Lived Relationship with God

01-LawnChairCatechismSquareOver at CatholicMom.com, they are hosting a summer series called “Lawn Chair Catechism”, using Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry Weddell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).

I haven’t yet gotten the book, but this topic is near and dear to my heart, and is being rekindled a bit by some changes happening in our parish community.

This week’s discussion questions are:

In your own faith:

  • How would you describe your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?
  • What does the word “discipleship” mean to you?  Do you perceive a need in the Church today to help lay Catholics become more fervent followers of Jesus Christ?

In your parish:

  • How would you describe your parish’s current efforts at discipleship?  A hotbed of discipleship?  A weekly gathering of spiritual sleep-walkers?  Or perhaps something in between?

I’m just going to tackle the first one: my lived relationship with God.

At this point in my life, my relationship with God is the most important relationship I have.  It was not always this way. For most of my 20s and half my 30s, I had no relationship with God at all.  But, seven years ago, He began to soften my heart, and I allowed His graces to open my eyes, little by little by little.

These days, I need prayer as my mainstay.  If I lose my prayer routine, or I find myself too busy to pray, I begin to feel “off.”  You know, not quite sick, but not really feeling all that great either.  Unfortunately, I’m also not that tuned-in to why I am feeling “off,” at least not at first.  After a little bit (and hopefully that “little bit” is only a few days and not a lot longer), I will suddenly realize I haven’t been setting aside time for prayer.  There goes the light bulb over my head.  Ah-ha!  That’s why I’ve been so cranky, so selfish, so dissatisfied.

For me, what prayer and relationship with my Creator and Father does most is breed contentment.  My house has old windows that I have to prop open in order to feel the cool spring breeze.  No prayer:  I focus on the old windows that need to be propped open, the lack of funds for replacement windows, the hassles and bills that pile up in home ownership.  Prayer:  I remember that I have a house, and that this house keeps us safe and warm and protected from the elements.  And spring is here (finally!), and there are cool breezes. And I don’t have to turn the air conditioning on (yet).

Spending time in prayer with God changes my viewpoint.  On my own, my heart-vision is myopic.  In relationship with God, I am able to see more clearly…who I am, who others are around me, and the ever-present Grace in all things.

What about you?  What is your lived relationship with God?  Join in the discussion in the combox or over at CatholicMom.com.

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An Open Letter To the Young Women in My Life

Hello, Beautiful!

You are, you know…  beautiful, that is.  It’s hard, sometimes, for you to see that.  I know you often struggle to see how beautiful you are.  You have a lovely smile, an inquisitive mind, a tender heart, strong and sinewy limbs, and a sometimes-awkward body which is growing from little girl into woman.  You are beautiful.

You are precious, too.  You are an unique expression of goodness in the world today, gifted with precisely what you need to be exactly the person you are meant to be.

My dear girl, I owe you an apology.  Our world does not honor and love and respect you the way you deserve to be honored and loved and respected.  In the name of “equality,” we have stripped you of your uniqueness.  In the name of “progress,” we have robbed you of the gift of femininity.  In the name of “healthcare,” we replace knowledge and experience with expedience and convenience.

You deserve to be taught that you are precious, that your body is a gift from God, and that you deserve to be loved and cherished for who you are.  You deserve to be taught that you are more than long legs or big breasts or a tight bottom.  You deserve to know that your value comes not from someone else’s assessment of your physique, but because you are you, uniquely the person God created you to be.

You deserve to be taught that sex is a powerful and glorious expression of God’s love for the world, that He allows us to partner in His work of creating new life, and that there is no such thing as “meaningless sex,” because opening yourself to another means baring more than your body; it means baring your soul.  And baring your soul should never be a casual thing, done without thought, without planning, without an understanding of what you are giving away… and what you are receiving in return.

You deserve the guidance of loving adults, who remember what it is to be awkward and shy and nervous and anticipating and fearful and, oh, so filled with longing.  You deserve the care of doctors and nurses who want to see you grow into a healthy, strong woman, even if it means that they need to say “no” and “you shouldn’t” and “wait.”

