Monthly Archives: April 2014

Should I stay or should I go?

The lyrics from on old song came roaring through my head this morning: Should I stay or should I go now?/ Should I stay or should I go now?/If I go there will be trouble/ An’ if I stay it will be double/ So come on and let me know/ Should I stay or should I go?

We are remodeling our kitchen and clearing many things out of our home. Through this process, we are trying to determine if we should stay in this home or move. There are a whole host of reasons for choosing to stay or choosing to go. I used to be the kind of person who would list out all the pros and cons and decide from there. Boy, have I changed!

Nowadays, I am learning and practicing the 4-step:

Step 1 = STOP
I stop when faced with a big decision like this. This takes a tremendous amount of will power for me because I am by nature a decision-maker. So I force myself to completely halt everything to do with the decision.

Step 2 = PRAYER
I step up my prayer life and go directly to God. My weekly Adoration hour has been focused on listening. What does God want us to do? Is there a reason we should stay? Is there a reason we should go?

Step 3 = WISE COUNSEL
I turn to someone who knows our Lord better than anyone else, the Blessed Virgin Mary. I started a Novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel which has turned into what feels like an eternal novena! I am way past 9 days of praying, but I keep asking for guidance. However, it has been revealed to me that the Blessed Virgin’s guidance is guaranteed when it concerns your eternal salvation. This made me realize that staying or going may not affect my eternal salvation, so I may not need or receive much guidance here.

I usually find myself scheduling a meeting with my Spiritual Director, who always has practical yet difficult-to-hear-and-do advice. Honestly, I haven’t done that just yet….

Step 4 = CLARITY
I wait for clarity through this discernment process. This is the hardest part of the 4-Step. Hanging around when you are living in no-man’s land is a test of patience, fortitude, perseverance and faith. Especially when everyone around you–your spouse, your remodeling help, your family, your friends, your neighbors–is really badly wanting an answer. Waiting is difficult, but waiting while being pestered can be intolerable. Ask any mom who has toddlers in the grocery store check-out line.

This 4-Step has taught me to be more patient. I used to pray things like, “God, I need to know by next week if you want me to sell my house. If I don’t  hear from you, I’m going to assume you want me to stay.” Wow, what pride I had/have to demand things of God. His ways are not our ways, and his time is not our time. I am feeling this truth tremendously right now.

Please do not think that I am “perfect” in this regard. At the beginning of this process, I jump-started into action, then realized I had broken the rules of 4-Stepping. I had to backtrack, apologize to some folks, and undo some things. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I once again overlooked God in a big decision in my life. So, my hope is that by sharing this with others, I will feel even more compelled to follow it in my own life.

Today, I still am under tremendous pressure to answer this question: Should we stay or should we go? And just like the song states,”if I go there could be trouble, and if I stay it will be double.” But I am not asking a person to answer this for me. I am asking an all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, awesome God and His handmaid, Mary the Untier of Knots, to help me. I am sure I will know with much clarity what I am supposed to do soon enough.

 

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Finding Perfection in Brokenness

My family had a rare evening last night when all extracurricular activities were cancelled. We decided to get outside and spend time at a park. It was a beautiful evening and even the family dog enjoyed it with us. When we arrived home, our children asked to watch a movie. Most of television programming is such junk today, that we have purchased some DVDs of movies which uplift and give hope. We let my youngest son chose the movie for us all. He chose Seabiscuit.

If you haven’t watched this movie, you should. It is a story that intertwines the lives of three people and the struggles they went through during the Depression. It is a story of those same people finding each other and healing each other through a race horse named Seabiscuit. There are some difficult scenes in this movie, so I would either limit it for younger children or watch it first, and fast forward through those scenes. But overall, it is such a powerful story that I highly recommend it.

The fact that my son picked this movie doesn’t surprise me. It seems that healing was a theme in my life yesterday. Earlier in the day, my sister and I were discussing how every person and every family has brokenness and sin. This came up because our extended family is planning a gathering at our family farm in Nebraska to celebrate a 50th Wedding Anniversary, and 80th Birthday, and a 17th Wedding Anniversary, as well as the upcoming sale of our family farm in Nebraska. The farm has been in the family for over 100 years. But we have been leasing the land to local farmers for decades as all of us moved on to other occupations. This is a time to remember and let go. It is a joyful and sad moment for my entire family, and when family gathers, all kinds of issues arise.

Our family is not perfect. We have alcoholism, overeating, anxiety, suicide–you name it and we probably have it. But the truth is we also have a lot of love. We know we are not perfect, yet our love is strong. However, there are some people in my family who harshly judge other family members. They cannot relate to them or do not want to spend time with them. They cannot stand their brokenness. In fact, they choose to think that certain people are “perfect.”

I love that line in “Seabiscuit” where Mr. Howard wakes up in the middle of the night very perturbed and tells his wife, “Perfect. He’s perfect. What the hell does “perfect” mean? What? You show me something that’s perfect, I’ll show you something that’s not.” People who think others are perfect are looking at the outside of people or the surface of their lives and they believe that these “perfect” people have no faults, no issues, no sin. This is setting these “perfect” people up for a big fall off the pedestal you have set them upon. They are sinners like you and I. Their families have brokenness, whether they want to face it or not.

