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.


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. 

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.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.

When I chose my Confirmation Saint as a sophomore in high school in the mid-90s, it was before the Internet was big. Instead of doing web searches to reflect on which Saint to choose, I borrowed thick volumes from our church library and skimmed through the pages. Because I wanted to be a teacher, I decided on St. Aloysius based on him being the Patron Saint of Youth. I don't remember anything else about why I chose him.

In 2011, I had a draw to learn more about him and loaded a couple of items for my Kindle. I remember reading them but don't recall a lot about my thought process other than thinking they were brief and not particularly connecting with him in a more meaningful way based on reading them, though that could be more about where I was at in my faith journey than about the contents.

As I helped support the Confirmation preparation process at our church a couple of years ago, I started to think about how if I were choosing my Saint today, I probably would have chosen someone else, such as Thérèse of Lisieux or Mother Mary. Nonetheless, I still had a pull toward St. Aloysius and thought about how my journey has led me into being the Director of Religious Education and Youth Minister for my parish, a connection to working with youth in a way I had not anticipated as I had my sights set on a career as a teacher.

When I recently saw Silas Henderson's Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.: With an Undivided Heart I was excited to read a book about him at this phase of my life. I decided to start reading it as his feast day approached and was in progress with the book when I went on my retreat, which started on his feast day. While reading the book, I realized that I connected with him in more ways than I would have ever anticipated. I can see myself in his hopes, dreams, and personality. While there are obvious differences between our levels of sanctity, I appreciated the sense that I could relate to him. Learning more about him, inspired me when thinking about where I am at and considerations for on-going growth to more closely approximate his model within the context of my life and vocation.

At a recent women's conference, one of the speakers shared that she chose her Confirmation Saint solely based on matching the name to that of her Confirmation sponsor, but that while shallow in meaning when she made the decision, special connections to her Saint emerged over time. That resonated with me as I was in the midst of recognizing a deeper connection with my own.

This book read much more like a textbook than most books I read linked to my Catholic faith. With 19 chapters and 3 appendices, the book was also more substantial, which I loved as I had been seeking depth. The book provides a biography of St. Aloysius, considerations for how he can impact the lives of people today based on his life and witness, the background of his family, historical background, and information on other relevant people. It includes primary documents, such as some of his letters.

I loved seeing how his life intersected with other people from history, as well as the overall historical context during his lifetime. Seven years ago, I was especially drawn to a unit I taught about the Renaissance to my 6th and 7th graders, and one section specifically focused on Florence as the cradle of the Renaissance. At the time, I did not recognize the connection to St. Aloysius; however, while reading this book, I noticed that it was the very context and time period where he was growing up and that Florence was referred to as the cradle of his spiritual life.

While reading the book, it gave me some ideas for how to frame our 17-18 ministry year (more details to follow as it all takes shape). In connection with that, I am planning on re-reading the book with that specific purpose in mind. He is also inspiring me with implications for myself and my on-going journey. I am grateful for this opportunity to feel that sense that there was a reason why he spoke to me as I was flipping through all the different options about 20 years ago. It points toward how just as with anything else in our spiritual lives, there is much more depth and richness to emerge over time. It is a process with plenty of space to feel a sense of awe with how God works in our lives over the years, how whispers become more audible as we grow.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Who Does He Say You Are?

Growing up I can remember a desire to read and understand The Bible and making some attempts to do so but not really understanding how to access Sacred Scripture in a deep way. However, that has been shifting in recent years. As my love for Scripture has been developing and I am drawn toward reflecting on identity construction, I was excited to hear about Colleen Mitchell's book Who Does He Say You Are?: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels.

I started reading this book as part of the WINE: Reading Between the Vines Summer Book Club but could not wait to read bit by bit along with the dates for the club. Instead, I read through to the end with the intent to go back and re-read chapter by chapter as they are discussed as the thinking in the book lends well to multiple readings to prompt further reflection and discussion.

