Looking Past the Monotony of Daily Living In Order to See God’s Gratuitous Love

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Image taken from Wiki Commons.

It is easy in our daily lives to discount the seemingly minor encounters or experiences we have throughout any given day. We are so busy going through the motions that we often forget to pay attention to where God is blessing us and showering us with His gratuitous love. He is always trying to draw us closer to Himself, but in our brokenness and the monotony of daily living we often don’t see it. I know that there are far too many days when I am merely going through the motions and not paying attention.

I had an experience last week while I was in Virginia Beach that served as a reminder that God is a loving Father who rejoices with us in our delight and who seeks to give us great blessings. Sometimes those blessing come in roundabout ways and through suffering and sometimes they come in daily gifts such as looking into your child’s eyes with love or engaging in a conversation with a friend. These blessings also come in Creation. They are the most often overlooked, I think.

We are so busy driving from one place to another and checking off our to-do lists that a lot of the time we forget to look up and look out. Mass can even become a drudgery and a part of this rat-race that is daily life. This typically occurs when our prayer life has grown stagnant, cold, or non-existent. How can we expect to find God at Mass if we ignore Him the rest of the week? We have to constantly live the mystery in order to move into the greater depths offered to us in the Mass and in prayer.

I know that my days when prayer is last on my list are much worse than the days when I begin the morning praying Lauds and opening my Bible. I’ve grown so accustomed to attending daily Mass that I miss it when I travel and can’t attend. I was gone all last week and since I can’t drive my husband’s work vehicles and that’s what we took to the beach for his conference, Mass wasn’t an option. Instead, I woke up every morning at 5:20 am and walked out onto the beach by myself in the early dawn light while my husband and daughter slept. I sat down on my beach chair, surrounded by ghost crabs cautiously watching me with their adorable steely-eyed stares, and waited for the sun to rise.

I began praying Lauds a few minutes before the sun rose at 5:44 am, so that I could be praying it exactly as the sun broke the horizon to begin it’s ascent. Moments like these have been an important part of my spiritual life for as long as I can remember. I love sunrise and sunset, but there is something particularly special about sunrise.

While I prayed in the morning I also asked to see some dolphins that day. It brings me great childlike joy to watch them playing and hunting off shore. Virginia Beach is known for its bottlenose dolphins. I wanted to go sea-kayaking with them at sunset one evening, but I fractured my fibula and severely sprained my ankle back in mid-April, so my Physical Therapist said absolutely not. Sea-kayaking typically requires a launch into the surf in my previous experiences and even though I am out of the boot for good, I am not cleared to jump for another month. I was disappointed and my husband promised that he will watch our daughter so that I can go next year. She’s not quite old enough to go out on the ocean, yet.

Since kayaking was out of the question, I simply asked God to see the dolphins the way I’ve seen them for years, swimming and hunting around some time between 6:30 am and 10:00 am. He answered my prayer in abundance. I saw them swimming for a couple of hours on Monday morning, but then the weather turned gusty and rainy for the rest of the day. Tuesday the surf was too rough to see them, but Wednesday was glorious.

The sunrise was incredible and the waves had calmed down quite a bit. My daughter and I were out on the beach all morning. I started seeing the dolphins around 8:30 am and they stayed out for most of the day. About 11:00 am I was standing in the ocean while my daughter played in the sand behind me. I wasn’t even up to my knees at this point when all of a sudden three dolphins popped up directly in front of me. They couldn’t have been 10 feet from me. I gasped in excitement as they jumped through the wave in front of me and I turned to Michaela and excitedly yelled “Dolphins!” at her. She stood up just in time to see them start racing down the shoreline. We were amazed they didn’t get beached, that’s how close to the shore they were. Michaela went sprinting after them down the beach. I would have, but I can’t run on my ankle yet so I quickly walked after her keeping my eyes on the dolphins and her. They ran towards a group of swimmers who mistook them for sharks while all of us tried to yell that they were dolphins not sharks. The dolphins then turned and went back out to deeper waters. I was struck with amazement and joy be the encounter.

