“I Rejoice in My Sufferings”

Brothers and sisters: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. The word of the Lord. Alleluia, alleluia.-Colossians 1:24-29

In Colossians 1:24, Saint Paul tells us that in his sufferings, he “makes up for what is lacking” in Christ’s sufferings. This piece of Scripture can seem so confusing, but it is an incredibly important message for us today because the reality of suffering is such an impediment to the faith for so many people. I often hear it said, “If God is so good, why does he allow suffering?”

Good point. Why does he allow suffering in the world?

Everyone experiences suffering in various ways; not one of us is exempt or immune from pain.  Each day we are confronted with both personal suffering (be it minimal or severe), and also communal suffering.  Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see some sort of suffering in the world when I turn on the TV or open up my news feed online. We’re confronted with hatred, terrorism, bigotry, religious persecution, and racism everyday.  Together, we are living in a world that seems a little bit scarier than it ever has.  Each one of us faces suffering in some form, and in many cases it proves to agitate the faith and cause doubt.

Yet Saint Paul is proclaiming something so incredibly profound: He is reminding us that the suffering you and I experience in this world has redemptive power.

How is that possible? We are not God. We did not bring about salvation for the history of humankind. We are fallible, and weak, and finite. The sufferings that Christ endured on the cross extend to the end of time—his great act of love reaches out to all of mankind so that we might share in salvation. So what could still be lacking in Christ’s suffering?

 What’s lacking are the afflictions of the entire Church. Through the grace of the cross, we have been given the greatest gift of becoming the adopted sons and daughters of Christ, and as such, we are incorporated into his Body. Though the redemption offered through the sufferings of the Head is infinite, we participate in his sufferings and “make up for what is lacking” by clinging to our own crosses.  We are called to take up our cross just as Christ took up his. Thus, suffering and self-denial are central to the Christian faith.

Saint Paul knew that when he suffered for the word of God, he was building up the Body of Christ. Similarly, when we endure suffering with the eyes of hope and faith we become witnesses to others of Christ’s eternal glory. We proclaim the truth that suffering, no matter how tough, is temporal. We proclaim, with tear-filled eyes, that we are a people of hope.

Rejoicing in our sufferings doesn’t mean that we won’t cry and we won’t experience pain. Look at Christ suffering on the cross. The greatest act of love in the history of the world was an endurance of affliction all the way to the end, but in his humanity Christ still asked the Father for his cup to pass, and he still cried out, “Father, why have you forsaken me!” The beauty is that he willingly drank of the cup; he endured the suffering out of love for his people; he said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” We are called to participate in that same kind of beauty—the kind of love that is persevering and enduring. Suffering is powerful because it is can be fully transformative if we work with it and with God through the eyes of hope. Saint John Paul II explains that God not only allows suffering, but desires to act through it, because suffering throws man into the depths of his weakness and emptying of self, and when man is at his weakest, he is keenly perceptive to God’s presence. This is why Saint Paul “rejoices” in his sufferings, and Saint Faustina says that it is in suffering that “we learn who our true friend is.” Similarly, Blessed Mother Teresa says,

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Though we all will face suffering in our lives, my hope is that in the midst of it, we will turn to find the face of our Lord Jesus, who suffered and gave his life for us…and we will rejoice.

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When You Find it Hard to Pray…

There was a long while in my life where prayer felt like a chore to me.  It was something I felt like I needed to do, but not something I really truly wanted to do.  I would get frustrated with my prayer life because it felt stale, and it always felt like I was merely treating God as a genie in a bottle (i.e. God please grant me these wishes).  I didn’t really love to pray, and often found myself frustrated because when I would pray I would have to continually call my mind away from other things and back to God. It felt like God was far away and I was trying to raise myself to him, but I’d get distracted or tired and couldn’t fully engage.  I also often found myself frustrated because I felt that I wasn’t very good at prayer (like the Saints who were so holy and could easily slip in and out of ecstasy in prayer), and each time I sat down to pray the majority of my time was spent trying to find the perfect way to pray.  I think this is why so often prayer felt like more of an obligation to me.

When I would look at the lives of the Saints and read how prayer was so very important to them, I began to wonder what separated my stale and obligatory offerings to God from their holy prayers. The Church says that we are also called to Sainthood, so surely we must be able to lead prayer lives like them, right?

What I began to learn, and am continuing to learn, is that prayer is a movement stemming from a heart in love.  It is not us who initiate love of God.  God’s initiative of love always comes first, and our own step is always a response.   What I didn’t realize is that prayer is not me offering myself to God as a sort of gift, but rather God calling me to him, to share in his gift. 

This deep inner desire we feel to offer ourselves to God through prayer doesn’t come directly from us, but from God.  It is him, whispering in our hearts to come to him because he is our Creator, which means he loves us first.  Just as he so loved us and shared his very life with us, so much more does he desire for us to be in communion with him.   Even though we get busy and forget our Creator, or actively hide from him to avoid opening ourselves to him in vulnerability; even if we chase after good and pleasurable things and treat them as our highest goods or accuse God of having abandoned us…our living God tirelessly calls each of us to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. 

