Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Motherhood Self-Care


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Tomb

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Scripture Stackers Review


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


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

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



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

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


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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Genuine Friendship

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Time for God

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

Interior Freedom

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

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

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

Some of the quotes that I marked were:

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

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Friendship Project

This summer I pre-ordered The Friendship Project: The Catholic Woman's Guide to Making and Keeping Fabulous, Faith-Filled Friends by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet because I loved their first book, Divine Mercy for Moms. I had some interest in the book but probably bought it more based on the authors than the topic.

I read the book on a recent day of traveling and realized that I loved it so much more than I anticipated based on how they crafted the book and the depth of their exploration. It ended up being the book I hadn't realized I needed.

After a foreword by Fr. Larry Richards to contextualize the importance of the book and an introduction, the book has 8 chapters with a consistent format. Each chapter highlights a virtue and a Saint pair - two Saints that were friends and supported each other on their pathways to sanctification. As a result, the book not only explores how we can individually grow by thinking deeply about the virtues and considering implications for our own lives, but also how we can support each other. In the first chapter they state, "Without the right support system and faith-filled friendships, living your faith is more difficult" (p. 7).

Linking the concepts to the Bible, anecdotes about their own friendships, and the lives of Saints, Faehnle and Jaminet provide a rich exploration of the topic. They also wove together how the different virtues link to each other. Lately I had been thinking about prudence and day to day applications. I was considering how prudence and generosity intersect when discerning choices over time, so I loved how this book addressed both and extended my previous thinking. They were also honest when reflecting on both their strengths and areas for growth in their friendships over time.

In general, I loved the author's craft - the organization, the conceptualization, the co-writing and weaving back and forth between their two voices. I also appreciated how it helped me to better understand myself, the lens it provided to reflect on previous and present friendships, and implications for the future of what I need to nurture in order to have friendships like those described in the book that provide mutual support for growing in holiness. The authors also have a companion website to their book that I am just starting to explore.

Not too long before I read the book, I enjoyed Fr. Mike's thoughts on being intentional about who you spend time with. A priest also just recommended Genuine Friendships. I just purchased it and am looking forward to reading it to see how it complements and extends on The Friendship Project.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Searching for and Maintaining Peace



Earlier this summer I met a woman while helping set up for a women's conference at our diocesan retreat center who I admired for how she seemed to have figured out how to live with Christ at the core from an earlier age than I did. By noticing that, I knew that there was likely a lot I could learn from her. She recommended a book by Father Jacques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart.

Almost three months went by, and a couple of weeks ago I was talking to another woman asking for further explanation on a comment she made because I also recognized her as seeming to be more advanced spiritually and once again the same book came up, so I decided it was time to read it.

It is a brief book at 110 pages and relatively smaller in size as compared to other books; however, it contained insight to so many of the questions that I had been pondering over the last year. Fairly early in on my process of recognizing that I needed to re-align my life to having God at the core this image resonated with me so much that I printed it out and put it on my bulletin board.

Yet, along the way, I recognized that though I was drawn to the concept, I was far from knowing how to implement it. It was relatively easy to lose my sense of peace, and I realized part of my journey would mean re-defining what peace truly means in order to then try to cultivate it. Growth on the worry-trust continuum and all the encouragement over the years I received to lean into trust laid a foundation.

This book helped me to deepen my understanding by providing new ideas to consider, an explanation to some of the processes I had completed intuitively, and overall considerations to help me to self-reflect on my spiritual growth. Divided into three parts: 1) Interior Peace, The Road to Saintliness, 2) How to React to That Which Causes Us to Lose Peace, and 3) What the Saints Tell Us, the book complemented others I previously read about Ignatian discernment (this one and this one by Fr. Gallagher and this one from LifeTeen).

I also noted and appreciated that Fr. Jacques Philippe connected his concepts to some of my favorite Scripture verses, such as God working all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). In this way, it took Scripture that had been speaking to me and guiding my journey towards greater trust and provided me with further explanation of how this could lead me toward growth with maintaining peace.

It also brought up a topic that I have noticed I do not like to think about - spiritual combat. Nonetheless, the way it discussed it helped me to feel a greater sense of peace about the whole topic - not surprising given the title and intent of the book - because it contextualized the purpose in the greater journey towards heaven. For example, "Every Christian must be thoroughly convinced that his spiritual life can in no way be viewed as the quiet unfolding of an inconsequential life without any problems; rather it must be viewed as the scene of a constant and sometimes painful battle, which will not end until death -- a struggle against evil, temptation and the sin that is in him. [...] And this combat is, correctly viewed, the place of our purification, of our spiritual growth, where we learn to know ourselves in our weakness and to know God in His infinite mercy. This combat is the definitive place of our transfiguration and glorification" (p. 9). Lines like that helped me to appreciate the concept through a new lens and embrace it, rather than having a response of fear/anxiety, especially because he emphasizes that it is the Lord's strength that helps us combat these spiritual battles.

In general, this book wove together so many threads that have been on my mind about growing towards God, such as: suffering, great peace, trust, and detachment. It also provided me with some answers about tendencies to ponder the experiences of others and how that links to my own sense of peace.

I am so fortunate for these two women recommending this specific book at this specific phase of my life. Developmentally, it felt like just what I needed and that it was rich enough that I will continue to gain insights from it by re-reading in the future.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Thief

Just like The Well, Stephanie Landsem's second book in the Living Water series, The Thief, drew me right in. While reading, I realized it would be hard to write a review about it because so much of what I love is the element of surprise, and it is challenging to share the power of the reading experience without giving away the details that would lessen the process of discovery for other readers. As a result, I will attempt to convey the experience by sharing generalities, rather than specifics. 

Landsem has a way of letting readers know what one of the focal biblical links will be fairly early on, but then that element occurs part way through the book and there is still a lot more that will happen and additional less obvious layers emerge. Or, in the case of this book, there was one element that I started to expect and anticipate, and it did happen toward the end but in a way I never would have imagined that carried so much more weight, provoking a stronger emotional reaction. 