Colleen Mitchell starts the book with a personal prologue framing why Scriptures have been powerful in her life and a source of great healing. She then shares her hopes for her readers and some guidance for how to approach reading the book. It is an invitation to journeying alongside her as we discover, re-discover, or deepen our understanding of our identity through Scriptures. Next, there are twelve chapters focusing on different women from The Bible centered on a different layer to our identity, such as: "You Are a Dwelling Place of the Most High God" Mary, the Mother of Jesus; "You Are Made for Contentment" Martha and Mary of Bethany; and "You Were Made for Resurrection Joy" Mary Magdalene. She concludes with an Afterword.

Each of the chapters follow a pattern of sharing Scripture that illustrates the focal woman and concept for the chapter; a reflection that enters in to what it must have been like to live that moment in history with a connection to how it is relevant to our current context; an invitation to ponder what the Scripture and focus of the chapter means for us personally with regards to our own identity in Christ; a prayer; and questions for reflection.

Through my reading experience, Colleen Mitchell achieved her purpose of the book for readers being "a tool to help you draw nearer to the God who created you, who loves you, and who wants to see you whole, knowing you are in him and purposeful in your pursuit of the life that leads you to him" (p. xx).

When my copy arrived in the mail and I skimmed a little bit, I instantly knew without yet reading for myself that this would be a book I would want to share and ordered three more copies to give to others. I can tell this will be a book that comes to mind as people share about their journeys and will be one I will likely revisit over time and encourage others to read.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Living at the Core 5: Retreat

Previously, I wrote about how the most powerful forms of self-care keep God at the core. In my day to day life, this means I have intentional rhythms and routines that help me to maintain a comparatively higher level of peace through strengthening my relationship with God, such as starting my day at 5 am with Scripture and reflection followed by any combination of prayer, reading, and writing; attending daily Mass and weekly Adoration; and praying the Rosary daily.

Making these intentional shifts have meant the difference between regularly feeling like I was drowning and being able to have an overall sense of peace and calm, lower level of stress, and a solution-oriented mindset. Nonetheless, sometimes I can feel the impact of a busy life starting to build and recognize I need a more extended rest. In the early winter I started to think about how I could probably really use a silent retreat; yet, I also knew I wanted to attend the first women's conference hosted at our diocesan retreat center. Logistically, I was having a hard time figuring out how to make it work to block out both that weekend and another time for a retreat.

Instead, I started to think about the retreat center, one of my favorite places and somewhere that I associate with great peace. Even if there was not a directed silent retreat, I thought a couple of days there prior to the conference would nurture me. As the days grew closer, I could tell I was going to need this even more than I had anticipated, aligning with just finishing up the academic year.

It ended up being perfect. Rather than having a structured schedule, I knew types of activities I wanted to do: attend Mass and Adoration (there are 3 parishes within a half hour going in different directions providing for a range of options), read, write, spend time in the Chapel, walk, rest, sit in nature...

Now, it is back to my "real life" with one foot in summer vacation and the other in doing some work at the university and church. As I continue to refine the patterns of my days through liturgical and academic seasons, I will be keeping a couple of days of retreat annually as an option in the back of my mind.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Share What You Love

One week from today I will be attending a women's conference at our diocesan retreat center, one of my favorite places in the world. It is set in a rural context with open spaces and surrounded by fields and mountains. It brings a sense of calm and tranquility.

I will be going a couple of days early to have some extra space to transition from a busy academic year to summer. I am planning to focus on prayer, reading, writing, and resting flowing into the conference.

One of the reasons why I am excited for the conference is because it is a chance to learn and grow alongside other Catholic women and because it is a new event for our diocese and I am so grateful for the opportunity. I decided to donate some books that have nurtured me in my faith development to be used as giveaways. As I reflected over which books I thought would be a good fit for this context, I ordered copies of the books pictured:

1) Praying the Angelus: I just finished this one with the St. Teresa's Online Book Club. I loved that it focused on the power of Catholic prayer and as with my experience, I think the book will be valuable for a range of reasons. If the person who receives it already prays the Angelus three times a day, it can enrich their experience by pondering the prayer and practice through a new lens. It can help someone who is unfamiliar with the Angelus to begin a transformative habit. Even if the person does not decide to pray the Angelus three times a day, it can help to reflect on the power of existing layers of prayer routines and prompt reflection on room for growth.

