7QT for a Warm December Day

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1. We are decorated for Christmas.  We wait until Gaudete Sunday, and we are thinking about waiting until the 4th Sunday of Advent next year.  We went to a small Christmas Tree farm nearby and cut our own tree down for $12.  It was so much fun.  It was my first time cutting down a tree as a family.  It is pretty cold in my native Montana this time of year, so we always went out and bought a tree from a lot.  Michaela even helped her daddy carry the tree to the car.

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2. I got to use our brand new Kitchen Aid mixer today for the first time.  It is wonderful!  We have a weekly or bi-weekly game night with some friends of ours from church.  Like us, they really enjoy board games.  Our friends have so many board games that we keep telling them to create a binder like the ones they have at Karaoke bars.  We are going over there for dinner and games tonight. My husband and I are trying to eat better before the food craze that is Christmas in Northern Kentucky (we head there on Christmas Day).  So, with that in mind I made Whole Wheat Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with freshly milled flour our friends had given us.  They are super yummy and the mixer made it so easy.
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3. The older I get, the more I like to make handmade gifts for people.  All of us own so much stuff.  With that in mind, I decided to make homemade chocolate truffles for our friends.  They really are not difficult.  You just have to be patient because the chocolate has a few steps to set up.  I stuck with plain chocolate, but next time I want to make truffles with Bailey’s Irish Cream.
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4. My daughter is growing by leaps and bounds.  I swear she grows in her sleep (and she probably does).  I cannot believe how much she is a little girl now and not a baby.  She is getting quite tall and is even taller than some of the girls who are older than her.  She has been a bottomless pit and is hungry all of the time.  Where does the time go?
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5. There will be no white Christmas in these parts.  It was 65 degrees yesterday and will be near 70 this weekend.  It has been a welcome break from the cold.  I went walking along the river with friends yesterday.  It was the perfect kind of day to soak up sunshine.
6.  We are still in Advent, even as we ramp up for Christmas.  Our anticipation and joy is building.  Some music to remind us to remain in Advent for a few more days.

7. Here is some beauty for your Friday.  In the busyness of this time of year, we must stop and savor the wonder around us.
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Battling Anger

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Anger.  Why are so many of us angry? Do we realize that we are angry? Does it bother us? I was just observing a Twitter exchange, I can’t really call it a debate.  There was too much profanity and no intellectual exchange for it to be considered a debate.  What struck me though, as has happened before, was the level of anger this person lobbed at a friend of mine.  

 
At first I was incensed that someone would talk to a friend of mine like that, knowing full well that it is all too common on social media.  I myself have been on the receiving end of it.  I have been called: a bigot, racist, Pharisee, hater, homophobe, and the list goes on.  When I watched this exchange, I began to think about the person’s anger, it really seemed to be rage.  I began to see myself.  You see, I struggle with anger.  I have a fearsome temper.  It only comes out in all of its horrific glory a couple times a year.  Thank God for that! But it is awful, and it shows me the depths of depravity within me.  It also reveals unresolved pain and a fear that I am not loved either by my family or by God.
 
I know anger.  So when I see it in others, I know that there is some kind of pain that needs to be healed.  A hatred that is pointed inward, but lashes out at others.  It comes from a deep fear of not being loved and it is always driven by pride and power.  Rather than choose to accept Christ’s sacrifice for them, angry people fight between a belief that they don’t need a Savior and a deep rooted knowledge that they do.  It is a war that is in the hearts of us all. We want to be God, but we aren’t, and so our sinful nature drives us into anger.  Or we have been hurt by others and that fear of being unloved drives our rage.  How could God love me?
 
The other issue with anger stems from pride.  We don’t want to be told what to do, or hear that our lifestyle is wrong and immoral.  This is a big one in the “gay marriage” debate.  No one, and I mean no one, likes to hear from someone else that they commit grave evil.  For those who do not know Jesus Christ, this is even more difficult.  What they cannot see is that all of us either have, or are capable, of grave evil.  All they see is someone saying “no” to their choices.  Christianity is not about accusing others and relishing in their fall.  No, Christianity, is about saying that we are a band of sinners, hopelessly lost without Our Lord who loves everyone.  Only He can show us the true way, and yes that means abandoning sin.  But true freedom lies in that abandonment and falling into Love.
 
It is hard for every single one of us to abandon sin.  I sin daily.  The more I go to Confession, the more I see how deeply rooted my sins are and how much I need His grace to overcome them.  Saying that a behavior is sinful is the beginning of understanding our own inner pain and hatred.  Unhappiness stems from sin. Anger stems from sin.  It is hard to take a look in the mirror and say, God I need you to do it, I can’t.  This is especially difficult in a culture that is as fiercely independent as ours.
 
