Pages

Friday, November 25, 2016

Facebook Image Narrative

As a middle school teacher, from time to time I would have my students do book spine poems. Inspired by that concept, this summer when I was decorating a bulletin board, I was drawn to Facebook images from Life Teen and Ascension Press. As I collected different images that I liked, I realized that strung together, they could make a narrative. Of course, it takes some filling in the gaps. Different viewers might get different messages from it based on personal experiences that resonate with the words. In fact, it will mean different things to me at different points of my journey. (Note: The one that is not a Life Teen image is one that I made using an image of a stained glass window at our church.)












Here is the way it looks on the bulletin board, strung together with ribbon and paperclips: 


While I didn't end up using images from Ascension Press for the narrative because I decided to have the consistent look of one image type, I did include this image at the top, one that I had printed earlier in the year that continues to be one of my favorites. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Gift of Godparents



In a couple of hours, I will go to my childhood church to celebrate the life of my godfather. It is the church where I received the three sacraments of initiation and had my First Reconciliation.

Aside from him almost always being present for sacraments celebrated in community for me or my girls and many, many gifts over the years to celebrate holidays and milestones or to express his pride in my GPA, I am realizing as an adult that the most important gift from him was his strong, unwavering faith and consistent physical presence. I was blessed to grow up in the same church as him, being able to sit in the pew behind him and his wife (my sister's godmother) and witness their faith.

Not too long ago my mom and I had some tensions related to faith and at one point she said something along the lines of, "Nobody my age believes that anymore," but then added on that my godfather and his wife were an exception to that assumption. He recently gave me some money to buy something for my baby, and I chose to purchase a Nativity figurine of the Holy Family. I like that it will be a symbol of passing on the faith, the impact godparents can have on future generations through nurturing the faith of their godchildren.

In the Reborn series, there is an emphasis on praying for godchildren as a vital role of godparents. While I had prayed for my godfather before, during the week of his death I felt a conviction that the reciprocal of godchildren intentionally praying for godparents is also a special role. Through a series in youth group last fall, I began to reflect on the Spiritual Work of Mercy to pray for the dead. As my godfather prepared to and then transitioned into his new life, I have been praying for him. I pray in gratitude for all he contributed to bringing me closer to God. Then, since there is no way of fully understanding the process, I pray for him if he is in purgatory coupled with a prayer of gratitude if that phase is already complete for him.

Eternal rest grant upon him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Small Acts of Kindness

 

After spending some quiet moments in prayer, I walked back through the parish hall with my 5 month old to pick up the diaper bag and crock pot. By that point most people had left. The space that had been bustling with conversation at the event reception minutes before had shifted into clean-up.

"Would you like to take some flowers home?" she asked.

Such a seemingly small gesture on the outside.

When I arrived home my 10-year old immediately gave her opinion that they needed to go on my Bible table where I sit on the floor in front of to read the daily readings every morning. Seven months prior she had surprised me by arranging a couple of bouquets of flowers for my birthday in the same location.

It ended up being the perfect place and the perfect timing to receive some flowers. It was the start of a week that marked a shift in the rhythms and routines of my life - the Opening Session for another academic year, the pressure of quick approaching deadlines, still trying to figure out how to make different layers work, reflecting on deeper issues. It was a physically and emotionally draining time.

But at the end of the days, while rocking my baby I could glimpse the flowers. In the mornings when I woke up to pray, I could see the flowers. I remembered how I felt receiving them and gratitude pushed aside a mixture of other emotions.

I'm not sure that the person who gave the flowers gave it a second thought. And yet, on the receiving end over a month after, that act of kindness continues to bring peace and joy though the physical reminder has passed.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Everyday Reminders of What Matters Most


"But do you love God most?" my priest asked me.

"Yes," I replied quickly and the conversation moved on. 

Yet, the question rattled around in my mind. The answer felt too automatic - just giving what I knew was the right answer. The conversation was related to family and God, specifically Abraham's test (Genesis 22:1-13) that had always left me feeling unsettled. Feeling so full of love for my girls, it was hard to fathom how Abraham would be able to kill his own son. Although that day my priest helped me to see that Biblical narrative from a new lens finally bringing a sense of peace with it, his question and my response stuck with me.  