Two friends of mine from that area–one a former Marine Biologist–told me this is very rare and a great gift. They don’t usually swim that close to shore. The whole day I was filled with happy excitement, telling everyone at my husband’s conference what had happened. Those dolphins were a gift. I had prayed to see dolphins. I only meant offshore like in the past, but this time God gratuitously answered my prayer. It can’t be a coincidence with all of that beach line and thousands of people up and down the beach that those dolphins happened to pop up right in front of me of all people.

Having a fractured fibula has been a more intense spiritual experience than I expected. I am a rather active person and I love to be outside. When I broke it, my kayak and my bike had to be put away. I couldn’t even take my daughter for a walk on the Greenway near the river. I’ve had to spend a lot of time sitting in bed or in the living room. The first couple of weeks I was completely dependent on the generosity of my friends who brought us meals since cooking was out of the question on crutches. I found myself face down on the ground on multiple occasions when I was learning how to walk on the crutches. The word that constantly came to mind was humilitas, God is teaching me humility.

Even with all of this difficulty, it’s been a spiritually fruitful time. Any progress I’ve made is God’s doing, but I turned to more frequent prayer, especially when I couldn’t get to daily Mass the first few weeks. I started to set my day to the rhythm of prayer and to accept the period of inactivity as an opportunity to spend more time with Christ. This inactivity was a good time to establish new habits that could flow into my daily routine when my period of activity returned, as it has now.

It was quite a blessing to be free of the boot and standing on the beach watching the sunrise. It was even more astonishing to be standing so close to dolphins that I could have reached out and touched them. And not to be outdone in generosity, my last morning in VA Beach as I watched the sun rise one more time, the dolphins came out of the bay and were swimming just off shore as the sun began to rise. They hadn’t been out at sunrise any other morning, but that last morning I saw 10 of them out in search of breakfast.

It would be easy to reduce this to coincidence or science. That’s exactly what our culture would do. The dolphins obviously need to eat throughout the day and a tour boat seems to be what caused the dolphins to become trapped leading them to the shore, but there’s no way they would have ended up in front of me of all people if I hadn’t asked with the faith of child to see some dolphins on my visit. I have a very strong connection to God through the beauty of nature. He has a habit of showering me with graces through the beauty of the outdoors and this was no different. I don’t get up before sunrise simply for the sunrise. It is as much a spiritual experience as it is a sensory one for me: body and soul.

God is this gratuitous with His beauty every single day. We are the ones who fail to notice it. In fact, far too many of us have grown numb and can no longer enter into and experience objective beauty. The sunset is merely the sun setting for the evening. The flowers are simply signs of spring and summer. The mountains are there every day. The ocean is the same ocean we see day-in-and-day-out or the prairie or the desert or the plains, etc. We have to maintain childlike innocence in relation to Creation to see the wonders and beauty God gives to us through it.

We have to open our hearts to the Divine Lover who seeks to woo all of us through the gifts of the universe. He reaches down to us body and soul through the senses. The material universe is a sign of His glory. The Sacraments are matter and form. They reach us body and soul. God always reaches us as we are created. We are the ones who end up off balance by an over-dependence or an under-dependence upon the material as it works in conjunction with the spiritual.

Watch a child. They stare at a dandelion as if it contains a whole universe within it. Somewhere along the way we decided that isn’t how adults act or we respond in apathy. There is a reason Christ says that we must be child-like. Only those who open their entire being up to Him in wonder and love can be filled up by Him. The dandelion, even if it annoys us because of the pristine lawn we aspire to, is a reminder of the goodness and beauty of God. We can see the detail, intricacies, and coloring in this “mundane” object that many people disdain. Each flower, animal, mountain ridge, river, crashing wave, etc. is filled with the intricate ordering of of a universe made by God ex nihilo by a sheer act of gratuitous self-emptying love. We are loved into being each day, but we have to open ourselves up to it.

We have to find the courage to plunge into the depths and it is scary. As C.S. Lewis says in The Chronicles of Narnia about Aslan: ‘He isn’t a tame lion, but he is good.’ Besides the depth found in the Mass, the greatest creation with us on this earth is found in our fellow human beings. Each person contains within themselves uncharted depths and the image of God. If we pay attention and we open ourselves up to others freely in charity, we can truly see Christ in other people. It is breathtaking and it reveals the vastness of the human soul made by God.