2) Who Does He Say You Are?: I have not actually read this one yet but am starting it as part of a WINE Book Club. I love the cover of the book and am excited about the concept. There is a link between WINE and the conference as Kelly Wahlquist, founder of WINE is one of the speakers. During Lent we read Walk in Her Sandals that was edited by Kelly and a book club for both WINE and St. Teresa's Online Book Club.

3) Getting Past Perfect: I read this as part of a book club. One of my favorite concepts from the book was thinking about our most important identity in life being who we are in relation to God, something that will complement Who Does He Say You Are? well. Even if a woman who doesn't happen to be a mom ends up receiving the book at the conference, it can still be of value to her based on this concept and many others that can be applied to roles other than being moms in life. For example, I could make a lot of connections to my career while reading her writing specifically focused on the lens of being a mom.

4) Divine Mercy for Moms: This was the original St. Teresa's Online Book Club read and then it was also a book club later on. Similar to Getting Past Perfect, though targeted to moms, I think women in general would enjoy reading about their experiences and the role of the Divine Mercy chaplet in their lives. Over time I have been memorizing more of the chaplet but still don't have it fully memorized. I am hoping to do so soon. As I do, I would like to revisit this book. I am also very excited for the authors' latest book coming out this fall.

5) Extreme Makeover: The full titles of the books show why Who Does He Say You Are?: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels and Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, not Conformed to the Culture will likely complement each other well. When I originally read this book, I appreciated seeing glimpses into the transformation in Tomeo's own life based on better understanding her Catholic faith. It was a journey I was starting on when I first read it.

6) The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion: This continues to be part of my daily morning routine. Like the other CatholicMom/Ave Maria Press books I have listed here, I think women in general will see value in this book, whether or not they are moms. I appreciate the short daily reflections that follow a consistent pattern on a range of topics from a variety of writing styles of the contributors.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Praying the Angelus

I continue to love the books selected for the St. Teresa's Online Book Club. Our current book is Jared Dees' Praying the Angelus: Find Joy, Peace, and Purpose in Everyday Life. Growing up Catholic, I had never heard of the Angelus prayer. It was not until the summer of 2015 when a Totus Tuus group came to our parish that I learned about the Angelus as they prayed it after daily Mass. Then, my priest mentioned that it was part of his family's daily prayer routine.

In the book, Jared Dees starts with an invitation to integrate the Angelus into our daily lives three times a day, following the established custom. He talks about the origin of the prayer (and the Regina Caeli that replaces the Angelus during the Easter season), as well as how and why to pray them. My favorite concept from this section was the value in having something to turn our thoughts back to God, "Praying the Angelus [...] reminds us to dedicate our time, our work, and our lives back to God. Each time we stop what we are doing and pray; we orient our lives and our time to God, the source of our lives and the inspiration for our work. In pausing to consecrate time back to God and rededicate our lives to him, we recognize that our life and our work are gifts that he has given to us and that we give back in return" (p. 3), as well as "We can find peace in our busy lives when we stop and remember that we are put here on earth to do God's will" (p. 5). He explores this concept of time throughout the first part of the book.

I also liked that in the How to Pray the Angelus section he addressed why prayer can be so powerful, even though it requires courage and discipline to do so because it is not necessarily going to always feel like an immediate profound experience. However, when we commit to a regular prayer routine and then follow through, he describes how it can be transformational.

The second and third parts of the book focus on meditations of the different words in the Angelus and the Regina Caeli. He pulls out concepts from different lines which he describes briefly and then transitions into a meditation. In the book club, the facilitators have been drawing from these meditations to do daily posts for group discussion. This section of the book reminded me in some ways of St. Teresa of Avila's The Way of Prayer looking deeply at the Our Father.

The book inspired a deeper appreciation for the Angelus. Though I made some attempts to integrate it into my daily life, it is not a consistent part of my routine yet. One reason is logistics. I have a traditional slider cell phone, rather than a smart phone, so I am limited to setting 3 alarms. I tried to do a rotation of once I switched off one alarm, programming forward to another (such as 6 am to 6 pm and 12 pm to 3 pm - when I pause to reflect on Jesus' Crucifixion); however, that did not go too smoothly. The other challenge was that I do not yet have the prayer fully memorize (and am even further off on the Regina Caeli), and when I don't have the prayer memorized it is hard to pause and prayer whenever the alarm goes off if I don't happen to have the words with me at the time. A smart phone would be a quick solution to that as well, and with the prevalence of smart phones, I would imagine my challenges of the limited alarms and not always having access to the words wherever I happen to be would not necessarily be obstacles to smart phone users.

