summer days when my 2 year old is not in day care? Go anyway.

I don't think I can fully pinpoint yet all of the reasons why starting out with an intention to make an effort to go to daily Mass at least 2-3 times a week ended up in me quickly choosing I wanted to go every day and to problem solve challenges to doing so. I can point toward some reasons (the power of the Eucharist, quiet reflection and prayer, the guidance and inspiration of daily readings and homilies); however, I think there are additional deeper underlying reasons pulling me toward Mass that I will continue to realize over time.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Celebrate This Week

This evening we just arrived back from my sister's house. My mom drove the girls and I over, and our 7 kids played and played and played. This afternoon we went swimming before heading back home - the girls and I all sleeping.


In the middle of starting to post, my husband just walked through the door and said his harvest schedule is now over. We arrived home from vacation on Saturday, June 27 and heard that Monday he would start his harvest schedule at work - 7 AM - 7 PM (sometimes later) 7 days a week. He only had one Sunday off because of rain slowing down the harvest. Unfortunately, it was a day that I was out of town with our oldest for church camp.

July is always a bitter-sweet month. I am always thrilled to have extra time with the girls - my only full month of the year officially off contract with only some occasional work to do. Yet, I rarely see Manuel, so I am always ready for the announcement that he is shifting back to 7 AM - 3 PM.

Now that's the only celebration of the week I can focus on for now because I am so excited! Here's to family time. Here's to finishing out the soccer season together!

Monday, July 20, 2015

All That I'm Called to Be

I had heard the song on the radio or Pandora before, but it wasn't until I opened a link from Chris Stefanick's newsletter around Father's Day with his words, "This song cuts me to the heart," that I saw Sanctus Real's video for Lead Me for the first time. As I watched it in the quiet of the morning before waking up the rest of the family to leave on vacation, the words really sunk in and resonated with me. I could relate to Stefanick's words related to the song "[cutting] me to the heart."

Though written from the perspective of a father, I could easily see myself in it as a busy working mom and wife. The first decade of our marriage was a swirl of events - college degrees, careers, having children, moving, buying houses, my husband's residency and citizenship. As our tenth anniversary approached, my husband pointed out many of these events and then asked a question that caused me to pause and reflect, "What will we be looking back on in another ten years?"

I realized that more than anything, I wanted to be able to say 10 years down the road that I was able to focus on my family. More important than other milestones or accolades, I wanted to be able to say that I was able to reel in my career and align my life to showing that my family was a top priority.

As a result, August 2012 - August 2022 is a time frame in which I want to continually ask myself what progress I have made, which moments felt the most significant in order to prioritize similar scenarios, and to to consider how to problem solve challenges. Inspired by Ali Edwards' One Little Word, I have been doing Focus of a Decade: Family alongside my yearly words.

Almost 3 years in it is easy to see that I made some attempts in the right direction but was still frequently feeling overwhelmed. This year my focus on family collided with my One Little Word: core. All of my other attempts set me up to see that while I was making some overall progress, something bigger was needed. I needed deep honest reflections about the underlying issues behind my career/family challenges. I needed to make myself realize that being a wife and a mother couldn't always be coming in second and third to my career. I needed to realize that I had wrapped so much of my identity into being an educator that I often had a sense of too many "have tos" that I was working toward an unrealistic moving target of all that I wanted to do, which was counter-productive to feeling enough in any of my roles. It was about recognizing the vocation I chose - married life and that being a wife and mom can't always be when I finish my other to-dos.

So I began my journey to focus on the core - to determine what was most important in my different roles in life and then consider how to accommodate, shift, and eliminate as needed in order to align my life with the core.

Surprisingly, though I had appreciated moments in my life where I had a stronger prayer life and more active involvement in my church community, it was often lost in the shuffle of the career/family juggle. I had not intended that this year would point me again and again to my faith. It was counter-intuitive to add another big component into a juggle that had already felt overwhelming as a dichotomy; yet, I should have recognized all those  years that what I really needed to make significant progress with that career/family struggle was to prioritize faith and the rest would fall into place. Ironically, I have even had a Faith, Family, Friends image on my wall for years, and of course, there are frequent reminders at church to put God first. For whatever reason, I still just didn't get it.

That's why lines like these from the song hit me at the core:
So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I'm called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won't You lead me?

To lead them with strong hands
To stand up when they can't
Don't want to leave them hungry for love,
Chasing things that I could give up

I'll show them I'm willing to fight
And give them the best of my life
So we can call this our home
Lead me, 'cause I can't do this alone

Father, lead me, 'cause I can't do this alone

*Note: When I went to get the link to the Sanctus Real website, I noticed Matt Hammitt's statement about leaving the band. I got goosebumps as I read, "'I've been traveling far and wide singing the song 'Lead Me', but now I want to sing it less and live it more.' [...] I've always struggled to reconcile my life on the road away from Sarah and the kids, but after all these years I'm confident that my calling is to be at home more, consistently making God and family my ultimate priority." I am feeling even more inspired by the song now and look forward to listening to Matt Hammitt's podcasts.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Celebrate This Week

When Ruth Ayres, started a new blog Ruth Ayres Writes, I noticed a shift into inclusion of new writing territories, including an exploration of her faith. I just noticed that is currently the most frequent tag on her blog side bar for her posts. She was one of the inspirations for me to have the confidence to start sharing my faith in a more public way.