So when you think to yourself, I must pray now because that is how I show my love for God, try remembering that it is not you who is initiating this engagement.  God is.  God’s love is poured out for the sake of his beloved, and just as a good wife or husband engages most lovingly in conversation with their beloved, so God does with us.  God’s love is full of tender compassion, like a loving Father who watches over and cares for his children.  God comes to us asking, How are you?  How was your day?  Tell me your troubles.  Give me your joys.  He wants to fully participate in your life, and he calls out to you through that quiet tugging in your heart that moves you to open dialogue with him.  This is what prayer is.  Even if you find yourself distracted and pulled away for some reason, the surge of love that moves you towards God is what matters.  God isn’t moved by anger because other thoughts pop into your head or something pulls you away.  He is moved in love by your effort to draw near to him.

Prayer is thus a living relationship.  This is why prayer is so very important, and why, when we look at the Saints we see people who had deep and intimate communion and friendship with God.  They understood that this living relationship is what engaged their hearts.  Through their words and actions, through their prayer, they were responding to God’s call to enter into a loving communion with Him—our God and Father, who is so very real.  Through prayer, we enter into the living relationship with the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is why prayer is such a gift.

The Catechism says that the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. (CCC2565)  The key word here is “habit”: habits are routine behaviors that are developed through repeated practice.  Thus, the only way we learn to pray, is by doing it.  You cannot come to know what prayer is or even come to love prayer if you don’t practice it.  Remember,

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Two things are presented to us in this reality: that having a prayer life is absolutely necessary, and also that prayer is essentially simple.  The more essential an activity is for living, the simpler God seems to have made it.  You don’t need to teach a human how to breathe; we begin to breathe on our own.  As you begin to pray and make it a daily priority, praying will not only become easy, but it will become a great joy–like the satisfaction you get when you take in a deep breath of air.  God’s love envelops us, and when we respond out of love and enter into his love through prayer, our vital relationship with him will grow and flourish.

Whether you find it easiest to engage in this dialogue with God through liturgical prayers, spontaneous movements of the heart throughout your day, song, meditative prayer, lectio divina…the type of prayer is not as important as the goal of prayer: to offer yourself out of love to God,  enter into his presence, and deepen your relationship with him.  If you’ve found it hard to pray, try approaching it as a call to communion instead of an obligation.  God wants to be present in our lives, and we have the amazing opportunity to approach him through prayer.

 

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A Bout of the Baby Blues: Dealing with Colic

I was talking a few days ago with a couple of friends of ours who just had a baby.  I have always loved babies, so I couldn’t’ wait to hold their beautiful little lush haired girl.  As I was holding her in my arms I casually mentioned how sweet it was that they were able to cuddle and hold that baby all through dinner without any crying, and how it was just a couple of months ago that I finally got over my jealousy of parents who had calm newborns.    She asked me to explain, and I mentioned to her how hard it was with Lucia when she was born, so much so that I didn’t have many opportunities to just hold her and enjoy her when she was little.

There was a lot of crying. 

A LOT. 

My pregnancy with Lucia wasn’t the easiest, but it wasn’t too hard to bear because I had similar experiences and pains when Elijah was in my belly.  I was prepared for the horrible acid reflux, the terrible last few weeks of pregnancy, the lack of sleep, the discomfort, and of course, the labor pains.  What I wasn’t prepared for, though, were the hardest months of my life, which were to come after she was born.    

Our first two weeks with our beautiful baby girl were really pretty normal.  Joe and I were in that half-awake, half-asleep state there for a while, but it was all very similar to when Eli was a newborn.  Eli was what we like to call an “angel baby”.  He slept a lot, and was all chub and happiness when he was awake.  We thought maybe all would be the same with Lucia, since the first few weeks with her home included all of what we knew to be the normal things: the late night feedings, recovery, and blissful new parent hormones.  Everything was really great.

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We were slowly adjusting to having two babies and we felt like we sort of had it together, but in those first two weeks we could not foresee what was to come.  Something drastically changed with our sleepy little newborn when we hit our second week at home.  

Colic.

If someone told me that his or her baby had colic before I ever experienced it myself, I would have wondered to myself if that were even really a thing.  I had heard of colic, but I just kind of thought it was some mythical diagnosis—that there is always a way to calm a baby, no matter how tough the baby is.

I learned the hard way that I was wrong.