You, my beautiful girl, need to hear that word, maybe, most of all:  “wait.”  Just wait, my dear girl, and you will be amazed at the glorious and wondrous things life has in store for you.  Wait for the ring and the vow.  Wait for the man whose heart is true and who knows that to love is to serve one another, not to service oneself.

And, if, somehow, you don’t (as so many of us didn’t), I beg you, dear girl, please, please, please do not plunk down some cash at the corner store for a Plan B that is anything but healthcare, anything but responsible medicine, anything but worthy of you.

Plan B assumes that Plan A has failed.  And it has.  That much is true.  Plan A was that we would take care of you.  We’d raise you to know and to love yourself.  We’d teach you that you are precious and a blessing and more valuable than gold.  We’d teach you that you deserve real healthcare, by real doctors and nurses, and not brightly-lit aisles in anonymous stores with smiling clerks who don’t know you at all.

Plan A was that you would grow up, safely and in your own time.  You’d be awkward and insecure, and that was ok; you could take all the time you needed to grow up.  Plan A was that we would be the adults, and you would be the youth, and you could trust us to take care of you.

We’ve failed at Plan A, my dear.  For that, I am so very sorry.  But, this Plan B we’re offering?  This “quick fix” that promises protection and safety is a lie.  It does not protect you, and it is not safe.  Pumping your beautiful, still-growing body full of chemicals to erase a “wish I hadn’t” moment won’t ease your heart or your mind while it scours your womb.  An eight-point font pamphlet tucked inside bright-colored cardboard cannot hear you and see you and show you the way.  Drug companies and lobbyists are selling a “quick fix” when what you need, what you deserve, is time and attention and care, real care from real people.

We’ve failed at Plan A and Plan B is a lie.

I’m sorry, dear girl.  I hope you can forgive us, and can find a way to trust us again.

Maybe, together, we can find a Plan C…something worthy of you, of your uniqueness and your goodness, something that will teach us all to respect our bodies and each other.

Maybe the answer is just that: us … together.

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How’s Your Marriage?

Growing Into MarriageWe ask each other all sorts of questions: “How are the kids doing?”  “Your job going ok?”  “How’s your mom’s health?”  But, I wonder.  How often do we ask each other, “How’s your marriage?

I’m not sure I’ve ever been asked that question, and I have a theory as to why.  Marriage is seen as a private thing, not something to be discussed and dissected in public.  At least, not as long as you are talking about the marriages of the people present.  Celebrity marriages can be discussed and analyzed ad nauseum.  Other people’s marriage issues are whispered about on the playground or the sidelines.  But openly asking about your marriage? Well, that’s not done in polite society; that would be intrusive and rude.

I wonder if we don’t do ourselves and each other a big disservice by not asking that question?  I wonder if, by not asking, we don’t implicitly suggest that any marital discord is a bad thing, that any trouble or rough spot is an express ride to Divorce Town?

A firm commitment to lifelong marriage does not mean that it is easy to be married.  It can be freeing to admit that, sometimes, marriage is downright hard.  When we open ourselves and our marriages to the care of trusted friends, we can find a real gift:  someone to lean on, someone to support us, someone to pray for us.

When we share with a trusted friend, we can see the silly or flat-out laughable in a seemingly horrible situation.  We can receive a hug and a gentle, non-judgmental ear. We can share similar stories and know that we are not alone.  (How comforting that is!)

But none of this can happen if we don’t open up the conversation.  We need to ask the question.  We need to take the talk of marriage out of the gossip mill and off the playground and into a safe place with a trusted friend.

Perhaps one of the best ways we can support the institution of marriage is by supporting our friends and family members who are married.  Ask the question.  Give them the opening.  Show our care for their lives and their marriage by daring to ask:  How’s your marriage?

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Bumping Up Against Each Other

Sometimes, it’s hard to be married.

