Small Graces in Hard Times

Small Graces in

It seems every time I make a resolution to get serious about my writing things get really intense around my home. I’m not sure if God is telling me to be quiet or if it is just that life just gets really intense a lot. I suspect it is the latter, so here I go.

Recently one of our children had a very near brush with death and spent some time critically ill, including more than two weeks at various levels of hospitalization. This was, of course, an intensely difficult time for our family. So much so that I am not ready to share much more about it so publicly.

But as always, there are little gifts that God gives in these times. I thought I would share a couple of them with you.

About a week before the beginning of the crisis, I sat at Sunday mass wrestling with a very wiggly, noisy baby. At 11 months old, Gwendolyn was starting to understand how pointing works so it was a little easier to point out things in the church to distract her. Each time I would ask her, “Where is Jesus?” she would look up at the crucifix and be silent and still for a few seconds. It occurred to me that this was a simple prayer I could use in the chaos of my life.

I little knew how I would rely on it just a few short days later when a prayer of words seemed to be more than I could do. In those wild hospital days, I could think, “Where is Jesus?” and know immediately that He was right there with me. It helped me to refocus on Him, to incline my heart toward Him even when I was so overcome with concern, worry, and fear that I could barely think. It really felt like that little moment with my wiggly baby in mass had been a gift. God had given me the tool I would need to use days later, watching my child cry and suffer in a hospital room.

While our child was in the hospital, my husband Jay stayed with her during the nights and I stayed with her during the days. Friends and family swarmed around us with love and care. Two friends in particular spent hours sitting with me at the hospital. They were long, lonely hours and I would have crumbled without their presence. They had busy lives of their own, but they moved things around to be there for our family. (As did many others who brought food, watched our other kids, and provided spiritual support.) At one point when Jay and I were actually in the same room for a little bit he mentioned a text message he had gotten from his brother. He said, “Yesterday’s homily was about carrying our crosses. One of the saints was quoted as saying that Jesus gives the heaviest weight to His dearest friends.”

I realized for the first time what that phrase might mean. In the past it had just made me think, Why does anyone stay close to God? If this is how He treats His friends… It seemed like a cruel sort of relationship. But in that moment I thought about how hard we had been leaning on our friends. We brought them (and they came willingly) into our suffering in a very intimate way. They saw through our eyes, they felt with our hearts. We let them do that because we love them. We did not do this to cause them pain, but because there is a certain unity in our friendship.

God does not need us in the same way we needed our friends through this crisis. But He loves us with the fiercest of loves. In our relationship with Him we find a unity beyond our relationships with people. For the first time I could see why there is pain that can come with that love and intimacy. Instead of feeling picked on, I realized just how much He loves us.

We are past the hospital days now, and are working our way back toward normal. It has been such a stressful time, but God has shown us His love and presence in so many ways. Thank you, friends who helped us and prayed us through this. We couldn’t have made it without you.

Renting Space

CirclingJericho.com

There is a certain security that comes with the American way of life, an expectation that the future is predictable and controllable. For my family, home ownership has been a part of that security. It gives the appearance and expectation that what is ours is ours, under our control, and somewhat permanent – at least until we ourselves decide to make a change.

I am a planner by nature and thrive on that kind of predictability. When I feel overwhelmed my first impulse is to sit down and start making lists: things to do, stuff to get rid of, any way I can grasp to dig myself out of the mess I feel I am in.

Sometimes, however, that facade of control is lifted and we see our life here on earth as the temporary, wind blown thing that it is.

Eleven years ago, on a completely normal morning, I came to the realization that our house was on fire. Suddenly that normal, predictable morning became a pivot point into a time when our lack of control over our life was abundantly clear every moment of every day.

The insurance company moved us into a rental house, and suddenly everything we had was not our own. While we were well taken care of by our church community and our insurance, ownership and control were things we no longer had much access to. The house and everything in it were either items donated to us or rented by our insurance. Our furniture, sheets and towels, even our kitchenware were rented items as we waited for our house to be fixed. Suddenly the concept of stewardship became a glaring daily lesson of our lives.