Two weeks after she was born, Lucia became completely and totally inconsolable when she was awake.  If she was awake, she was screaming—her face all red and purple.  Nightly we would rock and pace, and shh and sing; we would rub her tummy, and try in any way that we could to soothe her.  It was both exhausting and incredibly trying.  We would get so frustrated because there was absolutely no soothing her.  She would daily cry for hours at a time and the only way we could get her to sleep was to stand and hold her at just the right angle, bouncing her up and down.  She would wake screaming if we moved her wrong, and she slept for no more than two to three hours a day.  She would get so upset that feeding her became absolutely miserable.  She would become so hungry but because she couldn’t calm down at my breast, feeding her became a fight to keep her latched, peaceful, and fed.

I can find the humor in it now…

This challenge alone was difficult to bear, but because we had a two year old at home as well, things were all the more difficult.  Nightly Joe would come home to me a mess with a screaming Lucia in my arms as I tried to cook diner, while Eli lay crying on the floor because he wasn’t getting proper attention.  I screamed a lot, and the only way we were able to obtain some semblance of peace was to watch TV.  We watched a lot of TV.  Also, forget leaving the house!  We were homebound because as much as Lucia cried in my arms, she cried that much more in her car seat, the grocery store, church…everywhere. Driving anywhere was a challenge to my sanity, and definitely a danger to everyone else on the road.  I was a scatterbrain and had trouble thinking, showering, and performing menial tasks.

Getting creative with my soothing skills..

Around her two-month birthday I knew something had to be wrong.  8 weeks into her life, I thought for sure her baby blues would have gone away.  I began looking for solutions, taking her first to a nursing practitioner.  The nurse practitioner thought that she was tongue tied, which can cause gassiness in a nursing baby.  She thought maybe the gas was causing her all the discomfort.  I took her diagnosis to my doctor hoping to have the problem fixed, but my doctor completely disagreed with her.  She told me that the baby was not tongue tied, but that she had acid reflux and she promptly put her on some medication to relieve her pain.  We tried the medication but nothing worked.  We went back and forth with our doctor trying to find solutions, but ultimately time was the biggest healer.

Right around her four-month birthday things just started to gradually change.  Lucia started sleeping more easily, and the crying became minimal.  Slowly it worked out that she only cried when she needed something, and though I was really her only source of comfort (because she wouldn’t let anyone else hold her), I didn’t mind.  Peace was peace, even if she refused to go with anyone else.  Leaving the house became easier, and life started to look a little bit brighter.

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My first outing by myself…

It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life.  The toll that a colicky baby takes is no joke.  It affects your mental health, your marriage, your ability to properly reason and to parent, and generally leaves you feeling like you are running on 2%.  Praise God, she slept fairly well at night with little crying otherwise I would have completely lost my mind.

I wanted to take the time to tell this story for those of you out there experiencing something similar, mostly because while this was going on I felt so very alone.   Even though Joe and I went through this as a team, there were so many times when we were in this mess that I would just weep.  There were many nights when I found myself distraught because I couldn’t do the one thing that every mom wishes to do: to comfort her own baby.  I’d work for hours trying to get her to calm down, only to find myself frustratingly running upstairs to lock myself in the bathroom to cry and calm down.  Daily I had to battle extremely ugly thoughts out of anger and frustration, and there were many times when I had to physically separate myself from her presence to avoid exploding.  There were times I would literally scream out to God saying, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!!?  But while it was going on there were no answers.  I was hopeless and I often found myself feeling like I lived in a pit despair.  I just wanted to be able to love on my baby, and most especially wished that my motherly kisses and hugs could comfort her, but for the most part they didn’t and it was so very difficult.  It felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  My husband and I both thought that this was going to be life as we knew it from now on, and it was incredibly difficult to go through.

I wanted to write this to let you know that if you are currently experiencing this, it will change.  Things will get better.  The day will come when your baby outgrows all the fussiness and discomfort, and life will return to normal.  Even more, the baby that you hold in your arms right now—the one that you question nightly whether or not he or she truly belongs to you—will suddenly crack a smile when they see your face, then become peaceful in your arms.  They’ll look to you for comfort, and finally find it in your arms.  They will laugh, and crawl, and play, and you will look back on all the hard times and remember how—even though it felt like an eternity—it was just a small piece in the beauty that is your baby’s life.  And you will smile and be so very thankful that your beautiful baby has blessed your life beyond belief.

Just look at her!  She’s perfect! 

I also want to encourage you with a few tips:

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ASK FOR HELP. 

I wanted to do everything alone.  I have always prided myself on being good with babies, and on top of that, have a natural tendency to work and work and work at things that are challenging for me until I figure them out and get through them.  This didn’t work for me with Lucia.  There was no fixing the situation.  There was no solution to stop the crying.  Every attempt I made to make the crying go away only left me feeling defeated, and contributed to my feelings of isolation.  Why can’t I make this better??  What is wrong with me?? What is WRONG WITH HER???

Listen:  You need help.  You need to let your husband step in, and let your friends cook you meals.  You need to ask for help.  I can’t tell you how many of my good friends have told me months after all this went down that they had no idea what we were going through.  I didn’t tell anyone because I just wanted to push through it and not complain.  I felt like if I said anything about how hard things were I would be admitting that I didn’t have it together, or that I was a bad mom, or even that Lucia was a bad baby.  I never wanted to label her as a “bad” baby because she wasn’t—she was just incredibly uncomfortable.