There is wonder, awe, beauty, and joy in communion with our fellow man grounded in Christ. God’s gratuitous love is extended to us through the people we encounter each day and the people who we form deeper bonds with such as our family and friends. Do we see the people God has given to us as He sees them? Would we see dolphins popping up in front of us after a simple prayer as a gift from Him? Life contains much monotony, but that monotony is transformed when we see God’s movement in every single moment of our day.

Turning to Mary and Trusting When It’s Hard

Trust is constantly on my mind these days. My husband and I found out that I am pregnant. Anyone who has read my previous work for Catholic Exchange knows that I have had three miscarriages and spent 3.5 years afflicted with post-partum depression and anxiety. The doctors know why I had miscarriages and my Catholic NaPro doctor told me three years ago that she could possibly help us have another successful pregnancy. In the meantime, she was able to begin treating my severe hormone deficiencies.

At that time, I had just suffered my third and most traumatic loss which resulted in emergency surgery. The post-partum that had developed 10 weeks after I gave birth to my daughter, deepened after each loss. That was not the time for another child. My husband and I knew that God wanted us to heal and walk the Cross of post-partum depression. My body also needed major healing after all it had been through. We didn’t know when the post-partum would lift and we knew the risk of me getting it after another pregnancy was high. Thankfully, NaPro offers a post-partum depression progesterone treatment that has helped a lot of women.

After that difficult time, we didn’t know or think we would have any more children, but God’s ways are not our own. It would have been imprudent to try and I wrote about the need for prudence in such decisions. God calls each one of our families to a different path to holiness and we cannot compare our situation to the person sitting next to us in the pew because we have no idea what they are going through, can handle, or what God is asking of them. Being judgmental is a sin for a reason and it stems from the destructive sin of pride. But, God is also not done with any of us. Crosses lift, evolve, or take a new shape. Old Crosses disappear and new ones take their place. In all of these we are called to trust.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Mass is Boring?!

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It is something that many Catholics hear often from others: “Mass is boring”. Their reasons for feeling this way are varied: the Homily, music, tradition, to the movements of the Mass themselves, bore them. If there is something we Catholics know how to argue about and disagree on it is the Mass. I have no desire to jump into the “Liturgy wars”. I have plenty of my own opinions that are my own and not universal and I am no fan of Marty Haugen or Dan Schutte music, but those fights accomplish little and continue to muddy the waters for those Catholics who really do not understand the Mass. In fact, I would argue that the number one problem for those Catholics who are bored at Mass is that they just don’t understand what exactly is going on during the Liturgy. In my mind, it is impossible to be bored at Mass if you truly grasp what is unfolding. So, I want to briefly explain the Mass from a theological understanding without getting too deep, so that I bore people who do not share my love of reading Church documents and the Summa.

When God created the Heaven’s and the earth, he made everything in a free act of love. This action, referred to in theological terms as exitus, is God sharing of Himself. In this sharing, God intended that His creatures would return to Him in love and worship through charity and faith. This is referred to as reditus. This essentially means that the created order is meant to return to God. Theological terms can be fun, right?! The first thing for us to keep in mind is that we were created to return to God in love and admiration. This is what we were made for. God wanted to share Himself with us and wants us to return to Him in that love. Pretty simple!

Now, how exactly does God want us to return to Him? Yes, there is a clear answer. He desires our worship through the only acceptable sacrifice, namely Christ’s Crucifixion and our obedience. On the night He was betrayed, Our Lord began a new Passover, so that His body (yes, His actual body) could be left with the Church that was to be founded by Him and led by Peter. Jesus was fulfilling His mission as High Priest in that He would become the new Paschal Lamb that had been sacrificed through the Levitical priesthood. He did this through the establishment of the Holy Eucharist and by His Paschal Mystery. He was the new sacrifice and he made a total act of obedience to the Father that we are to emulate. In fact, His sacrifice transcended the previous sacrifices of the Jews because Christ being both God and man he entered into the veil of the Holy of Holies. Meaning, he brought the sacrifice of Himself before the Father in Heaven for His people. Pretty amazing stuff! The Old Law had a prescribed liturgical form and sacrificial ritual that had been commanded by God, beginning with Abraham. Christ completed that ritual through His own Crucifixion and established the New Law, which is what most of us are familiar with in the Catholic Church.