With six children, we were living day by day on white carpet that didn’t even belong to us. White. Carpet. How on earth were we supposed to live with these belongings that weren’t even ours without damaging them? There was a clash between the need to live our daily lives using the tools given to us, and the need to be able to hand them back to their true owners without regret. The temporariness of our use of these things was never far from my mind. I was the steward, given use of these tools and trust of their care – but only for so long. These things were never meant to be mine to keep.

We eventually moved back to our home, replaced most of our belongings with new purchases and went on with life as normal. Ownership was again a comfortable existence. A few years later we moved to a new house, one that we meant to be our “forever home.” Again we settled in and filled all the corners, living our lives with the expectation that the situation was permanent and under control. But that is never how it works, is it?

Due to circumstances outside of our control we find ourselves again in a rental home, in a tangibly temporary situation. Each time I pass a wall that has a new scribble on it from the toddler (on flat paint, no less) I cringe and worry about the marks we are leaving here.

One day recently, as I was fussing to myself about not knowing how the next step of our living situation will pan out, I found myself remembering the days right after the fire. I was reminded that no matter how comfortable we are here, no matter how under control or permanent our situation feels, this is not our true home. We are only renting space here on earth. When I look toward my next home, I need to keep in mind that it is still not my permanent home, but only a working and resting place on the way to my true home. My home here is the school where I learn to love and serve God, and is not meant to be a place where I settle in and feel secure and comfortable and permanent. My belongings here are on loan, sometimes as blessings, sometimes as impediments and lessons on how to hold my own ideas for my life with a gentle grasp, ready to relinquish it for the next step towards heaven.

Ownership is a comfortable feeling. But when I remember that all this is temporary, then I can live better in the idea of God’s providence and a focus on my true home with Him, in Heaven.

Cleaning the Mirror

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Last weekend we had the privilege of attending a Called and Gifted workshop given by the St. Catherine of Siena Institute about finding our God given charisms.

What is a charism? From the St. Catherine of Siena institute website: “Charism” is a greek word used in the New testament for “favor” or “gratuitous gift.” Charisms, or spiritual gifts, are special abilities given to all Christians by the Holy Spirit to give them the power both to represent Christ and to be a channel of God’s goodness for people. Whether extraordinary or ordinary, all charisms ought to be exercised in the service of God. (CCC 2003)

I was excited to attend, but found myself in a state of fear as we drove home after the first night. We were given instructions to take a test to help us narrow down the areas to begin to discern our charisms, but we were instructed not to look at the potential outcomes, lest we semi-consciously try to influence the results of the test with what we want to be. I worried that either there wouldn’t be anything for me, or that my charism would be something along the lines of only mother-oriented tasks.

I know that what I do is valuable, but with the stress and intense activity of the last year, I had set aside almost everything I used to do that was not based in my vocation as a wife and mother. It began as a way to give myself a break, to remove pressure, and to reduce my to do list. But as the months ticked by I found myself unable to find a way to reintroduce those activities. Eventually they began to fade from memory entirely.

Even though it was already late when we arrived at home, I dutifully began my test. It took a little longer than the suggested 40 minutes, because I had to do it with the baby alternately sleeping and climbing all over me while I worked.

The test focused on 24 different charisms and had several questions relating to each one. Some things were easy and obvious to me, and some were things I wished I could say I did, but they didn’t characterize me at all. After I finished, I tallied up my scores and the instructions said to circle the 6 highest scores.

It was like I had been looking in a foggy, dirty mirror for so long and someone finally cleaned it. Suddenly I could see who I was again. None of the things were directly related to what I am in relation to others, but they were who I am. They showed the particular tools that are natural to me to use as I encounter others, my work, and the world.

Certainly, not all the things I scored high in are Charisms. Some my be talents or merely preferences. The test reminded me that I am not the sum of my roles in others’ lives. While charisms are other centered – they are meant to be used for the good of those around us – they also show how we are specifically gifted and called to act by the Holy Spirit.