So, why are we so angry? I suspect it is because in those moments, or perhaps always, we are afraid we are not loved, we hurt, and we think we can do it ourselves.  Anger resolves nothing.  It hurts the people around us.  It destroys dialogue and quite frankly, it leads to violence.  I pray for healing for all of those who like me struggle with this deadly sin.  Advent blessings!

Admitting that Marriage is Hard

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Sometimes honesty in Catholic circles can be difficult.  It is hard to admit to others that our vocation is just plain hard, that marriage can be messy and rough.  I have been married for 3.5 years.  We did not have a “honeymoon phase” as I was pregnant 3 months into our marriage and was sick as all get out for all 9 months of my pregnancy.  I even threw up when I was in labor.  Other hyperemesis sufferers, I know your pain.  My husband had to take care of me for most of my pregnancy, while working full-time.  After I had our beautiful daughter, I developed debilitating post-partum depression/anxiety, something that I have lived with off and on after all of my miscarriages too, including currently. Not to mention that my husband’s has migraines that have resulted in a few hospital visits.

Every year of our marriage we have experienced a loss.  I have spent a good deal of time mourning and battling mental illness.  All of these things take their toll on spouses.  We both finally realized that we could use some help in our marriage.  Catholic marriages are no more perfect than non-Catholic marriages.  The Cross is a way of life no matter what situation we live in.
I finally buckled under the weight of everything and was honest with a friend of mine, another Catholic wife who has been married for over two decades.  Things had boiled over and it was clear that we need a course correction.  My friend listened to me in an empathetic and loving way as I shared the brutal honesty of how things have gone and as I cried profusely for half an hour.  I joked that I catechized her children.  We are all broken messes at times.
We need to be able to be honest with our Faith community without fear of judgment.  A woman who has been married for 20 years has a lot to teach someone like me who has not even been married 4 years.  We should be able to talk to another Catholic wife/mom in all honesty and get advice from those women who have walked this vocation longer than me.  We also have to be honest with ourselves.  It is not a failure to do what it takes to make a marriage better.
So here are my small successes for this week:
1. Finally acknowledging that my husband and I need to some spiritual help.  We will go to a Retrouvaille (http://www.retrouvaille.org/) weekend in February.  I would recommend it for all couples who need to strengthen their marriages or heal.
2. Being vulnerable to a friend of mine instead of keeping things bottled up inside.  This is a big success for me!  I have a tendency to pretend I have it all together while I am crumbling on the inside.  It is something I learned to do in the military.
3. I have become even more aware of my own sin and weakness.  Advent is doing its work on me as I learn even more why I need a Savior.

Third Week of Advent Reflection: Needing a Savior

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We have made it more than half way through Advent.  Next week we will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity and begin the Christmas season.  Our joy is even greater, as we passed through Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday.  We are nearing the end of this season of waiting in joyful hope, although, we wait in joyful hope daily for the Second Coming.

 
Something that I have been thinking about is how it is that we come to wait in joyful hope.  This season is meaningless to those who do not acknowledge the need for a Savior.  In a culture that denies the existence of sin, it is impossible to find that joy.  Each of us must look deep into our hearts and realize that we are powerless in the face of sin unless we fall on Christ.
 
It fascinates me how much the Judeo-Christian archetypes permeate our society and yet we ignore the presence of evil.  Our culture tries to shake off its Christian roots, but just can’t seem to do it fully.  We are always looking for a hero, a savior: Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, Captain America, etc.  These heroes are all over our culture.  There is something in our human make-up that yearns for saving.  These are made up heroes, while Jesus Christ, the God-Man came to save all from sin and death. Somewhere deep inside of our depravity we know that we cannot go it alone.  Many of us go throughout our daily lives without even looking into our sin.  Instead we block it out with  noise and distractions.  It is difficult to come to grips with the pain and evil of sin.  We don’t want to think about it because it causes despair, when it is not viewed in the Light of Christ.  As Matthew Kelly says, ‘the division between good and evil is down every human heart, yours and mine.’  Every single person is capable of great evil and great good.
 
However, because of sin’s destructive nature we cannot battle it alone. In the Light of Christ, we begin to see our terrible ways and desire to correct them.  That desire can only come from Him, cleansing and healing only come from the grace of Jesus Christ.  He shows us the path of holiness to walk.  He shows us the Way.  Without Him as a guide we wander from one sin to the next, without even understanding that our unhappiness comes from those sins.
 
There are so many people throughout the world who live this season without Jesus Christ.  Our society at large focuses more on buying things than it does on what Christmas is all about.  Meanwhile, the Church waits peacefully throughout Advent for the True Gift of Christmas, the Incarnation.  Our joy is made complete in Him.  Without Jesus Christ there is no Advent and there is no Christmas.  Instead we have another day, that may come with some happiness with family and friends.  It may come with the fleeting happiness of a new possession acquired.  But, it does not bring peace to our restless souls.  Instead December 25th is a day like any other day, that passes all too quickly.
 