How is this connected to the Mass? Well, the Mass as we know it today was formed over centuries of tradition. The Holy Eucharist has been celebrated from the very beginning of the Church, as is evidenced by the writings of the Early Church Fathers. The actual rites have undergone changes here and there, but the reality has been the same. The purpose of the Mass has always been the same. First, we are living what St. Thomas Aquinas called the virtue of religion. When we go to Mass we fulfill our purpose in life to give right worship to God. Remember how I explained reditus? The Mass is our return in love to the Most Holy Trinity. Second, we offer sacrifice. The Mass is often referred to as The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that is because Christ commanded that we offer sacrifice to the Father through the Holy Eucharist. Third, we are entering into communion with the actually body of Christ through our reception of the Holy Eucharist. Let’s look at each of these points individually.

First, by virtue of our Baptism and entry into the visible structure of the Church (membership in the Church) we are called to worship and glorify God. The largest action of charity we make in our lives is to attend Mass. It is there that we return to the Father in thanksgiving for all He has given us and seek reparation for our sins (we do this in the Sacrament of Penance too). This is also why the Mass is not about us. That’s right, the Mass is not about me or you. It is not a time for the choir to perform a concert, for me gain recognition for my working in the parish, or for the priest to dazzle an “audience”. The Mass is entirely about the Mystical Body gathering together to praise God, offer sacrifice, and move deeper into communion with Him. This is even more crucial in understanding when we realize who precisely is presiding over the Mass and who is present with us during the Liturgy.

Second, the Mass is the sacrifice offered by Christ on Calvary. No, we do not re-crucify Christ. Rather, we offer the glorified Body of Christ present in the Heavenly sanctuary, which is made present on our altars. The priest offers the sacrifice in the two forms of bread and wine. That is because in the Old Law, sacrifice was bloodless flesh separate from the blood. In a sacrificial understanding they must be separate. This does not mean only receiving the precious Body is invalid. The flesh contains the blood and Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity in its entirety. It just must be separate during the sacrificial portion of the Mass. Now there are differing schools of thought on my next point, but I am Thomistic in my school of Theology. Thomists would say that it is Christ Himself presiding over the Mass and offering sacrifice to God. That’s right, Jesus Christ Himself offers our Mass. He offers Himself to the Father along with the Mystical Body of Christ, through the visible ordained priest. Mass isn’t so boring anymore, is it?! Not only that, by virtue of the reality of Heaven reaching our altars, the Church Triumphant, the souls and angels in Heaven are also present. There is an invisible company of witnesses present at every single Mass. It’s incredible!

Third, Christ left His body, under the guise of bread so that we may reach out and touch His body that was broken for us. We enter into an intimate union with Christ that unites us body and soul to Him every single time we receive Holy Communion. He is physically with us for the 15 minutes or so it takes for our body to digest the consecrated host. Christ loves us so much that He wants nothing more than to be united with every aspect of what makes us human. So when someone asks you if you have a personal relationship with Christ you can reply that you have the most intimate relationship with Him by virtue of the Holy Eucharist. This is one of the key issues that separates us from our Protestant brethren. Our churches house the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The King of the Universe dwells in our Tabernacles and waits for each one of us. That is how He always wanted it to be and that is why He left us His body in the Holy Eucharist.

This, in a very short blog post, is what we participate in when we go to Mass. The Mass is not where we are entertained. The Mass is where we enter into the presence of Jesus Christ. It is where we offer our love and devotion to the God who made us and died for us. It is where Christ reaches down and physically touches us in our brokenness. It is where we can unite our own sufferings to His. The Mass is quite literally the most important thing that we do in our lives. The next time you are at Mass meditate on what is actually going on. Approach the Holy Eucharist as if you were bowing down before the King of Kings, because that is precisely what you are doing. It is quite impossible to be bored at Mass when you know what is taking place.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper and Edward Sri’s A Biblical Walk Through the Mass.

