Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Mother, My Inspiration

My parents left to drive home yesterday, after a relaxing Christmas full of quick-witted humor, good food, and a beautiful Christmas Eve mass. What really struck me, though, was my mother's dedication. This isn't new - every time I spend time with her, I realize how much the family is her top priority. Some examples:
  • Weeks before the trip, she asked my brother and me multiple times what recipes she should bring. She wanted to make us our favorites and to plan ahead in case she needed to bring specific ingredients or cooking utensils.
  • She brought me my favorite local marinara sauce, without me asking :)
  • She said she would change the sheets on my bed both before and after my parents stayed in it.
  • She spent hours in the grocery store and my kitchen, preparing the perfect Christmas dinner by herself, while serving the rest of us cheese, crackers, and apples to temporarily curb our hunger.
  • After each meal, she went about cleaning dishes and putting leftovers away, without so much as a chiding remark for us to help her. (I did help out! I didn't want her to be in the kitchen by herself while the rest of the family spent time together.)
  • She did laundry while on vacation. If that doesn't show discipline and dedication, I don't know what does!
Needless to say, I love my mother's dedication. She really took on the role of wife and mother wholeheartedly 30 years ago and continues to this day. I only hope that I can put my whole self into something and dedicate the rest of my life to it.

I don't know that I'll ever fill her shoes!

So while I'm inspired by her dedication and have a few days left before returning to work, I thought I'd imitate her just a little. Yesterday, I cleaned the house, changed the sheets on my bed, did three loads of laundry, and picked up the mess that was my post-Christmas apartment :)

Last night I looked through one of my cookbooks, picked out four recipes, and wrote down the ingredients I needed. This morning after mass, I braved the grocery store! (If you don't know, I absolutely HATE grocery shopping, and I don't like cooking either.) I made chicken stir fry for my brother and me for lunch, then put pork chops and cornbread stuffing in the crock pot to be ready for dinner tonight! (AND got all the dishes done!) My hope is that leftovers will last me most of the week, then I'll tackle the other two recipes.

My mom has been my role model in so many ways. Spending time with her reminds me what I have to be thankful for AND what I have to aspire to! I'm newly inspired to put more effort into improving myself, even in the areas I try to brush aside. That's a good way to start the new year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Prayer

Happy birthday, Jesus!

Dear God,
Thank you for the many blessings you've given me, both those I recognize and those I take for granted.
  1. I'm especially grateful in this holiday season for family. My parents drove 16 hours to make it here to celebrate with my brother and me - that's a long drive! I was so excited that they watched me in the Nutcracker yesterday. I danced my best and was radiating joy, knowing they were in the audience.Their love and support through the years hasn't changed, and their dedication to us is humbling.
    French Twist for the Nutcracker!
  2. Thank you for the weather! Although it has been really cold, the timing of snow couldn't have been better. First, the roads were clear Monday for  my parents' drive, despite the big snow storm over the weekend (and the ice last Friday - eek!). It made for an easier trip for them, and also a beautiful, sunny day when they arrived. They were able to see the prettiest part of winter - fresh snow glistening in the sunshine! Second, coming out of mass last night, filled with Christmas joy from the beautiful music and decorations, I was touched that it was snowing again! This is the first White Christmas that I remember, and it's beautiful. Growing up in the South, I would always hope for snow on Christmas, but the closest we ever got was ice. And third, we can enjoy the weather from inside today! We don't have to be anywhere, so we'll settle in to share each others' company, take in the pretty view through the windows, and stay warm!
    Our winter wonderland
  3. Lastly, a wish for all, in honor of Jesus' birth - that the world may know Your love, if not through prayer and personal relationship with you, then through the actions of those around them. May we recognize Your movement through our world and display the joy of Your love to all people, no matter their stage of life, personal beliefs, or life choices. Let us remember the true reason we celebrate today - not the hustle and bustle of buying gifts and preparing for meals and parties, but the silent night that brought our Savior from on high into our world. How wonderful is the love God has poured out upon us! Fill our hearts that we may extend that same love to everyone we meet!
    Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Gift of Tears

I've found myself crying, or near tears, a lot more often recently. But these aren't normal tears - they aren't tears of self-pity or sadness or joy for something happening in my life. They have to do with the transformation going on inside of me. These days, I can't even get through mass without tearing up.