Looking at my list, I saw that the things I do naturally are not just quirks or flaws, they are how God put me together, wound me up, and sent me out into the world. If my very first inclination in dealing with difficulty is to write about it and then read a book (or vice versa). Or if you come to me with a problem and the best thing I can do is offer you a metaphor for another way to look at your situation it’s not because I’m a socially stunted introvert*. It’s because God gave me a hammer and now everything looks like a nail.

*An exaggeration. I hope.

I’m not going to share specifics on the charisms at this point, either mine or in general. I still have a lot of discerning to do regarding mine and I want you to be able to find yours without a preconceived notion of what you want them to be. It is interesting to note that the items I tested high on fit perfectly with my Myers-Briggs personality type, INTJ, the brain in a jar personality.

Photo by Capture Queen, Creative Commons License.

Holding Me Back

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I don’t try to hide the fact that I have a larger than average family, but I don’t usually volunteer the information, either. It’s not that I am ashamed. I am just tired of having to either defend my choice or explain personal details of my life to an openly hostile or friendly but overly-curious public.

I am also not usually offended when people ask questions, even those they would never ask someone with one or two children, because in general I think people are just curious and want to know how others live.

This is a good thing because it builds our empathy as a society. It is my job to be kind to people and decide on my own personal boundaries for what I will and will not share.

This week I had an unusually negative encounter. I helped to chaperone a field trip for my 5-year-old’s kindergarten class. After touring the museum, we went to a park with the kids to eat lunch and let them play a while. A few of the parents and grandparents were talking around a picnic table when the conversation turned to pregnancy. I let slip that I was expecting our tenth child. I’m not sure why I did that, but it came tumbling out of my mouth. After clarifying that I did, indeed say “tenth” an older man told me, “You know, the Pope said you don’t have to breed like bunnies.”

I confess that I have been expecting this “helpful” advice since the Pope made those statements and have read some well done blog posts about the context of them in preparation. I still wasn’t ready. All I could stammer out was, “Those remarks were made in a much larger context.” He replied, “I don’t even know what that means.”

My cheeks were feeling hot, and I wasn’t thinking all that well. I just told him that there was a lot more that the Pope said about families during that conversation and the ones that came before it in the Philippines. And then I just waited and hoped that the subject would die there.

Maybe I should have been more ready to evangelize, especially since this man had just been talking about sending his granddaughter to a Catholic school next year. But I was tired, slightly nauseated, and had just spent two hours helping to keep track of a group of 5 year olds in a crowded museum.

The conversation didn’t die there. It got much worse. He then asked me something I have never been asked by a stranger before, “But don’t they hold you back?”

My mind reeled. Hold me back? How dare he suggest such a thing! I said, “Of course they don’t. My family is my life.” And I could almost feel him thinking, Silly girl, children have to grow up sometime, and you have to do other things besides raise children. Or maybe that was just the echo of my own thoughts. I excused myself from the conversation then, and went to help round up the children.

The problem with what he said wasn’t just that it was rude and intrusive, it was that I had that exact thought when I found out I was pregnant this time. Everyone was potty trained. Outings usually didn’t need any kind of stroller or special gear. Bedtime was a constant thing and I could expect a time every night when the little kids were all in bed, giving me time to read or unwind.

I had several mornings a week when everyone was in school and I could work on writing, shopping, or catching up with the general work that needed to be done. I didn’t have to pay for babysitting when I went to the women’s group at a local parish. My family is big and complicated, but suddenly I was finding a little space for myself to breathe and to get caught up on sleep. Not being sleep deprived is a wonderful feeling!

As I stared at those two pink lines that morning, I saw all that slipping through my fingers. My plans to spend the coming year writing and building my Etsy shop began to evaporate. I would wait a little longer to lose the baby weight. I was being held back.

I spent some time pouting about this and praying for a better attitude. Mixed into all this was the fear of another miscarriage. I knew I didn’t want that at all. A baby may be complicated, but it is not a time of physical and emotional suffering like a miscarriage. It was all tangled in my heart and mind.