Small Success Thursday: My Amazing Husband

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I am a firm believer that women should compliment their husbands in public and voice struggles either in private with their husband or with a trusted friend if counsel is needed. If people hear me griping about my husband constantly it will change their view of him and that is wrong. Not to mention that marital disputes are private. With that in mind, I must confess that I am terrible at complimenting my husband in our conversations. I struggle with compliments with most people, except my 3 year old. Perhaps she is teaching me how to be better?

I can’t explain precisely why compliments are hard for me, and that includes taking them. It is not that I don’t have positive thoughts about people, although, I will admit to a few periods of gloom in my lifetime. This is on my mind, firstly, because my Confessor told me to work on it, and secondly, because my husband sacrifices a lot and he deserves my praise.

My husband has had to give up a lot while I go to graduate school full-time. He no longer gets Saturdays to tinker in the garage or work in the garden without our daughter. Instead, he runs errands, grocery shops, and keeps our daughter entertained while I study. He does this throughout the week too, while I study. It’s hard on me too. I have to sacrifice a lot of family time for the next 1.75 years. I get 3 months off a year and I need to make the most of that time. But, my husband works 50-60 hours a week, sometimes has to travel for work, and then comes home to take over for me so that I can hit the books. He is amazing and I need to make him more aware of that fact.

In my studies, I can get tunnel vision. I have a paper due this week! I actually have two due this week and one next week, followed by final exams. So my head is not exactly in the vocational game as it should be. Our daughter has started the difficult period of 3 years of age and has started throwing tantrums and lying. This is a time when really learning how to parent is crucial. While my head has been a bit distracted, my husband has really risen to the occasion.

This morning my daughter threw a couple of different tantrums and screaming fits. I texted my husband in exasperation. He clearly and reasonably explained the situation to me. I wasn’t paying attention like I should be. Our daughter is learning independence, but she is scared too. Her mommy is now studying and taking care of the family. That is a big change. So we need to teach her authentic freedom, but make sure that she knows we are here if she needs us. I listened to my brilliant husband and I was so grateful that I married him. God gave me this guy because he knows how to help me grow. He knows how to take the reins, when I need to sit and take the ride. Our daughter is in good hands.

So my small success for this week, is opening up my eyes to the man God gave me. The one who sacrifices so much for our daughter and me. The man who pushes me to dream, holiness, and selflessness. The one who is keeping (always does) this ship on course while I study away. My husband is awesome!

What are your small successes this week? Come join the conversation at CatholicMom.com by clicking on the picture at the top of this post.

I waited a long time for the right man to marry.
I waited a long time for the right man to marry.

Celebrating Our 4th Wedding Anniversary

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Today is my 4th wedding anniversary.  It has been an amazing and interesting ride.  I have learned more in the past 4 years than I did in the 29 previous years.  I know more about my self; my strengths and my weaknesses.  Marriage is a vocation because it is a path to holiness.  As I look over my life, I see that God gave me the husband that I need, the one who would make me a saint.  My husband loves me with an authentic love.  He wills my good.  I just tend to fight back at times, just like when I sin.  My husband sees my struggles from the outside and wants to help me break free of them to become a better version of myself.

I did not get married until I was 29.  I met my husband and we were engaged within two months of dating and married in 10 months.  He was 33.  We were both older and knew what we were looking for.  Our Catholic Faith reigned supreme in a hunt for a spouse.  It had not always been that way for either of us, but God guided us to one another through our broken experiences.  Getting married later can be a struggle.  I am fiercely independent.  I had lived all over and taken care of myself for over a decade, so even though I love my husband, I struggle with that part of me.  The part that is torn by pride.  I can do it myself.  I have ALWAYS done it by myself.  But, that is not God’s vision for marriage and it creates struggles. 

