7 Quick Takes: Resolutions and Resistance

This week I am linking up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes, but the content this time around is a little different.  This week I am going to offer 7 thoughts on a word that continued to pop up throughout my week.  The word is “resistance,” and I think it an especially good word to reflect upon just a few short weeks into the New Year.

The New Year, for a lot of us, marks a great starting point for growth, transformation, and change.  But why is it that so many of us, elated with the idea of becoming better versions of ourselves, allow for those desires to fizzle out just a few months into the New Year?  How do we stick to our goals?  I think this is where the word resistance comes in.  It is a great word for understanding the battle of self-will we find ourselves in, and a great word for conquering our moments of weakness.

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I mentioned before how I never really make New Year resolutions.  I have always felt that they were kind of useless.  It wasn’t so much about me never trying to accomplish these things, but it always seemed silly and unrealistic to give myself set dates and goals for them just because everyone else does that.  I’d give myself passes and excuses as to why accomplishing my goals within a set amount of time was unrealistic and a waste of time.  I always fell back on the fact that I am a busy stay at home mom, I already do a lot, and if I want to accomplish these things…well, I’ll get to them eventually, when I’m ready.

I think what it comes down to, though, is that I was allowing myself to be moved more by fear and apathy than anything else.  The big problem was that the stirrings to better myself remained, but what were planted and put into action instead of achieving these goals were the seeds of jealousy and envy.  So often I would look around at all of the other women (many of whom are busy moms like me) who accomplish amazing things, then think to myself: Well it must be nice. She must have a lot of help to be as fit as she is.  She must be very wealthy since she started her own company.  She must have a fleet of nannies.  She must have a lot of things that I do not.  But these were all lies I was telling myself.  Instead of recognizing the incredible amount of work these women put into the things that they were accomplishing, I rested in these falsehoods.  They were the reasons why I didn’t have to set new goals and work my butt off towards accomplishing the things I still feel called to do.    

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If we look back to the very beginning in Scripture, we see right away man’s first encounter with the Devil.  Adam and Eve were created and placed within the Garden of Eden, and within this environment, they were perfectly happy: they experienced harmony with their surroundings; fulfillment in their work; perfect unity and love with one another; and a clear unity with God—in both their intellects and wills.  Then the Devil enters and immediately begins using fear and doubt as a tool to manipulate them.   He conned their hearts into believing that they could be better people—more fulfilled and happier—if they stepped away from God’s law and relied on their own thoughts, separated from him.  He instilled doubt and fear in them, and as we know, Adam and Eve followed the insinuations of the Devil.  In doing so, they removed themselves from the good grace of God and all that he had given them that was good and holy.

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Two fruits given, one sweet…one bitter

I think it is vitally important to recognize that we are still a part of that story. Here we remain today, longing for what we lost in the great Fall (a sense of accomplishment, fulfilment, unity with our Creator and with one another) and in our movement to find our way back, each one of us is met with the Devil’s RESISTANCE.

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Today, most of our impulsive and immediate desires are easy to fulfill, and we live in an age in which we can have what we want when we want it.  We are presented with endless amounts of entertainment—catered to our own particular interests—to keep us busy and generally happy.  The problem is that deep down, we are all greatly restless.  Our hearts are always seeking for something more—something greater to fill the void.  Often times, the things we fill it with are those things that don’t make us better people, and because we find a certain level of contentment in them, we end up becoming apathetic with our state and fearful of the work it takes to reach greater heights.  This is a big problem, because when we rest in this apathy and fear, letting our self-doubts control us, we remain unchanged and our lives become sterile.

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Jennifer Fulwiler talked about the word resistance in one of her podcasts this week.  She talked about her resolutions and how she was slowly beginning to realize that when you want to accomplish something good (no matter what it may be) you are almost always inadvertently faced with resistance.  She explained that this is why, when you go to find your shoes to work out, you may get distracted and then end up feeling defeated about it all and give up before you even begin.  This is also what happens when you are trying to complete a diet, and all you can think about is desert and reasons to go back to your old way of living.  I think we have all felt resistance at some point in our lives.  I know I feel it every time I sit down to write, when I’m immediately confronted with feelings of insecurity and doubt in myself and my abilities.

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It is very important to put a name and face to this resistance, because ultimately, it is the Devil’s great tool to pull us out of growth and transformation.    The kinds of doubts, thoughts, and distractions that enter our minds that are motivated by fear and apathy are all the whisperings of the one who doesn’t want our advancement.  He wants us to remain right where we are at.  He wants us to be lukewarm people, who move through life without any real cares in the world.  He wants us to be apathetic, lazy, and unaccomplished, and he will actively get in our way to prevent us from living our lives to the fullest.

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The important and key thing to keep in mind, though, is that resistance isn’t a one-sided phenomenon.    The dictionary defines resistance as “the attempt to prevent something by action or argument” (this would be the devil’s attempts to move us through fear and doubt), but at the same time resistance is “the refusal to accept or comply with something.” This is where we enter.  The devil will consistently pull at our lives, calling us in directions that seem attractive yet lead us into dark corners, but our job is to pull back.  If we don’t, what we are ultimately doing is giving in.  Each one of us has an opportunity for greatness, and we have to ask ourselves: In this cosmic battle, who is going to give in?  Me, or him?

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So, how do we strengthen ourselves for this fight?

The best place to start is by asking what would Jesus do?

Well, we don’t have to imagine what Jesus would do, because thankfully for us, by entering into humanity, he did encounter this cosmic battle in a very real and human way.

He had his own battle with the Devil when he entered into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days in preparation for his great mission.  After the 40 days, he was confronted with the temptations that were a resistance to his main goal of complete obedience and faithfulness to God.  It is important to note that though he was fully divine, he was also fully human, and in his humanity Jesus experienced everything that we do as humans (all, except sin).  This means that Jesus knew what it meant to be hungry, exhausted, warm/cold, and lacking energy.  Christ felt all of this in his physical form, but by uniting himself with the will of the Father through prayer, he was able to crush the insinuations of the devil before they had any chance to take root in his heart.  The Devil played to Jesus’ humanity: Come on Jesus, I know your hungry, tired, and weak…But you’re God! Make food for yourself! Save yourself! Worship me, I will bail you out!  All of these efforts of the Devil were made to thwart Jesus from his big picture: to pour himself out in love for all of humanity, on the cross.  Through prayer and fasting, Jesus was able and ready to encounter and WIN the resistance of the evil one.  To say no to him, and yes to his mission.

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So, that is where we start. We look at the actions of Christ when he was confronted with fear and doubt, and we put his examples of faithfulness, obedience, and discipline into action in our own life.   

What can we do?

Fast and pray.  Both are essential to true growth and transformation in the faith, because what you do with your body has an impact on your soul, and what you do with your soul has an impact on your body.  Strengthening them is a great way to change how you choose to live each day and work towards the heights that you are inspired to reach.  Fasting and prayer helps us break free from being slaves to our bodies and to our apathetic spirits.  If our bodies are not strong, and if our spirits are not shaped by Christ’s guidance, we will have a harder time fully accomplishing and saying yes to our missions.