I love that there is depth to her characters - that the inner tensions and conflicts in their lives are palpable. I appreciate seeing how they develop and are transformed through the course of the novel. It is powerful to see how they are irrevocably moved by recognizing aspects in others that they are drawn to (such as inner peace in great trials) but that they do not understand at all, leading them on an inquiry process to seek understanding and ultimately grow through the process. 

I have always enjoyed novels from multiple perspectives and this one switched back and forth between two main characters, being able to see glimpses into what they both understood and areas where there were gaps in their understanding of each other. This also leads to feeling more deeply connected to both vs. a sense of distance from the one whose perspective we do not see as closely. 

I am looking forward to reading the final novel in the series, The Tomb, as well as anticipating the release of the Advent version of Walk in Her Sandals with her contributions. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Power of Silence

I couldn't seem to keep a copy of The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. I first heard about it in an Ignatius Press mailer. I was drawn to the description about the role of silence because through grieving a shift in my life and pondering why it was so hard, I realized that what I was longing for was more space for calm and silence in my life and then reflected on how I could invite more silence into the rhythms and routines of my days.

Then when I looked at the preview on Amazon and saw, "What virtue does Cardinal Sarah expect from the reading of this book? Humility" (p. 17) followed by the Litany of Humility, I instantly clicked to purchase. The Litany of Humility had also been a recent part of my journey - framing my thinking about different challenges and struggles, being able to recognize how my ego was coming into the picture and causing me to lose my sense of peace unnecessarily.

However, when the book arrived, I realized it would be the perfect going away gift for someone who was moving out of our community based on his model of spending quiet time in the church and him expressing how powerful Eucharistic Adoration had been for him, time spent contemplating our Lord in silence. He had a calming presence, and I thought he might love the book/that it would be a good fit for him. My reading would have to wait until another copy arrived.

When I was nearly finished with the book, I once again had the pull to pass it on to another person who seemed to love silence. This time it was to someone I had actually never talked to or officially met and as a result, I was shy to approach. I hesitated and went to reflect in the Adoration Chapel to capture some thinking about the daily Mass homily and thinking that when I finished, if he was still in the church, I would offer it to him. As I left the Adoration Chapel, he ended up walking out of the church into the same space. I passed the book along and realized that it would be the last time I would see him as he mentioned his visit had finished and he was leaving town that day. This time though I did not have to wait for another copy to arrive in the mail to continue reading as I had luckily noticed a little bit prior that the book was available on Formed.org. I loaded it on my Kindle and finished it.

The book is written as a series of questions from Nicolas Diat and answers from Cardinal Sarah developing into a deep consideration of the role of silence in connection to relationship with God. It focuses on how God speaks in the silence. I especially liked the book with regards to this as I have been thinking more intentionally about the awareness trying to understand God's will for my life and overall spiritual growth, and this book gave a lot of ideas to consider.

Responses are broken into smaller pieces and numbered, providing a means to note aspects of the book to revisit later for further reflection. The responses also draw in the wisdom of many others in order to show a glimpse into the previous body of literature woven in with his own thinking. Often it was apparent that responses were written specifically with priests and the religious in mind, but other times there was a more general feel, including a response that specifically addressed the role of silence in different vocations.

I know this is a book that I will want to revisit over time. I have considered I might even approach it by reading 1-2 of the numbered responses a day over a large span of time. In the book he also brings up the concept of God or nothing again and again - a concept he focused on in his earlier book by that title which is also available on Formed and has the same question and answer format with Nicolas Diat. Eventually, I would like to read that one as well.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My Husband, My Dad, and My Priest

Early on in my marriage I remember the calm of my husband's voice saying, "Paz, paz, paz," the repetition of a single word - peace - in Spanish. I can't remember the context of why I was all worked up, but I remember his soothing words.

***

"I won't be able to come this weekend," I said a couple of years later, trying to get the words out without completely falling apart. I was in my 2nd year teaching in a new community with a newborn and a four year old while my husband was in Mexico for an extended stay. Trips to my parents' house 2 hours away on weekends were my lifeline. It helped me keep it all together. 

Yet, this weekend was going to be different. As I walked out of work and heard an odd hissing sound that I later realized was a nail through my tire, the disappointment and desperation started to rise. I picked up my girls and drove home before calling my dad to explain the scenario.

"Get in the car and go to Les Schwab to fix it," he said. 

"What? I can do that. I didn't think I could drive on it." I said.

The solution was so easy, but I had not yet stopped long enough to problem solve. I had only focused on getting my girls safely home and not driving my car, thinking I would have to call someone to come to me and that it would be a lengthier process. I didn't think about how Les Schwab was not much further than I had already driven to get the girls home and that there was still plenty of air in the tire. I didn't think about how the store would take drop-ins with an immediate need. Relief set in as I realized I would be able to have it quickly resolved and continue on with my weekend plans. 

Later my dad told me, "Man, I don't know why you worry about stuff like this."

***

Almost a decade later I had grown with regards to not worrying so much. I had been able to stay calm through my computer crashing on Mother's Day right as I was completing the last transcription of my last interview for my dissertation. I was able to relax and trust in the process when we moved back closer to home without knowing whether or not our house would sell. Yet, I still had plenty of room for growth, especially with the littler day to day.  

"For every problem there is a solution," my priest would say, along with a range of other comments, such as, "I don't know how you have time to worry about this," or "These are all little things."

***

Along my journey I have realized that I can conceptualize a worry-trust continuum. If I am worrying about something, it means I am not trusting in God enough. Now when I notice my worries, I try to re-direct my mind to God. At different phases and related to different layers of life, my husband, my dad, and my priest all contributed to helping me recognize that rather than allowing my mind drift to worry, I need to keep things in perspective and turn to peace. Jesus, I trust in you. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Ministry Through the Workshop Lens 3: Lifelong Disciples

Workshop teachers recognize that they are also works in progress who will always be learning and continuing on their own journeys. As such, they reflect on where they are at - their strengths, their accomplishments and areas for growth or to stretch themselves.