As Catholics, we need to show the world where True Joy lies.  He is in a manger waiting to free us all.  We wait for one more week for His coming at Christmas.  Our anticipation building, not because of shiny boxes and twinkle lights.  No, it is because Love is calling each one of us, and when we accept, it is joy that we receive.  Advent is truly a blessed season because it reminds us what we truly long for and it cannot be bought.  It is freely given, we only have to accept and follow Him.  Advent blessings!

Praying While Writing Christmas Cards

Praying While Writing Christmas Cards

This is a busy time of year, but it is a holy time of year. Writing Christmas cards can become a burden and be done in a hurried or impersonal way. I have found great joy in praying for each person or family as I write their Christmas card. My message is short and is one of hopeful blessings for each recipient, but each one will know that I prayed for them. Give it a try and see how it alleviates a task that can easily become a burden in this rushed season.

A Few of My Favorite Books-Sleety December Day Version

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It is a gray and dreary day here with a mix of rain and sleet.  This type of day makes me think about my favorite books.  It is the perfect kind of day to tuck in with a favorite book and a peppermint mocha.  Yeah, still working on that coffee addiction.  Thank Our Lord for his patience on the path to holiness.

 
Here are some of my favorite books.  They are both fiction and non-fiction.
 
1. Til We Have Faces- CS Lewis.  This is my all time favorite novel.  I re-read it every year.  It is the re-telling of the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros.  Wonderful book!
 
2. The Seven Storey Mountain-Thomas Merton.  The most profound autobiography I have ever read.  I re-read it every couple of years.  It is the conversion of a secular modern to Trappist Monk.  It is a beautiful book!
 
3.  The Great Divorce-CS Lewis.  The story of a visit to Heaven by those who are in Hell.  It shows brilliantly how we condemn ourselves.
 
4.  Persuasion-Jane Austen. Most people put Pride and Prejudice at the top of their Austen list, but Persuasion is my favorite.  It is about second chances, overcoming pride, forgiveness, and enduring love.
 
5.  Rediscovering Catholicism-Matthew Kelly.  I have to credit this book with helping me to return to the fullness of the Catholic Faith.  This book showed me that the meaning of life is to be a saint and that the Catholic Faith is the best guide on our journey to holiness.  
 
6. Bridging the Great Divide-Fr. Robert Barron.  I have struggled greatly in my current Diocese with remnants of the “spirit of Vatican II”.  Fr. Barron’s book helped me to better understand the philosophical and theological underpinnings of these mistakes and how to focus on the beauty of the Faith.
 
7. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven-Dr. Peter Kreeft.  Like all sinners I need to be converted to Heaven.  Our former parish priest recommended this book to me to help me better understand Heaven.  I took it with me on a retreat to a Trappist Monastery and it really helped me with a lot of my questions.  Plus, Dr. Kreeft is brilliant!
 
8. The Lamb’s Supper-Dr. Scott Hahn-This book is about Scripture and the Mass.  It is part of how the Catholic Church understands the Book of Revelation as the Heavenly Liturgy.  This book completely changed my understanding of the Mass.  It showed me how we step into the supernatural, into Heaven, at Mass.  This book would change so many lives, if people would read it.  Mass is not boring, it is our foretaste of Heaven!
 
9. Space Trilogy (Out of Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength)-CS Lewis-This series is amazing.  It is about the Fallen nature of man and how he struggles with evil.  
 
10. Lord of the Rings-JRR Tolkien- Not much needs to be said.  A brilliant book about the path of holiness, how the small can fight evil, how evil never expects the weak to win, love, hope, I could keep going.
 
These are just a few books that I really enjoy.  There are so many wonderful books that I have read over the years.  What are some of your favorites?  I am always looking for suggestions.  Advent blessings!

Liturgical Living: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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I am slowly starting to incorporate the liturgical calendar into our lives.  My husband and I did not grow up that way, so we are learning as we go.  Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Since I work in pro-life ministry and help women in crisis pregnancy, she is very dear to me as the Patroness of the Unborn, and the Americas.

 
For this Feast Day, I am going to make a Mexican (an American version, really) Taco Salad for dinner.  I like tailoring meals to feast days.  Perhaps I will cook more authentic meals once I get the hang of remembering certain feast days.  We will then read the story of St. Juan Diego (whose feast day is December 9th) and Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It is a beautiful story.  I actually have a friend who went to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on a pilgrimage this week.  What a blessing for her!
 
I will also dedicate my daily Rosary to her and to the protection of the unborn and healing for victims of abortion.
 
Since I am new to liturgical living, I will keep things simple.  Do you have traditions for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe?  I am always looking for ideas.  Advent blessings!  Our Lady of Guadalupe, ora pro nobis.