God gave me my husband to teach me healthy dependence on another person, so that I may more fully embrace total dependence on God.  Marriage and family life is a reflection of the Holy Trinity.  It is meant to be a total self-donation.  I am to serve until I am spent, and then give more.  Now, in my sinful nature, I struggle to overcome my desire to do it my way.  I struggle to let go of my personal addictions.  They seem small to our culture: too much sugar or too much social media, but they aren’t.  My husband knows that because he sees the impact on me.  He also knows that to grow in holiness we must detach from earthly things and learn to appreciate them in a healthy way.  My husband is a lot wiser than I am.

I am thankful to be celebrating 4 years with the man I know God gave me.  We have a beautiful daughter who is teaching us more and more how to be open to love and sacrifice.  I will continue to embrace this amazing and difficult vocation that Our Lord has given me.  I am reminded of the words of the priest’s Homily at our Nuptial Mass: “It is your job to lead one another to Heaven”.  Happy Anniversary, Babycakes!  I love you muches!

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Joy in Motherhood on Hallowe’en

Motherhood continues to amaze me in wonderful new ways.  Yesterday was Hallowe’en.  My husband and I had found a bee costume at a local consignment shop.  I put it on her in the early evening last night, and my heart melted.  She was adorable!  I am sure she will be embarrassed by this in the years to come, but right now I get to enjoy her cuteness in all of its glory.

We went over to a friends’ house to have dinner and then go trick-or-treating together in their neighborhood.  Their neighborhood is perfect for trick-or-treating; safe with minimal traffic.  There were a lot of kids out.  We started off with a pizza party.  My husband met us at their house.  He came dressed as a farmer, even wearing his straw hat.  He had put our wheelbarrow in the back of his pick-up.  He was going to wheel our daughter around the neighborhood.  That is a lot of walking for a 2 year old.  My husband is awesome!

At first, Michaela was shy.  She would go up to the door with the other girls and just stand there.  At each house my husband would tip over the wheelbarrow so that she could jump out.  As the night went on, she got more and more confident.  She would say “thank you”, even if she did not master “trick-or-treat”.  She had so much confidence that she would grab multiple items out of the bowl, when people would offer her a choice.  Each time she would climb into the wheelbarrow, she would say, “more candy”.  We could not stop laughing.  The neighborhood loved that my husband pushed her around in a wheelbarrow.  I think that she was the youngest kid out.  Our friends’ daughter would help her up the steps when she wanted to go up without me, which became more frequent as she got the hang of it.

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As I stood at the curb with the other moms who were trick-or-treating with us, I felt the tremendous joy of motherhood.  I had so much fun.  Sure I have fond memories of trick-or-treating in 6 inches of snow, I am from Montana, but watching my daughter gave me such profound joy.  I had the most fun that I have had in a while.  She brought joy to the people handing out candy too.  I could tell as they interacted with her.

Holidays like Hallowe’en, which for us Catholics is not over yet, can be stressful.  The costumes, pumpkins, candy, and all of the preparation can take away from the fun.  As parents, we get to experience the fun and wonder that our child experiences each year, if we allow ourselves too.  Every year holidays take on a new dimension.  This year, our daughter really experienced Hallowe’en.  Last year, we took her to our neighbors’ houses, but it was bitter cold and she was only one.  This year she could figure it out from the older girls.  It is a strange and wonderful feeling to watch my 2 year old to bravely go up to a stranger’s door without me.  The one night a year they take candy from a stranger!  I also started to understand why some parents dress up with their kids.  It is a family night.  My husband got fully involved, after joking with me that he was going to stay at our friends’ house, hand out candy and drink a beer.  Of course I gave him the wife look.  It made me wish that I had thought of something to wear.  I went as a mom.