Reading workshop teachers talk about how readers have goals, as well as encourage readers to read different types of text for different purposes, including intentionally incorporating in some texts they know will be a stretch from time to time. Writing workshop teachers demonstrate how they reflect on their own author's craft and embrace the process. Once a priest talked to me about how it is important to remember effort over outcome. Writing workshop teachers recognize that it is about the writing process and willingness to explore and experiment with writing, even if the outcome is not as we hoped it would turn out. They also encourage writers to have a blend of their favorite genres, as well as expanding their writing territories and having a willingness to try something new with support.

In my faith life over time, I also have goals and areas where I want to stretch myself. Previously I have wanted to learn how to pray in a certain way, to memorize prayers, or to better understand how to meaningfully read and pray with Sacred Scripture. One of my current goals is that I want to learn more of the Mass responses in Latin. From time to time as I travel, some parishes or retreat/conference experiences will incorporate some Latin into the Mass, and if it is not projected on a screen, I am unable to participate unless it is a call and repeat of something relatively short, such as, "Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy" at the start of Mass because the missals I have seen do not include the Latin versions.

When we make a decision to be lifelong disciples in love with our Catholic faith and recognizing the power of how Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture can draw us closer to God, we are then able to reflect on our own foundations, growth and goals and then share that with others in order to encourage them to also be lifelong disciples with a commitment to learn and grow over time.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Embrace: One Little Word 2011

Then:
From simplicity in 2010, I flowed into embrace in 2011. I knew that like typical years, I could anticipate a range of experiences and wanted to embrace everything that came my way - the fun, the easy, and the challenging alike, moving forward with confidence and optimism. I was anticipating different experiences that would pull me out of my comfort zone, and I wanted to remind myself to approach them by embracing the unknown. Among the challenges, I would continue to work on my doctoral degree and was especially nervous about statistics after not taking any math classes since high school. I also wanted to embrace exercise to focus on my health. I signed up for a 12K along with my sister. Like math, I had not participated in any official runs since high school cross country 8 1/2 years prior, and even at that, those were just 5Ks. This year ended up being the year that I exercised more than any other year in my adult life before or after. I also started to explore digital scrapbooking.

During this year I continued to experiment with juggling different priorities - family, career, school, and exercise. I thought about how self-care was vital - that along with exercise, I needed to be able to put down a good book in order to get proper rest. I recognized that after a demanding, condensed summer session for my doctoral classes, I needed to prioritize slowing down and enjoying the time with my girls before summer vacation slipped by.

Now:
Embrace was all about mindset and attitude. It still guides my thinking, trying to enjoy and see value in all of life's experiences, rather than simply enjoying the easy and fun, while complaining about or dreading the difficult and emotionally draining. Having a mindset of embracing helped power me through my dissertation the year after, and still helps me to have endurance during longer writing projects, intimidating reports, or situations in which I am vulnerable. It helped me to approach my 3rd and 4th labors with greater appreciation for the process, even though I was always oh so relieved when it was all over and my baby was in my arms. Embracing has also helped me to be willing to take risks and be vulnerable.

Before I mentioned that my words have been like whispers leading me closer to God - drawn to concepts before I really understood how deeply they connected to my faith. In the last couple of years I have thought a lot more about suffering and the value of bearing our sufferings with joy. Though I would have grown up hearing key Gospel verses in which Jesus talks about the importance of taking up our crosses and following him (i.e. Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23), I did not ponder deeply what that would mean in my life until recently. Once having this shift in perspective, there is of course much to consider over time as God continues to reveal areas in which we are called to carry our cross and how we are being tested (Psalm 17:3) and probed (Psalm 139:1). Without embrace, it would be hard to live a life seeking to align to the mission at the end of Mass - Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ministry Through the Workshop Lens 2: Making the Process Visible

With workshop philosophy, teachers intentionally make the process visible. Reading workshop teachers give glimpses into what is happening in their mind while they read, and writing workshop teachers write in front of their students in order to serve as what Penny Kittle refers to as mentors of process.

When applying the workshop concept to the parenting and youth ministry context, this means that we intentionally show our children and youth glimpses into how we live out our faith in different scenarios in life. Recently when I had the opportunity to go to diocesan summer camps with my daughters, nieces, and some of their friends two weekends in a row, I thought about the rhythms and routines of my own trips to the retreat center. Then I patterned our two weekends to camp after that model.

I had parents drop their kids off at the church in time to attend the Rosary and daily Mass together. Our priest recognized the youth's presence and gave them a blessing. I had the girls say a prayer before we left for our day of driving (about 5-6 hours away depending on the amount of stops). While driving, we were listening to Christian Contemporary music. At one point, one of my nieces asked whether I had a rap station, but I let her know I only listened to Christian Contemporary music. I did not fully maximize the opportunity by explaining why as I have with my own daughters - that I can enjoy both the rhythms and the words based on previous experiences of loving songs until focusing more on the lyrics and being disappointed. Nonetheless, it was still an opportunity for her to see a glimpse into something that I value.

Upon arrival, before checking in, I had the girls go into the chapel - one of my favorite places at the retreat center. With my own students (middle school - college), sometimes if we are working on an assignment, I tell them to do some type of a quiet signal, such as put their pencil down, when they are ready to move on in order to facilitate knowing when they are ready to transition from one activity to the next, while maintaining an overall quiet atmosphere for those who are still working. With this in mind, prior to entering the chapel, I told the youth to spread out and kneel down in prayer thinking about their hopes for the weekend and that when they were finished praying, they could quietly sit back in the pew. I sat behind them so that I could visually watch for when they were ready to transition to registration.

For the rest of the camp experience, we went with the flow of how the experience was designed. Prior to leaving to go back home, we once again went for brief individual prayers to say thank you in the Chapel and then upon arrival back home, we went into the church and prayed as a group. About a month later when my husband was coming along with me for a diocesan symposium for adults for the first time, I also invited him into my prayer routines.