It was at that time that I realized as a 34 year old, I had not given proper focus to one of the most fundamental aspects of life. I started to reflect what does it look like to love God most? Coincidentally, from the start of the year with core as my one little word, I had been focusing on a desire to intentionally align my life to God's will after feeling like my career was consuming too much of my time and energy, leaving me feeling like I was drowning. This layered in perfectly, as the more I learned about God's will, the more I was learning about loving God most. 

This summer, I sat in Confession hearing the advice "if you love God most..." The concept had cycled back through at a different point in my life with a different overall context prompting me to once again draw my attention to the thought, what does it look like to love God most? Separated by a year, with many other moments and pieces of advice in between, I am grateful for my priest continually helping me to process implications for my life as I try to navigate the journey to putting God in the rightful place in my life, the core.

Though initially it felt like shifting my priorities to focus on my Catholic faith was making everything else that I had struggled with for so long related to career-family balance fall into place, it eventually started to feel messy. I had not been expecting conflicts in trying to decide whether I was on track or not with certain areas. I thought I would just know whether or not certain aspects were God's will for me, rather than needing to patiently wait for different aspects to unfold. However, with time I have seen that bit by bit, pieces seem to be untangled as the concept of loving God most helps me to do the next thing.  

Sometimes it is nice to have external reminders that catch our attention during our day to day lives to remind us of what matters most, of who we want to be. Aside from my family photo timeline, I appreciate the underlying meaning behind my rings. I've never been one to be too attached to jewelry or to own many pieces of jewelry. As a matter of fact, I have probably gone more of my married life without wearing my engagement or wedding rings than I have worn them. However, throughout time there have been some rings and necklaces that have special significance that I wear every day, rarely taking them off. 

Last year my priest's rosary ring caught my attention. It resonated with me in relation to my one little word core and knowing that loving God most was vital. Originally, I thought it was only something that priests and religious would wear, but when I mentioned it one time, he let me know that many lay people wear them in India. That sparked my idea to get one and I decided on wearing it with my wedding band. Both are on my ring finger, the place of commitment, but the rosary ring is strategically closer to my heart. Yet, it is right next to my wedding band reminding me to keep God at the core and that as a married woman, living my vocation as a wife and mother well should be at the center of my life.

Because it impacted my ring finger, I talked to my husband about it, seeing how he felt about it. After some months of wearing it, he asked again about the significance. As I told him, I mentioned the intent, along with the reality that just because it is there and something I visibly see multiple times a day, doesn't mean I will be perfect at it. Rather, it prompts me to reflect again and again about those celebrations and areas for growth.

Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for the visible reminders in my life to draw me back to You, as well as the people who have nurtured my faith development. Please help me to have the strength to navigate the uncertainties in my journey to aligning my life to Your will and to living out my role as wife and mom to help my family with the overall purpose of eternal life. 

Catholic Mom Daily Gospel Reflection Team

For 2016 I wrote one daily Gospel reflection for Catholic Mom. 

***


Today’s Gospel: Luke 6, 39-42
Recently I found myself judging a situation that did not directly involve me. I reacted as a mom, saying that I could not believe how another mother would agree to something. Only later, I heard more details that prompted me to re-evaluate, and her actions made sense. Instead, I was baffled by the other person involved.
As the details continued to unravel, I found myself going back and forth, revising my judgments. At the end, I realized I would never know the full story, all the different events and feelings that culminated in the current scenario. Judging should not be my initial response. Nonetheless, because there is an inclination to consider human experiences and place value judgments, it is an on-going challenge to catch myself from judging others and to instead re-direct my thoughts.
Sometimes my judgments come in the form of trying to give advice or helping people process scenarios. The last line provides guidance to think about how I can better support others when that is the case. The more I can refrain from judging as an initial response and instead focus on my own weaknesses in the midst of my efforts to live a holy life, the more I can understand and sympathize.
When I stop and take a step back, it helps me to be able to compassionately help remove the splinter, with the purpose of bringing peace. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, it is a perfect time to reflect and consider how we respond to our own actions and those of others.