People want to help, but they don’t always know to offer it.

Ask for meals.  Ask others to watch your other kids for a while so they can get out of the house.  Let people hold your baby!  Even if the baby is crying in their arms, let someone else take the crying for a while.   Your baby is not going to hurt because of it, and even though you think your friends want to run from the screaming, remember that they are not always around it so they can take it for a little while.

Don’t surrender to the isolating feeling.  Reach out and share your pain and frustrations with someone.  You never know if someone is going through or has gone through the very same thing.

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KNOW IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.  

Though I’m ashamed to say it, there were times in my sleep deprived, anxiety-ridden state where I wondered which nurse it was that switched out “our baby” for another in the hospital.  When I reminded myself that this wasn’t even possible because I never let Lucia leave my side at the hospital, I switched the blame over to myself.

Perhaps if I had a better diet when I was pregnant, or if I didn’t eat so much cheese or drink so much coffee, or if I had better soothing skills, or more patience, or whatever…these were my thoughts all the time.  I wanted to figure out what I was doing wrong as a mom, so I could be a better mom.  What a mixed up way of thinking!

Give yourself a break!  Try your best to do what you can for your baby (consult your baby’s doctor, change up your diet, etc.), but don’t beat yourself up for what you cannot control.  Remember that the guilt is coming from a deep desire to provide your baby comfort, and you can’t always do that for reasons that are completely out of your control.

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TAKE A BREATHER. 

Non-stop screaming can make you go crazy.  While I don’t think I suffered from full on PPD, I know that there were some really dark moments where I was faced with some pretty ugly thoughts.  It’s difficult to even think about, not to mention talk openly about, but I think it is important because the thoughts can make you crazy.

If you need a moment away from your baby to catch your breath, and clear your mind, TAKE IT.  If you’re alone, put the baby in their crib and walk away.  Leave the room, and pray.  Do whatever it takes to calm yourself, because there is no taking it out on the baby, and sometimes you just need a breather.

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TREAT YOURSELF KINDLY. 

Another thing I hate to admit now, but in full disclosure: there were days when I didn’t shower, or put on clothes that weren’t my pajamas.  Looking back now, I can’t reasonably explain why I didn’t take better care of myself.  The only thing I can think of is that I just didn’t have the energy.  I just didn’t want to go through the whole shebang of getting ready, when I didn’t really have anywhere to go and also because it was never a peaceful process.  You’re probably thinking, but your poor husband!  Rightly so, my friend.  Rightly so.

That’s why I am encouraging you to hand the baby off and take care of yourself.  Go out, get your nails done, take an hour to yourself, or take a shower even if it’s hard with a screaming baby.  Voice to your husband that you need this.  There were so many times when my husband would have willingly stepped in so I could have some “me” time, but I never let him because I felt bad leaving him alone with the baby.

Getting out of your workout clothes/pajamas does wonders for your mind.  I always had a better day when I put myself first, and my family was the better for it too.

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TURN THE FRUSTRATION INTO PRAYER. 

I think it is the hardest to pray when you are frustrated.  It’s hard to open yourself up to God when you feel like you have been abandoned and feel like you are so far away from his presence.

You may have cringed a little when I said earlier that there were times when I would scream out to God asking him what the meaning of all this was, but I think in times like these that is not a bad way of praying.

Think of Mother Mary.  When she went through trial after trial, what did she do?  I imagine her nine months pregnant, making the incredibly long journey her way to who-knows-where in Bethlehem to find shelter, only to find herself welcoming her baby into the world in a dirty manger.  In the temple I envision her, on the day of her sons birth blessing, receiving Simeon’s twofold prophecy, which tells of her and her son’s great suffering to come.  I see her searching about wildly for three days in an effort to find her missing son in Jerusalem, only to be met with his response “Mother, why were you looking for me?”   I picture her walking along side the road to Calvary, watching her son being tortured, scourged, and crucified.  Through all of these events (and still so many more told in Scripture) Mary never lashes out at God and proclaims, woe is me.  She is our great model for prayer because when she is met with trials and hard times, she opens herself to God’s plan through dialogue.   We read in almost every scenario that she “ponders” these things in her heart, and reflects upon them.  She is continuously searching for God’s will.

So if you feel it, cry out to God!  Though Mary didn’t scream like I did, she did open up her heart to God in an effort to understand the meaning of big life-events.  There is a difference between crying out in lamentation (like David did in his Psalms), and murmuring against God (like the impatient Israelites did in the wilderness).  My plea to God to give me the meaning of all that we were suffering through wasn’t given right away, but took time.  I know now that there was a lot that God was teaching me as a mother in that incredibly difficult time with Lucia.  He was teaching me that love isn’t always easy.  He was teaching me that true and authentic love requires sacrifice, and sometimes a lot of sacrifice.  He was giving me a very perfect example of the kind of love a parent should have for a child, the kind of love he has for us; the kind that is patient, unrelenting, and persevering; the kind that doesn’t give up even when things get hard. The kind that sees the needs of the child, and in all the chaos and noise, willingly submits out of love.