By being comfortable enough to show glimpses into our Christ-centered routines and not worrying about whether or not the youth will instantly think it is cool, such as my own daughter's "seriously mom" at one point, we are able to show routines that can nurture our relationships with God and provide access for youth to practice those routines. They are able to see how they can layer in small elements here and there and that it does not take that long to pause and say a prayer of gratitude, to share our hopes or to ask God for his support. Over time providing these glimpses with invitations for them to experience living those elements, we are able to provide scaffolding to help connect them to God. While we never fully know the long-term impact, there is hope that it will be part of an anchor experience, something that they will remember at different points in their lives, whispers back to strategies they can use to turn their attention back to God at different points of their days and experiences.

Monday, August 14, 2017

On Your Voyage

On Your Voyage by Fr. Jose Kariamadam, CMI is a collection of 74 brief reflections - each of about two pages long. With decades of experience as a priest, teacher and administrator in India and the United States, Fr. Jose has a range of experiences from which to draw.

He introduces the book with a preface, in which he begins, "This is a medley of thoughts, borrowed and personal. You will find in it some of the best I have long been pondering and cherishing in terms of practical wisdom and spirituality [...] this is an attempt to think over and walk with the thoughts of others and mine to ponder and provoke, as we all continue our spiritual journey" (p. ix). The book encompasses a wide range of topics, including: parenting, education, liturgical seasons, common perceptions, cultural similarities and differences, and navigating different phases of life. As noted in the preface, he weaves together his own words and thoughts with those of others, both religious and secular from throughout different historical periods. The selections are united by common trends though, such as pondering what is most important in life related to mindsets, character, and values.

As an educator, I especially enjoyed reading his philosophy and thoughts relevant to education, noting the extent to which our thoughts aligned and pondering differences. As someone less advanced in my spiritual journey, I appreciated glimpses into his wisdom related to spiritual growth with insight into his personal journey, those who have mentored him and those he has shepherded over the years. Some of his thoughts on himself as a writer also encouraged me in my own writing.

The reflections were written for different audiences and purposes and then drawn together in a common collection. For example, some address his parishioners in the United States, others are directed towards an Indian audience, and others are more general in their angle. Yet, all have enough context to understand from any of those perspectives.

When I first received the book, I flipped through skimming those with titles that most captured my interest but then went back and read it cover to cover. The nature of the book lends itself to reading either way.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Living at the Core 9: Embracing the Gap

Living at the core means learning to be able to embrace the gap between what we envision and what is actually our reality given different limitations. It means recognizing our longings but then discovering that sometimes fulfilling those longings will be packaged in a different way than we had expected. It means recognizing our goals but then allowing space for the process to take place. It means being able to distinguish between different types of gaps and determining which are the gaps we need to focus on continually narrowing and which are the gaps we need to accept as lesser gaps to find peace with in order to focus on those of more importance.

Recently, the concept of approximations in The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections resonated with me. In the June 24th reflection, Heidi Bratton talked about contentment and approximations that can end up being even better than what we initially envisioned as the goal in reference to her dreams to spend family time near water, yet recognizing an obstacle in the financial obligation of a vacation rental based on their current geographic location. She mentioned her surprise at the outcome when she took a chance to follow some advice that she doubted related to the power of approximations. She reflected, "we purchased a membership to a private lake near our house. We spent more time on the water that summer than if we had rented a lake-side cottage for a week and for a fraction of the cost. Most of all, it more than satisfied my dreams of big-time family fun." As a result, sometimes embracing the gap means that we readjust our original dreams that seemed out of reach to realize that an alternative approximation that is feasible will actually be better for us anyway or is at least worth trying and recognizing the beauty it does have to offer, rather than being hung up on it not being exactly as we had wanted.

As a wife, mom, and educator, embracing the gap means recognizing that the vision of what is ideal in each of those roles is often not realistic based on limitations of time and energy. Instead, I have to determine the best I can do with what I have and then be happy with what I was able to offer, rather than dwelling on the distance between where I got and where I wanted to be. Learning to do so was what helped me to have a breakthrough in setting healthy career boundaries, rather than constantly pushing the limits and losing the career-family balance battle because of the sense that I needed to do a better job no matter how many hours I had already poured into a certain project or curriculum design. I had to realize that I needed to have proper priorities of what mattered most and be able to offer less than perfect in some areas in order to also dedicate time to areas of more importance. With ministry, and area that does feel of greater overall importance, embracing the gap meant being able to serve in capacities, rather than letting my own limitations prompt me to say, "If I cannot accomplish my vision fully, I will not do it at all." It was about recognizing that I should offer what I have with love and humility, rather than letting the gap be an obstacle.

When it comes to the ultimate priority, our overall purpose in life though, becoming saints, embracing the gap means recognizing that while always striving toward the target of increased holiness and to "be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), we have to allow space for the process to occur. We have to be willing to recognize the gap between who we are and who we want to become in order to then participate in on-going cycles of considering where God is calling us to grow next at any given time and then focusing on that. It is about living a sacramental life steeped in prayer and then being grateful for the graces provided to aid us on that journey. It is about dedicating time to read Scripture and access resources related to the lives of Saints so that we can ponder implications for how we can pattern our own lives after Jesus and the Saints who successfully did so. It is about seeing ourselves in the lives of others seeking to live a holy life and understanding how God interacts with his people in order to view the great hope for the transformations he can make in our lives if we allow him to do so. It is about seeing the gaps as areas for growth in humility and the realization that we are fully dependent on God.

We all have to deal with gaps in our lives, to recognize our own limitations and to consider which are the gaps worth fighting for, which are the gaps worth letting go of, and which are the gaps we should find joy with approximations. How are you called to recognize, embrace, and respond to the different gaps in your life right now?