– Recognize when thoughts of doubt, fear, or apathy are entering into your mind, and work hard to resist them.  Recognize that these are seeds planted by the evil one who wants you to fail and give up before you even begin. Pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in your resolve to get things done.

-Focus on the process, not the end result.  If we focus on the day to day work we have to accomplish to attain our goals, we will progress.  Most of us want to reach the top of the mountain, but we forget that we have to climb to get there.

I’ll leave you with some words from Saint Jose Maria Escriva, which I think prove useful in this battle:

“Give in? Be just commonplace? You, a sheep-like follower, you were born to be a leader! Among us there is no place for the lukewarm.  Humble yourself and Christ will kindle in you the fire of love.”

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Interested in reading more like this?  Click the links below!

Inspired by Greatness

I Rejoice in My Sufferings

Perfection in an Imperfect World

Worry in the Midst

Packing Christmas Away

Today we celebrate the last official day of Christmas, and for me the closing of this season carries with it a tinge of sadness.  The idea of carefully packing away all of my beautiful Christmas decorations leaves me feeling a little blue.  I know our house will look very plain and empty without all of the greens, reds, and golds…the very visible signs of hope and of the promise fulfilled in Christ’s coming.

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This Christmas was very special for me because I think it was the first time ever in my cradle catholic life that I paid close attention to what God was trying to say to me during both the Advent season and the Christmas season itself.  I believe that this preparation allowed me to continue to see all the signs of Christ’s coming everywhere I looked, well after December 25th.  I’m very thankful for that.

Yesterday at Mass we celebrated the last Sunday of Christmas, and it felt so very fitting that it fell on the Feast of the Epiphany—the day we celebrate the Wise Men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus.  I was lucky enough to cantor at this particular Mass, and it was special because it allowed me to sing the words from Psalm 72: Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.  Every nation on earth will adore the Christ-child; the one who is High Priest, Prophet, and King over all the world.

It was also incredibly special because it gave me the opportunity to notice things that I usually don’t. Right before the Gospel Reading Father incensed the psalter.  We read about this kind of offering in Scripture often, and it is carried on in the Tradition of the Mass.  It is a reminder through our sense of smell that our prayers and daily sacrifices, united with the Words of God and his passion, are lifted up to heaven together in oblation to God in the Mass.  Yesterday in Mass I got a unique visual of this, because as Father began his homily I saw the incense resting above the altar, and fanning very, very slowly to the giant crucifix behind it.  I could almost see the Lord smelling it…taking in a deep breath as he hung on the cross in the most perfect offering.  It was as if he was breathing in deeply the beautiful fragrance and offering of the Mass and exhaling it all back.  It was a stunning image, and one I think perfectly captured the reality of the Mass.     

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After this vision, I was called back to Father’s homily in which he spoke of the three Wise Men.  He told us of their journey to see the Messiah who was to be born, and how they went out of their way to follow the star which shone brightly in the sky.  Father reminded us that their journey was treacherous, but despite the obstacles they would face, they showed immense courage.  They allowed the bright shining star to lead them on an unknown journey—a journey which they hoped would take them to see the King.  And it did. It led them to a tiny baby resting in a humble and meager manger: a poor and lowly image that nonetheless radiated such beauty and profound light.  All they could do was kneel in thanksgiving, offering their finest gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to their King.

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The gifts that the Magi brought the Lord are deeply rooted in significance and meaning.  The three gifts pointed to and foretold just who the baby in the manger was: the gold was a gift associated closely with royalty and endurance; the frankincense had medicinal purposes; and the myrrh was an embalming and anointing element.  Through these three gifts, the Magi were acknowledging that Jesus was a King whose kingdom would never end, that he would take on the role of High Priest, and that his life and death would significantly be involved in our salvation (the True Prophet who brings the Good News).

This got me thinking about Christmas in our culture today and what it seems to have become all about.  The center focus has greatly shifted away from Christ, moving more towards other things like Santa Claus, goofy Christmas songs, and the countless hours of prepping and buying, storing and wrapping, giving and receiving gifts with one another.  One has to sit and wonder if this is what Christ wants of us during the Christmas season.20170109_120103

Yesterday, though, I couldn’t help but think that the practice of gift giving isn’t too far off from what God wants us to realizeHe doesn’t necessarily want us to focus on the material goods, but he wants us to understand what it means to be given a gift, and in return pour ourselves out in love for one another as a gift to each other.   In Christ, we receive the greatest gift of all: we receive the gift of salvation and the divine opportunity to enter into communion with the Lord; to know him, to love him, and to put him on for ourselves through the Holy Spirit.  Yesterday I realized in a deeper sense that the Christmas season doesn’t just end abruptly, but rather ends with a calling.  Through the guidance of the Christmas season we are brought into the New Year with the most perfect gift of Christ’s love, then sent forth to carry his light and his love out into the world. Christ perfectly lived out his calling to be priest, prophet, and king, and in doing so he gave us the capacity to live this out in our own lives today.  We are called to daily make an offering of our lives to one another and to the Lord in a gift of love; we are called to boldly proclaim God’s goodness to the world; and we are called to become kings like Christ, masters of our own desires and selfish whims, and people who seek always to prioritize and will the good of the otherIn this three-fold way, we become Christ’s light in the world, a gift to one another.  Through Christ, we become the visible signs of the promise fulfilled.

I think just as there is a time for all seasons, it is fitting to pack up and store our Christmas supplies away.  Just as Christ walked forward in his life and resolutely journeyed towards Jerusalem, we too have to go forth and live our lives day by day.  We cannot live in the Christmas season forever.  We have to encounter all the joys and celebrations, and obstacles and pains that come with a New Year.  Hopefully, though, as we continue on in this journey we remember to merely store the Christmas decorations in the dark and dank basement of our homes…not the spirit of Christmas itself.  That, we should remember to save and store in the inner recesses of our hearts.

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Last Week of Advent: Encountering Obstacles to Joy

Raise your hand if you or any of your family members have been sick this week!  It seems as though everyone I know has been hit by this vicious stomach bug, so if you are there nodding your head in exhaustion just thinking about it, I raise my hot toddy to you my friend.

Okay, to be fair, I haven’t personally been hit that hard by the bug (so far), but my sonny, my baby girl, my older sister’s whole family, and my littlest sister (who even at one point looked at me blankly and said, “Oh I won’t get it, I never get sick”) have all been hit by it.  It’s been kind of a wild ride with many sleepless nights, accompanied with lots and lots of laundry loads.

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Along with the pain of seeing my little girl so miserable.

With that said, I think it is safe to assume that all the peace that I’ve been saying I’ve had this Advent has been terribly challenged.  It’s like I’ve been given one last week to be tested in order to really prep my heart for Christmas.  My prayer time has been compromised and I’ve been fighting against my inner grumpiness that wants to act out in impatience, rudeness, and exhaustion.