The idea of “Holding Me Back” became like a rock in my shoe. It poked me, it irritated me. It was always present, and I didn’t like it. Finally as I began to revise the goals I had for the upcoming year, I decided it was time to let it go.

My family is indeed my life here, my marriage is my vocation. They have been my path to God and to the discovery of what I was put here to do. How could I then say that was holding me back? Could that possibly mean that these other ideas were holding me back from truly serving my family wholeheartedly?

This isn’t a new lesson for me. It seems I need to be retaught this one every few years. My heart gets restless and the mundane, repetitive parts of my life begin to drain my energy. I start to look around for ways to use my talents that can be seen by others, that are worthwhile to talk about among adults who have jobs. Then I am reminded that those others aren’t the ones I was put here to serve or impress.

This time my lesson came in the form of a beautiful book that has been instrumental in changing my heart: Into Your Hands, Father by Wilfred Stinessen. This book has been helpful in pointing out when my thinking starts going in circles.

For example, when I start trying to figure out exactly how something is God’s will and what He intends to use it for in my life. It is not my job to figure those things out. I can look into the past and see how He has used other events, both positive and negative, to bless me and guide me closer to Him.

That conversation threw me back into turmoil for a few hours, but I was able to remember why it wasn’t a problem. I will still pursue outlets for my talents and interests, but I will be more careful now of letting them hold me back from my family, especially from delighting in this precious new baby who is truly a gift.

My family does hold me back, mostly from my own very selfish heart. I hope that I can learn to not hold myself back from them.

 

Originally published 2/5/15 at CatholicStand.com
Photo by G. O’Beirne courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Older Brother

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I was very young when I first tasted the bitter pall of resentment. My first clear memory of its beginnings was when I was about six and my sister was three. Our family went to a gathering at another family’s farm — the lovely kind where there are lots of adults sitting around and talking, more food than we could all eat in a week, and bunches of happy children with plenty of room to run around.

We children began a game of tag, running around an open field. I was “it” a few times, and had a hard time catching anyone, but I played the game and did my best. And I think the older children probably let me tag them just to keep the game fun. There came a time when my sister was tagged and it was her turn to be “it”. Her response was to run to my parents, crying all the way, tattling on the older kids for their “meanness”.

My dad came stomping out and scolded us for treating her badly. He told us that she could play, but she didn’t have to be “it” at all.

As an adult, I realize that the poor kid was only three. Practically a baby. But what my six year old self saw was that my sister didn’t have to play by the same rules. Whereas I had to work hard to be part of the fun, she got the fun without the work.

This episode probably stands out in my mind because it was part of a much larger pattern. My sister is mentally ill, and there were signs from when she was very small. But it was a different time then, there were no resources for things like that, and it certainly wasn’t something that was discussed openly.

Growing up, I never knew something was wrong, I just knew that my sister was given a different set of rules to live by than I had. Over and over these moments dipped my heart in resentment. I felt slighted, like the game was set to my disadvantage.

Because of this, the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) has always been a hard one for me to swallow.

I totally understand where the older brother was coming from. He did all the right things! He stayed, didn’t ask for his inheritance early. He was working while his younger brother partied! And if the younger brother was back on good terms, that would mean that he would probably have to split his inheritance with him again. Maybe that is just speculation, but I know in his place that would have crossed my mind.

Any time this story comes up as the gospel reading or in bible study, I get a little grumpy. How does the older brother end up being the one in the wrong? Sure, he has kind of a chip on his shoulder, but who wouldn’t?

I try to remember that I am really the younger brother here. I do things all the time to waste the grace that was poured on me. I am a sinner and doing things that should lose my inheritance each and every day. It helps a little to think about that, but it doesn’t really fix the heart issue going on here. I still know so deeply the resentment the older brother felt. It clings to me, and I am afraid I sometimes cling to it as well.

I don’t even remember where I read it, but there came a time when I stumbled upon a discovery about this passage that changed my perception of it completely. The older brother refused to come in the house when he saw the big celebration that was being thrown for his brother.