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Well

As part of the St. Teresa's Online Book Club, I read Stephanie Landsem's The Well. Before selecting the next book, the leaders of the club had a survey as to whether we wanted to continue with a non-fiction book (as we had with every other book) or if we should mix it up and have a Catholic fiction book. I responded non-fiction, but then started to think about how much I do miss fiction. A couple of years ago I shifted almost exclusively towards reading non-fiction books about the Catholic faith as that was the natural area of highest interest, leading to those books always rising to the top of my what to read next stack. After the book was announced as the next pick and someone made a comment that she was the one who wrote the fictional narratives in Walk in Her Sandals, I was even more excited.

As a middle school teacher, I loved historical fiction. Reading Landsem's book reminded me of just how much I love the genre - seeing how she took historical evidence documented in The Bible and then filled in a novel length exploration of what might have happened before and after the scene of the woman at the well. She also added in details of the actual encounter between Jesus and the woman, adding a new depth to how that life changing experience might have felt like from the woman's perspective. Another element that I loved is that I had never really imagined the woman as a mom, nor pictured what it would be like to be her children and what their context must have felt like. Novels from multiple perspectives often capture my attention as well, and I enjoyed that this novel switched back and forth showing the thought process of different main characters through third person point of view.

It is hard writing about the book because some of the elements that I most want to talk about would be spoilers; however, I can mention that it was suspenseful and hard to put down after getting to a certain point. Laurie Halse Anderson wrote about why the genre would more aptly be called historical thrillers and this definitely fits Landsem's style. Without giving away the ending, I can say that it spoke to my heart. It perfectly aligned with the Gospel reading the weekend I finished the book, so I had been tossing around what ended up being a central concept for the book in my mind. I appreciated that the character's lives and contexts provided inspiration for how to authentically live aligned to the Gospel. I look forward to reading more of Landsem's books.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Living at the Core 8: Looping Back

In life, we often discover rhythms and routines that work for our lives but for different reasons they might slip away over time. However, living at the core means we often loop back to them - whispers and reminders of how beneficial they were, an invitation to reincorporate into our lives.

In my early 20s I was a wife and mom of a 1 year old and in a master's program to obtain my initial teaching license. Though I cannot remember at what point I started, I had an early morning hour for Adoration each week. When I moved out of town for my first year teaching, I did not begin Adoration at my new parish.

During the next summer I did participate in Adoration in my husband's rural Mexican community where we traveled from house to house in procession with a Monstrance over a span of days where we prayed together at different houses in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

About 3 years later as I walked around the ministry fair in the second community where I taught, I noticed information about Adoration and decided to begin again. I do not remember the details other than that I somehow mixed up the time and sat in the empty church for an hour before it was time for Adoration. Though I do not fully remember why, I never went back - for one or more reasons I put obstacles up, blocking me from reincorporating Adoration into my weekly routines and continued on with my busy life as a wife, mom and teacher.

About 6 years later during Christmas break, living back in the community where I originally had a consistent weekly Adoration, I went to daily Mass one morning and afterwards the priest exposed the Blessed Sacrament for Adoration. The style was different than what I had been used to as he led the group in repeating phrases after him. To my surprise, somewhere along the way, tears started to flow down my cheeks and I became self conscious in the small daily Mass chapel with others close by. At the time I could not quite explain what was happening. Now, I can see it in the overall context of my life as Jesus calling me back to intimacy with him, telling me to slow down, to make space for him, to prioritize Adoration once again in my life. He was letting me know it was long overdue for me to have a Christ-centered life.

Only, though I recognized the power in the experience, it still took me 6 more months to recognize that going to Adoration would be a part of my core. It has been about 2 years since I reincorporated  Adoration (at least weekly) back into my life and view it as one of the two non-negotiables alongside regular attendance at daily Mass. Along the way I recognized that the Eucharist is the most powerful form of self care.

This concept of recognizing the power and beauty of an element of life but then having it slip away or weave in and out of my life before finally settling in to a regular routine with a higher level of commitment to establish and maintain the integration has also occurred in other areas in my faith life, such as reading daily Scriptures and praying the Rosary, as well as what helps me to be more efficient at work and what helps to make our life at home feel like it is running smoothly.

Living at the core means paying attention to the invitations that come again and again, even if separated by spans of multiple years in between, and then making a choice to say yes even if it takes some trial and error in order to figure out how to make the aspect a regular part of our life throughout different phases and adjustments. It means noticing when our lives seem to loop back to a practice or routine that brought peace in the past and then recognizing that we can either put up obstacles to prevent allowing that peace into our lives or we can allow it in and then guard and protect it as we find solutions to all of the excuses that come to mind that might rob us of what our soul is longing for.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Simplicity: One Little Word 2010

In 2010 after hearing some of my favorite education bloggers (Stacey and Ruth who at the time were the original bloggers at Two Writing Teachers) talk about the concept of one little word, I decided to give it a try. Looking back, I can see how committing to choose a word each year and then intentionally pondering it helped to lead me back toward God in a more meaningful way. Even though it took me 5-6 years to understand that my longings each year all aligned with what St. Augustine said, "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee" in his book Confessions, now I realize how God's hand was in the process of recognizing what my soul longed for each year. With each word, a stronger foundation was built to support me to grow in my faith. Starting today, I will have a series of 7 posts highlighting my words so far in this one little word journey.

Then:

My original word was simplicity. In January of that year, I noted that the word meant that I would be focusing on always evaluating and reevaluating what I could do to get back to having the simple things in life be as big of a focus as possible by making sure that I was not so exhausted at the end of the day and on weekends that I missed out on spending valuable, quality time with family. This picture of my daughter at her easel resonated with me and captured a dimension of what I hoped to invite into my life with the word.


That same month I left work one day a half hour after my contract time was over, rather than staying a couple of hours after work like typical because I was hosting a Pampered Chef party at my house that evening. The thought came to mind that it would be so nice nice to come home at a decent hour on a regular basis in order to still have energy for cooking, cleaning, and quality family time before the bedtime routine. Nonetheless, I knew that I would not sacrifice the quality of my teaching in order to do so. Instead, I decided that being efficient with my time at work would be my road to simplicity in order to utilize my time better without sacrificing quality. 