Ponder:

Consider a time when your initial response was to judge. How could you have responded in a way that would demonstrate Jesus’ love, compassion, and mercy? How might you proactively use this information to respond differently to similar scenarios in the future?

Pray:

Lord Jesus, help me to demonstrate your mercy towards those I encounter in my day to day life, recognizing my own faults, rather than unfairly focusing on those of others. Help me to respond with love and compassion, rather than judgment.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bind Us Together Lord

Bind us together, Lord
Bind us together, Lord
Bind us together with cords that cannot be broken

Bind us together, Lord
Bind us together, Lord
Bind us together with love

During the last academic year, my priest taught this song at one of our youth ministry nights. Among other relationships, the song speaks to me when thinking about marriage, family, and memories. Last summer, inspired by an idea in Ali Edwards' Hello Story scrapbooking class, I created a visual timeline on a wall of our hallway. There is an 8x8 framed picture for each family member for each year (with oldest at the top moving down by age for each column). Starting with two pictures in 2002 - one of my husband and one of me on our wedding day, the timeline then expands to add our oldest in the next year, our second three years later, an ultrasound of our third six years later, and as soon as I update it, our fourth will be present just in time for it to be necessary to bend the timeline down the hallway. 

Though it was not part of my original motivation behind making it, I have come to realize that it is beneficial to have a glimpse through our lives visible. When the house is calm and quiet, I sometimes like to sit on the couch and glance at our timeline. For those on the outside, some milestones and events are easily recognizable, such as our wedding day and my three college graduations. Others might be less understood without some explanation, such as knowing that the picture of my husband holding a small US flag and a piece of paper is the day he became a US citizen (the paper is a voter registration application). Everyday photos are mixed in as well.

Then there's all those hidden layers behind the outward appearances. Aside from what can be seen on the surface, some pictures evoke memories of the specific day and time the pictures were taken, as well as the overall context of our lives at the time. Based on the pictures, I think about where we lived, where we were in school or working, exciting events coming up. I think about interactions between different family members and the rhythms and routines of our life during specific years. I think about the layers of support for me to be able to pursue my educational dreams.

Almost all of the pictures depict smiling faces, even in those spans of time that represent the biggest challenges in our lives. As such, the photos represent celebrations, struggles, and everyday life all mixed together. As a teacher, getting things straight on my bulletin boards and walls was never a strength, so as expected, trying to get rows of frames in perfect alignment simply did not happen; however, so much about relationships is recognizing the beauty despite the imperfections. 

Memories and experiences bind us together. The more we can allow the lessons of the Gospel to guide our lives and interactions, the stronger the bonds become. The more we allow guidance from people with a strong Catholic lens and prayer to help us navigate decisions and confusions, the stronger the bonds become. If we strive to be humble enough to recognize our own imperfections, be merciful enough to accept each other as we are, sacrifice enough to show our love, we can reflect on how our Lord is working to bind us together.

In the last little over a year and a half since I have been focusing more on intentionally aligning my life to the will of God, there have been some confusions as to which path I should take in some areas; however, other aspects are clear. One area of clarity is knowing that living out my vocation as wife and mother means nurturing our faith and our relationships and trying to keep Christ at the center of our lives. 

Today my husband and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary, as well as the baptisms of our oldest 13 years ago and of our third daughter 3 years ago. We will celebrate by having our priest bless our house this evening.

We are grateful for Your unwavering presence Lord, through different phases of our lives. Please continue to bind us together and to remember those common memories through all the bends in life. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Remaining Calm

Yesterday I talked about how a sense of letting go and trusting more often in my life helps to counteract rising stress and worry. Doing so is vital in being able to serve in different capacities and roles in life, including: wife, mother, parishioner, colleague, Director of Religious Education/Youth Minister, and teacher educator. At the start of last year, as part of my one little word - core journey, I wrote, "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." Shortly after, I took the Upstream Field Guide course which prompted me to think about my purpose beyond my current context. It pushed me to see beyond this phase of motherhood and my career.

