Monthly Archives: December 2012

changing direction

Life has a habit of throwing us curves!  When a curve comes along, it requires some shifting of direction and sometimes turns us totally around to where we are heading in the exact opposite of direction.  That is what a conversation I took part in last week had within our life.  A very simple easy conversation with friends ended up causing a change of direction for at least one of our children and as a result will affect our whole family.

Since we decided to pull out of the public school 9 years ago over Christmas break, we have talked about whether that was the right decision or not several times.  The answer has always been that it was the right decision and to keep on keeping on.  But, this year, the question didn’t have such a ‘ready’ answer.

Our oldest is now in college and will be graduating in May from college.  She still says that homeschooling through Jr High and High School was the right answer for her.  Our second daughter is now a senior in high school.  She was in 3rd grade when we pulled out and never wanted to go back.  She is now completing her high school diploma while also working towards her degree in Culinary Arts at a local community college.  Our youngest two have never known anything but homeschooling and so as such the only question about ‘regular’ school that I get is about whether they could ever ride a school bus.  For some reason, that yellow school bus has a huge influence on them.  They want to ride the school bus but they don’t want to leave home at the same time.  They want to ride the school bus if it means that I ride with them.

Our middle daughter is the exception.  Ever since we pulled out of school when she was in 1st grade, she has been interested in going back.  Most of her elementary grade years, it has been a toss-up as to which she wanted more.  She likes homeschooling but longs for the peer interaction on a constant basis.  With co-ops, band, 4-H, youth group etc, she has had peer interaction, but she has always wanted more.  So, we are opting to enroll her now and to re-evaluated again at the end of this year.

This change in direction will have an effect on all of us.  Between transportation needs to and from the school (about 20 minutes away from our home), a set school schedule that we have to work around, uniform codes, a new budget, and most importantly changes in our daily routines and schedule.  She has work to do to finish her semester of home school work while starting at the new school which is on trimesters.  Lots of directional changes coming for all of us!

And all of this came from one simple question by a friend.. “Why wait?”  Those two words brought about a U-turn in our life.  It made us really evaluate why are we waiting to allow her to transfer in?  Yes, there would be advantages to waiting to transfer at the beginning of the year but there are also disadvantages too.    The same goes for transferring now.  Many advantages and disadvantages!  So, through some pretty intent discernment, we sorted through the advantages and disadvantages and ultimately decided to take the U-turn and see where this path leads us.

With God’s grace and help, we will be able to ultimately know whether we need to move forward along this path or do another U-turn come next summer.  *sigh*  Did I mention that life is also a roller coaster? :-/

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family and forgiveness…

Today, family is on my mind.  I won’t go into all of the reasons, but needless to say it just is.  As I think of family and Scripture together, the passage that immediately pops into my mind is that of the Prodigal Son.

And He said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’  So he divided his wealth between them.  And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.  Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.  But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!  I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’  So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;  and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;  for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’  But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.  But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;  but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”  Luke 15:11-32

A talk I once heard about these passages caused me to look at them in a way that I never had before.  Before, I had always looked at it either impartially trying to see all sides or from one of the character’s view and motivation.  Much can be said from all of these approaches to this Scripture.  But, this particular talk challenged us to look at it as a ‘whole’.

When looked at as a whole, the emphasis is on looking at the big picture — the message before, during, and after.  Looking at the ultimate ‘after’ message, one thing is certain.  This passage does not act like a crystal ball and give us all of the answers to human nature and what NOT to do in relationships with each other.  In fact, it is important to note that the passage does not end with a ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.  Even though forgiveness is the basis of the story, there is no guarantee that another issue didn’t blow up the next day.  The realities of human nature tell us that the one son was probably still a jerk and the other continued to be jealous,  feeling that life was totally unfair.

But, what it does tell us when looking at it this way, is that God’s love for me does NOT depend on me being good all of the time nor depend on me changing my behavior.  God loves me.  Period.  Even when I am acting selfish, arrogant, humble, proud, jealous, materialistic, disrespectful and oh so much more.  No matter what I do, God loves me and He is not waiting for me to love Him first.  Rather, due to God’s love, I WANT to change, to grow, and to become more like Him.  I want to do these things in response to His love.  NOT to earn it.  I realize how much God loves me and I want to love Him in return.