In all this, I had a thought about Martha and Mary once again.  I hear all the time from women (and have even said it myself) that they feel like they are more of a Martha than a Mary.  The more I reflected on this though, I’ve realized that–wait–aren’t we all Martha by condition?   I mean, as moms, we don’t exactly have all the free time in the world.  There is laundry to be done, kids to tend to, dinners to be made, floors to be vacuumed, groceries to be bought, and I can’t even imagine what you working moms have to go through having to accomplish all that while having an extra job to do (how do you do it!?).  Our vocation as moms is just naturally busy, chaotic, messy, and (mostly) exhausting.

I think maybe that is why most of us feel that we are more of a Martha and not a Mary.  We feel busy, overloaded, and just plain tired, and we long for those moments that we can just sit and relax at the Lord’s feet, listening to his every word in peace and quiet.   I thought the reason Jesus chastised Martha was merely for her work, but in further reading I’ve realized it is much deeper than that.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, and in an effort to be perfect for him, she forgot to really open her heart to him.  The work that Martha was overloaded with wasn’t necessarily Martha’s problem; it was her inability to recognize that Jesus was in her midst, her quickness to cast blame on others for their “lack of help”, to see her calling in that moment to serve as an encumbrance, and to be moved to accomplish her vocational task more out of anxiety than out of love.

I have always related to Martha because of her tendency to work more than to rest, but I am seeing now how God is calling me to look deeper at my relation to Martha.  I am learning that I relate more to Martha because I have been there.  All of us have to work, and most of us are living lives that are chaotic and cumbersome, but I’m beginning to see that I relate more to Martha because I know what work without charity is, and I know what impatience, edginess, and jealousy feels like.  I walk around all the time wishing that my life was more like Mary’s and that I had the time to sit in adoration of the Lord and pour out my love for him in peace, instead of picking cheerios off the floor four hundred times a day and having to do parental calisthenics all day in response to the request upon request that come from my children.   Life does not to afford me to sit in idle peace all the time.

I have to work…but the way I go about it could definitely be improved.

After Martha grumbles to the Lord about her burdens, he admonishes her, saying: “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.”

I don’t think that the Lord was calling Martha to merely sit at his feet, so much as listen to his Word and have an intimate relationship with him.  This kind of relationship may manifest itself in different ways—and we see this with Mary and Martha: Mary, having the ability to sit and listen; and Martha having the calling to serve the Lord.  In both situations, both women are able to choose the better part, because the better part is simply recognizing that the Lord is with them, and allowing worry and anxiety to wash away.  The manifestation of being in the Lord’s company looked different for both women, but both were given the divine opportunity of being in the presence of the Lord.

I wonder what this would look like if it played out differently on Martha’s end; if instead of overloading her plate with unnecessary burdens, she accomplished those tasks that needed to be done with full charity, serving the Lord and her sister as need be, and resting when she had the chance (instead of overloading her plate in an effort to be perfect).  Maybe this way the Lord may have said to her, Thank you for having me in your home Martha—you too, have chosen the good portion.

I’m realizing that if we merely wait for these opportunities for peace and quiet in order to open our hearts to him, we may end up missing the good portion altogether.  If we merely long to be in the situation of Mary rather than working to take her heart on for own, then we will never find the peace and joy that Jesus calls us to.

I think this time of disruption in my Advent peace has been actually a good thing for me, because it’s called me to put to mind and heart everything that I have been actively working on this season.  Father Mike Schmitz says that joy is an inner state of well-being—it is a choice.  It is the sense that comes from the fruit of a life lived in God, which manifests itself in the simple and honest prayer of “Father, Thy will be done”.  So, in my work (especially when it gets messy and difficult) and the crazy haze of living out my vocation as mom and wife, I hope that I can continue to work to have a heart like Mary, recognizing that Jesus is with me.  Then, instead of grumbling in complaint, I might serve with charity, love without reserve, and find joy in my heart that thrives both in peace and under pressure.

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Seven Quick Takes: More on Advent, The Domestic Church, and Family Activities before Christmas

Linking up with Kelly for the first time in a really long time for 7 Quick Takes Friday!

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Advent so far has been wonderful.  I think the concerted effort to be more aware of what this season is all about is paying off, because I find myself a bit more at peace during this hectic time of the year than I normally am.

The week of the 5th kick-started the craziness of the season for me and my family.  We hosted two parties in one week at our house, and have since celebrated three feast days (Saint Nicholas, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe).

I have always wanted to be more mindful of the Feast Days in the Church, and seeing the beautiful and thoughtful things that other Catholic moms put together for their families has always left me feeling a bit #inadequate.  Sometimes the pressure to be the “perfect” mom is ridiculous–especially the perfect “Catholic” mom– and I love what Simcha had to say about her family’s celebration of the Immaculate Conception. (“Pant, pant”…just get their butts to Mass.)

The biggest thing I took from her article was that we don’t have to put together these elaborate things for our family for them to get the most out of these special days.  We just need to put our focus on what really matters, and we need to continue striving to share the faith with our kids in the best ways we know how.

So we’ve begun doing that and it has been awesome, and really alleviated the silly guilt that comes from being so very un-pinterest worthy most of the time.

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This new outlook on building our domestic church came just in time, because in the craziness of hosting people at our house on the 5th, I completely forgot to weave together the narrative of Saint Nick’s legendary stories to Eli and stick carrots and other such things in his stinky little shoes before Saint Nicholas’ Feast Day the next day .  I did buy coins and carrots and had a whole thing planned out, but completely forgot in the rush of all things. #Momfail

But I rolled with it. Who really cares?  I mean, I may not be Martha-friggin-Stewart, but that’s okay.  And let’s be honest, Eli (and certainly Lucia) didn’t even notice.

I decided to nix the whole plan and just work with what we normally do every night, which is sit together as a family and eat dinner.  I parked our ol’ Santa Claus “Saint Nick” down with us for dinner,

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gave Eli a few details about his life (Lucy nodded along, too), said a quick prayer in honor of him, ate dinner, and afterwards celebrated by eating chocolate coins and drinking eggnog by our tree. It was wonderful and simple and I think Eli got the general jist of what is really so special about the jolly old man, Santa Claus.  It’s not so much about getting the presents and toys he brings as it is about the character of the real man (a saint) who existed; a man who lived for the Lord, and loved and gave without reserve.

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We also celebrated with our friends this Advent season, on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The group gathered together and came up with this great idea to make tilmas (an idea one of the girls got from Catholic Icing), eat cookies, watch a movie about Juan Diego’s vision of Mary, and carry red roses up to Mary in honor of this day.   It was so fun and I am so glad that my kids are making friends in the Church.

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One of the parties I hosted was for Joey’s 30th Birthday!  It is becoming kind of a tradition to have a Christmas party at our house for him every year, and I think this 3rd year was our best.

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We changed the entertainment up this year (from our usual white elephant game) by playing the seran wrap game, and it was such a hit!  Highly suggest it for your family parties—except instead of candy we purchased a bunch of small gifts (chotchkies and stuff) for people to win.  Funny enough though, most of the grown men were vying for the big league chew packets of gum.