Lately, I have been feeling certainty that a couple of cross-cutting aspects I want to embody and continue to nurture are contributing to a positive culture and joyful interactions. Feeling a sense of calm and peace helps me to better live these two out in my life. I think that is why when I saw this image from Ascension Press on Facebook it spoke to me enough to print it out and put it on my bulletin board at church.



This week I returned to work as a teacher educator after maternity leave and summer vacation. This song keeps coming to mind as I know it is essential so that I don't get too wrapped up in different aspects of life. One of my favorite lines is "Lay down what's good and find what's best." You can hear about the background of the song from the singer's perspective here.


What aspects prompt you to feel stress and worry? What are some things that help you or inspire you to not let different worries or concerns in life turn into bigger issues than they need to be? 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Do the Next Thing

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of "Do the next thing" as part of my growth on the worry-trust continuum. When something seems to be too overwhelming or I am too bogged down with wanting to know how something is going to turn out, I am trying to shift my thinking to what the next thing is and then taking action.

I am a planner and want to think things through, to be intentional. I like the concept of beginning with the end in mind; and yet, I am finding that there are many scenarios lately that I need to let go of my timelines and desire to know and instead trust that God will reveal to me what I need to know when I need to know. Rather than spending so much time and energy on trying to solve the bigger questions in my mind or to feel like I have a strong, solid grasp on the big picture before moving forward, I just need to take a small step forward. Then the next one and the next one. Leaning into uncertainty, I take those steps of faith over time.

By letting go of wanting to have so much control over the outcome, instead, I can pray "Thy will be done" and "Jesus, I trust in You" and prepare to be amazed at how things turn out, the twists and turns in my journey. Having confidence that God is working all things for my good (Romans 8:28) helps to surrender that control and wait for his plans to emerge over time.

Keeping these thoughts in mind, I can see how it makes all the difference with aspects that seem big or small. Anytime I feel stress, anxiety, or uncertainty bubbling up, I can feel strength building to counteract those thoughts - the peace and calm seeping in. I can see how so many different scenarios in my life have led me to this point.

It is of course taking practice, prayer, loving advice, and reminders over time nudging me toward this growth. It feels like it is all in preparation to move toward the big picture of God's plan for me, the work He would like me to do. I take pleasure in seeing different aspects come into focus when looking back, leading me toward a greater sense of trust in the process through understanding aspects in the past that I couldn't have known yet because it was not time.

Where are you at in your journey? What can you do to train yourself toward letting go and doing the next thing, rather than wasting time wanting to know all the answers up front? Where are you at on the worry-trust and control-surrender continuums? How can you grow? How can you support others in their growth based on what you have already learned over time? 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Leaning into Suffering: Part 4 Reflecting Back

This post is the last in a series about suffering. See the other posts here (one, two, three).

As I laid in the hospital bed, my warm baby in my arms, the different labors seemed to piece together, and I felt an overwhelming sense of how God was with me providing me with exactly what I needed for each unique context, rather than just each time getting easier and faster. Instead, a relatively fast and not too painful labor - my first. My fastest labor - when my husband wasn't there. A the doctor must not have checked very well when he said it wasn't time labor - the time I called out to God. A longer (but still short) labor - when I was comparatively stronger and had a sense of a greater purpose for suffering.

My first two labors helped to provide a context for confidence. In my third labor, I was calmer than ever but then called out as soon as it was not as smooth as I imagined it was. At the time I was arrogant, thinking the doctor didn't know what I knew - it. was. time. Now, it reminds me of Peter walking on water. The doctor wasn't just too tired or wasn't off with his estimation of my progress. It really wasn't time yet, but when I called out, God rescued me immediately (Matthew 14:22-33). He turned it's not time into it's time.

