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?