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A friend gifted me the Blessed is She Advent journal this year and I am absolutely loving it!  It is probably a bit late to buy the journal for this Advent, but you can also buy it and download a digital copy of it if you are interested!

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This year I wanted to make something that I could gift to people, and I settled on these caramel candies.  I was super nervous about making these because my history with baking is not the greatest, so I only assumed candy-making would be worse.  With only a minor hiccup (a big caramel spill, because my pan wasn’t big enough) I came out unscathed and they came out delicious!  Be happy I don’t have pictures of the process, though, because it wasn’t very pretty.  The recipe I followed was super easy, albeit a tad time consuming (took me an hour and a half to make).  Try making them for Christmas! They don’t disappoint!

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Eli had his very first Christmas program yesterday.  It was priceless.  I especially love how he pretty much “watermelon-coconuted” the whole thing, and clapped for himself at the end.  At-a-boy, you little cutie. At-a-boy.

That’s it for me this week! Hope you have a wonderful week, and if you are traveling for Christmas–safe travels!!!

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My Experiences Fasting During Advent

Today is the Feast Day of Saint John of the Cross.  In researching more about him, I came across the quote above and felt it to be very applicable and timely to where I am spiritually in this Advent season.  A few weeks ago, I mentioned the importance of fasting during Advent, and this is the first time in my life that I have actually tried putting this into practice specifically in preparation for Christmas.  I had never thought about fasting during Advent before, and I really wanted to try and make it a priority this time around—to ready my heart so that I may more aptly appreciate the blessings of Christmas.  I think Saint John of the Cross’ quote about purifying yourself of attachments speaks so perfectly to what I have been learning this Advent season.

One lesson I learn every time I fast, and which I am learning once again, is how very weak I am.  Actively choosing to abstain from certain goods during Advent has shown me just how attached I am to these goods.  There have been many times since I made the commitment to my fast that I have made excuses, been unable to refrain from partaking of the good, and even gone so far as to think to myself, God will understand.  And in a way, he does!  God understands that these goods are good (because he created them!) and that we have a desire for them (because that’s how he created us!).  God created us to gravitate towards the good and share in the blessings that he gives to us and to the world.  But God also calls us to prioritize Him above all good things, and fasting from minor indulgences this Advent has called to my attention my attachment to these goods, and shown me how the very littlest of my attachments can end up standing between me and God.  My simple little promises I offer to God are broken simply because my appetite for them in that moment is greater than the promise I made to God.  Now, God doesn’t look at me, weak and hungry, and abandon me because I have abandoned my fast.  Fasting isn’t so much about winning merits for myself, but rather about mortifying my passions. The fact that I cannot stay firm to my commitment to say no to certain goods as an offering to God, shows me how I am in need of both his mercy and that I need to evaluate how my appetite for certain goods can at times control me.  When we fast from things that are good, or refrain from partaking of things we know are particularly harmful to us, we do so in an effort to realign our priorities.  Through continued practice of fasting, I am learning that my flesh and self-control are wild, and need to be ordered properly.  Fasting is a reminder that though all of the sweets, treats, and indulgences may be good, they are merely a small fraction of the Good of God and the fulfillment that we ultimately receive in him alone.  Ordering my passions properly allows me to be more open and free spiritually, and prepares me for the times that I am tempted in bigger and more sinful ways.  

Something new that I am also learning by fasting this Advent is the connection between fasting and longing.  (I see now why the Church calls us to fast during Advent.)  While I long for Christmas to come so that I can partake in the goods that I gave up, this fast is teaching me what the Advent season is really all about: having longing in our hearts for the Lord.  During these five or so weeks until Christmas, fasting is moving me to develop within my heart a sense of longing that can only be truly fulfilled by the Summum Bonum (or, “Ultimate Good”), God himself.  Much like the longing I remember as a kid, so very excited to open presents on Christmas morning, I am beginning to realize what true longing during the Christmas season is all about.  Yes, I long for those goods that I have actively chosen to give up this Advent, but in giving up these goods I am reminded first and foremost of the Good of Christ’s love—the good that came with his entering into the world, humbly and free of all worldly attachments, in the manger in Bethlehem. Fasting is teaching me what it means to see the goods of the world “spiritually” and to “understand what is certain in them.”  Abusing them, and consistently indulging in them to the point of enslavement is not why God created them or us.  He created the goods for us to share in them, but more importantly to point us to his own sweetness–to him who is the Supreme Good itself.  

How is your fast going this Advent?  Comment below!  

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Should I take my kids to Mass?

This past Sunday was the first time in a long time where we didn’t have to walk out of Mass.  As Father began his closing blessing I looked over to my husband to express my excitement, and was met with his wide-eyed smiling face.

Yes.  That was a good one.

We made it through without a single fit and no whining.  It was incredible.  This kind of quiet in Mass is such a rarity with two young kids…and a golden opportunity for me and my husband.

It was the first time in a long time that I could concentrate during the consecration, and it primed my heart so well that I even got choked up walking to receive Communion.  In this quiet I could prepare my heart enough to savor the gift I was being given in the Eucharist, and it was amazing.

And, also, probably a fluke.  As wonderful as it was, my husband and I laughed to ourselves after Mass knowing that it was probably a once in a blue moon kind of thing—enjoy it while it lasted!  Next Sunday we will probably be met with the familiar cries, fidgets, and groans for Mass to be over that come from both a toddler and a baby who don’t quite fully get the magnificence of it all.

But that’s OK.

Joe and I go to Mass each Sunday because it is an obligation that our Church has given us.  Canon Law says that on Sundays the faithful are obliged and bound to participate in the Mass, and that we should give particular care for reserving the day especially for worship.  (Canon 1247) This law is what is called an “ecclesiastical law” (a law, given by the Church to the faithful, to those who possess the sufficient use of reason). So, in reality, our children could miss Mass if we didn’t want to bring them.  It wouldn’t hurt them morally or be a sin for them if they didn’t go.  Though we are tied to our moral obligation to attend Mass each Sunday, they are not.

But another, and more important reason, why Joe and I go to Mass is because it is the place where we encounter God in a special and unique way.  Through the community of believers, and especially through the liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist, we are given a divine opportunity each week—rather than a mere “obligation”—to get especially close to God.  It is a gift, and we go to receive.

However, in the craziness that comes from taking the kids with us, it’s easy to forget why we even go and tempting to throw our hands up in the air and give up bringing on them along.  I have story after story of not-so-fun experiences with the children at Mass…

So why even take them?

We take them to Mass for the same two-fold reason that we go to Mass: the obligation, and the gift.  Though they don’t have an obligation to go, as parents, we have an obligation to raise them in the faith.  This is an obligation we signed up for when we baptized them as children.  The family is the place where they are to gain the foundations of the faith, and there is no better way to prepare them than to immerse them in the communion of the Mass each week.  Despite their distractions and clamoring for toys and snacks, there are many opportunities for our faith to become visible to them, so that when they are older and gain an understanding for the Mass, it is both familiar and familial.  They are able to see mom and dad praying (or at least trying to pray), to interact with other members in Church (who overtime become familiar to them), and to gain a firsthand experience of God’s Fatherly love (a kind of love that is both patient and persistent) in our parental ability to make it through a Mass with them with patience and love–reminding them through our actions that this is where we are called to be.  That this is HOME. 