I am also trying to decide whether to layer in one more prayer routine or to continue with my current routines. Whether or not I add in the Angelus, the book was still valuable in considering the power of my current prayer practices from new lenses as a lot of what he said about the Angelus applies to my daily Rosary and the 3 pm pause to reflect.

Eventually, I would like to read Dees' other books.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Consoling the Heart of Jesus

Last year when I read 33 Days to Merciful Love for the first time, I bought Consoling the Heart of Jesus because of his references to some concepts of interest being expanded on in the book. I started to read it and then part way through misplaced it. I was on maternity leave, navigating life as a mom of four and preparing to transition back to work at the end of summer.

I kept thinking eventually it would show up, but when I was reading 33 Days to Merciful Love this spring - one year later, I decided it was time to re-order the book as it was still nowhere to be found. I started again from the beginning and was not completely sure at which point I crossed over from already read to new; however, I do know that toward the end of the retreat portion of the book it was so perfectly aligned with areas of confusion and struggles from last spring/summer. The material that I didn't quite get to because I couldn't find the book would have been highly beneficial.

Now, through the lens of concepts in this book, I can see those experiences with deeper clarity, helping to illuminate how God was helping me to navigate part of my journey and making me stronger in the process. Of course, based on additional space and time to reflect, his ideas made more sense now than they would have then. Maybe I needed those additional months to be able to let the experiences to take shape in my mind in order to then step back and view them from this lens in a more meaningful way. Fr. Gaitley mentions that he typically re-reads the retreat annually, explaining how "With each new reading, the old themes seem to enter my heart more deeply, and I'm brought back to my spiritual foundations" (p. 26).

The book is set up to be a self-guided retreat. In recognition of the power of 30-day Ignatian retreats filled with silence and prayer and the reality that it can be a struggle for many people to access one of the retreats for various reasons, this book is an alternative to help support similar growth. The retreat portion of the book begins with an introduction, followed by a section to lay a conceptual foundation to live a guiding principle in our lives, a section to overcome obstacles to living the foundation, and a conclusion.

The foundation all comes back to St. Ignatius' First Principle and Foundation, focusing on the purpose of life and how align our lives to that purpose through proper prioritization. In general, this foundation is closely aligned to my experience in 2015 of choosing core as my one little word to guide my year in which my journey led me toward recognizing that God had not been at the core of my life and then on-going discovery through an inquiry process about how to change that. Fr. Gaitley explains, "the principle 'first things first' basically means that when one keeps his eyes on such a vivid goal, the 'first thing,' then all else falls into place. It can also imply that when one goes after a 'second thing' first, he loses not only the second thing but the first as well" (p. 37).

The longest section in the retreat portion is dedicated to overcoming obstacles, which makes sense as it is comparatively easier to understand the principle but much harder to navigate authentically living it in our lives as the obstacles (fear of suffering; our weaknesses, sinfulness, and attachments; fear of suffering, again; the sensitivity of the Lord's heart; and the insensitivity of our hearts) arise.

However, when the retreat concludes, there is still a little more than half of the book remaining, including: an appendix that addresses Ignatius' rules for discernment, another appendix with excerpts from St. Faustina's diary, and references and notes. The end of the book has a "Consoler Cheat Sheet" to summarize the main concepts and key reminders of how to live aligned to the suggestions. His section on discernment was a good supplement to True North, Discerning the Spirits, and Discerning the Will of God. It helped me to feel more confident with the concepts of consolation and desolation. I did not read the section with excerpts from St. Faustina's diary since I read the whole book earlier this year; however, I eventually might read it since I like how it groups together by common topic. As I was marking page after page when reading the diary, part of what I was noticing was the concepts that came up again and again.