God’s love is concrete, not abstract.  It isn’t a thought that floats around out there that I sometimes catch a whiff of.  Instead it is the constant, ever-present reality of the blessings He has showered me with in this life.  My husband, my children, my extended families, my friends, my acquaintances.  Everybody and everything shows me the reality of the constant of God’s love………. IF I am willing to allow myself to see it.  IF I don’t allow the veils of pride, arrogance, selfishness, and anger blind me to the truth, I will see it.  With or without my glasses, it is there.  (Although, in some situations, bifocals can be very helpful LOL!)

Lord, may I always have the ability to take off my veils and blinders and to see all that You have blessed me with as the blessings that they are.  Even when they don’t look like a blessing to me.

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distractions, distractions…

As a mother of 5, I don’t think there has been a distraction out there I haven’t experienced at one time or another.  Life is made up of distractions.  But, are they really distractions?

Fr. John this morning told us of a little ‘experiment’ a seminary professor did with his students.  This professor set up this plan to see what his students would do.  First, he broke his class up into groups of 5 students.  The first group was told that they needed to go across campus to another building to pick up the assignment.  If they got there within 15 minutes after the end of class they would get extra credit.  If they were later than 15 minutes, they would only get 50% of the extra credit.  The second group, he told they also needed to go across campus to the same location but that they needed to be there within 30 minutes to get the extra credit.  If they were late, they would only get 25% of the extra credit. The third group was told the same assignment, but given 3 hours to get to the other location.  If they were late, they would only get 10% of the extra credit.

Well, the professor also set up ‘distractions’ along the way.  He asked 3 drama students to help try to distract the students en route to the second location.  The students were to act like they were in pain (1st student), unconscious in the middle of the sidewalk (2nd student) and then having seizures (3rd student).

The results were interesting and say a lot about who we are as a society and how we are raised.  The 1st group of 5 students, didn’t stop at all at any of the distractions, and all received full extra credit points.  The 2nd group had 2 that stopped and the 3rd had all of them stopping to help those on the path.

What does this say?  Father talked about it as our “go,  go, go” society.  How, we go along totally focused on our task at hand and not even seeing what is around us.  This is especially true of us when we are in a hurry.  My thoughts went along a slightly different track although I agree wholeheartedly with Father.  I am notorious for not seeing my nose on my face when I am in a hurry and rushing around.

But, today is also the Feast of Juan Diego.  Juan Diego was on a path going from one place to another.  His distraction along the way was a bit more than someone needing help along the path, it was the Virgin Mary.  But, at first did he recognize that?  No, I don’t think he did.  At first, he wasn’t sure what was happening and who this lady was.  But, he stopped.  He listened.  He obeyed.  His distraction led him to a one on one encounter with the Mother of God.  But, what if he had been like that first group of students?  What if he didn’t stop?  Wow — it is almost too sad to think about.

But, how do we know that the distractions that are in our path are unimportant things?  We don’t.  When I was on retreat in November, distractions were one of our reflections.  Instead of thinking bad of the distractions that come our way and being frustrated by their intrusion into our perfectly ordered day, how do we turn that around and realize that distractions can lead us to God.

Perception is everything.  At this point of the year with all of the tasks on the to do list, it is easy to get frustrated with those things that are slowing us down and keeping us from checking things off of our list.  But, the challenge is to not rush through life, but to take our time and to look for God in those distractions.  He is there.  But, if we don’t look, we won’t see Him.

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am I a monkey or what?

One of the seminars at my recent retreat was on monkeys.  There was a study done on monkeys with a gourd.  They put a banana into the gourd and then put it in front of a monkey.  The monkey would look in, see the banana, and then reach in to get the banana out.  But, as it tried to get the banana out, he couldn’t!  His hand wouldn’t fit through the opening while it was wrapped around the banana.  So, what did the monkey do?  Sat there with his hand stuck inside this gourd.  He wouldn’t let go of his “prize” and so in doing, he ended up trapped.

How often am I acting like a monkey???  Actually, that was a rhetorical question, so please no answers in the comments please!

But, it is so easy to see something we want, determine that it is worth “going” for and then realize after we have it that there are additional “gifts” that aren’t always so pleasant that are included for no price!  In this way, we act no different than the monkey with his hand in the gourd.  We set our sight on the goal without looking at the full picture.  Christ calls us to have full sight, not blind sight.

So, I guess it is time to let go.

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Don’t just do something…stand there!

Don’t just do something….stand there!