Friday evening, driving home from work, I was reflecting on Jesus' passion. All of a sudden, I was sobbing, moved by how much He must have loved us, even in the midst of our darkest hour - condemning and killing our Savior. It's something I've thought about before, but that night, it hit me hard. I wanted to make it up to Him, but my whole life's work is not even enough. I was reminded of Mother Teresa's vow to refuse nothing to Christ. Really, isn't that the only acceptable response?

This isn't the first time I've been overcome to the point of tears...

I distinctly remember a moment from my confirmation retreat in 8th grade. We were spread out throughout the dimly-lit cathedral, praying individually. The retreat leaders came around to each of us, asked what we'd like to pray for, and then joined us in prayer for a few minutes. When my turn came, I burst into tears. I was overwhelmed by two things:
  1. As we entered the cathedral for this quiet prayer time, we were handed a small sheet of paper with a letter typed out - something like this (I wish I could find the actual one!). The "letter" was written from Jesus, explaining how much He loves us individually and wants to be with us, even though He reaches out to us a million times and we don't respond.
  2. This stranger wanted to pray for MY intentions. She had never met me before, but she took the time to ask, "What can I pray for?", and then sat with me and prayed for me, for my family, and I don't know what else. To tell the truth, I was so overcome that I couldn't think of anything specific to ask her to pray about!
This was my first real encounter with both Jesus' unique love for me, as described in the letter, and another's openness to pray with and for me. By offering to pray for me, she showed me what Christ's love looks like. It was beautiful! ...and more than I could handle.

Two more teary-eyed moments were during retreats in college (the Awakening retreat I talked about in my post on Aggie Catholics). My freshman year, I was overcome by the sacrifice of the students running the retreat - giving up their weekend to be there for us and welcoming us where we were, with open arms. After the initial excitement of the retreat, we had time for confession and quiet reflection. The only light in the room came from the candles we set in the shape of a cross. I once again saw Jesus' love poured out through others.

The other time, I was a sophomore, giving a talk during the retreat. The support I got from the other students, in hand-written notes, small gifts, and a group prayer over me before I spoke really did me in. They showered me with thoughts and prayers, again revealing the depths of Jesus' love. (I'll post my talk some other time!)

These moments were some of the most poignant of my faith journey. They occurred when I was being transformed, renewing my dedication to know, love, and serve God. I've always had a relationship with God the Father, but I tend to keep Jesus at a distance. I can't fathom how much He endured, and sometimes I don't feel like our salvation was worth it.

But in these moments that bring me to tears, I can't escape His love. He chose to die for us, freely. That's a gift I'm trying to accept. As much as I don't like crying, I'm drawn to these encounters, both feeling Christ's love through others and being Christ to others. I can't back away, because I'd really be missing out. My tears mean I'm growing in love.

So...hi Jesus, and thank You!

St. John Lateran - Rome, Italy

Friday, December 6, 2013

Management to Motherhood: Creating and Maintaining Culture

After three years as a manager, I have grown to have a great appreciation for creating culture - an intangible, yet essential, element to business.

Each company has its own unique culture, as does each family. What I've realized more and more is that culture is deliberate and powerful. The executives/parents sat down and determined what they wanted the company/family to look like, and they set up structure to make it happen. They put rules in place to make their ideas into a persistent reality. Those established values have far-reaching impact, both in the way the organization functions and in the way others view it.

Growing up, my family ate dinner together every night, beginning with a prayer. We went to mass each Sunday, without fail. These rules showed us that both family and faith were important, and the consistency of routine taught us discipline.