Though this is the third book of Fr. Gaitley's that I have read, it was the first one that he wrote. Fr. Gaitley recommends reading the retreat portion of the book over a weekend; however, I read it in smaller pieces over a longer span of time. Perhaps, that is why his newer retreat books are intended to be spread over 33 days, recognizing that sometimes people are able to block out a weekend, and other times, they need to read and ponder in smaller pieces.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Living at the Core 4: Spiritual Notebook

I firmly believe in the power of writing to facilitate learning and have used writing to navigate my thinking about different aspects of my life over time. Though I had been keeping a spiritual notebook off an on since the summer of 2015, when we started a new liturgical year last November, I committed to reflecting on daily Scriptures each day. Writing about my faith is my current most predominant writing territory.

My two main spiritual notebook habits are that when I read the daily readings as part of my 5 am routine, I make note of verses I love, verses that make me think, verses that bring comfort... Sometimes I also do some journaling about what I think the Scriptures are conveying, questions I have, how they relate to my life, or ways they encourage me to persevere or to improve.

Then, after Mass I prefer when I have a little bit of time to capture my priest's key ideas from the homily. I note how his thoughts complemented mine or how they helped to deepen my thinking. I also reflect on books I am reading or making sense of different layers of my life. Sundays are the exception. When I go to Mass with my whole family, I do not have the luxury of that quiet space for reflection and greater Mass attendance on Sundays means the church is not as quiet immediately after Mass anyway.

Carving out time for regular writing in quiet spaces means thinking intentionally about what is accessible within my typical days. I need to find places  that are conducive to writing within close proximity of where I am already at. Though I usually write in the church after Mass, one day last week I spent a little bit of time in a quiet space on campus. I love being out in fresh air, especially when it is one of those not too hot, not too cold perfect spring days.

While I will still be able to continue with my writing at home, soon there will be less consistency with my writing directly after Mass. During the summer I will likely have a combination of work days and family days. On family days, I will often bring one or both of my little girls (1 and 4 years old) to Mass, making it challenging to be able to sit, focus, and write afterward. One of my older daughters also expressed a goal to dedicate more time to God this summer by attending daily Mass and going to Adoration with me sometimes. Then, once the school year starts, it appears that I will have my 4 year old with me for almost every daily Mass prior to dropping her off at preschool.

Living at the core means discovering the rhythms and routines of life that help us to live comparatively more peacefully based on nurturing our relationship with God, while also recognizing that as circumstances shift we need to let go and create new habits that align to the current circumstances. We also need to focus on what is beautiful about shifts, rather than longing for the comforts of previous routines. The beauty in the summer will often be linked to nurturing my girls' faith formation by attending daily Mass together, as well as walks after Mass and time at home without having as many outside obligations. In the fall it will be about providing access for my third daughter to attend a pre-school with a strong focus on Biblical stories.

The beauty is all about relationships and recognizing that sometimes to nurture my girls' faith formation, it means I have to be willing to change some of the rhythms and routines of my day that bring so much comfort and help me to feel centered. Instead, I need to get creative and think about how I can still find that sense of peace while transitioning to something new. The specific habits might not look the same; however, I know that prioritizing my spiritual notebook has had its benefits, and as needed, I will rediscover how to layer it into my life through different phases.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Strength Training

Thy will be done. You know the bigger picture. You know whether this is part of your plans for me or not. You also know the stories of all the other people this might impact and whether or not it is a part of helping accomplish your plan for them. Thy will be done.

I was surprised to see an unexpected potential opportunity. So much about it seemed so perfect. It was something that I had been longing for, yet it did not seem like it would be possible any time soon or perhaps ever. Then the chance arose. I was in awe with how God had lined up different aspects with an element of surprise if it were to work out.

I thought back to how a part of the book Desiderata spoke to my heart when I read it a couple of years before, focusing on how our lives can have interesting twists and each of our previous experiences can position us well for where God is leading us in ways we never could have imagined. This opportunity felt like it was going to be another piece to my story, something that would better position me to fulfill God's plans for me. 

Nonetheless, I knew that even though it felt perfect, it might not end up being part of my plan. While my excitement built, I knew I should be patient and not get too excited until I knew one way or another. But of course, there I was dreaming and mapping out a detailed multi-year plan mixed with reflecting on how I wanted to respond if it did not work out. 