In my fourth, I was stronger and wanting to offer it up and trusting in Jesus that I would be able to handle however it unfolded. I drew comfort from the agony in the garden and the human feelings of Jesus. Yet, I was still looking forward to the relief. I was able to say, "For you Jesus," inspired by Blessed Chiara Badano, but I was definitely not able to say, "Give me more" like Saint Alphonsa. I recognized that I was willingly accepting the pain of something that had to happen - my baby couldn't just stay inside forever. I also knew that the suffering was working toward the joyful outcome of a new life.

I cannot say whether I would be strong enough to go through the pain if it was something that I could just say, "What was I thinking? This is too hard. I don't want to do this anymore." My thinking was more along the lines of wanting to unite the suffering that had to happen with Christ's while simultaneously being very grateful for the relief that would eventually come. Based on hearing the labor stories of others, I also know that I have been very blessed and fortunate with relatively quick and easy labors, so I am unsure of how well I would be able to tolerate a harder labor without medication to dull the pain.

Nonetheless, although there are many reasons to think the suffering was much less than that of others' and that I still have a lot more room to grow with willingly accepting suffering, I know that I have grown through the process of the delivery of my four girls. It has taught me a lot about how to get stronger with time. If I eventually go through another labor, part of my mental preparation process will be to hold back the sense of wanting to push as soon as it gets hard and requesting to do so. I want to be able to better accept the "not yet," knowing there is purpose behind the process.

My labors have provided a lens to reflect on how I want to accept and embrace the suffering that enters my life over time beyond the context of labors. It is especially vital for me to keep in mind with the unexpected, knowing it is easier for me to keep a positive mindset when it is something I am planning and preparing for with some idea of what to expect and time to reflect on how I want to respond before the onset of suffering. All of this closely links to what I envision as a worry-trust continuum. The more I can trust, rather than worry, the better able I am to offer up suffering and to willingly lean into suffering, rather than trying to run away.

As I recognize that I could sense the presence of God in a special way in my labors and as a sense of purpose emerges behind why each labor was perfect for my context at different points in my 20s and 30s, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and awe.

I don't know whether I will ever be as strong as Blessed Chiara Badano offering up longer term suffering or as Saint Alphonsa asking for more suffering, but I trust that God has a plan for me and for my growth over time to live, love, and serve according to His will, and that He will strengthen me in order to say yes to that plan. I am grateful for the Blesseds and Saints of the Church providing such rich diversity in experiences and inspiration for how we can improve over time in our lives.

What are the experiences in your life when you saw events through a new lens or were able to recognize a strong presence of God? What have you learned because of those experiences? How do the experiences shape goals for future growth?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Leaning Into Suffering - Part 3 Labor 4

This post is part of a series about suffering. If you did not see the initial posts, you can find them here and here.

April 2016
I thought ahead for months. With three labors past, I was more confident in what labor would be like. I remembered my mom saying how I (her fourth) was her easiest labor. I also let my doctor know my labors were typically fast and how I lost my calm when the doctor in my third labor said it was not time but then my baby was born immediately once the nurse told me to push. My doctor let me know to go in sooner rather than later and to make sure the nurses called her. One of my friends let me know there was a note on my chart telling them to call her as soon as they saw me.

My personal journey had led me to almost a full year of regularly attending daily Mass for the first time ever in my life, I had been investing in my personal faith formation, and had been going to a weekly Adoration for some months (something I had not done since my oldest was 1). As part of those experiences, I had heard about Blessed Chiara Badano from Chris Stefanick and Saint Alphonsa from my priest, which in combination with other readings and faith formation resources, helped me to consider the concept of uniting suffering to Christ's for the Salvation of Souls or the concept of offering it up. I recognized that was a vital piece that I wanted to keep in mind during labor. During Holy Week, I thought about Jesus' Agony in the Garden and the deeper understanding I had about that strengthened me.

I knew labor was approaching. I thought I was in labor on a Friday night but then the contractions went away and I waited and waited. I knew it was getting closer and made a prediction that it would happen by a certain time. Then it didn't. That point in time came and went without any regular contractions. But there was peace. I was able to have a patient mindset and inner dialogue with God that I trusted it would happen when and as it should, even if it was much different than my other labors for which I had a great sense of gratitude.