With her new blog, she also started a new feature called Celebrate This Week. I regularly participated for a while at the beginning. Now, as I start fresh with a new blog, Celebrate This Week is something I would like to participate in regularly once again. Friday evenings/Saturdays mark the shift into the weekend, and regularly pausing in a concrete way to think about those celebrations that have been floating around during the week will be a great way to focus on the core.

This week I celebrate:
(1) Extra moments with my girls this summer - watching the big girls play soccer, doing a Mommy and Me swim class with my youngest, coloring, watching movies, sitting in the yard. I celebrate all the time we have spent together this summer and all that will still come this last month that I am officially on vacation.
(2) Having Camila calm down in my arms this afternoon as I prayed the rosary and then staring into her eyes as she fell asleep. Quiet moments with her without anywhere else I need to be are priceless.
(3) The courage to step outside of my comfort zone. This week was week #2 of taking Camila with me to daily Mass and we were able to stay the full Mass every day. I needed to shift to the side or back at times when I was trying to get her to calm down; however, we never had to completely leave. In the swimming class, I also went down the water slide with Camila and she loved it. That might not seem like a logical fit with the "stepping out of my comfort zone theme" but that was the first time I have been on a water slide since my oldest was an infant and I misunderstood a tip from another parent and Celeste went flying out of my arms and into the water when we got to the bottom. She was perfectly fine, but I was shook.
(4) Guidance. Whispers over time based on intentionally seeking God's will for my life and praying for the ability to recognize, understand, and then take action to align my life to His will. With this commitment comes peace based on the space for quiet reflections and confidence in my decisions.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Daily Mass: Not Just for Retirement

Welcome to my new blog. You can see a brief introduction to the focus of my blog here.

The only time I remember attending daily Mass, aside from church camps when I was younger, was when I was in Mexico for summer with my husband and our daughters (4 and 1 at the time). I had just finished my second year teaching, and we split our time between an urban city where some of his family lived and a rural community where he grew up. The weeks we were in the rural area there was an especially sharp contrast to the rush of a school year and the overall climate was peaceful and slow. An opportunity for daily Mass quickly became part of the rhythms of my day, until we shifted back to the city and when I eventually boarded the plane to head back to Oregon and another school year.

Though I had fond memories of being able to attend daily Mass, it was not a part of my reality as a busy, working mom trying to keep all the balls in the air. Instead, I viewed it as something I would really like to do once I was retired.

This winter while on break, I planned on going to daily Mass for a few days when both my husband and I had days off. Then something happened (I think either my toddler or I was sick), and I only went once, rather than the multiple days I had envisioned. I longed for those retirement days when daily Mass could be a part of our regular routine, not just vacations.

Then a seed was planted when I was at a First Communion retreat with my daughter this spring. Our youth minister encouraged us to attend daily Mass if possible. Shortly after, I was talking to another mom at our church asking if she went and about the timing. I realized that while I couldn't consistently go for the rosary at 7:35, that I could work toward making it to Mass at 8 AM 1-3 times/week. It didn't have to be an all or nothing decision.

That was my goal, but it didn't work out in the first week. The timing of our morning routine was off, and I didn't want to walk in late. Instead, that first week, I reflected on what I needed to change in order to make it happen. I thought about when I needed to wake up (and conversely go to sleep), what I needed to cut out of the morning routine, when we absolutely had to leave the house. I also saw the person I had talked to the week before after Sunday Mass and she said to go even if I was a couple of minutes late.

By the second week, I was ready to implement what I learned the previous week. The biggest surprise for me was that because daily Mass is shorter than regular Mass, the change impacted my morning routine with the girls more than it impacted my work schedule. Previously, it was fairly common that I ended up dropping the girls off at the latest time I could, instead of the half an hour before when parents can start dropping off kids. Then I still needed to drop our youngest off at day care. When I shifted my schedule to consistently dropping off at the earlier frame of the buffer zone, I was able to make it to Mass and then get to work about when I had been arriving many mornings anyway.

Especially in the first week of actually going, it took some fine tuning. However, once I got started, in the next few weeks, instead of being a goal for 1-3 times of Daily Mass, I realized that it was turning into a personal non-negotiable, something at my core. Unless there was something out of the ordinary, such as a field trip or an 8 AM meeting, I was going to be there every day.

My current position as a teacher educator provides more flexibility in my schedule than when I was a classroom teacher. Going to daily Mass still would not be possible if I had my 7:30 AM contract start time; however, realizing it would work in my current position made me think about the importance of not putting up obstacles without evaluating what really is set in our current lives and where there is flexibility. This is especially the case when thinking through a core lens, considering whether obstacles are in place because of something that is not at the core (such as computer time in the morning).

This year is all about thinking about those shifts, those possibilities and the alignment between the life I am living and what I most care about.