The longer I am a mother, the more I realize that I am fully alive in this wonderful, painful, challenging, joy-filled, amazing, vocation.  Seeing my daughter grow fills me with bittersweet joy.  It is wonderful to see her develop and learn, but at the same time it pulls at my heart.  I want to hold her tight and keep her as she is, but that is not how life works.  Motherhood is a constant lesson in letting go.  Isn’t that a part of love?  Allowing someone to blossom in their own way, of their own free will.  It is deeply challenging for a mom.  So last night I stood in the dark watching my child filled with peace and joy, while experience the cut that is letting her go.  That is why marriage is a vocation, it prunes away at us.  It teaches us to see joy, which only comes from God.  I am deeply thankful for last night and I look forward to the joyous occasions that are in store for my family and me.  Happy Feast of All Saints!  Get to Mass. :o)

Thanks Be to God

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It is easy for me to get worked up about the evil going on in the world, or about how I fail often at being the mother and wife God wants me to be.  By becoming distracted by all of the darkness, or by allowing a self-loathing dialogue to run rampant in my mind, I am allowing the Enemy to win in my heart.  He wants me to despair.  He wants me to think that he has won and that there is no point in fighting back, in serving others, or focusing on my family.  That is his creed: despair.  But, the truth is that Jesus Christ won the battle for us all by dying for our sins and showing us the hope of Eternal life.  That does not mean that this life is easy, but it does mean that love and hope always will conquer over evil.  It just may be that we will not fully understand until we are with Him.

When my husband I were dating he would tell me to write down 10 things that i am grateful for that day.  Our engagement was full of stress, family medical issues, and change.  When I would allow my job, family, or the world to get to me, he would tell me to focus on what I am thankful for in each moment.  I have had gratitude journals off and on for about five years, but I have not done a great job of keeping up with it.  Then, when I was sick as a dog while pregnant with my daughter, I discovered the blog, A Holy Experience, http://www.aholyexperience.com, through my friend Dana’s Facebook posts.
Her blog is beautiful.  Her words are like poetry and speak deep truth that bring me peace and reminds me that I am not alone.  Sometimes I read her writing and think we were separated at birth.  Like me, she has struggled through periods of loss and anxiety.  She knows what it is to live on auto-pilot.  One day she woke up from a nightmare and realized that she truly wanted to live and she discovered that gratitude was the way to accomplish living a Christ-centered life.  Even though we differ theologically, her message is one that all of us need to take in. It is the same message that my husband has been trying to get across to me.
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What happens to me when I start being grateful for all I have and truly pay attention to what is going on in my life?  I start to notice the way the sunlight falls across the room early in the morning.  I can see the way the breeze rustles my daughter’s golden hair.  I see her long eyelashes and her beautiful, radiant eyes.  I see my husband’s smile.  I am touched by the joy he brings Michaela when he gets home from work.  I savor the smell of soup cooking in the Crockpot.  I laugh at the squirrels trying to steal our sunflower seeds.  I start to see Christ in the people around me.  I have more strength when bad news comes, as it will in this life.  I pray more because I know that joy and pain are joined together.  I am more generous.  A full heart wants to share its blessings.
A lot of us are frustrated, or downright disgusted, with our government right now.  Many of us worry about the state of the world: poverty, hunger, disease, terrorism, worldwide Christian persecution, abortion, attacks on marriage, attacks on the Church, the hurt our children experience, the suffering of the ones we love.  The truth of the matter is that suffering is a part of life here.  It is how God refines us in the Divine Furnace, as our recently retired priest told me in Confession, as I cried about my most recent miscarriage.  We are guaranteed to suffer in this lifetime, but we also experience tremendous glimpses of joy.  I never realized how blown away I could be by the golden sunlight illuminating my daughter’s face.  I only had to pay attention and offer my thanks to God.
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When I close my heart off to Him.  When I focus on the darkness, then I cannot find my way.  If I focus on what God is doing in my life and throughout the world, then all I see is Him.  He is who I must focus on if I am going to keep up the good fight.  He is who is going to guide my husband and me in protecting our daughter and bringing her up in the Faith.  He will be the one who will show us the way through health problems and grief.  Sometimes he has to carry us for a while before we realize He has been there all along.  As human beings, we get lost in ourselves.  Instead we must step outside of our own inner dialogue, our own pain, even our own families, and listen for the sweet whisper of Our Lord.
Have you tried writing down things that make you thankful each day?  I have a journal that I use to write down my gratitude.  Even just taking five minutes to write down a couple of things can change the course of my entire day.  Give it a try.  Offer up your thanksgiving and see how the abundant blessings flow.