Sunday night, I woke with the familiar feeling. As soon as I had barely enough contractions to feel like they were regular, my husband and I once again headed to the hospital in the middle of the night. I let him know I just needed to focus and didn't want to be carrying on a conversation, so he stretched out on the bed for dads and rested. I set into my prayers within intermittent interruptions from the nurse. I rotated the Rosary ring on my finger as I went through the decades. When the IV was inserted making that painful, I counted on my fingers. I prayed and prayed. I wondered if I would make it through the Rosary before labor but ended up praying all four sets of Mysteries.

Jesus, I trust in You, I thought as the pain increased rather than yelling out as I had the previous labor. "For You, Jesus," I thought inspired by Blessed Chiara Badano's words. When it got harder, I imagined Jesus as the Good Shepherd, as it was not too long after Good Shepherd Sunday and my priest had talked about an image he has of Jesus carrying the lamb over His shoulders. I was calm and collected, yet ready to have my baby in my arms and the relief of knowing labor was over. I was impatient. "Remember, my babies are small," I said to my doctor when I heard those familiar words, "Not yet" a couple of times.

When I did have the go ahead to push, there was another surprise in store for me - it was not immediate and effortless. I actually had to get coaching from the nurses and my doctor on how to focus my energy while pushing. What? I thought. I needed to lean into the pain more, rather than on shifting too deeply into prayer. "Keep your eyes open. Stay with us," they said.

After my longest labor pushing (unless my first labor is too blurry with time), she was there and I was in awe. It wasn't what I had expected. I wasn't expecting it to be more effort than before. My four labors came into focus; I saw them from a new angle.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Leaning into Suffering - Part 2: Labors 1-3

This post is part of a series about suffering. If you did not see the initial post, you can find it here.

June 2003
With time the labor is a bit of a blur. This I do remember though. I went into labor thinking I wanted to avoid pain medication if possible but was open to it depending on what it was like. Some reading material for baptismal preparation that my husband and I read together mentioned that no matter how hard labor might hurt, Jesus suffered more. I appreciated that concept and asked my husband to remind me of that while in labor. Fast forward to the big day and when it started to really hurt, my husband lovingly reminded me as requested. I was too focused on the highest level of pain I had ever been in to that date that I was not able to embrace that thought and find the strength I thought I might have from that statement. Luckily, when the pain got to that level, it was time to push. The other memory that comes to mind from that labor is that my closest in age sister and mom were also with us, and right after it was over, my sister let me know I sounded like a pig or an elephant while pushing. Fabulous.

June 2006
Contractions were strong and I headed to the hospital. The doctor let me know that I may or may not have a baby that day and suggested I leave for about an hour. I let her know contractions felt stronger at home than they did in that moment, but the recommendation stood. It wasn't time yet. Two of my sisters and I decided to head out for ice cream, rather than going back home with my almost 3 year old and mom. The in and out would have been difficult for her. Afterward my sisters decided they wanted to walk a couple of more blocks down to get some coffee. Then while there, they decided they needed to use the bathroom one after the other as my pain level increased. Shortly after arriving back at the hospital I buzzed for the nurse wanting to let her know maybe I needed a little bit of pain medication after all. I was just starting to get more sad that circumstances meant my husband wouldn't be able to be with me to share in the moment when the nurse let me know it was time to push. She stepped out the door to call another nurse in and told me to go ahead. "Without the doctor?" I asked. She reassured me and just like that my baby was there. No time to feel sad. No time to dwell on the pain. Instead, I was left in awe that it was over so quickly.

April 2013
Seven years was enough to forget for sure what the pain felt like; nonetheless, anxiety built as it got closer and closer. I tried to focus on thinking that based on two previous labors, it would hurt really bad, but that would mean that it was time. Then it would all be over. As a result, when my husband and I went to the hospital in the middle of the night, I was calmer than ever. In my mind I said prayers, I talked to my baby, I visualized how it was going to go. I even smiled to myself thinking that my husband had no idea how close it was getting because I was able to remain so calm.