We each have our own prickly parts and rough patches, and when we rub up against each other the wrong way, well, sometimes, it hurts.

And sometimes I am feeling a little more sensitive, and so I perceive a hurt where I might not on a different day.

Lately, we’ve had a few of these “sometimes.”

And, let me be perfectly clear: that does not mean we are not happily married.  That does not mean we don’t love each other.  That does not mean that my husband is anything other than a good, loving husband.  And I do my best to be a good, loving wife.

But, sometimes, it’s a little harder than other times.

Yesterday morning, I was feeling the fullness of those “sometimes,” feeling raw and a little hurt by words carelessly uttered, and I chose to stew on the hurt, encouraging its growth into something much bigger than it should have been.  Almost immediately, I was reminded of a discussion with my prayer group last Thursday, where someone had talked about allowing our hearts to be soft, open, willing to accept all that comes our way – even pain – just as Jesus did.

Interesting idea…but not enough to break through my hardened heart yesterday morning.  I did offer a short prayer, though, for the willingness to soften my heart.

And, as He does, God answered my prayer in exactly the way I needed:

First, He positioned a dear friend outside the church on my way into mass, that human connection I desperately needed…a moment of warmth and tenderness to begin melting the ice I’d formed around my heart.

Then, He gave me ten minutes of quiet before mass to settle my brain and begin to open my heart to Him.

Finally, He asked me to serve Him.  He called me forward to help distribute Holy Communion… always a powerful, humbling, mystical experience for me.  I stand there at the front of the church, a member of His Body, having just received His Body, presenting His Body to other members of His Body.  I can’t explain the experience in words.  I just feel it.  It is a deep, mystical inter-connectedness with God… within and without.

In the moments after I’d completed my service, standing alongside the other ministers, facing the altar, I let Him break through the final shell around my heart, and the tears spilled over and onto my cheeks.  When I returned to my pew, I knelt, blowing my nose into a tissue and thanking Him for the mercy and forgiveness I don’t deserve – but which He gives freely anyway – and asking for the graces to offer the same.

Returning home, my husband and I spent a few minutes together, reconciling the latest “sometimes.”

I’m reminded – again – of my own failings and weaknesses, of my foibles, my prickliness. I’m reminded that I need a Savior, for I am too weak, too broken, too self-focused and selfish to get there on my own.  I’m reminded that marriage is more than a Sacrament, more than a Grace.  Marriage is, itself, a path to holiness, a means of smoothing my rough patches, trimming my prickly points, and overcoming my selfishness.

Marriage isn’t always easy.  Some days, it is downright hard.  But, it is always a blessing.

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Pleasing God

A few weeks back, my Spiritual Director asked me if I wanted to please God.  When I said, “yes” before he could barely finish the question, he suggested I spend some time considering how I could please God.

I’ve spent some time in the past few weeks considering that, even putting the question out there in prayer. Father, how can I please you? What do you need me to do? How can I show you my love?

It strikes me that I already know much of the answer to this question. I am my Father’s beloved daughter. I can please Him in much the same way my beloved children can please me.

We’re traveling these days. That means that our usual homeschooling togetherness has been ramped up. We’ve gone from a 2400 square foot house with ample backyard and plenty of private space to long hours in a minivan and nights crammed into one small-ish hotel room.

This togetherness coincided with my prayer to please God, helping to bring it all into focus.  My kids please me when they are obedient and respectful, to me and to others in authority.  They please me by being kind and tender with one another. And they bring me great pleasure when they enjoy the surprises and nice things I do for them.

Hmmm…could that be all my Father wants from me? Could it be as simple as obedience to His laws and respect for His authority, in all its forms? Kindness and compassion toward others? And a grateful heart?

As simple as it sounds, I know, for me at least, that it’s not easy. But I take comfort in knowing that, just as I don’t expect perfection from my children, neither does my Father expect it from me. 

That, and a heartfelt hug at the end of a rough patch goes a
long way. Gotta remember to spend some quiet time in my Father’s arms when I hit my own rough patches.