Thy will be done. You know whether this will help me or pull me away from being better positioned to accomplish your plans for me. If this is not part of your plans for me, even if I am the only one who expressed interest in it, guide those making the decisions to hesitate from offering it to me. Let them tell me no and turn down the opportunity. Or, if it is offered to someone else, let me be happy for the other person. Let me accept. Thy will be done. 

A couple of days ago the decision came. Even though I was planning on waiting patiently for things to unfold when and as they naturally would, I was impatient. I wanted to know whether there was a reason to keep hoping or whether the process had already moved forward with someone else. As I read the word "sorry" in the text response, the sad emotions came even though I wanted to fully accept whichever answer came as God's will and His ability to work all things for the good of all involved. 

Even though I proactively focused on approach, I realized that would not keep me from feeling a sense of loss even though I knew it meant the closing door must have been for the better. It did however give me a chance to feel the range of emotions that come with a disappointment and all the what if questions but then conscientiously choose to turn it all back to God and to pray in gratitude for being able to trust that it was not part of my plan for now, for others who would take part in the opportunity and the many lives they would impact as a result, for the people who inspired by the Year of Mercy had decided to offer this generous opportunity to begin with... 

I need to delete the folder with all my plans, I thought. But, what if something doesn't work out with the original plan and I end up being able to do it after all? Maybe I should keep it. 

No, letting go has been an area of growth for you. Delete the file. Let go. Intentionally remember to pray for others at strategic times, and in the face of unplanned reminders, pray. Trust and let go.

Thy will be done. Thank you for this opportunity to strengthen me, for helping me to desire a certain response if faced with disappointment and then being able to make a conscious decision to follow through. Thank you for helping build my excitement so that I could feel a loss but then still be able to respond with trust and confidence in you. Thank you for providing the contexts and scenarios in order to grow in the ways you would like me to. I know it is all part of my preparation to fulfill what you desire for my life. Thy will be done.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Living Joyfully in Hope


Recently, while at the library, my daughter brought over the book La semilla de zanahoria, feeling nostalgia for her first years of school at a dual language English-Spanish school. Though we had read the book together years ago, I had forgotten what this simple text was about. As we re-read I thought about the connections to faith. 

In the book, copyrighted in 1945, The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss has just one sentence on each two-fold spread pages until the last pages where the single sentence is stretched out over multiple spreads. It begins with a boy who plants a carrot seed. His mom and dad let him know they are "afraid" it won't grow and the big brother definitively says, "It won't come up." Nonetheless, the boy cares for the area where he planted the seed and maintains hope, despite being surrounded by people saying it won't grow. There are two pages saying that it did not grow followed by a page where everyone reiterates it will not, but he perseveres and continues caring and hoping. Then, the shift in the book occurs. The one sentence pattern switches to the concluding stretched out sentence where all the boy's hope pays off - a carrot comes up, and not just any carrot, but a huge carrot that he has to tow away in a wheel barrow. 

When we went to the library, I had recently heard a homily from a visiting priest focusing on John 16:16-20. He had talked about different potential interpretations of what Jesus meant by "A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me" and that something woven through the different interpretations is the essence of the Christian experience. We are called to wait in joyful hope throughout all different scenarios in life, such as shifts between light//darkness and happiness//sadness. 

I like how seemingly simple children's books that aren't even explicitly about faith can still inform Christian values - thinking about persevering even when there are not immediate signs that something is working or having the effect we hope it would. While the huge carrot at the end is an exaggeration and not realistic, it can be used to illustrate how when we have faith and continue doing the next thing whether we are in phases of consolation or spiritual dryness, God is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Whether or not we can see the fruits of our labor, we can commit to praying, to trusting, and to seeking to align our lives to God's will by deciding which voices to listen to and which to silence as we lean into God throughout the discernment process. 

Which books do you appreciate for what they can offer related to Christian values for different age ranges? 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Living at the Core 3: Quiet Reflection

I crave quiet reflection amidst the busyness of every day life as a wife, mom, and professional. Back in April of 2014 I wrote in my one little word album, "I am realizing again and again that sense of feeling like I am drowning from time to time. Though I am getting better with the mental side of busy, today I have been feeling like the word to describe it is coping. Yet, I want to go beyond coping."