I’m actually quite thankful for the period now, because I feel like I grew as a person and as a mother.

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I know this was quite long and wordy, but I know that when I was struggling, I was actively looking for someone who had been in this kind of situation before.  I wanted the comfort of knowing it was all going to turn out ok from someone who had gone through it before, so that I didn’t feel so alone.

If you are struggling right now, know there is hope and you are not alone.

Reach out, kiss your baby, and remember that things won’t always be this hard.

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I wrote this post a couple of years ago, but reposting today because it is a fitting reflection for today’s Gospel reading from Luke 10:38-42 

Lately, the practice of prayer has been in my head and my heart. As an RCIA teacher, one thing I have learned is that if you want to “talk the talk”, no one is going to listen to you if you are not “walking the walk.”  Now, that is not to say that I have ignored my prayer life all my life, or that I feel obligated to strengthen it just because I am teaching the faith—I feel like prayer has always been an important thing for me—but I definitely feel the call right now to dig even deeper in my prayer life, and to come to know and love Him more intimately than ever before.

For me, a lot of what I have always dubbed as my prayer in my life is what you can think of as the “Martha” stuff (see Luke 10:38-42).  I have always, always been a busy body—I have to have something to do, and am the master (ok, more like, “master”) of multi-tasking.  Even when relaxing I’m usually busy folding laundry or making plans for the week.  So much business.  Yet, even in all this, I have always talked to God in my head while doing these things—there’s always been an ongoing dialogue with Him in all this.  (Or maybe it is more real to call it a monologue, with a very patient and quiet God listening on the other end of my chatter).  I have never had a problem being the Martha, and I am sure most of us relate more to her than to Mary.

One thing that I forget in all of this, is exactly what Lk. 10:40 describes: “But Martha was distracted with much serving.”  That is such a funny sentence, considering one of the main themes of Christianity is serving others, and loving them above yourself (see Philippians 2:3-4 as an example).  I have always loved serving others (most especially my family).  For me, the little means of serving my family have always been a blessing and great sign of love.  Folding my husband’s socks and putting his clothes away are not mundane tasks, but have always been my way of lightening his load—it has meaning and purpose, and because of that it becomes an act of love instead of a meaningless task.  Doing the dishes doesn’t so much come from my desire for cleanliness itself, but rather the peace that comes with it (it is much easier for my husband and I to relax in a clean home vs. a messy one).  Creating an environment for peace in my home has always been a priority for me, for I’ve learned that where there is peace it is much easier to love.

I can just picture the scenario: Martha has the incredible opportunity to welcome Jesus into her home, and she is so excited by this opportunity that she busies herself in preparation.  I can only imagine her anxiety!  Whenever I have people come into my home I make it a big priority to make sure they feel as welcomed as possible: I clean the house; sweep the floors; make sure there is food on the table.  I can only imagine the restlessness in trying to prepare for the Lord’s coming! I know that I would be on my knees looking under the refrigerator for grime, scrubbing the toilets, making my best meal.  I get anxious even thinking about it…

Yet here in this scripture, serving is referred to as a “distraction”.  A distraction?  How can serving be a distraction, when it is a sign of love?

We find the answer in Mary’s response to the Lord’s coming.

Where Martha felt the need to prepare for the Lord’s coming (to wash the dishes, put away her laundry, clean the countertops, cook a nice meal for him), Mary felt the presence of the Lord’s coming.  Where Martha busied herself getting ready for the Lord, Mary sat down with the Lord. As scripture says, she “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”

Mary was enraptured and captivated by his love. 

I picture a different scenario with Mary: Mary too is excited by the news of the Lord’s coming.  I picture Mary trying to help Martha, yet she gets distracted in anticipation.  She picks up a rag to help her sister, but cannot help herself from running to the window again and again to see if he has yet arrived.  When he finally walks through the door, she sees him and she falls at his feet.  She desires so greatly to just be in his presence.  She knows the importance of getting ready for the Lord, but she also recognizes that just being in his presence is the highest priority.   

How much beauty is there in resting in the presence of God, in taking the time to choose the “good portion”, as Jesus calls it! This is exactly what I tend to neglect and forget in my prayer life.  I forget to take the time to be at peace with God, and to practice being in his presence.  This is another level of prayer—the level which recognizes a real and living God who desires that we come to him, to communicate with him, and to rest in his peace.

He calls us to himself all the time.  I know it and I even feel it when I busy myself with my “to-do” list.  I hear the Holy Spirit whisper in my ear, “stop, and come to me.”  I can feel him calling me to prayer in a deeper way, yet often I shush him out, and continue on with what I am doing, reasoning with him that this is my way of loving him.