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How God Loves My Children!

A year ago, during Holy Week, I made time in our schedule for us to go to confession.  We went to the church where we go for this Sacrament every few months, because they have good, holy Confessors and celebrate the Sacrament for more than an hour every day.  Typically, they have only 1, possibly 2, Confessors available, and we stand in line for a while.  But, that day, in the middle of Holy Week, they had four priests celebrating, so the lines moved quickly and smoothly.

My son chose a line at random.  I remember being surprised at how long he was in the room, and offering a prayer that he was receiving good counsel.  When he emerged a few minutes later, he had the biggest grin I’d ever seen.  He could barely contain his joy when he came over to me and enveloped me in a big bear hug.  Immediately, he began whispering to me that it was the best confession he’d ever had.

Later, in the car on our way home, he spoke a little more about the confession, and especially about the connection he felt with the priest.  “Did you ask his name?” I wondered.

“No.” He was quiet for a minute.  “I didn’t know I could do that.”

I thought about it a bit, and decided I would call the church, describe the priest and which confessional he was in, and ask his name.  But, that never happened.  My daughter was recovering from surgery, and one thing and another happened, until too many weeks had gone by and I knew that no one would be able to remember which priest was in which confessional on which day in Holy Week.  In our visits over the past year, we’ve never seen that same priest.

This morning, we set aside time in our schedule to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation again.  As we drove to the church, I told my son, “If you really like the priest, you can ask his name, and we can see about making regular appointments with him.”  He nodded his head.

We entered the church, the stillness and peace palpable under the immense flying buttresses and deep-sapphire stained glass.  The lines were longer than last year, and four red dots populated the wall space above the confessionals.  I turned to my kids, “Which line do you want?”

They settled on a line on the left side of the church, which fed two confessionals.  My daughter went first, to the confessional farther from the line.  Minutes later, my son entered the nearer confessional.  I prayed for them, as I always do when they are meeting Jesus in such a deep and personal way.

Daughter emerged, big smiles.  She knelt and prayed, then gave me a big hug.

Son emerged.  Same glowing face.  Big, toothy smile.  Knelt and prayed, and then leaned over and whispered in my ear, the excitement in his voice tickling my neck, “It was the same guy as last year! And I asked his name!”

Before we got into the car, he pulled me aside and shared some of the experience with me.  God’s love spilled out of him and onto me, and into the air around us in an almost aromatic way.

Sometimes, I forget.  I forget that they are His children before they are my children.  I forget that His love eclipses the love I have for them.  I forget and I worry and I fret over their lives and their future, their safety and their souls.

In spiritual direction last week, I confessed that fear to my trusted friend and Confessor.  He assured me that God would honor our efforts to raise our children to be pure and holy and faithful.  I doubted him, and he repeated his firm belief that this was so.  “God honors our commitment to Him,” he insisted.

Oh, me of little faith!  See how God cares for you!  See how God cares for your children! Trust in the Lord, your God.  In Him is your strength, your rock, your salvation!  How God loves you… and your children!

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Snow Day!

There are oh, so many up-sides to homeschooling. It is not for every family, but as we near the end of our sixth year at this, I can confidently say that it does work for our family.

Typically, we finish our day’s work by lunchtime, so when Mother Nature graces us with enough snow to close the schools, we are still in session. I like to remind my kids of that when we are sitting at the pool in May and their friends are sitting in the classroom making up snow days.

But today is an exception. Yesterday, we got a foot – as in, twelve inches – of snow. That has never happened in St Louis in my 15 years here, never in my kids’ lifetimes. So, we will honor this late winter gift with a real snow day!

Yesterday, they made a snowman and we made snow ice cream.  Today, we are going sledding…finally using the gifts from Christmas 15 months ago.

What a blessed way to start our Holy Week…together as a family, enjoying the blessings of this life given by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and guided by the Spirit. Praise God for all of it…especially the unexpected blessing of a surprise snow.

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