“He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. – Luke 15:28

Did you catch that last part? His father came out and pleaded with him. He went out to him in much the same way he had gone out to meet his younger brother.

Oh.

When I am feeling the part of the older brother, I have to look around and see the gifts and graces that are mine, and remember that the Father has come out to me, to welcome me and invite me in. I have the choice to stay angry and cold or to let my heart melt and accept His love. Sometimes that is much clearer than trying to connect myself with the younger brother, knowing that the older one is standing to the side seething. The older brother has his moment of conversion and humility too, and so do I.

Originally posted at Catholic Stand 5.29.2014

9 Hours a Week

"Wooden hourglass 3" by User:S Sepp - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wooden_hourglass_3.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Wooden_hourglass_3.jpg

I am now the proud owner of 9 hours of all-to-myself time every week. 3 hours, 3 days a week, minus about half an hour for driving each day, so that is an hour and a half lost. Still, that means I have 7.5 hours a week.

  • I thought I might join a gym.
  • I thought I might start running again.
  • I thought I might keep the house clean and the shopping up to date.
  • I thought I might organize our belongings and declutter the house.
  • I thought I would take all of our files paperless.
  • I thought I might go window shopping.
  • I thought I might write more.
  • I thought I might start selling my rosaries again and open an Etsy store.
  • I thought I might take up piano again.
  • I thought I might go back to school (which proved too expensive.)
  • If I couldn’t go back to school I thought I might just read through a bunch of classics.
  • I thought I might check facebook just one more time…

All in 7.5 hours per week. I think I need a reality check.

What I realized on a retreat a few weeks ago is that I have been running on empty – or less than empty, actually going into energy-debt, for years now. I need to learn how to stop and breathe. I need to refill my inner tank so that I can better fill the tanks of my husband and children. I will dabble in many of the above things I listed, but when people ask me what I am going to do with myself now that I have all this time the answer will probably be “Not much.”

Just Show Up

 

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This is hardly the most controversial topic of our time, but I have heard complaints on both sides of the fence on it. Jeans in Mass: yes or no?

As a family, we have always had a sort of dress code for mass. The girls have to wear dresses or skirts of reasonable length. After first communion, no bared shoulders; sundresses need a sweater over them. Boys have to wear a collared shirt and nice pants or shorts. Then after third grade, no shorts.

Everyone is supposed to wear dress shoes and appropriate socks, girls can wear nice sandals, but there are times when crocs were the only shoes available so we had to go with those. I try to follow the dress code as much as possible myself, although I am more likely to wear dress pants simply because they are safer for toddler wrangling.

Some other families I know have a much more relaxed idea about what to wear to mass, and some are much more stringent. My friends and I have discussed what we wear to mass and why, and I have always found it interesting to hear the reasons people have for their ideas on clothing that is appropriate for mass.

I chose our dress code because I felt that was helpful in setting the mass aside as something special and different, but I have also often found it burdensome at times. I have heard people argue for more casual clothing in mass, saying that we should be able to “Just Show Up” and not worry about the extra stress of a particular set of clothing.

There have been times, especially recently, when I felt like getting dressed up for mass was more than I could handle, but I felt guilty arriving just as I was at the time. Once my focus shifted from why I was going to mass to what we were all wearing there, I knew it was time to reexamine my theories on our attire.

First and foremost, the mass is about connecting with and receiving Jesus. No matter what I wear, I need to remember that and teach my children as well. But there are other things to consider:

1. Getting dressed for mass changes my behavior and mindset. (and it shouldn’t be changing into a state of rage that the shoes are lost…) The body reflects and influences the mind and heart.

2. It sets the mass aside from cleaning house and chasing kids and <insert whatever else you do here>. This feels different and it takes effort to be different.

3. It can be an expression of respect. If I were going to meet a very important person face to face, I would probably change out of my grungy t-shirt, jeans, and tennies. Doesn’t Jesus deserve at least that?