What's the natural next step for an educator who was feeling overwhelmed with career/family balance and dedicated to simplifying? Layer in a doctoral program at a university 60 miles away of course... While counter-intuitive, having that potential large time commitment on the horizon was one of the reasons that prompted me to choose simplicity to begin with though. 

The few times I documented reflections on my word throughout the year, there was a trend in noting that even though the life I was living seemed to be the opposite of what I was trying to invite into my life with a focus on simplicity, the word was still a good reminder to slow down, refocus and consider my priorities. As I prepared to close out 2010, I knew that simplicity would resonate for years to come, especially as long as I had children at home. 

Now:
7 years later I can confirm the hunch that simplicity would matter for years to come. I still think about efficiency in order to be a good steward of my time in resources, seeking to work at a high quality and maximize the time given; yet, there are still areas where I know I do not utilize time as well as I could. There are moments when it is challenging to focus because my mind darts from one task to another that I need to complete. There's also still a tendency to add more into my schedule even when it already feels full. It has been an on-going juggle of saying no in order to stay yes and reflecting on whether or not I am making the "right" choices through on-going prayer.

I see so much linked to my faith when I look at simplicity. I think about how Saints like St. Teresa of Calcutta inspire me to let go of material things and simplify in areas such as the amount and style of clothing that I own. My Confirmation patron Saint, St. Aloysius also inspires me to reject the worldly in favor for a recognition that seeking what is from above is better. A desire for simplicity is a good foundation for humility.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ministry Through the Workshop Lens 1: Objective

The area of K-12 teaching that most deeply sparked my passions was reading and writing workshop teaching. Even though I no longer teach middle school language arts, the concept of workshop teaching permeates who I am as a teacher in different contexts, including who I am and what I value as a Director of Religious Education and as a Youth Minister. I am starting a new series on my blog to incorporate elements of workshop teaching that have shaped me as I transfer the concepts into this new context. In the series I will share the background of the element and how it looks in the reading and/or writing workshop context and then explain how it looks in the ministry context.

This first post in the series will focus on objectives/learning goals, what we hope the impact will be on those engaging in the educational experience. Teaching through the workshop lens means focusing on living what I am teaching in my real life and then considering implications of how to support others with the same. It means keeping the big picture of what I am trying to accomplish in mind (long term/over-arching), while also thinking about natural steps to get there (unit and lesson level).

With reading and writers workshop the over-arching purpose is to nurture readers and writers. It is not about having them do well on a test as the ultimate, but rather about being life-long readers and writers. It is about being competent and fulfilled readers and writers with intrinsic motivation. At the lesson level, objectives start with readers and writers, such as readers ask questions to better understand characters and their motivations or writers have a way to collect inspirations for potential writing projects. The objectives then guide instruction - minilessons introducing the concept and the teacher modeling what that looks like, time for students to practice the concept with support, and time to share about the experience during practice. The objectives guide the process of developing instruction (something I will explore further in a future post).

Through the ministry lens, the big picture that I keep in mind is related to helping form relationships with God that will last throughout different phases of life. It is about considering what a Christ-centered life looks like and then considering how to nurture that in others. It is about reflecting on what leads toward an authentic relationship. It is about seeing the beauty in the Catholic faith and choosing to live a sacramental life. Through the reading and writing lens, we reflect on real reading and writing vs. school reading and writing and seek to align to what will engage and sustain readers and writers over time, instead of just accomplishing an academic based task. In ministry then, it is about considering how to have sessions reflect the processes and tools of those who authentically love and prioritize God in their lives.

The unit and lesson level objectives then, rather than being readers... or writers... statements can be disciples... I still have not read the book Forming Intentional Disciples, but the title makes me think it would align well with what I am getting at here. We think about what it means to be a disciple, and then we reflect on how to share that with youth with scaffolding of how to get there. This will be the first ministry year where I actually frame objectives in this way, as it has been a gradual shift towards realizing how I would transfer my workshop philosophy into the ministry context, and this was not yet one of the areas that I had implemented.  Some example objectives I have in mind are: Disciples consider implications for their own lives while examining the lives of Saints. Disciples intentionally make time for God in their schedules. Disciples seek to conform their lives to God's teachings.

As a teacher educator, when I guide teaching candidates through the process of lesson design, it is apparent that having strong initial planning is vital. The first area of focus then is to help candidates to understand what it means to have a clear sense of purpose and then be able to align different elements to that purpose. In ministry, we also have to make sure that we start with a clear purpose and then develop how to accomplish that with objectives as a guide.  The objectives intentionally start with language that honors the identity of our students/youth as readers, writers, or disciples. We try to help them to see themselves in what we are teaching so that they may have a desire to incorporate what we teach in their lives.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Unleashing the Power of Scripture



I was excited when I opened my spring 2017 LifeTeen box and saw a copy of Mark Hart's book, Unleashing the Power of Scripture: A Guide for Catholics. One of my goals for the new ministry year is to provide intentional support for our teens to understand how to approach The Bible and allow it to transform their lives. This is actually an area of need expressed by some of the adults in Hispanic Ministries at our parish and would imagine it would be consistent with other adults in general in our parish. Personally, I had a draw toward Scripture from a young age and made attempts to read it at different phases in my life but did not truly start utilizing it in a more powerful way until the last couple of years. As a result, I looked forward to reading the book through the lens of how it could help me personally as well as to support others.