As the pain started to intensify, I imagined the doctor would walk in, my water would break, the pain would hit, and he would let me know it was time to push. Only, the words that came out of his mouth were "Not yet." And, I lost all the calm I had, along with keeping my words and thoughts in my mind. I tensed up and called out to God - the first time I remember yelling out in labor. The doctor told me to calm down or I would hurt myself. The nurse told me to remember my breathing. "If I can't push, I don't know what to do," I said. To which the nurse replied, "Do what you need to do." Then, there she was, my third baby girl. Once again, labor was over. He didn't know, I thought. It was time.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Leaning in to Suffering - Part 1: Introduction

Last fall I talked to my priest about how approaching another labor in the spring, I knew that I would need to conscientiously focus on trust, rather than anxiety. I knew as the months and days passed and I approached my due date that I would start to worry and wonder. However, I was starting to get a better sense of suffering and the concept of uniting suffering with Jesus's thanks to the influence of different layers of faith formation.

Thinking of the concept of Jesus' suffering was present while preparing for my first labor 13 years ago; however, I was much further from the concept sinking in. This April as I laid in my hospital bed with so many emotions, one of the salient thoughts was those four different labors making sense in teaching me about strength and suffering.

Today as my priest talked about St. Alphonsa in his homily on her feast day with words such as, "The wealth of the bride is the wealth of the bridegroom, and the wealth of my bridegroom is suffering" and her requests to "Give me more" when referring to suffering, I was reminded once again of my labors, what I have learned about suffering, and how far I can still grow in the area. Over a series of posts, I will share glimpses into my journey.

Saint Alphonsa, Pray for us.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Family Prayer

Family prayer started for us by chance. As I began my marriage and started having children, praying together was not something I thought about much and we did not have any regular routines. When my oldest daughter was preparing for First Reconciliation and First Communion, she was supposed to memorize some prayers. I knew that one of the best ways to do so would be for her to hear them frequently. I decided to say prayers in bed in the mornings and at night. At the time, my girls were eight and five.

We would pray in different ways - in the beginning, sometimes I would say the prayers and sometimes I would say the prayers line by line and they would repeat. As they got more familiar with the prayers, sometimes we would pray together, and other times they wanted to alternate lines. Regardless, they came to appreciate the prayers, and we enjoyed the time together. 

When it was time for my second daughter to prepare for her First Reconciliation and First Communion, she already knew the prayers, except for some new ones that were added. Four years later we often pray together in the mornings right when they wake up or before going to bed. In the mornings these days, my 12 year old will sometimes ask me, "Can you say some prayers?" before rolling back over, resisting getting out of bed in the morning. 

Reflecting over time, I have come to realize that whether my girls are actively engaged in praying or whether they want to hear me pray as they wake up for the morning, a big part of it is the bonding. As they grow, there will be a connection between bonding as mother-daughters and the prayers. There will be reminders of calm, unhurried starts together. Other aspects of our morning routines can be stressful, depending on the day and how things progress, but when we pray, time stops for a bit and it is about the bonding and peace. 

***

In December, I asked my priest more about the family prayer routines for him growing up. He had briefly mentioned something about it as an anecdote earlier in the fall and over time I started to have more curiosity about it, thinking about what it was like for his family and his context and what might translate for my family in our context. 

I asked a range of questions about the logistics and cultural differences, hearing about his experiences, getting his opinion and asking for advice. Through our conversations I formulated a plan in my mind. As a family, we would pray the Angelus, a decade of the Rosary, and read from The Bible nightly. Then, we would also read from Living Faith for Kids

The first step was to talk to my husband about the plan, and it was easy to get him onboard with the idea. We started and had consecutive nights. We realized that upon sitting together and praying, we then would stay together, spending time disconnected with technology. Both my husband and I really appreciated that aspect. Nonetheless, after a seemingly solid routine was established, it seemed like it quickly broke down when we missed a night and then another and then another. 