Small Success Thursdays at CatholicMom.com 12-12-13

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Today I am linked up over at CatholicMom.com’s Small Success Thursday.  Think about a few of your small successes for this week and share them with us.

My first success, and it is a big one in my book, is that I got the upstairs closet somewhat cleaned and organized.  You know that room or closet in your home that you chuck everything into and it looks like a bomb went off? Yeah, that was this closet.  It had been a disaster since we moved in to our new house in May of this year.  A couple of months ago we had a visiting priest come out and bless our house.  He was from Nigeria and he did the most direct and most enthusiastic blessing I have ever seen.  He called out any evil spirits or demons and asked Our Lord to come into our home.  It was great!  We followed him around the house praying the Our Father and Hail Mary.  Then we went upstairs.  I had forgotten about the closet.  He opened it. He blessed it and moved on.  I am sure he has seen worse, but I could not stop laughing from the embarrassment.  Well, you can actually walk inside the closet now.  Win!
Second, I made a commitment to myself to try to eat better and become more disciplined like I was when I was in the  Navy.  I decided to do Phase I of South Beach.  Fad diets don’t really work long-term, but the nice thing about this diet is that it helps you to get rid of sugar and simple carbohydrate cravings.  I kid you not.  After a week of doing it, someone could eat chocolate cake in front of me and I did not want any.  Not that I am going to give up chocolate cake or bread for the rest of my life.  I just eat too much of it and want to focus on temperance.  First, I cut the cravings and then I can focus on enjoying something occasionally.  I did great yesterday, today not as well, but I am going to keep  plugging away.  I have not gone running since September, so I am going to work in exercise again too.
Third, I am getting into a better rhythm with my Dominican prayer responsibilities.  I am finding Lauds and Vespers are much easier for me and a mid-day Rosary works well.  I work study in through out the day as the moment presents itself.  I am still a work in progress.  I missed my Rosary yesterday.  I am going to keep working on it with the intercession of Holy Father Dominic.  I will be received into the lay postulancy next month.  It is definitely a challenge with a toddler, but by Our Lord’s grace, I am making it work. Squee!
Advent blessings to you and yours.

Falling Short and Conquering Sin

I am having one of those days in Motherhood and as a Christian when “I do the very thing I hate” to quote Saint Paul.  I have allowed little things and my own failures drag me down.  That is what the Devil wants.  He would rather I wallow in self-pity rather than ask The Lord for the strength to keep moving forward.

 
I was watching Fr. Barron’s Catholicism series on prayer (episode 9) yesterday.  We own it thanks to my parents and their generous Christmas gift last year.  I pull it out a few times a year and watch an episode.  My daughter even knows who Fr. Barron is and watched part of it with me.  She would point to the screen and say “We watch Fr. Barron”.  I was so proud.  Anyway, I digressed a bit there.  In the episode on prayer, he talks about St. John of the Cross, that great mystic.  St. John of the Cross tells us that we must free ourselves from those things that enslave us so that we can be filled up by God.  He calls this process of emptying the dark night of the senses and then the dark night of the soul.  Both order us properly to God.  I don’t know about you, but I am in major need of proper ordering.
 
It got me thinking about how right now, I really need to work towards conquering my sensual addictions: mainly food and coffee.  I have lacked discipline in this regard since I left the Navy.  I am getting older and eating poorly impacts me physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Food and coffee are meant to be enjoyed.  They are gifts from God.  However, they are not supposed to enslave us.  When we say we “need” something every single day, we are enslaved by the thing, rather than being the master.  That is the point of Temperance.  We can enjoy something as it is, but we can take it or leave it.  We do not have to have it.  We can enjoy it in the moment and then move on.
 
So, I have decided to embark on a journey through battling those things that I am physically addicted to: bread, sugar, coffee.  It is not going to be fun.  I will have a caffeine headache for a few days and crave sugar like crazy. When I get up at 5am this coming Saturday to go to my Lay Dominican meeting I will really want a cup of coffee, or two.  This will be much harder than when I gave up Facebook.  But, the question I must start asking myself is: does this make me a saint?  Does overeating make me a saint? No.  Is not eating right good for my family? No.  It’s not about me!  I am still trying to drill that into my psyche.
 
When I don’t take care of myself, I end up in a cycle of self-loathing, which I then take out on my husband and daughter.  My husband can tell when I feel like a failure because I have a short temper.  The process of holiness is not about self-pity.  We should see our failings and then fall on God’s love and mercy, praying for help and grace.  On days I fall short, I have  tendency to let it get the better of me until I drag myself back to Confession.  Like Father told me in Confession this past Saturday, holiness is a one step at a time process.  It does not happen overnight. 
 
So say a prayer for me as I embark on a dark night of the senses.  Are there areas in your life that you need to free yourself from so that you can be more open to God?