However, I have found lately, in a time of stress, that I needed to let some of those ideals go. I needed to just show up and let my presence at mass be the expression of my love. We moved, fixed up a house, and had a bunch of kids start school all in the space of a month, and mini-crises were flinging themselves at me at every turn. I hit a point when showing up was all I could do. So I released my ideals and went to mass in jeans.

What we wear to mass is only part of the story. Just showing up is fine at times, I think. It is a little like spiritual camping. We take things down to their very basic level and do what we can to live our relationship with Jesus from there.

But we can’t stay there. Just showing up should be a temporary state. Camping might be nice, but we can get a whole lot more done – in both work and enjoyment – in our usual elements.

Whether or not I choose to wear jeans to mass, there has to be some step beyond just showing up. That will mean different things for different people. Studying the readings, spending some time praying before the Blessed Sacrament, getting involved in a ministry, and introducing yourself to someone in the community are all ways to do more than just show up.

For me, during this stressful time, I knew I needed to focus on the readings a little more than usual and pray with them. I needed to quiet my spirit, and taking my focus off my clothes helped with that.

If you find that time after time, showing up is the most you can do at mass, keep coming! Keep showing up! You are still a needed an vital part of the Church. But don’t be afraid to reach out, to find help to move beyond that.

Jesus accepted and rejoiced when the widow gave her penny, it was all she could do at the time. But he asked the rich man for much more. What is He asking of you now? Is it all the effort you can give to get to mass? Or is He asking you to stretch yourself and go beyond  your usual experience of your faith? Ask those questions often, and He will show you how to grow.

You have to start somewhere, though, so by all means, just show up!

But don’t only show up.

Originally posted on Catholic Stand 8.21.2014

Prayer is Effective

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I recently read a conversation on social media regarding the suffering of Christians in the Middle East. One commenter was complaining that she didn’t know what she could actually do about it, aside from praying. Another person responded, “Either we believe prayer is effective, or we don’t. If we do, we need to act like it.”

I realized that I often treat prayer as the thing to do when there is nothing left to be done, only when I am powerless do I stop and ask for help from God. But I think I have it upside down. No matter what effect I can have on a situation, prayer needs to be first.It’s not that I shouldn’t act to help these and other needs, but my help should be in addition to my prayers, not the other way around.

You know what that does? It reduces my self-importance in the equation. If I have a sick friend and I can help by watching her kids or bringing dinner, great! That is a good help to her. It is even more important that I pray for her or her family. When Christians are being persecuted across the world and I can send some money to a trusted ministry to help them, that is meaningful. The money is good, but the prayer for those who are suffering and for their oppressors is vital.

Wait, what? How can that be more important than dinner? Than needed funds for suffering people? Action seems to speak louder! That is just ridiculous. So I ask again…

Do I believe prayer is effective or not?

It is so easy to forget the spiritual aspect of our lives, of our very being when the physical, visible world is throwing itself at our senses everywhere we turn. The physical world begins to feel more real, more permanent. The spiritual world begins to seem like a fantasy.

Most of the time it is not for us to know exactly what the answer to or effect of our prayer is. We have to hand this little tiny piece of ourselves over to God and trust that He will know what to do with it. He told us to pray. Do we believe it is meaningful and effective or just a psychological exercise He wants us to go through on a regular basis?

Prayer is effective in connecting us to God. It reorients our faces towards Him when our natural state is to flit around like butterflies. Sometimes He allows our prayers to be part of a change in situation, and sometimes we are the ones who are changed. It is the very air our souls need to breathe.

Aw, who am I to talk about prayer? I am kind of terrible at it. I always feel like what I am not saying is more than what I am saying. I get distracted, I even forget what I am doing. Sometimes I forget to do it at all. This idea, though, that I need to act like I believe, specifically in prayer, is a game changer. Maybe it doesn’t have to be that complex. St Therese said, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned towards heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” CCC 2558.

Since reading that social media comment, I have found myself asking, when I feel tempted to be in control of all the aspects of my life before me, Do I believe that prayer is effective? Do I believe God will hear me and respond?