Even when it’s hard. 

The graces that come from toting your kids to Mass each week payoff, but they do so in small ways overtime.  When we walk into Mass now, sometimes I hear Eli excitedly saying, There’s my friend!  As Father lifts the Host in the air I’ve heard Eli whisper, Mom why he do that?  During the readings as he plays with my hair, he casually asks, Mom, what he saying?  Question after question arises during mass—questions that seem so simple and easy to pass over—but each is an opportunity for him to encounter Jesus and the Church in a childlike but profound way.  I whisper back, “Bud, Father is calling Jesus to be with us,” and, “That’s a ‘lector’—he’s reading God’s Word.”  Sure, in the moments where the kids are crying or whining and I’m beginning to sweat it’s easy to lose sight of these little opportunities…but in the big picture, we are giving them an immense gift by going to Mass together as a family.  And it starts as early as the beginning.  Even Lucy, who is still so little, participates in the Mass just by being there. And with her smiles—and even her cries—her presence is a reminder to everyone else that the Church is young, active, and alive.

I urge you to take your children to Mass as a family.   I know it can be difficult at times, and can be frustrating, but it is SO worth it.

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Here are some tips for taking your family to Mass:

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Sit near the front of the Church.  I know it sounds counterproductive, but I swear to you this works.  There is something about being near the front that calms the kids, more than if you sit in the back.  This is not to say that you won’t have to head to the back of the Church at times, but being in the front allows them to see what is going on and gives them an awareness that they are there for a reason.  Their perspective is so much shorter than ours—allowing them to see above the pews will do wonders for their behavior.

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Avoid the cry room.  I know some still prefer it, but the cry room can be straight out bananas most of the time.  If you think it’s hard for you to pay attention in the Church, it is that much harder to pay attention in the cry room.  To the kids it can make Mass seem more of a time to play, than a time to pray.

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Make sure your kiddos are fed before Mass, and if necessary, bring a few quiet snacks with you.   However, be smart in choosing your snacks.  Hand held snacks are the best; avoid snacks that can spill all over the place and create distractions and a scene.

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Bring a quiet toy.  Once Eli was a little older and it became harder to keep him still and quiet, we allowed him to have one toy (more than one always proves to be too distracting) to keep him pacified. We allow him to bring a hotwheel, or a small figurine, and it has worked well.

If you don’t want to bring toys that are unrelated to the Mass, take a look at these options:

Mass books

Rosary

Mass buddies (Saint card set) 

Quiet felt play sets 

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Don’t leave Church, just leave the pew.  Make a habit of taking your child out of Mass when their noise/crying distracts from the Liturgy.  Taking them to the back is a good way to let them know that their behavior is unacceptable, and signals to them that they are to be quiet in Church.  However, don’t let them run around and play.  Holding them teaches them that disruptive behavior isn’t rewarded.

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Make Mass an experience for them.  When they get noisy, quietly try distracting them. Ask them questions like, Where is Father?  Can you find Jesus?  Point to a candle!  This works well, especially for children over the age of 2, and teaches them to participate in the Mass.

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Don’t let other people’s concerns get you down.  It is very rare, but in the case that you encounter someone who is rude or uncharitable to you because of your children’s (loud) presence, take my advice: Just don’t worry about it.

You are not there for them.  Do your best to minimize your children’s distractions in Mass, but don’t allow someone to keep you from going.  Brush any awful comments and disapproving glares off, and keep your eyes transfixed on the Eucharist, because HE wants you and your children to be there—and that’s all that matters.

And lastly:

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Don’t sweat the fret. Even though it can be extremely difficult to quiet your own heart and pray during Mass when you take your kids, don’t be discouraged from taking them with you or from going to Mass.  God knows your heart.  He will feed you, even if you are unaware that you are being fed.  That moment last Sunday in which I was able to savor the Mass was wonderful, but it was merely a fruit of the gift, not the actual gift itself.  The Eucharist is fuel and nourishment for us, even if we unable to enter into the Mass fully.  Our awareness is not primarily what God looks for, it is the opening of our hearts.  If we come to him in the Mass with an open heart, he will fill it.

 Thoughts or hesitations about taking your kids to Mass?  Have any more advice to add? Comment below! 

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Receiving the Word: Stay Awake!

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“Jesus said to his disciples: “‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.  They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.  So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.  Therefore, stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.  Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’” Matthew 24:37-44

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What does it mean to be awake? I had this on my mind after reading this Gospel last night, and in my readiness for sleep, I was short for answers.  I told myself I would think about it in the morning, but as usual I woke up not to any thought of my own, but to a little boy climbing on my belly excitedly saying, “Time to wake up?!”  Before I could even really respond, he went through his usual morning requests for breakfast (this time asking for tacos), wanted to watch “Dinosaur Train” (which he knows he never gets in the morning), and asking for Lucy, his sister, to get up with him (she’s his best friend).  His excitement for waking was met with my reluctance to start the day.  Before I begrudgingly pulled myself out of bed to tend to his requests, I remembered the Gospel I read the night before, and thought to myself:  So this is what God is calling me to?  Half of me wanted to stay in bed, but the other half knew I had to get up.  I have responsibilities that require my attentiveness and slacking on the job is not optional, or at least, not optimal.  So, in my weariness, I looked at my son’s face—so excited for a new day—and thought, if only I could wake daily with the excitement that he has.

Why was I so wanting to sleep, more than wanting to start my day?  Because a new day requires me to work again.  It requires me to get up, be alert, be ready to respond to my children’s needs and the needs of my husband; to cook, to clean, to do laundry, to run errands, to write, to study, and accomplish the most that I can, in the best way that I can, for the time that I have before I have to get up and do it again tomorrow.  And it can be exhausting.  I huff under my breath each morning, “Just a little bit more sleep”; a little bit more sleep to rest from the work that I am called to do.

In examining the very simple task I have each day of awakening (and my daily reluctance towards it), I see many parallels in my spiritual life.  It is so much easier to rest in the things that leave me spiritually complacent and carefree than to work on my relationship with God and on myself.  I allow myself to be spiritually lazy and blame it on the fact that I have got a million other things to do, and very little time to accomplish it all.  If I can squeeze in prayer or my daily examination of conscience, great.  If not, He understands.  I feel satisfied with my day when I have checked off all (or even some) of the boxes on my to-do list and can just collapse on the couch at night to wind down by watching Netflix or scrolling endlessly on pinterest.

The problem that I face in my spiritual life, though, is similar to what would happen if I decided to stay in my bed in my pajamas all day, ignoring my responsibilities and the offerings my day brings me: I would end up a less fulfilled version of myself.  If I failed to respond to the calling of the day, I would lose out on the accomplishment and daily opportunities for growth, and I would be less because of it.  I have to get up, and I have to work, but it is through that work that I find fulfillment in life.