After an introduction, the book has 7 chapters spanning topics such as recognizing our own story within Scripture, an examination of common Catholic misconceptions related to The Bible, and multiple chapters on strategies for meaningfully praying with Scripture. As can be expected with Mark Hart, his voice shines through with humor mixed in with the seriousness. The book was engaging, and though I originally thought I would read it and then be able to recommend it to youth, along the way I realized it was inspiring me more with ways to integrate the ideas into our youth sessions. It complemented ideas I had already been thinking of, enhancing how I will be able to implement them, and also prompted me to ponder new ideas.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Living at the Core 7: Scriptural Stories on our Hearts

Living at the core means letting Scripture seep into our lives and transforming them in the process. The daily readings of the liturgical seasons provide an intentional rotation of biblical stories that apply to us personally throughout different phases of our lives since Scripture is God's living Word.

Today is the memorial of St. Martha. When I was in my early 20s and had a regular early morning Adoration, I read Joanna Weaver's Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding Intimacy with God in the Busyness of Life. 

About 13 years later I am in awe when I think about the journey of my life between now and then. At the time life felt so busy, but it seems so simple when I compare it to the context of my life now. From that phase of my life, I completed my master's program to qualify for a teaching license and began my career as an educator. Over the years I became more and more consumed with my career and I yearned for better career/family balance. Even as it became crystal clear that it was not healthy to continue living the way I was, I continued to tread water with tweaking here and there, seeing glimpses into a better way while at the same time still feeling like I was still about to drown. Nonetheless, I knew that I wanted to move beyond survival mode. I just was not sure how to get there yet, how to untangle my life and shift towards a greater sense of peace.

When I chose core as my one little word in 2015, I discovered a lot about the work I should be doing to move toward that sense of peace; however, it was not until this time about a year ago when I was in deep reflection about why a specific shift in my life felt much more challenging than I thought it should have been that I was able to pinpoint my longing for peace and silence in the midst of being a wife, mom of four, and an educator. Like the St. Augustine quote, "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee," I was realizing that in order to feel centered and grounded, I needed to find space for silence and time for prayer throughout my days.

This morning as I read the Gospel in the 5 am silence of my home, I thought back to "that book I read in Adoration" all those years ago prompting for me to search for it on Amazon. The subtitle struck me, Finding Intimacy with God in the Busyness of Life. As I was in the early phase of my vocation as a wife and mom, I was given the blessing of an anchor experience in the silence of the Adoration Chapel to think deeply about Scripture. The seed was planted that my life would be busy and that the answer to a busy life was maintaining intimacy with God. While my relationship with God was stretched thin as I held on to minimums, such as weekly Mass attendance, and I searched for a sense of balance, the answer had been provided for me years before. I just did not stop long enough to think about it. God led me though - helping me to see through my word core 2015 that even though I thought it would be about career/family balance, it was really more importantly about shifting towards a Christ-centered life, something that would take time and is still in process but ultimately is helping different areas of my life to click into place.

As I read the Gospel today, I was reminded once again of God's call to Martha, the same call that applies to each of us, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her" (Luke 10:41-42). When we stay connected to Scripture through prayer, homilies, and resources to help us apply Scripture to the contexts of our lives, we are able to live an abundant life.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Meet Your Mother

Included in our gift bags at a recent women's conference at our diocesan retreat center was a copy of Mark Miravalle's book Meet Your Mother: A Brief Introduction to Mary. Because in the last two and a half years I have read and watched quite a bit about Mary, a lot of this book was a review; however, I still found great value in reading the book. One of the first resources I read that made me realize I had been missing out by not intentionally focusing on the role of Mary in my life was Fr. Gaitley's 33 Days to Morning GloryFr. Gaitley wrote the foreword to Miravalle's book and captured my context well, "I'm so grateful that Dr. Miravalle wrote this book -- there's such a need for it. During my travels, I meet so many people who are just awakening to the idea of Mary as their mother. Whether through the Rosary, Marian consecration or some other way, they seem to be drawing closer to her now as never before. And what a hunger they have! They feel that there's so much they don't know about her, but they want to learn -- and learn quickly" (p. 9). He also recommends the book for those who "hardly know anything" about Mary later in the foreword (p. 10), and I agree that it is a good starting point.

After the foreword, the book is organized into two main sections: the Church's teachings on Mary and her relevance in our lives today (14 chapters total) and a conclusion. The two appendices focus on how to pray the Rosary and an introduction to Marian consecration, which is actually an excerpt from Fr. Gaitley's book. Each of the chapters are quick and concise. As the title alludes, it is fairly brief; yet, it includes a lot to ponder.

One example of something that I had either not heard in quite this way, heard but was not yet ready to fully grasp, or heard but was not in a place where it was the aspect that would stand out most was the interaction between Jesus and Mary at the Wedding at Cana. I had heard descriptions of why Jesus was not disrespecting Mary with his, "Woman, what is this to me and to you? My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4); however I did not get the deeper significance of the question. Miravalle included a quote from Archbishop Futon Sheen that I loved, including that Jesus was letting Mary know with his question, "If I perform this miracle, we are on the fast track from Cana to Calvary, for everyone will then publicly know who I am, and that will eventually lead to my crucifixion. Are you, Woman, ready for this?" (p. 62).

In general, this book helped me to better appreciate and more fully understand Mary's fiat and her perfect alignment to God's will. I previously knew the concept of both, but reading this book helped to add a richness to just how amazing that was. For example, he walked through what it would be like to see someone you loved crucified, especially when knowing they were innocent. He said, "Now, during this entire horrible event, you have done nothing other than watch your loved one experience this terrible evil. Why haven't you done anything but watch? Why haven't you tried to stop it? Why didn't you defend your loved one to the people in the crowds saying such terrible things, which you knew were absolutely untrue. Because God told you not to" (p. 54).

I appreciate that this book helped me to reflect on familiar Marian aspects from new angles, which has added a depth to my meditations as I pray the Rosary and consider my journey to aligning my life to God's will.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Living at the Core 6: Praying the Rosary

I really need a Rosary, I thought as I walked towards the church after a stressful meeting and then smiled as I realized that it had become my response to wanting to ease the tension - the kind of feeling that would often make one of my colleagues joke I need a drink.