I know a couple who determined their family would keep Sunday holy in a deliberate way. They not only refrain from working; they also place no expectations on each other or their children. No errands are run; meals are simple. It's the only day of the week their kids don't have to do chores. They wanted Sunday to be a special day, and they set the expectations and uphold them, week after week.

These were intentional decisions by the parents to create a culture within the family. Over time, that culture can morph - intentionally or incidentally - because of a dip in discipline, changing values, or a subversive element creeping in.

Maintaining culture is then a deliberate and difficult job. As a manager, it's my responsibility to be a consistent voice of the company's values to my team members. It requires discipline to stick to the rules that make us the company we are. I'm always watching what I say and how I act so that no one misinterprets me - if they think I don't agree with the company, they will start to voice dissent and slowly degrade the culture, following my perceived bad example. Culture can degrade easily, but it takes a lot to hold up the established values. My adherence to our values is extremely important in maintaining culture among my team members.

Children are even more susceptible to outside influence and need a consistent message, in word and action. A friend told me one time that my mannerisms are exactly like my mom's. I had no idea that I'd picked up her traits and still had them 4 years after I moved out of my parents' house. (Don't worry, Mom - I take it as a compliment!) Our parents imprint a lot on us, whether we like it or not.

What's even more challenging is changing culture. Once a culture is established, it takes a lot to redirect everyone's focus and values. It takes a strong leader who is respected and trusted by the organization. (I wouldn't suggest trying to establish a new culture with teenagers...) Without the right people, enough buy-in, or adequate effort, these attempts fail. Culture has a force of its own. Creating a good culture in the first place saves a lot of headache down the road.

So I challenge you - be deliberate about creating a positive, loving culture in your household, and consistently uphold the values you hold most dear.

Slight side note - I loved being in Europe and experiencing the culture across the pond. I'm starting to plan a trip back! This picture is a tribute to the original Sound of Music, after the remake yesterday. The wedding scene was filmed in this church.

Basilica St. Michael - Mondsee, Austria

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Anticipating and Preparing...

Happy New Liturgical Year!!

Today marks the beginning of Advent - a great season, and not just because the liturgical color is purple. Advent is a time of anticipating Jesus' coming - both His first coming 2,000 years ago which we relive each year, and His second coming when the earth and time cease to exist.

Let's not let Christmas overtake Advent. Christmas has its own time. The anticipation, the waiting, the hoping, the preparation - that's what makes Advent special. By jumping straight to Christmas, we miss that build-up and the reflection on what we need to do to ready ourselves for Christ.

We have a lot to prepare before Christmas - decorating, buying gifts, arranging travel plans, cooking, and the list goes on. And while these can be good things, they can also distract us from the more important preparation: readying our souls to meet Christ.

I love these short, dedicated seasons where we can make a conscious effort to go beyond our normal self and grow closer to God. In short bursts of effort, it's easy to form good habits, especially when the underlying reason for them is to deepen faith. For the 40 Days for Life that occurred throughout October, I committed myself to saying a daily rosary. After a breakup this summer, I told God I wouldn't think of dating another guy for 40 days. Both of these commitments have strengthened my relationship with Christ and brought me closer to the person I want to be.

40 days seems to be the perfect length of time for a dedicated effort. It's long enough to be difficult but short enough that it's still energizing and do-able. 40 days doesn't feel so overwhelming (like with a New Year's Resolution), so it's easier to stick with. And it forms habits.

For Advent this year, I'm undertaking the St. Andrew Christmas Novena which started yesterday. I'm praying this 26-day prayer to understand my vocation. Whether I arrive at Christmas with a definite answer on my calling or not, I'll be a better person for the reflection and devotion. I'm excited to spend my Advent longing for a more perfect union with Christ.

So let's look forward to Christmas, joyfully anticipating, preparing, and waiting for Jesus' birth in this season of Advent.

Mall of America