I LOVE this phrase!  At my recent retreat, this was the basis of one of our conferences.  As a busy wife, mother, homeschool teacher, church volunteer and manager in our family business, I can vouch for how life rarely slows down!  Most days, I feel like Martha, constantly fretting about what needs to be done and frustrated when those around me aren’t helping with all of the tasks.  In fact, this morning, I woke up to the alarm only to roll over and pull a stunt my teens do – I pulled the sheets back over my head and burrowed down trying to ignore the fact that I really should get up.  It is SO easy to get overwhelmed and to want to just leave it all and disappear some days.

There is much on my mind that I am worried or fretting about.  Laundry hasn’t gotten done in the house for 3 days while I have been busy at the clinic.  Laundry for a household of 6 individuals is a math problem.  The amount of the problem one day grows not by multiples but by exponents every hour it isn’t being tackled.  And when laundry isn’t getting done, the general house straightening isn’t either.  Those two seemed to be very closely intertwined.  On top of that, my desk is going to collapse soon under the weight of the mountains of paper that have been accumulating.  Accounts payable, accounts receivable, household bills, monthly expense breakdowns, school papers needing graded, books needing put away, items needing ordered, and so much more litter every available surface of my U-shaped desk and the floor around it.

Added on top of these general chores piled up are the worries about the future.  Will our landlord agree to extend the lease or do we need to move?  How long will it be before we hear from him about the fate of the lease?  Will his response be in time to get this other house that would work well for us before someone else snatches it up?  When will we have the time to decorate for Christmas let alone do the Christmas shopping?  Then, there is the baking and special menus for the holidays.  And plans for a holiday card party for the college student while she is home.  And so much more that I don’t even want to think about right now!

When I get into modes like this, my body and brain just shut down.  It is like I can’t make myself do anything (which is a frustration within itself!).  I know it needs to get done but I find myself so easily distracted by other things (like this blog LOL) and just want to sit and stare into space.

I wonder if that was what Mary was thinking and feeling in the Martha/Mary Scripture. I wonder if all of the tasks and blustering about that Martha was doing was getting to Mary and so she just zoned out of the impossible list of tasks and just spent her time instead gazing at the Lord.

The impossible task is to figure out how to do both.  Chores need done, laundry needs washed, food needs prepared, and so much more needs done — but if we aren’t also sitting and gazing at our Lord, is any of it worth it?  The answer to our restlessness and being overwhelmed doesn’t lie in time management or organizational tricks.  The answer is in our God.  He is the answer to all of it and when nothing seems possible He is where we need to turn.  He is the sight we need to focus on  to help us put our priorities back into perspective.  He makes all things right and possible.

 

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Who is God?

When I was on retreat in November, the retreat director started off the first conference with a basic question.  Who is God?

Well, immediately, my mind jumped to the classic Baltimore Catechism answer…. {think sing-song voice as you read this}…. “God is the Supreme Being who made all things”.  And I was even proud of myself for remembering that (after drilling my own kids in the catechism for years — not from my own childhood).  But, he took the discussion in a different direction that caught me off guard.  You see, it is easy to ‘know’ someone by knowing the facts about them.  For example, you might know me by my name, birthday, children, husband, where I live, etc.  These are all facts.  Facts are easy to find out and easy to answer just by looking at a driver’s license or other legal documents.  But, is this the same as truly knowing them?  NO!

So, how do we truly know someone, especially someone like God?   To know someone in that light, we need to know who they are deep within their soul.  What drives them, what is important to them, who/what they love, how they make decisions, what brings them joy, what brings them sadness, and so much more.  But, this type of knowledge is closer to the type of knowledge I hope my spouse has for me.  A knowledge that means I don’t have to hide anything from him.  A knowledge that accepts me for who I am and for what I think even if he doesn’t agree with me.  A knowledge and understanding that surpasses many times what I even know of myself.