Yet, I have experienced those times when I respond in faith to that call, stop what I am doing, and put myself in his presence.  That is when my closeness to God is strengthened the most.  It only takes that stopping.  It takes me stopping what I am doing, stopping my worrying about the things I need to “get done”, and focusing solely on my prayer to God in that moment.  Jesus says that the “good portion will not be taken away” from us.  He reminds us in this story that all the “stuff” we have to get done, all of our business, all of this doesn’t matter in the long run.  Sure, it  matters in the here and now, and surely there are things that we do need to get done, but spending time with Him and being in his presence is something that will never leave us.  This relationship we develop with God is sustaining, and will go on long after anything here on earth.

As Peter Kreeft says, “Stop being Martha; if you don’t, you cannot be Mary.  You cannot sit at the Lord’s feet while you are running around on your own feet.  You cannot hear him if you are frothing at the mouth and fussing at the fingers.  You cannot look unless you first stop; you cannot practice the presence of God if you are just too busy for him.”

Stopping is the first step towards strengthening your prayer life.  If you hear the Lord calling you, or maybe even recognize that there is too much static going on in your life and head to even hear the Lord’s call, stop what you are doing.  Take the time to sit, and be still.  Practice his presence.

May we all be a little more like Mary and seek to be in the presence of God.

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Lucia Rose Birth Story (9 months later)

A few of my good friends are getting close to their delivery dates, which has me reminiscing about my labor with little miss Lucia.  I know it’s been almost ten months since the date, but I feel like sharing now because, well…who doesn’t like a good birth story?

We found out we were pregnant really early.  Lucia was only two weeks old when I had the feeling that something different was going on with my body. (Thanks Natural Family Planning, for teaching me to read every sign!)

From the beginning, my pregnancy with our second baby was a lot more difficult than it was with Elijah.  My morning sickness the second time around was immensely worse than before, which was probably mostly due to lack of rest and having to change many dirty diapers.  I was nauseous all the time, and almost all smells (whether pleasant or not) would make me double over in disgust.   We also found out we were pregnant right as I was in the middle of writing my thesis.  Chasing around a toddler made me incredibly sleepy, but napping was not an option because any extra minute I had was spent researching, studying, and writing.  The only way that I could get through most days was by sitting down to work for a while, then setting an alarm so I could take a 10-15 minute refresher nap with my head down on my desk.  I was exhausted, and grouchy.   Not to mention the food aversions were killing my appetite and also my ability to cook a proper meal for my family. (Poor Joe—it was frozen foods for months there for a while.) The second trimester was a bit better because I got my energy back, but then the third kicked right back in and I was right back to where I began.  Lucia moved a lot. A lot, a lot.  I swore this little girl was practicing for the Olympic tryouts because it was summersault city all day, and especially all night. I could hardly sleep, and I when I did it was only with five-ten pillows, and on three quarters of the bed.  I was still six weeks out when the contractions began and they stayed regular all the way up until her birth.  They were so regular that they sent me to the hospital twice with false labor pains before the real deal came around.  I was fed up with being pregnant, so much so that the day before she arrived, with a week still to go, I scheduled myself an acupuncture appointment!

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Luckily, that day never came because the night before I made the appointment I felt the pangs of true contractions.  The contractions began around 11pm, right when I went to bed, but because I had so many false labor signs before I decided to ignore them and try my best to sleep.  The contractions woke me up around 12:45am, and I was still unsure what to do, so I did what any rational laboring mom would do: laundry.  I started folding clothes that were left in the dryer, and when the pains became more and more intense I decided I should wake Joe so he could call his dad to come stay with Eli.  Joe sleepily asked me if I was sure, not wanting to wake his dad up in the middle of the night for the third time.  I didn’t need to reply because when I doubled over in pain the next minute, his eyes awakened and I could tell he knew this was no joke.

Joe’s dad showed up and we all laughed because it was obvious that this was not a drill—the baby was coming so we shared a huge sense of excitement.  Joe and I decided around my 19th week of pregnancy that we weren’t going to find out the gender of the baby, which was a big motivator to get through the pain of labor.  The element of fear that comes with having your first baby and bringing them home wasn’t there this time.  We were just focused on getting through the next few hours, and were excited to meet our baby girl or boy.

I labored intensely on the way to the hospital, which I had always dreaded.  I pictured the bumps and stops in the car to be absolutely miserable, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I sat up in the back of the car, facing the rear window while clutching the headrest and all I remember were the lights passing by as I opened my eyes between contractions.