I do believe. Now I am trying harder to act like it.

Phases of a Fiat

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As an oldest child, and then later the mother of a crew, being in charge is just my natural state of being. I have always looked with awe on Mary’s answer to the angel, how she jumped headlong into what God asked of her even though she had big plans. How did she just let go like that? I know, she was full of grace but still, like I said, Plans.

So many others in the scriptures and throughout our faith history have done similar things. Abram dragged his family across the desert to an unknown land, Moses went back to Egypt (with plenty of attempts to negotiate first!) to free his people, David . . . he had his struggles with surrendering to God, but he really tried, and succeeded is some very big ways. St. Francis walked away from his rich life and began to put together a broken church with his own hands. The examples of those who have lived a life of “Yes” to God are really to many to list. I knew from early on this was an important part of living my faith.

Then there are the parts in scripture about anxiety. Having an “in charge” personality almost means that anxiety is part of the fabric of who I am. If I am not feeling anxiety about something, then I am probably ignoring or forgetting some major aspect that I should be worrying and scheming about, right? But over and over again, the scriptures remind us not to worry.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. (Philipians 4:6)

Those are just a few of them.

Recently I noticed that my efforts to follow in Mary’s footsteps led me through a few somewhat predictable phases of surrender.

Phase One: “Whatever.”

This is when I tell God that whatever He wants is good with me. During this phase I am comfortable and not afraid. I know that whatever happens will be used for good, even if not until heaven, and I am so thankful to have a break from anxiety that I just kind of toss my hands in the air. It’s like going out to eat and when the waitress comes to take your order you tell her to just pick something for you. (I’ve never been daring enough to try something like that.) But I can take deep breath in that moment and tell God, “Whatever. Just do your thing.”

Phase Two: “Bring It On”

When I’ve been riding on the “Whatever” wave for a while and some Stuff has begun to happen, I find my ability to live in a state of surrender changes a bit. Some of this Stuff is great, some is surprising, but some of it I am not happy with. My plans are shifting, we hit some crises as a family. At this point in the journey, I am starting to maybe feel a little bit beat up on. I begin to count the cost of living in a state of surrender, and I wonder if it might be more than I can pay. And this is when God and I get in a little fight. (I’m generally the only one fighting.) I start complaining and yelling and say, “You want surrender? You got it. Bring it on. Do what your going to do even though I will probably hate it.”

I never said I didn’t have an attitude problem. This is obviously not the kind of “Yes” which God is looking for, it’s more of a spiritual temper tantrum. But I take comfort that God is my Father and as a perfect parent, He will patiently wait while I fall apart a little. In these moments I can clearly picture Him holding me like a small child while I beat my fists on His chest and cry. When I have calmed down, He is still there, loving me, cradling me.

Phase Three: The Volcano

In the movie “Joe vs. the Volcano” (Spoiler alert!) Tom Hanks is Joe, a poor working stiff who is dragging himself through life not feeling well. He is convinced by a sham doctor that he is going to die. Another man offers him the business opportunity to jump into a volcano on a remote Pacific island for some various reasons. On the way Joe falls in love with Patricia (Meg Ryan), the boat captain. When they arrive at the island Joe and Patricia get married and then he tells her that he is still going to jump into the volcano. Since they have been through some very unlikely challenges already, she decides to jump with him and says a great line, “Nobody knows anything, Joe. We’ll take this leap, and we’ll see. We’ll jump, and we’ll see. That’s life, right?

Then they jump. At that precise moment the volcano explodes and they land safely in the water, because of course they do.

Phase three is when I feel like God is asking some really big changes of me or my family. It feels like jumping into a volcano. I struggle with fear during this time, trusting that one way or another God will allow me to land in the water, but I worry about how burned I will be before I get there. Did you catch the primary words in that last sentence? Fear and worry. When I am in this phase of attempted fiat, I am abiding in fear and worry and not in God.

