Wednesday, April 26, 2017

33 Days to Morning Glory

In 2015 33 Days to Morning Glory was passed out on Ash Wednesday at churches across our diocese. The timing was perfect to start the daily retreat leading up to the Annunciation. At the time, it was a pivotal point in my life as I was pondering what was core and realizing that even though it felt counter-intuitive to add in additional layers to my life when I had been working so hard to set career boundaries and say no to some of my career related passions  in order to say yes to more time with family, multiple layers were drawing me deeper into reconnecting with my Catholic faith in a more meaningful way.

I had already been realizing multiple areas of the faith where I either never had a solid foundation or just wasn't ready to grasp concepts that were probably introduced at one point or another. This book made me think about the role of Mary in so many ways I had not yet considered. The introduction says, "what Marian consecration is all about: A new way of life in Christ. The act of consecrating oneself to Jesus through Mary marks the beginning of a gloriously new day, a new dawn, a brand new morning in one's spiritual journey. It's a fresh start, and it changes everything" (p. 20).

I worked my way through each day pondering the ideas. Because it was so new, I could tell I was not fully understanding everything. The Annunciation fell on my spring break when I happened to be miles away from home in Toronto, Canada for a conference. As I sat alone on my hotel bed, I prayed that I could tell there was so much more I had to learn but that I was willing to make the consecration with hope and trust.

Looking back, it is hard to untangle how much of the "changes everything" had to do with my Marian consecration and how much was related to other layers happening concurrently. I do know that having a better understanding of Mary and being able to look to her as a mentor in trying to align my life to God's will has been a game changer for me.

I ended up re-doing the retreat the summer of the same year, leading toward The Assumption. Once again, I found myself away from home on the consecration day. This time I was at our diocesan retreat center for an evangelization and catechesis symposium and sat in the chapel (one of my favorite places). That too was another key point in the year as I had been discerning which direction God wanted me to go and ended up making some decisions that weekend.

In 2016 I did not re-read the book because instead I read 33 Days to Merciful Love. This year I decided to read it again on the February 20th to March 25th cycle working toward the Annunciation. There was so much that made more sense. I could see how the concepts laid a foundation that impacted so much of my thinking, even when it was not necessarily at the surface level to make the direct link between my thoughts and the book until revisiting the book. I could also see how the impact of other experiences between then and now meant that I was different and able to understand at a new level.

The book is starting to get worn, and I anticipate it will be used many more times in my life. I have heard other people testify that their experiences also resonate that it changes everything, but I have not heard specific details. I would be interested to hear more about the experiences behind the statements as I am sure it would inspire a lot of awe and wonder for how God works in our lives.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Walk in Her Sandals

This Lent, I read a chapter from A Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ's Passion through the Eyes of Women each week alongside others in the St. Teresa's Online Book Club. After an introduction the book focuses six chapters on different days of Holy Week and Pentecost, followed by a conclusion. Each chapter focuses on a gift linked to the liturgical day, such as The Gift of Receptivity for Palm Sunday and The Gift of Prayer for Holy Saturday.

The book has a range of contributors with Kelly Wahlquist as the editor. Each of the main chapters incorporates an exploration of the gift and liturgical day through multiple angles. A consistent flow chapter to chapter makes it easy to navigate the different elements woven together as the pattern starts to feel comfortable. The components are: A Moment to Ponder, Enter the Scripture, Walk in Her Sandals, Unwrap the Gift of _____, Reflect on the Meaning of: ______ (Liturgical Day), Lectio, Questions for Group Discussion, and Walking in the New Evangelization. Some sections had a consistent contributor throughout all the chapters, while others rotated depending on the chapter. I loved the blend of different types of writing (fictional narrative, reflective writing, calls to action...).

I especially loved the final chapter focusing on Pentecost and the way that it linked to my one little word for 2017: filled.

Some of the names were familiar as they crossed over with The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion and Catholic Digest. Right around the time we started to read the book, I heard that Kelly Wahlquist is going to be a speaker at a women's conference in our diocese this summer, so I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her through the book and anticipate the conference this summer even more.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Filled: One Little Word 2017

This year my one little word is filled. After focusing on what was most important in my life with core in 2015, followed by thinking about shine in 2016, the natural next step for me ended up thinking about the concept of filled // empty. It has given me a lot to ponder as both can be either positive or negative, depending on how they are used. 