Today’s Gospel reminds us—no, beckons us—to stay awake! Not to merely thrive physically, but more importantly, spiritually.  In the Gospel, Jesus is calling us to three things: to be alert, to work, and to guard.  Just like my physical waking is the only way I can serve, love, move and respond, so too is it in my spiritual life.  The crutch, though, is that I have to wake myself up to God’s calling—it is not anyone’s responsibility but my own.  This requires me to be alert to the opportunities God sends me every day to grow closer to him and to the people around me.   This requires me to work (harder than I do to accomplish the daily physical tasks I am called to)—to put in the effort my faith requires that is sometimes even more difficult, trying, and tiresome.  This is a calling to be joyful in the face of obstacles, frustrations, weariness, and pain; to make the effort to listen to the Lord (especially by reading Scripture and by setting aside time for prayer), instead of just throwing my petitions at him; to see the value and dignity of every human being I encounter throughout my day; to not fall into the trap our world sets for us of settling in complacency; to strive daily to live a virtuous and holy life; to be aware of Church teachings; and to guard my relationship with the Lord by devoting time to him, and especially by running to the Sacraments.

To be truly awake is to be close to the Lord, and we cannot achieve this without work. We learn who we really are and what we are called to only in and through him, and we cannot grow closer to him if we allow ourselves to stay asleep and be robbed of the gift of his love.  untitled

This Advent season, ask yourself: In what ways am I spiritually asleep?  Am I truly alert to God’s will for my life and aware of his love?  Do I guard my relationship with him, protecting it as my greatest good?  What can I do to wake myself up to his love?  What is one change I can make this Advent season that will draw me nearer to him?

May this season of Advent be a time of awakening for us all!

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Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

 

 

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It’s normal to begin seeing some signs of Christmas coming as soon as the leaves start falling off the trees and the chill begins to move in.  Though there are a few signs of Christmas as early as August (like the holiday collection at Hobby Lobby), most people usually hold off on their shopping list and home prep until at least after Thanksgiving.

This year, though, has seemed quite different.  Though Thanksgiving has barely passed, many people I know began embracing Christmas much, much earlier than usual.

It’s clear our country needs a bit of a pick me up right now.

I think in the wake of the election, most people are dying for some hope and goodness to pour forth in our country.  People are ready to experience the kind of spirit that the Christmas season brings about, where everyone is called to come together and celebrate the joy of giving and receiving, not just gifts, but one another’s company and companionship.

Yet, despite the great joy and happiness that comes in all that the Christmas season brings, all the details we enjoy so much this time of year (stockings, music, good food, twinkling lights, etc.) are merely glimmers of the profound depth that lies in the real meaning of Christmas.   If all the focus is on all the fun before December 25th even hits, by the time Christmas actually rolls around people are more ready to pack it all up in their exhaustion of it, then bask in the joy of Jesus’ coming.  If we celebrate too much before Christmas even arrives, we may end up missing the whole point of the Advent season.

Advent is the liturgical time in the Church (this year beginning on December 27th), which is set aside  for us to reflect on the deep longing we all have for the coming of Christ.  It is the time for contemplating three main things: the salvation history of the past, and how Jesus entered into our fallen and broken world offering redemption for mankind; how our redemption is being accomplished here-and-now, in and through Christ and his Church; and how we are still waiting in joyful anticipation for the future and final coming of Christ.

Though the time for hanging stockings, and playing Christmas music is imminent, it’s important to remember that Advent is a time specifically set aside for preparing our hearts and minds for his coming.  It is the time for us to examine all the ways that we fail to recognize the great gift we are given in God’s love and call to communion, and through hopeful longing and joyful anticipation, submit ourselves to prayerful penance and spiritual preparation in order to make room for him in our hearts.  Advent sums up and symbolizes our daily mission: to live our lives in gratitude for the gifts God has given us and daily prepare ourselves for what awaits us in eternity.  Everything else—all pieces of happiness and joy that we experience on this earth and in this season—are merely a small impression and sharing in what we receive in the gift of his coming.

Our Church offers us ways of entering into this preparatory mindset through it’s liturgical practices (through special decorations, songs, and readings), but as you unpack your Christmas lights and start prepping your home, here are some tips for preparing your heart for Christ’s coming during this Advent season:

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Spend some time each day during Advent praying with daily readings and reflections offered by the Church.  There are some great ones out there like, “The Advent of Christ,” by Edward Sri, this Advent Journal by Blessed is She, and this Advent Companion which coincides with the Magnificat readings.   This is such a special way to engage in the spirit of Advent, because these daily readings help focus your intent and guide your mind during the craziness of the season.

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If you are excited about decorating your home for Christmas, decorate with the themes of Advent in mind.  Place a Nativity Scene in your home, but leave out the baby Jesus until Christmas morning.  Hang pictures like this and others that are thematic of our hopeful longing for the day of his coming.  Save some of your best decorations commemorating the birth of the Lord to hang on the day of Christmas.

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Count down the days leading up to Christmas with an Advent Wreath which marks each Sunday before Christmas, an Advent Calendar which offers daily prayers and gives reminders for the special days in Advent, or a Jesse Tree which guides you through the story of salvation leading up to the birth of Christ.

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Celebrate Feast Days that take place before Christmas, like The Feast of Saint Nick (on December 6th), or The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (on December 8th).

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Since Advent is a time of preparation, it is considered to be a kind of “little lent” in the Church.  Thus, fasting, doing penance, and giving alms are all great ways to prepare your heart for Christmas.

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Confession is an important part of prepping for the Lord’s coming because it allows Him to draw us nearer to him and rid ourselves of all that separate us from him.  Make time for reconciliation before Christmas to really prepare your heart to receive him with great joy.

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Most people don’t connect fasting with the holiday season (the time of year we all gain a pound or two), but fasting is a great way to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christmas.  What better way to share in Christ’s gift to us, than by offering up goods in preparation for his coming (be it food, habits, or something else you find yourself clinging to).  Offering up these daily goods is a reminder that, no matter how wonderful earthly goods may be, they pale in comparison to the gift we receive in Christ.  This manger activity is a great way for the whole family to fast and prepare for Christ together!

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In the spirit of giving, Advent is a great time to practice spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy.  Giving gifts to disadvantaged families and to those in need are both wonderful ways to prepare for the Lord.  Volunteer your time, offering it to those in need, or invite people into your home who may feel isolated and lonely during the holidays.

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As you prepare for Christmas by buying gifts and preparing your home, most importantly, remember to take this time to reflect on the gifts Christ has already given us and those he promises are yet to come.

Also, throughout this Advent season be sure to check back in!  I will be posting special reflections on the Sunday Advent readings and special feast days during Advent.  Hope you take the time to read!

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Receiving the Word: Which Side Are You On?

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,  “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” 

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ?

Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”–Luke 23:35-43

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Today’s Gospel is a powerful scene from the passion narrative, because it sums up quite perfectly two very distinct takes on the crucifixion of Jesus.  Through one of the last human encounters with Jesus before he died, we are presented with a very real scenario for our own lives and our faith in Christ.

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Scripture tells of two men sentenced to death as criminals, one on either side of Jesus as he died.  We read that their sentence, as the good thief says, fit their crimes.  Crucifixion was one of the most disgraceful forms of execution, reserved primarily for the vilest criminals, so we know that whatever they had done, it was enough at that time to warrant such an extreme punishment.  Yet everything we know about who Jesus was reveals that he was anything but vile.  He was good: he healed, and he loved people (especially the weak and sinful) with a merciful heart that only our God could.  He was as innocent as could be, and his goodness lead to his passion and death.

The rulers and soldiers who persecuted Jesus didn’t want to hear what he had to say nor did they want to open their hearts to the reality of who he was and who they were in his eyes.  Rather, they chose to scoff at him, call him a liar and a lunatic, and ultimately condemn him to death.

And here we see in this scene how Jesus, mocked all the way to the point of his death, is once again poked and prodded.  One of the thieves yells at him, “Are not you the Christ? Save yourself and us,” and through his words, the criminal offers him one final condemnation.

His words summed up the feelings of all those who persecuted Jesus, because he was really saying: “You think you’re so great.  You think you are God.  Ha!  You are nothing but a criminal like me, put to an awful and heinous death.  How can you help me, a sinnerlook at yourself!”  In the end, all that Jesus claimed and proved himself to be, failed in the face of evil and death.

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At least in the eyes of the criminal.

What a sad depiction of humanity’s continuous response to God.  Just as the Israelites in the wilderness fell into fear, anger, and despair in their moments of suffering and pain—so here we see man failing to see God’s love through Jesus in these last moments. Here we see one final attempt of sin, wickedness, and pride pummeling one of the very foundational aspects of faith in God: hope.

Imagine if the story ended with his words.

Yet, hope and goodness prevail in the perspective that the other thief—the good thief—takes on the suffering Christ.  Immediately upon hearing his fellow criminal’s words, the good thief rebukes him, saying:

“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”

As the good thief hung on the wood, he recognized completely the very thing the other failed to see: the far reach of God’s love.  God’s love, through Jesus, reaches into the depths of humanity, from his entering into salvation history as the promised one in the form of a little baby, all the way to his death on the cross.  He entered into humanity, and though innocent, paid the price we could not pay, out of love for us.

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Out of all of those who encountered Christ’s mercy firsthand, I think the good thief was given a special understanding of God’s great love for humanity.  He didn’t need the countless miracles of Christ to convince him of this love; he witnessed firsthand the extent of God’s love.  Unlike the other thief, the good thief humbled himself enough to look directly into the broken and battered face of Christ, see his own weakness and sinfulness, and recognize the very reason our Lord was lead to such a terrible death.  A criminal did not hang on that cross and die that day, love itself hung there—the kind of love that pours itself out completely for the sake of the beloved.

Jesus’ death on the cross was not a chance happening but rather was divinely chosen as part of God’s plan to bring about redemption for mankind.  The crucifixion was not something he had to do, but something he rather chose to do.  What the criminal failed to see as he hung next to the innocent Jesus on the cross, was that God permitted Jesus’ crucifixion, and Jesus freely chose it.

Could he have destroyed his persecutors and sent all against him trembling in his path?  Of course.  Could he have chosen a different way to bring about salvation for man? Certainly.  Yet, just as he condescended to our human nature by becoming a weak and dependent human baby, he condescended to our human nature by dying a physical and horrible death.  As both fully human and divine, Jesus paid the ultimate price in expiation for all the sins of human kind and fulfilled the covenantal promises made from long ago.

Throughout Scripture we see that sacrificial death was both important and necessary in order to redeem man and save him from his sin that continuously led him into destruction and away from God.  Yet, no matter how sweet the offering, finite man could not redeem himself with a finite offering. Jesus didn’t die merely to satisfy the wrath of God, but rather—through his divinity—swung wide the doors for us that lead to communion with God so that we may access his everlasting love.  All the sin and wickedness that entered the world time and time again through man’s own sinfulness, pride, and unwillingness to surrender himself to the Almighty God, was offered up through Jesus’ divine intercession in and through his passion, death, and resurrection.  Without it, we could not share in the divine life of God.  What the criminal failed to see was that Jesus was saving him.  By entering into the depth of human suffering, Jesus took on all that was sinful in the world and offered it back to God in the sweetest offering in the history of mankind.  And all the criminal had to do to receive the Lord’s favor, like the good one, was repent; to face the ugliness of death—his spiritual death caused by his own sin—and humbly cry out for Jesus to remember him.

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This scene in the passion narrative is so powerful for us today because it calls us, too, to make a choice.  We can humble ourselves and examine our actions, repent of all that we choose that is contrary to God’s will and his goodness, and place our trust in a God who loves us to an extent that is beyond our comprehension.  In doing so, we receive the goodness of his love and presence here and now.  Or, we can turn a blind eye to the ugliness in our own life that hung our Lord to the cross that day, and reject his divine offering.

Sin is ugly and gruesome, and our instinct (much like the criminal’s) is to hide from it and turn a blind eye to it.  We stamp our feet demanding that the Lord save us as we simultaneously rest in our sin and take it for our own, clutching the very things that burden and enslave us.  We go on living in this manner, and jeer at him when we end up unhappy, burdened, and enslaved.  But the Lord God wants to free us of all of that.  He wants to transform the ugliness of our own lives (our sinfulness, our weaknesses, and especially our pain), and in conjunction with his own offering, help us rise to new life with him.

So we are called to make the choice: Will we look the ugliness of our sin—the sin that nailed our Lord to the cross—head on and repent, remembering the Lord’s profound love for us; or will we continue to turn a blind eye to him, mocking him as we lead lives so contrary to his love and goodness?

We have to make the choice.

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He Lights the Ways We Do Not Know

It’s been a while since I have written.  A big event occurred recently in our lives, and in these last few months I felt God calling me to stop talking and just listen and be with him.

I’ve hesitated sharing this, because it is so deeply personal, but as time goes on I’ve learned that it’s harder to move on and talk about other things when this is really on the forefront of my heart and mind.

A couple of months ago we unexpectedly found out that we were expecting another baby.  Overtime the news was met with excitement, but to be honest, it wasn’t our first reaction.  Before finding out, we had prayerfully discerned to wait a bit longer in between babies.  Though we knew we were both open to life and also wanting more children, the second line on the HPT nonetheless caused me to burst into a puddle of self-pity and fear.  I was afraid of many things, but looking back most of the fear came in feeling the loss of certain silly and selfish goods.

Lord, I’m finally sleeping through the night!

 My body is looking like it used to again! 

I was about to buy a new well-fitting bra! 

I’m beginning to exercise, 

am almost done nursing, 

and my hair just stopped falling out! 