It finally dawned on me.  **light bulb moment** (I know — I’m dense.)   I know that God wants to be in relationship with me.  I know and understand (thanks in large part to our study of Theology of the Body) that ultimately, God wants a spousal relationship with us.  But, I guess I had always thought before about this relationship coming from Him.  I hadn’t really thought much about my part in it.  I realize now that there isn’t a relationship at all when there is just one person working at it.  Both people need to be invested and need to give to the other sacrificially and through this self-sacrifice, true unity and true knowledge can finally come alive.  {wow — I even amaze myself — ha!}

So, what does this mean to me now … in Advent… as I work to prepare myself for the feast of His birth?  As I strive to know Him in the here and now?  It tells me that for me, I want that spousal kind of relationship/knowledge with Him.  It tells me that I need to give to Him and not just take from Him.   It means that just like I spent the time getting to know my husband while dating, I need to spend that time with God.  For only through the true gift of myself to Him and through my acceptance of His gift to me, will I come to truly know Him the way I should.  Wow.  What a gift that would be!

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always behind… reflections on retreats

So, here it is, Tuesday of the 1st week of Advent and I am already behind by 2 posts for my own Advent challenge.  As usual, life has taken over my time, thoughts and prayer time.  But, I have to realize that Rome wasn’t built in a day and I am not going to change a 40-some year habit overnight.  So, onward and hopefully, upward.

Ever since I attended my first retreat in college, I have been hooked!  I have attended Koinonia, church sponsored and silent retreats and have given retreats as a youth minister and as a retreat director at a retreat house.  I think I have been hooked on retreats because of my personality.  I am very much a ‘in the minute’ type of person.  I do plan for the future with menu planning, lesson planning, schedule planning and couldn’t live my crazy life without them, but I work hard at being very present to what is happening around me at that particular moment.  I enjoy people and interacting with them.  My husband might think I’m weird, but I have met some really nice people in some pretty ‘unorthodox’ places — including the bathroom. 🙂  So, by living life like this, I tend to miss some pretty obvious signs that are right in front of my face since I’m not ‘looking’ for them then.  So, retreat has always been a time that I can focus on my life and to take a look at where I have been, who I have been with, and does this all match up with the deepest desires of my heart which are to know Him, love Him and serve Him with every breath I take.

When I go on retreat, I never know what God has in store for me.  Whether I am giving the retreat or participating in the retreat, I am always surprised by God’s plans for me.  I have learned over the years that my plans are not always His plans, and so I have learned to open myself to whatever He has in store for me.  And the good news is that He NEVER disappoints me!  No matter what the weather is, who the retreat director is, who else is with me on retreat, retreat is always a time of rest and re-focusing.  It is like going to the eye doctor and finding that your eyesight has worsened and you need new glasses.  By the end of the visit, walking out with these new glasses is always so refreshing!  Every thing looks so much clearer, sharper, and so much nicer!

When I go for my silent retreats every year, I used to feel guilty for falling asleep during the quiet reflection times.  But, now I realize that when we are asleep, God doesn’t have to scale the walls we tend to put in place while we are awake.  At rest, we are the most open!  I remember when I had newborns in the house and was VERY sleep deprived.  Nothing was clear and everything seemed like a mountain to climb!  Those first few nights when your little one sleeps for a longer block of time and you actually get some decent sleep are such a wonderful gift!  Once again, you feel like you might actually be able to do this impossible task of being a parent once again.  Without sleep, nothing is possible.  With sleep, everything is possible.

One year while I was on retreat, I remember talking to one of the spiritual advisors about not wanting retreat to end.  I explained that I loved retreats so much and I felt so close to God while on retreat that I didn’t want to go home.  He looked at me and asked me what I thought was different about retreat and home.  I laughed!  EVERYTHING!  I said.  Then, he just looked at me with a little grin on his face and said it is only different because I make it different.  It is my choice.

So, during this time of Advent, I choose to use this time like a retreat within my daily life.  This isn’t about leaving the chaos of my daily routines and responsibilities, but about finding God in the midst of them.  If we truly believe that we are the body of Christ, then we are surrounded by Christ every day, every minute.  Thank you all for being Christ for me!

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memories awakened by a cough…

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I attended my annual silent retreat at the Jesuit retreat house in St. Louis.  While on retreat this year, I noticed another woman who was there and her presence seemed to be very prominent throughout the weekend.  At first, this REALLY bothered me!  You see, I noticed her not for her looks, from meeting her or any of the usual ways but by her cough.  She had my mom’s cough.

For anyone who has known someone who battles or did battle COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you will know the cough I mean.  This is a cough that sounds like it is coming from the depth of a person’s being.  It is a deep, heavy and full cough.  And it is constant.  It becomes a background noise that is always there.  This is the type of cough this woman had.  Now, I have been going on this particular retreat now for 9 years.  I don’t remember seeing or meeting this woman on any of the other retreats.  But, boy do I remember her from this one!  It seemed like everywhere I went, she was there.  In chapel, she was sitting 2 rows directly behind me.  At night, she was in the room across the hall.  When I would sit in the lounge, she was usually across the room.  Wherever I went, I was followed by this cough.