As we made our way to the third floor of the hospital I was still a little fearful that the nurses would send me home.  I figured I was most likely in labor, but because I had been sent home twice before I wasn’t completely convinced they were going to admit me.  It wasn’t until the nurse checked my cervix and told me that I was dilated at a 5 that I started to believe I was staying.  Am I going home? I asked her.  She just laughed at me and told me, “No honey, you’re in labor.”  It didn’t take me long to fall madly in love with my nurse.  When she walked in, all short and confident, she won my heart as she immediately helped me through one of my contractions.  As I struggled in pain, she grabbed me, placed my hands on her shoulders, and swayed with me.  It was such a comfort and right then I almost screamed out “I LOVE YOU!” She was a huge help in easing my nerves about laboring naturally.  When I voiced that I wanted to shoot for an un-medicated birth but was extremely nervous about it, she reassured me that I absolutely could do it.  With my husband and this wonderful nurse by my side, I felt like I could conquer anything.

The pains were unreal, but there was something so different about this labor than my first. I felt so at ease and so in control.  I applied all the tips and tricks I had learned for managing pain through the night, and Joe helped relieve my pain by placing pressure on my lower back, and lovingly coaching me through it.

Before my first labor with Eli I read about the significance of incorporating prayer into the process, but because labor with Eli was such whirlwind, I wasn’t able to do it.  I just didn’t have any room to pray as I screamed and shook my way, eyes closed, through my first labor.

It was so different the second time around though.  I had my husband download my favorite Christian artist, Matt Maher, and I found so much comfort having this song playing in the background:

The words helped me focus on the Lord and remember that even in times of trial, God is right there with us.

I also brought the Anima Christi prayer with me, and I asked Joe to pray it over and over again during my contractions when the labor reached it’s most intense point.  I can’t explain the difference to you, other than to explain that even in the midst of all the pain I was at extreme peace.  I never thought I would say that about labor, but even in all the pain, I was completely at peace.  The words helped me unite my pain with Christ:

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The phrases Blood of Christ, inebriate me…permit me not to be separated from you were especially comforting to me.  I could visualize Jesus there with me as I shared his yoke and he shared mine.  There’s something so incredibly profound about uniting suffering to Jesus.  I don’t think I have ever felt closer to him than in that moment, and that made Lucia’s birth especially sweet for me.

I went strong until it was time to push.  Things started getting tough, and the nurse tried distracting me asking me what I thought the baby was going to be.  I told her I didn’t have a guess, because I didn’t want to be wrong, but a strong intuition told me it was a girl.  I wanted so badly to meet her.  As I continued to push I couldn’t take the pain any longer, and screamed out I can’t do it!!  But my nurse looked me straight in my eyes and said, YES YOU CAN!  Sweet relief came as I took a breath, pushed, and heard the first sounds of my baby.  At 5:35am, our beautiful baby girl came into the world.

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When we got to the hospital we still hadn’t decided what we were going to name her.  We had a couple of names in mind, but it wasn’t until they handed her to me that I knew. I looked at her and said Lucia, then I looked at Joe, and he smiled.

She was our Lucia.

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Nine months later:

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Our beautiful little blue eyed (blue?? Where did those come from?!) baby girl.

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Today, I’m sharing my 5 favorite Catholic videos and series on youtube.

-1- Father Mike Schmidt at Ascension Presents

I recently went on a Father Mike Schmitz binge! I think he is one of the best sources out there right now because he communicates our faith in such an approachable manner, and he makes issues that seem untouchable today easy to talk about.  He embraces all that is good in our culture, but also teaches us about the things that should be filtered out and why.  He’s awesome.

Plus he’s super cool.  He comes from a large family, often quotes Michael Scott from the Office, and has completed several triathlons!

-2- Jason Evert

Jason Evert has touched my life more than any other Catholic speaker out there has.  I have been listening to his stuff since I was a teenager.  He drew me in with his talks on chastity, but as I have grown, his talks on sexuality, marriage, contraception, abortion etc., have all grown with me.  He is a great resource for learning about living out God’s plan for love, sex, and marriage, and his teaching is deeply rooted in Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. 

-3- Leah Darrow 

The moment you see Leah Darrow, you’ll probably think to yourself, “Wow, she’s beautiful!  She should be a model!”  Fun fact: She was a model!  She competed on America’s Next Top Model and moved on to New York City to continue her career after the show.  While she was there–right in the midst of a modeling gig–she had a major conversion of heart and felt God calling her home.  Listen to her story.  She is a beautiful example of what it means to respond to God’s call, and be bold and unafraid.

-4-Bishop Robert Barron

Bishop Barron is a great resource for learning about the faith.  He covers a wide range of topics and is a trustworthy source.  The topics he covers are both theologically and culturally relevant today–great stuff!

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Jenny Fulwiler grew up an atheist, but had a “religious awakening” and ended up converting to Catholicism.  She is both smart and hilarious, and her perspective on the faith is refreshing.  She also writes over at jenniferfulwiler.com, and has a podcast!

Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

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The Power of Forgiveness

What comes with growing up and getting older is the ability to look back on your life and assess the things that you have done, and see the things that you could have done differently.  It’s funny when you can come to the realization that you truly have grown—the decisions that you made become the decisions made by a less developed and seasoned version of you, and sometimes that comes with wishing you could go back in time, have a good chat with your younger self, and offer solutions that might provide for better and different outcomes.

In our world we often hear it said, “I have no regrets,” mostly because people believe that all the decisions they’ve made and all the outcomes they’ve faced have shaped them into the person that they are today.  While I think that is understandable, I think that feeling sad and disappointed at the way some things turned out, especially those things that continue to hurt and haunt you, is not always a bad thing.  Reflecting on the things that could have been different had you been a more compassionate, attentive, present, and loving person in place of the person you were is not a bad thing.   Rather, this kind of thinking promotes growth and conversion.

I shared this quiet realization recently with someone whom I considered my very best friend growing up.  We spent over two hours on the phone last week, after not speaking to one another for eight years.  Eight years ago we got in a fight that, in a matter of hours, led to the end of our ten-year friendship.  It took us that long to finally mend fences.  There were countless times over the years that I dreamed of reconciliation.  I would wake up frustrated and sad that this was not a reality because time and anger had stolen our friendship away from us.  Our resolution came about because I think we were both finally ready and open to hear one another out and to be those things we longed for in each other when we were younger.

There was a moment that we shared in our two hour conversation that was what I would call and what I felt to be a heartbreaking reality: if we had just let go of our pride, trusted in one another, and given each other the benefit of the doubt we have saved ourselves of a lot of hurt and loss.  I would have been able to call her when I was away at school, more lonesome than I had ever been in my life as I tried hard to make new friends in a place where I didn’t know anyone.   She would’ve probably come to visit me in Dallas, when I lived on my own for the first time in my life.  She wouldn’t have missed my early years with Joe, as I experienced for the first time in my life what it was to be with a man who truly respected and loved me.  I think she would have really liked that, because she (out of all my friends) spent so much of her time when we were growing up reminding me when my boyfriends were treating me badly and constantly telling me that I deserved better.  She would have not only been at my wedding, but she would have been one of my bride’s maids.  She would have met my son, and then my daughter.  She would have been there congratulating me as I graduated from college, and then with my Master’s degree.  I know, similarly, there are countless things in her life she would’ve loved for me to have been apart of and share with her as she grew, and I would have loved that, too.

While we spoke about our fallout and discussed where we thought things went wrong, we both realized that most of our anger with one another was rooted primarily in misinterpretation and miscommunication.  As most communication in our world takes place (detached and via a screen), our fight occurred through text, which prevented us from truly hearing one another out.  We realized we were both in a fight over completely different things.  We hurt each other in ways neither of us completely understood because we never took the time to explain to each other how we felt wronged.  We each just stewed in our own anger, frustrated at how our friend could possibly be “so ignorant” of our feelings.  We were so focused on the way in which we were personally wronged that we didn’t see how our actions affected the other.  This is the hard reality that occurs when hearts are hardened and openness and forgiveness are not afforded.  So much of what we expressed over our phone conversation should have been said long ago.  If we had been open and receptive and trusted in our own friendship, so much pain and hurt could have been avoided.  Had we received one another from the beginning with love and mercy, receptive of hearing our faults, we would have reconciled much sooner and the wounds of our fallout would’ve been replaced with lots of happy memories.

In scripture God consistently reminds us that the path to happiness is through reconciliation.  In the “Our Father,” Jesus gives us a bold reminder of our duty as his sons and daughters: in following him we are to recognize that we are fallen beings who are inclined to sin, and called to place our hope and trust in his Son who loved us and gave his life for us so that we might be forgiven.  Our duty is to acknowledge that just as we seek redemption in Christ, we are required to offer that back to others.   Our own forgiveness requires our hearts to be forgiving and merciful to those who have hurt us (Mt. 6:12).  The outpouring of mercy that we so long for from our God cannot truly penetrate our hearts as long as we remain hardened to those around us.

Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see.  In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace. (CCC 2840)

Ultimately, this path is fourfold: we admit that we are not without sin and are thus in need of forgiveness from our Father; we open ourselves to forgiveness from the Father by imitating his mercy; we open others to the Father’s merciful love by being a witness to them of merciful love; and we ultimately receive the grace that comes with reconciliation.

The reconciliation made between my friend and I was both freeing and completely joyful.  I hung up after our conversation feeling renewed, enthused, and satisfied.  My heart was full and she later messaged me that she felt something similar.

This is the gift God wants for us.  He wants us to be free, unburdened from the pain that our sinfulness often brings, and also from the pain that comes when someone wrongs us.  He wants us to know what it is to give and receive mercy, because it is there in the midst of compassion and true charity that we find happiness.  What this reconciliation with my friend taught me is that there is always more room for growth, and always room for more compassion and conversion on my end.  It taught me how important it is for me to approach, listen, respond, forgive, and atone, and it taught me how much is lost when I don’t do that.

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