Though counter-intuitive to add in additional layers, I have been learning that even when you feel so overwhelmed that you just couldn't possibly add anything into your daily schedule, it is actually more about what is missing from your schedule and then learning what you need to say no to in order to make space for what matters most.

In 2015 I realized that part of shifting the rhythms and routines of my life had to do with leaving some "breathing space" in my schedule. In that context, it was more about mapping out less than what I thought I could accomplish in a block of time so that when the typical unexpected aspects arose that then always left me feeling overwhelmed in a schedule that was already crammed too full, I already had extra space built in to accommodate.

At the same time, I had also been thinking about how to fit a more intentional and sustained prayer life into my daily schedule. Eventually I realized how the two went hand in hand and through the process I have been discovering what helps bring the sense of calm that St. Francis de Sales refers to in his well-known quote, "Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset."

Through selecting a one little word each year since 2010 (starting with simplicity), I have realized that each year I was being drawn in closer to God. As St. Augustine notes, our hearts long for God. Even though it took me years to figure out that what my heart was longing for was to deepen my faith life, the Holy Spirit was there whispering to help me identify areas of my life that I needed to transform.

By re-thinking what guides the scheduling in my life to seek a Christ-centered life, I have been recognizing what I need to change in order to remove obstacles to a sense of peace. I'm still busy; yet, instead of drowning, I am growing stronger through knowing what does and does not bring me peace and then committing to doing the hard work over time to allow the grace of God to transform me. Nourished by Sacred Scripture and the sacraments and by carving out intentional space in my schedule for silence, for being still, for pondering the glory of God, I feel a greater sense of calm. When the proactive decisions I have made to maintain that feeling are not quite enough and the overwhelmed feeling starts to creep in, instead of despairing, I recognize I need to pause and reset. It's a process, but I know I am making growth in the right direction.

Friday, May 19, 2017

33 Days of Merciful Love

Because reading Fr. Gaitley's 33 Days to Morning Glory had been a powerful experience for me, when I heard about 33 Days to Merciful Love being available for pre-order last year, I ordered a copy right away and then decided to read the book leading up to the Feast of Our Lady of Fátima and just finished re-reading it on the same cycle, leading up to today, the 100th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fátima.

Even though I was excited for the book, I was worried about another consecration, wondering if it would feel too overwhelming. Nonetheless, Fr. Gaitley put me at ease right from the introduction as he talked about how the concept of Marian consecration and a Consecration to Divine Mercy align with each other and are complementary, rather than two disconnected aspects.

With that worry already set aside, I was instantly drawn in. Having a better sense of the narrative of trust running throughout The Bible through a conversation with my priest back in the summer of 2015 ended up being a pivotal experience for me, so when I started reading 33 Days to Merciful Love and noticed the big emphasis on trust, I took note.

Unlike 33 Days to Morning Glory, rather than focusing on a different saint for each of the four weeks, this time Fr. Gaitley focused specifically on St. Thérèse of Lisieux throughout the book, with some attention to St. Faustina occasionally. The book focuses on: Week One: What Is Trust? Week Two: The Little Way, Week Three: The Offering to Merciful Love, Week Four: Into the Darkness and the last days as review and preparation for consecration. Similar to 33 Days to Morning Glory, the review cycle focused on a day with three key words from each week. I appreciate this way to reiterate key points and tie it all together. I especially liked the reminder from week two with the emphasis on recognizing our smallness and then being persistent with trusting and trying. That is a reminder that I would do me good to hear again and again as it relates to so much in relation to our lives of faith.

As a teacher, I know how common it is to hear teachers lament that students don't know a concept that they should have learned in a previous year only to hear the teachers from the previous year(s) say they did teach the concepts. While re-reading this book there were so many concepts that I felt like I was figuring out through experiences but then realized that the concepts were in the book, that I had exposure to them before the experiences that made me feel like certain truths were becoming apparent to me. The realization of how a book could resonate one year but then make significantly more sense the next year with the time and space of additional first hand experiences to ground the concepts in between helped to confirm the need for on-going investment in spiritual development and the value in re-visiting resources that capture our attention, knowing that with time we change and can understand at a new level.

Now, I am currently reading Fr. Gaitley's Consoling the Heart of Jesus and Praying the Angelus