I say it that way because I didn’t meet the woman herself until after the retreat was over.  But, I felt like I knew her because of the emotions that her cough brought to me!

At first, I was angry that she was there.  The sound of the cough just grated on my nerves and I was inwardly very angry that this cough was disturbing the silence that I long for all year until I am on retreat.  My anger grew when I was awakened several times the first night due to her coughing.  I prayed very hard asking God to help me find the silence I desired!  I went for walks during the breaks between conferences when resting in my room or in the lounge was interrupted by the cough.  I searched for silence and peace and my feelings every time I heard that cough were definitely not peaceful.

After the second night of being awoke, I remember praying and begging God to help me.  I remember crying with concern because the depth of the cough reminded me SO MUCH of my mom’s cough during the final months of her life.  I remember praying and asking God to show me what I needed to see from this and to possibly give me courage to talk to this woman and encourage her to savor the time with her family because I was convinced in my soul that her time here on earth was limited.  I remember hearing her cough so hard this second night that when the coughing stopped, I started to worry that maybe she was choking on the phlegm and then I worried for her life.  Needless to say, I imagined all sorts of awful scenarios (which I tend to do during the middle of the night).

The next day, when I heard the cough again during morning prayer, I remember saying a prayer of thanksgiving that she didn’t die during the night from the coughing!  Then, I realized that God was talking to me through her cough.  I didn’t understand then what He was saying, but I knew I needed to listen more intently.  After praying some more over it, I realized that I needed to actually meet and talk to this woman.  But, that isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do on a silent retreat!  So, I went to evening recreation in the hopes that she would be there.  Since that is the time each day where you can ‘legally’ talk, I felt it would be the best opportunity.  But, she wasn’t there. *sigh*

The next day was our last day on retreat.  The cough was still there.  I still wanted to talk to her face to face and encourage her to savor life to the fullest.  On this last day, I also had the honor of being an extraordinary minister at Mass.  While serving at Mass, this woman came to me in the line.  When she stepped up to me, I looked up into her face and I saw my mother.  I was floored.  My mom was there!  At Mass with me!  Receiving the Blood of Christ!  For those of you who knew my mom, you probably knew that she hadn’t attended Church much in her final years.  In fact, she always seemed angry at the Church and at God.  Honestly, it was one of the biggest struggles that I had after she died because I had so prayed for her that she could come to peace with God before her death.  Then, when she died, it was so sudden that all I had  were my prayers that she was able to find that peace beforehand.

So, after Mass, I was in a bit of a daze.  After Mass, the code of silence is lifted and after 3 days of silence, you can imagine the noise that 85 women can make chatting!  I wanted to see this woman!  But, when I looked for her, I didn’t see her.  When I did, she was surrounded by others and I didn’t want to go up to her then.  So, I prepared to leave understanding that if God wanted me to actually meet her, it would happen.  It didn’t until I was walking down to the parking lot to leave the grounds.  Most of the other retreatants had already left.  So, I was surprised to see her when I turned the corner and saw her there about to get into her car to leave.  I stepped up to her, called her by name (thank you Lord for name tags — so I knew her name).  She turned around with a quizzical look on her face.  I introduced myself and told her how I had wanted to meet her most of the retreat.  She asked me why and I realized I had to tell her the truth.  So, the entire story spilled out about how her cough reminded me of my mom and how at first it really made me very uncomfortable.  And then, when I saw her at Mass coming to receive the Blood of Christ, I saw my mom through her.  She is the same height and body structure as my mom was.  Their hairstyles and facial features were very similar.  And how through seeing her, I could see my mom.  She then just smiled.

She leaned into me and said… ‘God knew your heart and is giving you a message.  Your mom is here with you every day and wherever you go.  She loves you and this was God’s way of letting you know she is okay.’  Through my tears, I explained to her that my mom was angry at the Church and at God.  And she just smiled this huge smile and said with a southern drawl like my mom’s … “not anymore she ain’t!”

And you know what?  I know now the answers to my questions.  And no, she isn’t angry anymore.  She is at peace.

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