Dealing with Miscarriage Part III: It’s a Journey

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When I started writing this series on miscarriage, I did not know where it would go.  I just started typing.  I let my heart do the talking and my fingers do the telling.  A friend said to me that writing it down may be a form of healing for me, and I think that she is right.  It has been a really stressful year for my family.  We are at a point where we expect an emergency or tragedy every month.  It has made it difficult for me to really grieve and heal from my most recent loss.  Perhaps taking the time to share my experiences with others is helping.  I do not write as someone who has all of the answers.  Like most people, I am struggling through the questions, the doubts, and the pain.  I have moments of clarity followed by moments of despair.  This life is a journey, grief is a journey.  Being purified in the furnace of suffering is deeply difficult, even if it makes me or anyone else a much deeper person and unites us more fully to Christ.

 
I am learning that it is ok to say it hurts.  I can cry, even in public.  Sometimes wounds open and pour crimson all over the place.  Pain is not neat and tidy.  Grief does not call you up and say when it will hit.  Sometimes you find yourself sobbing uncontrollably in a public restroom, like I did last night.  Something triggers the pain.  The wounds that are still tender tear open and you bleed internally.  It hurts and all you can do is wait for the bleeding to stop and it does.  If you are reading this and have been through a miscarriage or any other grief, I want you to know that it is ok to fall apart.  You can’t be strong all of the time, I know I can’t.  There will be times when the pain gets to be too much and all you can do is let water flow and glisten your cheeks until it is done.  Death is agonizing.  It separates us from who we were meant to be.  It took Our God coming down as man to sever the despair and finality of death.  The distance between our dead loved ones and ourselves feels great, perhaps that is a side effect of sin.  Believing that my babies are in Heaven gives me eventual peace, but it does not alleviate the aching in my heart or the longing in my arms.
 
I was at a crisis pregnancy center dinner last night when my heart broke again.  I was sitting in a banquet room with 590 people.  I was enjoying a nice dinner and talented musicians.  I was with friends and we were talking and laughing.  But, deep down, I knew the pain was lingering beneath the surface.  You cannot write what I have written this week and expect it not to impact you.  They began showing a beautiful short film called Crescendo.  It was heart wrenching in its desperation, a desperation that so many women feel when they choose abortion over life.  She ends up having her child and as she labored, I thought of my own daughter.  Then woman in the film held her new child and the pain boiled over within me, and tears poured down my face.  I thought of a baby that I should be laboring and holding now.  My Marie.  I walked out of the room.  Many probably thought that I had had an abortion and could not handle it.  The thought crossed my mind as I left the room.  But, the pain of losing a child no matter the circumstances is painful and in that room of people working to heal the broken, it would not matter either way.  Pride.
 
I made it to the bathroom where I sobbed against a wall.  Thankfully, my friend Christine had followed me and I cried on her shoulder.  The weight was too great.  I finally uttered the words that I struggled to admit.  I miss my babies.  I miss my babies….I never get to hold them, or kiss them, or snuggle with them.  I do not get to hear their first word, or watch them take their first steps.  They feel lightyears away and that distance cuts me to the core.  I know that they are with Our Lord.  I trust in that even if Revelation does not explicitly mention it.  (I will talk about the Church on Monday).  It just hurts.  It confuses and confounds me. It leaves me vulnerable and shaken to my very being.
 
I guess I started sharing all of this because I don’t want other women and families to feel alone.  I do not want you to feel like you can’t grieve or that your pain is not warranted.  This blog is about the path to holiness and this is where I am on the journey.  I have plenty of moments of joy in my day. My daughter amazes me constantly.  I will write about these things too.  There is so much goodness in my life.  I just am in a period of grief at the same time.  Tears are healing.  And that is a part of life.  We go through years of grief in this life.  It waxes and wanes.  
 
I pray you have a very blessed weekend.  Enjoy your family! Be extra thankful at Mass or Church on Sunday.  Take a look at the beauty around you.  Beauty heals.  He heals.  Be patient with yourself.