Sometimes in our faith journeys we never realize just how important a step we feel called to make will be in our lives until we look back and see the impact it has had. In 2014 I chose salud as my one little word to guide the year. It was the first year and so far only year that I chose a word from Spanish, rather than English. Salud is used in different contexts - it means health, it means cheers when saying a toast, and it means God bless you after someone sneezes. Drawing from those translations and some flexibility with nuances in the meaning, I decided that by choosing salud I would be focusing on health: mind, body, and spirit.

I was at a phase in my life where I struggled with career/family balance. I wanted to be more intentional about eating healthy and nurturing my spiritual life. Based on a prompt from Ali Edwards' One Little Word class, I wrote intentions for the year, including learning to pray the Rosary. I can't remember for sure what prompted me to choose the intention. At some point I read Matthew Kelly's section on the Rosary in Rediscovering Catholicism, but I cannot remember whether it was during that year or preceding it. It likely could have been inspired by the youth minister at our church praying the Rosary with youth as I volunteered with the 5th grade class.

While in youth programs in my own middle school and high school experience, we would make Rosaries or decades of the Rosary and pray together. However, I only remembered praying the Our Father and ten Hail Mary prayers. If our youth events focused on meditating on the mysteries, I did not remember that at all. A seminarian at a youth camp once told us about how he would pray the Rosary using his fingers while running, something that I implemented in my own life when backpacking in Spain in college. I think I prayed decades of the Rosary while in labor with my third using the same strategy as well. However, I knew that I did not understand the big picture of the Rosary.

As the end of the year approached, learning the Rosary was an intention I had not yet realized. In general, I reflected on how my one little word journey had been more of the same - a big focus on surviving, trying to cope with the level of stress without really branching out into healthy eating or focusing much on nurturing my faith. Even though late in the year, I wanted that to change, so I committed to learn the Rosary. I went online and printed off guides. I learned about each of the mysteries and the common practices of which mysteries to pray on different days. I familiarized myself with the full sequence of prayers. At that phase, I could not pray without a guide in front of me.

With my goal to learn, it was not my intention to pray the Rosary daily. I just wanted to know how to pray it. Looking back on our faith journeys, it is hard to fully understand all the factors and how they interacted with each other, but I do know that Marian Consecration (early 2015) and the Rosary have been part of the core of my journey. Before hearing about the concept of Marian Consecration, learning about the Rosary probably helped me to be more receptive to wanting to know more about how Mary could play a powerful role in my life. After reading 33 Days to Morning Glory, praying the Rosary helped me to reflect on her life and connections to implications for me.

In the summer of 2015 I committed to praying the Rosary every day in the month of July. Though I recognized the beauty and power of the practice, I thought it was more realistic on summer vacation than as part of my "real" life. Yet, each time I would commit, it felt right. Over a year later, on New Year's Eve at Confession and then again in his homily, my priest focused on making commitments and keeping them with links to Mary during the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Mary. The thought entered my mind to commit to praying the Rosary daily during 2017. Doing so inspired me to memorize the last little bit I needed to in order to be able to pray wherever I was at without a guide. Throughout the year I have prayed the Rosary at different times of the day and in different contexts; however, one particularly helpful time has been as a transition point during my day, such as if I am switching from working at the university to working at church or as I transition from work to going home. It can also be a good reset at lunch time.

When I began I saw it as a commitment for the year and have considered from time to time whether I would continue on or replace with a different prayer practice as we transition into 2018. Yet, this summer as I re-read my journaling from summer of 2015, I noticed that I had identified praying the Rosary daily as core. I realized that sometimes it takes time to layer in everything we identify as beneficial to our regular rhythms and routines. There are whispers over time pulling us back, reminding us these practice are worth prioritizing. Just like reading Scripture daily had some starts and stops before making it a consistent long-term part of my day, sometimes we need to recognize the value in something but then leave space to recognize we want it long-term, rather than committing for shorter periods from time to time or having a long-term intention but then falling out of the habit when it is hard to keep all the pieces in place.

These days one of my favorite ways to pray the Rosary is in the quiet of the church when no one else is around, my words filling the space of the church, going at my own pace, meditating on Mary and God as my mentors, reflecting on where I have grown and where I am still called to grow.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Days that Divide Our Lives

My childhood was divided into before and after with this date 23 years ago. Though I went to bed with a seemingly normal summer night in between my 7th and 8th grade years, I woke up and had my whole world shook to its core, losing my sense of security that my dad, the rock of strength, had provided.

The sun was gently streaming through my window as I slept, cool morning air filling the space. It took a moment for my mom's words to register. "I'm taking your dad to the hospital." Pieces of information swirled around in my mind - my dad said his head felt like it exploded as he was getting ready to leave for work; my mom said she was scared into action as she looked into the mirror and heard a voice, "Today your life is going to change, and it will never be the same;" the paramedics rushing into our living room; the comfort of my aunt arriving as my sister and I waited for further details...

Our journey that day led us to a hospital almost a couple of hours away and hours and hours of waiting for the process of his brain surgery to be complete in response to his brain aneurysm bursting. Part way through the day, we went to see The Lion King at the theater, tears streaming down our faces with the loss of Simba's dad. Then there was more time in the waiting room, and finally the words - Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. If he lives, his life will be drastically different...

That was the summer where my sense of security was taken away, but it was also the summer where I lived a miracle and saw the power of prayer in action as against all odds, I watched many transformations in my dad as we clung on to hope - a little movement here, one less tube there, a little strength gained here, some real food reintroduced there. The prognosis was poor, but instead, we saw him regain every day functioning as he re-learned how to walk and talk.

The insecurity of what we would do with the start of a new school year if my parents weren't back home from the hospital yet dissipated as he came back home in August and returned to work shortly after. It was not just a steady stream of progress though. There were also setbacks - waves of seizures - little insecurities along the way to regaining a sense of peace, each time wondering if it would be the last.

Sometimes in life, we need to be shook to the core in order to begin a slow multi-decade journey moving away from worry and towards trust in God.