***

Through these experiences, there is no doubt in the power of family prayer and the benefits of prioritizing prayer. And yet, I know that the common thread between both in this moment is that there is a need to focus on consistency. As with many things in life, there is an on-going reflection on putting first things first and figuring out how to do so when life gets busy. With waking up and bed time routines, it is all about needing to make sure I minimize aspects that make the routines feel rushed as well as some type of reminder to do so. I read the daily readings every morning, so it should be a natural extension to move on to praying with my girls, and yet... For our family prayer, it worked best when we said we would do it right as we all arrived home for the day. It seemed to break down when we said we would do it later in the evening, but then we often get going in different directions. 

It's time to re-calibrate and refocus - time to prioritize family prayer. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Prepare, Show-Up, and Engage

The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Eucharist as the source and summit (1324). As such, the Eucharist is of utmost importance for us as Catholics and it is natural to feel a sense of respect and appreciation for the priests who make the Mass possible. While I have participated in Mass throughout my life in different ways, I don't think it was until recently that I realized my role in impacting the way that I experience Mass as strongly as I do now. Over time there has been a desire to support the liturgy in different ways and to better understand the deeper meaning of the Mass, but different Catholic resources have come together to emphasize my role.

When thinking about how Catholics can be more proactive in impacting our Mass experience, here are some starting points that come to mind: prepare, show up, and engage.
prepare: Over the last couple of years especially, I have been blessed with many resources and encouragement coming into my life that have positively impacted my growth as a Catholic and deepening my understanding of the faith. I have come to realize that anytime we invest in our own faith development, we are also investing in the Catholic community.  
Alongside prioritizing faith formation in general, many resources have pointed toward preparing for Mass. Redeemed Online and Matthew Kelly from Dynamic Catholic instantly come to mind when thinking about encouragement to read the Sunday readings at some point in the week prior to Mass. Then, we attend Mass already thinking about and processing the readings. As a result, we are better prepared to let the homily have an impact or to have an opportunity to watch for clarification of points from the readings that brought confusion. 
show up: Regular Mass attendance with preparation helps to bring all the pieces together. In my adult life I had previously read the daily readings, but up until I started last spring, I had never been able to consistently attend daily Mass. However, I have noticed a marked difference of daily attendance coupled with daily readings and reflections at home alongside resources to invest in my faith formation. 
By attending regularly I have a better understanding of how the readings come together, as well as familiarizing myself with the rhythms and routines of the priests' homilies, allowing me to better capture their ideas.
As Catholics, we can show up in different ways at different points in our lives, and it is important to re-evaluate as shifts occur in our lives so that opportunities don't pass us by. When I was teaching in a K-12 context, my schedule would not allow for daily Mass attendance. When I switched to being a university professor, I still felt just as busy with my career. Since the work load felt similar, I didn't pause to think about whether the differences in my physical schedules between the two contexts would have implications for my spiritual life. It took me almost 2 academic years to realize daily Mass attendance was possible now based on the greater level of flexibility in my current context. As a result, this last year I have realized the importance of considering what is really possible in my life at any given point in time, rather than being so caught up in my career demands that I make assumptions about what is or isn't possible without considering the reality of the scenario. 
engage: After preparing and showing up, our mindset and active participation while at Mass is critically important. I love resources such as Altaration and Behold the Mystery to have a better understanding of the power of different parts of the Mass. If points of confusion were not clarified within the Mass, priests are available and accessible as resources if we are willing to engage in conversation. There are also a range of Internet based resources or knowledge of other parishioners to help us grow along the way. 
When thinking about what I can do to invest in my Catholic faith, I know that preparing, showing up, and engaging will continue to be core. Regardless of the priest in front of me with shifts and changes over time, I have confidence that they will be preparing, showing up and engaging. Part of valuing my priest is coming back to these three points to consider what I am doing to reciprocate those actions in order to actively contribute to my Mass experience, rather than a perspective that the priest has the sole responsibility.

What role do preparing, showing up, and engaging play in your life as a Catholic today? What are your current strengths? How might you re-evaluate in order to grow and nurture your faith?