I was trying. Trying to live a life of surrender and love for God, trying to let Him lead me, but I wasn’t all that sure that He wouldn’t go all crazy and dole out the kind of life that Job had; Job, who had trusted Him so deeply.

This phase is a little like a spiritual post traumatic stress disorder. Our intentions can be good, but we can’t get past ourselves, our own fears and plans. When I realized that this scenario of jumping into a volcano was playing in my head with regards to trusting God, I knew I was in trouble, that my view of God and my relationship to Him had somehow become skewed. The amazing sacrament of confession and extra time in prayer were balm for my soul and helped me to move on to…

Phase Four: “Anything”

There is a subtle difference between telling God “Whatever” and whispering “Anything.” I started with the intention of echoing Mary’s Fiat in my own life, but it was more like I had just kind of thrown it at Him and left Him to do the dirty work. Anything feels more like sharing these moments of my life with God in real time as they happen. Anything feels like walking hand in hand.

One of the primary things I realized as I pondered the problems and joys of surrender is that when Mary uttered her fiat, she was answering one question. She lived her life with the expectation that it was all for the glory of God, but in that moment, there was only one question asked. As I had stumbled through my journey towards surrendering my will and saying “Yes” to God, I kept trying to do it all at once, to make my “Yes” encompass my whole life when what I really needed to do was say “Yes” in the next moment.

I’m sure there are many more phases that a person can go through when it comes to surrender. I don’t think I have come to the end of my journey through the ones I have listed. I am sure I will circle back through them many more times in my life. Slowly I am learning what it means to set myself aside and trust Him, and to hold my expectations and plans with an open hand.

Originally posted on Catholic Stand 6.26.2014

Accidentally Sacrificial

I want to be more faithful (1) copy

I was holding all the water bottles and I didn’t even realize it until another mom pointed out that the kids had left me with all their stuff.

We were at a stargazing event for my son’s class. A local astronomy club had come out to share their telescopes with the kids and parents.  It was a generous gesture on their part, but I had other things I wanted to do with my Friday night. Still, I was able to leave the two youngest kids at home, so even I  had a chance to look into the telescopes myself.

But at that moment I was standing by myself in a crowd of people who were all chatting with each other, holding 4 water bottles and a homemade telescope. When that mom elbowed me and laughed that I was stuck with the stuff, I realized that for that moment I didn’t really care. It didn’t even bother me at all. The real kicker is that I had been doing it for quite awhile before I realized that this was really different.

I’m usually not one to sacrifice very easily, and if I can do it, it usually comes with a lot of whining. But as I watched my children flit from telescope to telescope and then run up and down the field, there wasn’t even a bit of resentment, and I thought, I can do this! I have it in me to be that patient parent who lets their kids do something even if it means they have to hold all the water bottles.

I realize this is no great sacrifice, this is just one of those things that is expected as a parent. There are no gold stars for standing and holding your child’s water while they have a learning opportunity. But I caught a glimpse of myself as a person who could make bigger, more meaningful sacrifices. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday. I lost track of worrying about myself for those moments, and it felt so good.

Of course, being the imperfect person that I am, it only took getting in the car and having a child throw an “empty” water bottle my way which then spilled on my leg for me to be decidedly un-sacrificial and focused on myself.

There are many ways that every parent sacrifices themselves for their children, spouse, and family. What I am finding is that the big ways are often easier times to forget myself and think only of another person; having a baby, going through health struggles with a child, helping my husband with a hard job, are all ways that living in a sacrificial manner is so obvious that it comes a little easier – there is no other way to go through those kinds of things without leaving yourself behind a little, it just comes with the territory. It’s the tiny ways that trip me up; the water bottles to carry, the spills at dinner, the lost shoe, all these are times when my sacrifice of my own will seems like so small a thing that I can moan about having to step out of my own plans. Those are the times I usually find myself reacting before I even know I have a choice in the matter.

Matthew 25:23  – His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

One by one, I hope that finding these small victories (and the defeats too) can help me make further steps in dying to self. I want to be more faithful, even in the small things.