Friday, January 31, 2014

Date Night with St. Therese

Location: Madison, WI, USA
I promised St. Therese that tonight would be our catch-up night. I've almost finished her book, The Story of a Soul, but I haven't made progress in the past two weeks. I keep getting pulled away to do other things, so the book has been sitting all alone on my bedside table, in my purse, and on the front seat of my car as I rush off to work, church events, dinner, ballroom class, and bed! I take it with me in case I get a free moment, but apparently the past two weeks have flown by.

That's what happens with friends, too, right? We get caught up in the busy-ness of life, and we don't take a second to call a friend, schedule a coffee date, or just send a text to say hi.

But tonight, I'm setting aside cooking dinner, putting away the Christmas tree (yes, yes, I know I'm very behind!), and finishing a crochet project to spend time with someone I'm privileged to know. She has been a great inspiration to me over the past three months as I've read her story and watched and re-watched the 2004 movie about her life.

statue of St. Therese of Lisieux in France
St. Therese statue in France

St. Therese is such a beautiful person - so sincere and so deeply committed to Jesus. I highly recommend reading The Story of a Soul! You can even find the full text for free online - Unlike similar books that I've read, hers is easy to follow and doesn't require re-reading paragraphs to fully comprehend what she's saying. Her writing is simple yet moving.

I'll leave you with a quote that I held onto the other day. Then, I'm blocking off my time to catch up with St. Therese!

Oh! I feel more than ever that Jesus is thirsty. He meets only ungrateful and indifferent people among the disciples of the world, and among His own disciples, He finds, alas! few hearts that give themselves to Him without reserve, who understand all the tenderness of His infinite Love.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who Can I Love Today?

Location: Madison, WI, USA
kindness is contagious

Driving to work this morning, I got this idea...I really like the "Random Acts of Kindness" stories that float around (see this blogger's post for a good cry), but I wanted to incorporate it into daily life instead. So I decided to create a game. I'm calling it, "Who Can I Love Today?"

The premise is simple: as you're going about your day, look for someone who you can help. Then, do it! After you're done, write it down, then repeat.

I was really excited to try it! I started doing nice things and writing them down. My list wasn't about being proud or tallying my "goodness" or competing; it was merely so that at the end of the day, I could reflect on the people whose day I hoped that I had brightened or eased in some way. I wanted to have something to show God, saying, "Here, I did these things for You."

So driving to work, I stopped traffic to let a guy go in front of me at a difficult intersection, knowing he could be waiting for two more lights before the stream of cars gave him a wide enough gap to merge in.

Once I got settled at my desk, I wrote a text to a friend I knew was overwhelmed with her current lot in life, sending encouragement her way.

And happened. I said hi to co-workers, thanked the help desk for resetting my password (twice), let my brother eat the leftovers I had my eye on, but I didn't go out of my way to do anymore. My commitment to finding people to help waned, as did my passion for furthering God's will.

And so, I'll try again tomorrow.

I'm still just as excited about playing my new game now as I was this morning, even though I didn't maintain that level of excitement throughout the day. Day-by-day, I'm hoping to get better at my game and focusing more on those around me, since we become fully ourselves when we give ourselves in service to others.

Will you join me?

God, my prayer tonight is that You be with those I tried to reach today and lift their lives to You. Re-energize me with sleep tonight that I may do a better job tomorrow.

(I promise I'll write about the events that led me to this desire...but that's for another day when I have more time!)

Part of SITSgirls' ShareFest

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Right to Life

With yesterday's anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Catholic and pro-life communities mourn the death of so many as a consequence of the decision 41 years ago. The fact that thousands attended the March for Life in DC yesterday, despite the bitter cold, shows that opposition to the ruling isn't going away.

Many write and speak on their views, leaning one way or the other. My favorite from yesterday is this blog by Brandon Vogt. He clearly outlines the inconsistencies in President Obama's statement in an objective way, from the view of one who gives consideration to one side while firmly aligning with the other.

It's that listening and trying to understand the other side that we forget. We get so wrapped up in shouting louder to make ourselves heard that we don't stop to consider why there is another side opposing us.

I try to understand that many people consider abortion to be an end to a woman's problem and the freedom to choose what to do with her body and her life. I've read Unplanned (and you should too!) and discovered that those employed by Planned Parenthood truly believe they are working in the best interest of their clients. They see the uncertainty of these women who regret their condition and don't know how they will live their life caring for a child. The workers want to take the problem away - to help the women get back on their feet and end their fears and anxiety.

I get that.

And if that were all there was to it, I may agree.

But all my thoughts, prayers, and yes, Catholic upbringing, have led me to believe that we're talking about two people. And once these decisions concern another person, it's not just about a woman's right to her own body. It's about her support or destruction of someone else's life. At that point, we need to defend a baby's right to life above a woman's freedom to choose.

Is there a scientific way to prove that life, by definition, beginning at conception? I don't know.