I originally considered choosing empty through the positive lens of emptying myself as I had reflected on trying to be more selfless and about service, but I didn't like that word as much since I knew it often has more of a negative feel. Instead I chose filled based on the positive outcome as a result of emptying oneself. These lyrics from the Sidewalk Prophets' song helped me to finalize my word for the year:

Make me empty
So I can be filled
‘Cause I’m still holding
Onto my will
And I’m completed
When you are with me
Make me empty

This was an extension of my process already started in the fall with the new academic year to be very intentional about letting go of attachments and carefully refining the rhythms and routines of my life to lean into what fills me vs. what leaves me feeling empty. 

This month as a part of Ali Edwards' One Little Word class, she has prompted us to ponder the definition of our word, encouraging sticky notes to be posted around as a reminder. It is already mid-way through the month and I haven't posted my sticky notes yet, but there have been reminders everywhere as we transitioned from the end of Lent to Easter. 

Wanting to align my life to God's will has been at the forefront of my mind since my core year, and earlier this year while re-reading 33 Days to Morning Glory I was prompted to think about the connection between "Hail Mary, full of grace" and her ability to perfectly align to God's will because of that. 

Then, last week I read the final chapter in Walk in Her Sandals focusing on the Pentecost alongside others in the St. Teresa's Online Book Club and my word was everywhere in the context of being filled with the Holy Spirit, as well as being filled with amazement for Jesus. 

Last night at the Easter Vigil Mass and today on Easter Sunday, our priest's homilies included a focus on the stone being removed from the tomb and how we can reflect on connotations to our own hearts and whether they are empty and ready for Jesus or whether they are already too filled with jealousy, rivalries, our egos, materialistic aspects... This resonated as I could think about my on-going reflections. 

I started the year with filled knowing that it had connotations to on-going growth in my faith resulting in self-improvement in general, but different layers continue to be revealed in order to reaffirm and deepen my understanding as I explore this word. I look forward to continuing this filled journey throughout 2017 and beyond. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Living at the Core 2: The Eucharist

On this Holy Thursday, I ponder with gratitude on the great gift of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Catholic faith. The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary that we meditate on each Thursday culminate in the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. On Holy Thursday we have the opportunity to deeply ponder the Last Supper as a community.

A little over 4 years ago my husband and I had a big decision to make. We were trying to decide whether to stay in the community where we had lived for 7 years or to move back closer to family. In my mind, the decision was between continuing to teach in K-12 education and teacher education for me and between access to dual language education for my girls and being closer to family. 

We had originally moved away from family as I started my teaching career because I wanted to teach and have my girls grow up with access to bilingual education. Eventually, I started teaching at a dual language school the same year that my oldest started kindergarten. It was the dream school both as a professional and a parent. It aligned to my philosophy and there was a special sense of community, both with colleagues and families. 

Whether or not to move was one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in my life, so I prayed frequently that if it was better for our family in the big picture that we move back closer to home that everything would work out. I let go, and I trusted. Step by step different layers clicked into place. We were back with family, and I transitioned into my role as a teacher educator. 

Nonetheless, a couple of years into the process I still felt those emotional tugs to the community I left behind. In that particular spring I was traveling back there three times in a short period of time for work. As I would approach the community, the memories and tears would come. Facebook posts from my colleagues would have the same effect. There were also the comments the girls would make about missing their school. I was still feeling unsettled. 

Somewhere in between these multiple travels back and forth with physical reminders of both of those worlds and attempts to reconcile my feelings, the bigger picture came into focus as I kneeled down in prayer before Mass. 

At that moment, I realized that the big picture I prayed about was never as simple as whether I would be a K-12 educator or teacher educator. It wasn't even whether bilingual education or being closer to family was a higher priority. Instead, it was about being in a context in which I could more fully live my Catholic faith, a variable that I had not even taken into consideration as a predominant factor to guide my decision making process. I was in awe with just how necessary it was to pray for God to guide the process with the big picture in mind, recognizing that there were so many layers beyond what were predominant in my thought process. I was especially surprised that such a big piece to the puzzle would not be revealed to me until around two years after we made the decision and followed through with the move.

At the point where I had this realization, there had already been some shifts in the rhythms and routines of my days leading me closer to the core of my faith. In that month I recognized that attending daily Mass was possible now in the mix of life in my mid-thirties as a busy mom and professional. It was not something that would have to wait for retirement as I originally thought. 

Prioritizing daily Mass and weekly Adoration has made all the difference. While I still need to focus on trusting more and worrying less and life still feels plenty messy, it has brought a sense of calm and peace when comparing before and after - the difference between feeling like I am drowning by Thursdays and feeling like I am catching my breath and everything will be okay on Thursdays. Over time I have realized that the Eucharist is my most powerful form of self-care

This Holy Thursday, I am reflecting on the great gift of the Eucharist and my Catholic faith. 

I love songs like those on Audrey Assad's Inheritance album for reflecting on the glory of God.