I was immediately confronted with all of these emotions that conflicted with our very pro-life and God-knows-best way of living.  I was frustrated when I found out I was pregnant.  Frustrated and scared.

The question I kept asking God was, God, don’t you know my heart?  Don’t you know that I am just not ready yet?? And our Lord answered me in a way I hadn’t expected.

He sent me an image of his mother.

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When this image came to my mind all I could defiantly think at first was, “Lord.  I am not Mary.”

Mary’s yes was so immediate—she was so ready to accomplish the Lord’s will.  Even if it meant possible personal persecution, the loss of her marriage, and that her image might be compromised in the eyes of everyone around her.  She said yes without reservation: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to your word.”  And I felt so very far from being like her.

However, as I began to think of this image of Mary I slowly realized what God was really trying to tell me.  God doesn’t ask us to rid ourselves of the feelings and frustrations we have when something hard occurs in our lives.  He doesn’t want us to just get over it.  He wants us to bring those fears and frustrations to his feet and seek out what he is trying to teach and give to us in and through these events.  I think in giving me the image of his mother, Jesus wasn’t telling me to just get over my feelings.  He was calling me to dialogue.  This is precisely what it means to “ponder” things, and the very response Mary had whenever something good, challenging, and especially painful happened in her life.  The Lord was telling me, “I am here.  I see you, and I know your heart.  Trust in me.

So I began to trust.  I began to look around at my life, and through him, began to shed my fears and realize all the beauty around me.  Sure, things can be hard in raising children; there are lots of tears, fits, and obstacles to overcome. But through all of that, there is so much more beauty—the kind that comes from pouring yourself out completely in love for another.  All the kisses, growth, smiles, laughs, warm embraces, milestones, celebrations, all of it—even the craziness—is worth so much more than all the things I initially feared losing.  My kids fill my heart with joy that is overflowing, and more than that the love I have for them has transformed me into a much better version of myself.  It is all so very good.

When I told my husband the news, his response was an enormous support for me.  Part of me expected him to fall into that puddle I found myself in, but he was so quick to remind me how awesome our kids are and how a new baby means more to love.  His fears were similar to mine, but we worked through them together and his overall support washed away so many of the fears I had.

What I also began to remember is that the biggest part of being open to life is realizing that the creation of our children is not in our hands alone.  We are merely co-creators acting in participation with the God who is the very author of life.  Joe and I signed up for this when we got married: we vowed to allow God into our marriage, and to be open to his will for our lives and the lives of our children.

From that point on whenever those fears began to creep in again, I tried to remind myself of this. God is with me, he knows my heart, he has a plan for me and for the life of this baby.

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­­­I didn’t know it at the time, but God was calling me to fall on this reminder of his love in a deeper way than I could even imagine, and to take a journey with Mary that I never prepared myself for.

As time went on in the pregnancy and as me and my husband began to both settle into the idea and excitement of it all, I tried to go about things as normal as possible.  What was strange this time, though, was unlike with my previous pregnancies I wasn’t tired, sick, and I wasn’t a horrible grouchy monster.  This is a good thing, right?  No, I knew something was off because the one side-effect I did have was a whole lot of cramping.  As the days went on I found myself in the awful habit of continually checking for blood or any sign of complications.  Weeks went by and I began to think I was being crazy.

7 weeks into the pregnancy my fears were confirmed when the bleeding began.   I was forced yet again into a wave of fear and worry.  Since the bleeding was minimal and there wasn’t much a doctor could do, I decided to wait a couple of days to see if it would subside.  I resolved to pray, hope, and try to cease worrying, but when the bleeding hadn’t stopped I went to the doctor’s, sure that they would tell me I had lost the baby.  I lay on a cold recliner, halfheartedly making small chat with the nurse, waiting to hear the awful news.  Then I saw it for myself: the baby’s heart beating strong!  The nurse told me that the baby was almost 8 weeks old, and explained to me that bleeding can be very normal and not to worry too much because the baby’s vitals looked great.  It was great news, but as the bleeding increased a little day by day, so did the worry.  I wanted the bleeding to end…and when it did, it was in a way I wasn’t hoping for.

Every Thursday I lead a women’s bible study and the topic of the class this year is God’s divine Mercy.  That Thursday morning, I had no idea what was coming my way or how much I would have to rely on his merciful love, but God primed by heart through the witness of the women in my group. They spoke so beautifully about how God has worked in their lives, and how they were called at times to say yes to him (even during hardships), and embrace him (even when life presented challenges and pain).  As soon as class was over I knew I had to head to the ER, because as they talked of God, I began passing clots.  I sobbed the whole way to the hospital, knowing this visit to the doctor would be different.  On my way, though—as scared as I was—I felt both God and Mary present with me.  I think from the very beginning of this pregnancy, God was calling me to trust in him.  He was showing me what it means to whisper in my own heart the prayer Jesus prayed during his agony, “Lord, let your will be done,” and the similar inner prayer of Mary as she clutched her breast watching her son die before her eyes.  He doesn’t cause suffering and pain—they are a part of our fallen human condition—but we have the freedom to extend these sufferings to his hands, so he can transform us through them and help us rise again.  I felt in that moment, through all the pain, my call to trust him and fall at his feet.  As I tried my hardest to summon Jesus’ words for my own, I felt him whisper back to me: “I am here.  I see you and know your heart.  Trust in me.”

We lost our third baby on October 6th.  We named the baby Francis.

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This is so very hard to talk about and let alone write about. I sit here with tears streaming down my face as my beautiful kids play in front of me, so unaware that they have a sibling now with the Lord.  Some day when they are old enough we will share this news, and take them to where we buried the baby, and we can explain to them that despite our fears and anxiety, we chose life.  And what’s more, we can explain to them that when we were confronted with death, we were met with God’s merciful love, and faith in what is to come.

It is so very hard to talk about my reservations with being pregnant, especially after losing the baby.  How can I admit such an awful thing, and also explain how my soul aches at the thought of never being able to hold and kiss this baby?  All of the things I was afraid of pale in comparison to the life I wish was physically here now.

I wrestled for weeks over whether or not I should share such personal details, but I decided to go ahead because, besides miscarriage being taboo itself to talk about, I think it’s necessary to share what trust in God sometimes looks like: it’s not always easy, especially when things don’t go according to plan. I am talking about this now because I want to share how God’s love was present throughout all of this, despite my hesitations with his plans for my life.  I want to share how he was so very patient with me and showered me with compassion when I wanted to shout, yell, and pound my fists when things didn’t go according to my plan.  Through learning to trust in him, I can find the joy in this loss despite the pain—which I don’t think I could do without his merciful love. I am very thankful for this particular journey he asked me to go on, because through it I think he called me to a deeper level of trust, and also because I believe with all my heart that this baby is with him—we now have a little saint and piece of our family in heaven watching over us and praying for our family.

I will leave you with a passage from Isaiah 42, which spoke to me not long after our loss occurred.  I pray that this scripture remains carved on my heart in the future, and I hope that it brings you solace in your life when you need it, too:

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