I know that all the genetic material needed for a new life to grow is present at conception. I know that at conception, a continuous string of development begins that doesn't stop at a defined point in time. I know that medical advances have allowed us to support the life of a preemie born earlier and earlier in this development. I know studies have been done that show a baby feels pain in the womb.

Precious Feet

I believe from my Catholic studies that God fuses the soul with the body at conception. I believe that John the Baptist recognized Jesus when they were both in the womb during the Visitation. I believe that children are a gift and that they have dignity and value, even though they cannot yet contribute to society, even if they never contribute to society through productive work.

Women who find themselves in this tough situation need compassion and support. They find themselves in a difficult situation and don't know where to turn. They need prayers, yes, but they also need emotional and financial help. They need to understand their options besides resorting to the destruction of life. They may need assistance covering medical bills and, if they decide to keep the baby, living expenses.

I've been exposed to multiple groups who provide this support, ready to welcome these women with open hearts to arm them with information and resources. The Sisters of Life's Co-Workers for Life network is a beautiful display of this outpouring of love. There are women's centers popping up across the street from Planned Parenthood facilities. I spent Tuesday evening at a diocesan center, stocking shelves with diapers and sorting heaps of baby clothes donated by the community for mothers who need assistance.

The support is there.

I'm always amazed at the success of the 40 Days for Life (which I wrote about here). This peaceful vigil has so far seen more than 8,000 babies' lives spared, 88 abortion workers quit, and 44 abortion clinics closed during or following a campaign. Beautiful!

Let's continue the fight, but with love and understanding. Let's listen to what the other side has to say, because without listening there will be no dialogue. Others do not see things the same way, so shouting louder will only lead to anger and cause us to be further divided. Our love of all includes the unborn, but it also includes those who disagree.

how can there be too many children or flowers

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"God is Moving"

This is my nightly prayer. Kneeling beside my bed each night, I take a deep breath and close my eyes; I reflect on the day - both my joys and failings, gratitude and contrition; I recite my 5 affirmations mantra, "I love You, I adore You, I worship You, I thank You, I implore You"; I ask for the saints' intercession (a multitude of saints for a multitude of intentions!); and I say a prayer to my guardian angel...Then I end with these words:
Holy Spirit, move through me and teach me to love.
It's that one, simple phrase that resonates with my soul.

At different points along life's journey, we shift focus and need different things. Maybe it's Jesus' mercy, or the Father's protection, or the Holy Spirit's guidance. Maybe it's just love or comfort.

A year ago, my "resonance prayer" was God be with me. I needed His presence, in any form. Generally I addressed the Father, but I wasn't too picky. I didn't really know where to turn, but I knew I wanted Him there, surrounding me and strengthening me, drawing me in even when I wasn't willing to come closer.

Slowly, my focus changed. I no longer need assurance of His presence; I knew He wouldn't leave me. (Thank you, St. Therese, for showing me just what that means!) But knowing that He's here isn't enough. I'm shifting focus outward. Now I want to do something. I want to be an extension of God's love, giving existence to the desires God has for His world. And that can only come through a love of God and an openness to the workings of the Holy Spirit, whispering from deep within.

Twice in the past couple months, I heard something I don't think anyone has said to me before. First a nun and then a priest, after listening to me talk about my faith, said they saw God moving in me. What an awesome thing to hear! The Holy Spirit is moving...I can feel it, and it's great to know others see it too. I want everyone to see that, to see the love God gives me, in my interactions with every person I meet. I want others to know what that movement feels like! It starts with a prayer. So I continue to ask...
Holy Spirit, move through me and teach me to love.

 Hillsong's "God is Moving"
(I like a different version better, but I can't find it on YouTube!)

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Break our hearts for what breaks Yours"

(Taken from prayer journal, written 8/17/12 during Adoration)

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners,
Break our hearts for what breaks Yours

We constantly strive to know and do Your will - we fail, but we keep trying.

There are so many sins in this world, and they should appall us and throw us into more fervent prayer. 

We love all creatures, but we can't tolerate the failings of ourselves or others - we must make amends and ask for forgiveness. 

We must speak out for what we believe and not hide from the pointing fingers and ridicule of society, for we know the Truth, and we know the Truth will lead us to You.

You have given us everything - sacrificing Your own life so that we may be saved from our failings in this world. Move use to challenge ourselves and those around us to accept You and receive the love You are constantly showering upon us.

Help us as we lift each other up to You. Our missions are all different but are directed towards the same goal - to serve You and show Your love to all those around us.

You've given us such an example in Mary, who completely surrendered her will to Yours and underwent so much suffering, yet she never turned away from You. We must direct our lives to the service of Your ends and not waver from the calls You have placed in our hearts.

Help us to still our minds enough to listen to You whispering to us. We find it increasingly difficult as the speed of our lives increases.

We need to remember our reason for being.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Meditation: A Valuable Practice

Meditation has been the best addition I've made to my spiritual life in a long time! At the suggestion of a Sister, I started to set aside 20 minutes a day to focus on Jesus' life through the gospels. As I've mentioned before, Jesus is the one person in the Trinity that I'm hesitant around. I thought this would be a great opportunity to tackle my hesitation head-on, freeing myself to encounter Him without reservation.

At first, this meditation was just another thing added to my ever-lengthening nightly routine. Wash face, brush teeth, exercise quickly, say prayers, MEDITATE. Some nights I'm better at planning ahead and leaving enough time for this new addition than others, but nevertheless, I hold those 20 minutes, even if it cuts into my sleep.

Now that it has become habit, I've started to notice the ways it's impacting my life. They may be subtle and seemingly inconsequential, but I can sense a bigger movement in my life that's happening with these small steps.
  1. I'm learning the Bible! It's often joked that Protestants know the Bible backwards and forwards, but Catholics barely open it. I've got to say...although I've theoretically heard the whole Bible every three years from Sunday masses, sitting down with a Bible gives a lot more context that I've been missing.
  2. It's breaking me of my Type A personality. I'm a person of planning and achieving, as efficiently as possible. But with these 20 minutes, I may only get through 10 verses! Stopping to reflect and really read with the intent to understand the context, imagine the scene, and apply it to my life has helped to slow me down. I've begun to realize the importance of the things I'm doing instead of rushing to accomplish them and move on.
  3. I'm less attached to "stuff". With a renewed focus on what's important, my desire for possessions has declined. It was nothing to let my parents take my bed when they came to visit. I gave a friend a wedding planning book that I was excited to look through someday. I donated four bags of clothes to St. Vincent de Paul. I've cut down on the time I spend playing Candy Crush. I even let go of one of my crochet projects, which I'm always very proud of and unnecessarily attached to. But the thing is, none of it mattered to me. I was happy to do it - I mean actually happy, not begrudgingly happy.
  4. I'm open to listening. Although this started before my practice of meditation, the daily routine is further deepening my desire to do God's will, not my own. Starting out the 20 minutes by acknowledging God's presence and requesting the help of the saints humbles me and reminds me that I'm part of this larger community and a larger plan. I ask that I can play my role to the best of my ability.
  5. I carry God with me more actively. In my interactions with others, at work, driving, in the shower, my thoughts turn to God more frequently. What's the opposite of "Out of sight, out of mind"? Because that's what I'm experiencing. Getting to know Jesus makes me more aware of His presence and more comfortable talking to Him.
I don't know where this spiritual growth is leading, but I'm looking forward to it! I highly recommend trying it yourself to see how your life changes.

I'll end with a song, since I haven't included one in a while. This one is so simple and raw - it's one of my favorites during Adoration or after communion.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Truly present in the Holy Eucharist
I place all my trust in You

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

21 Spiritual Retreat Questions

Happy New Year!

Happy Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God!

I had a beautifully different New Years this year. Instead of parties with friends, fun drinks, and a TV turned to (the rerun of) the ball dropping in Times Square, I spent the night at a Marian Shrine with a friend. We went to Adoration at 11PM, then participated in mass at midnight. The rest of the day we engaged in prayer and conversation.

Like I said - beautiful. We each wanted to spend some time away for different reasons. Although it wasn't my intention, I'm beginning the new year with a plenary indulgence! How's that for starting out on the right foot?!

In our conversations, my friend and I made a list of retreat-type questions that we thought would fuel good thought and prayer. After completing the list and reflecting on it, we both picked out the question that was hardest for us to answer and focused on that area throughout our "mini-retreat". I feel it was spiritually fruitful for both of us!

Without further's the list of 21 questions! Use them for your own mini-retreat, even if that just means hiding in a quiet space in your home for a few minutes.
  1. What was the highlight of 2013? What word will define your 2014?
  2. What would God view as your biggest accomplishment?
  3. What's the key area you want to improve in your life? What proactive steps can you take towards it?
  4. What are you grateful for?
  5. Who are you grateful for? Have you told them?
  6. What topic are you avoiding talking about with God?
  7. Who has influenced you in your faith? Who are you influencing?
  8. Who is your role model in faith? How can you be more like him/her?
  9. When is it easy to trust God? When is it more difficult?
  10. How does God want you to improve your prayer life?
  11. How do you maintain active participation in mass?
  12. What's your biggest hurdle to loving God? How can you start to overcome it?
  13. Would others say your actions are an extension of God's love?
  14. Do you turn to prayer in times of desolation AND consolation?
  15. How can you grow closer to God this year? (ie. focus on increasing your faith, hope, or love?)
  16. Loving and serving God comes only after knowing Him. How can you deepen your understanding of God?
  17. Who can you purposefully be Christ for? How?
  18. What visible reminders do you have of your faith?
  19. "He is always with you, be always with Him." How?
  20. How do you show mercy?
  21. What are your top three priorities? Do you spend your time accordingly?

St. Thérèse of Lisieux (who is making her way into my life), pray for us!