The only person who is perfect is Jesus Christ. Yes, we are called to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, but that takes a lifetime to come close to accomplishing. In the meantime, we have to learn to accept our weaknesses, change what we can change, and love each other the best we can. I guess the script writer of Seabiscuit said it best, “You know, everybody thinks we found this broken-down horse and fixed him, but we didn’t. He fixed us. Every one of us. And I guess in a way we kinda fixed each other, too.”

To Finish and Finish Well

I was talking with my children about how the end of the school year is so hard for everyone. The spring weather calls to us, wanting us to come outside and enjoy the sunshine and beauty. The school work has been getting more difficult throughout the year, so that by the end of third quarter, we are just starting to break into some truly challenging material. The final exams also mean more intense study. Meanwhile, summer planning has made the excitement of a break from all of this intensity creep into our minds. It’s the perfect storm for poor school performance.

As I considered all of these things, I realized why I always had such an upper hand on my classmates in school. I pretty much conquered school without even thinking too hard about it. Yes, I was the correct learning style for the school room (visual and aural learner), and I had self-discipline and intelligence. Connect that with fundamental respect for adults in authority and personal responsibility, and I see how I was way ahead of the game.

However, as the kids and I talked through the challenges of year-end, I realized that I was able to move beyond my peers because I am a finisher. Although by personality and gifts, I am a very creative, not-too-organized idea-generator, somehow I also have the gift of perseverance. I go until the bitter end. Some would argue this is just a strong will. It is. But it is also a gift because I won’t give up or let obstacles slow me down. When most of my classmates sat down at the end of third quarter, I kicked into high gear. Some day, I’ll share the story of how I won the first and only 5K race in which I ever participated because of this exact principle.

The whole point of this discussion is to teach my children that sometimes in life you win just by showing up consistently and finishing the race. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. In fact, oftentimes, it is not. But that old fable of the turtle and the hare is based on an immutable truth. Perseverance matters. And if you can even increase your performance at the very end, you will pass by many of your peers in any area of your life.

It is humbling to admit that I used to care about finishing well for the sake of college scholarships or job promotions or recognition or honors. Now, I care about it for my soul and my family’s eternal salvation. I want to be able to say what St. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8)

 

Never Argue with the Devil

I am embarrassed to admit how many times I have read the story of the Temptation of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 4 but never even realized what exactly Jesus was doing here. All along, I thought that Jesus was outwitting the Devil! I was so focused on how Jesus could not be trapped by Satan and his empty promises, that I assumed that Jesus was just a better debater. I fundamentally overlooked the most important part of this Gospel and it has affected me terribly in life.

Let me start at the beginning:

  1. Jesus is “led by the Spirit.” That explains my first mistake. I have lived my life basically leading myself–my goals, my dreams, my life. Really, I did not leave a whole lot of room for the Spirit to even visit, let alone lead me anywhere. I wasn’t open to this or aware of the need for it as a young person.
  2. “To be tempted by the Devil.” Okay, so this should have taught me that in reality there are going to be temptations in life that are brought on by the devil. I live in a time when most people no longer believe or teach that Satan is real. And don’t even mention “sin” because according to those same people, sin no longer exists either. (P.S. I now know that these are both big lies!)
  3. “He fasted for forty days and forty nights.” I think about the self-mastery necessary to fast for this long, and realize that Jesus knew that he must cleanse himself first before facing “other.”
  4. “And afterwards he was hungry.” Do you want to know who you really are? Let yourself get really hungry–do not eat for an entire day or two while still maintaining your usual work load. By the end of the day, review how you have acted towards those around you. How kind were your words? Did you help others before helping yourself? Could you maintain your peace? When I am hungry, I feel my inner toddler coming out and it is not pretty at all. I can only imagine if I had to face Satan after 40 days of fasting. Would I have the inner fortitude to survive?
  5. “The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” A-Ha! Eureka! This is the passage that blew my mind and our good Pope Francis was the one who broke it open for me. Jesus was NOT, I repeat, NOT arguing with the Devil. He was quoting God! He turned to verses from the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament for Christians) and quoted God to the Devil. In fact, every single reply that Jesus makes is from the Scriptures.

Now, maybe you are reading this and wondering why I am so excited about this Eureka moment. I think it is because I have lately been seeing very clearly just how duped we are by Satan and his empty promises. People that I know and love are trapped by their ignorance of Satan and his lies and cannot even see it. I was becoming a bit depressed or despairing because I could not figure out how God could expect us to battle such a strong enemy with our limited human capacities. I mean, really? Human versus Angel is not a very difficult contest! That’s when I realized what a gift the Word of God is for us. We already have the answers we need to combat Satan, if we are willing to spend time turning to God’s Word and his Church in our times of temptation.  If Jesus Christ, Son of God, would not directly engage with Satan, then neither will I. As for me, I will let Christ’s example teach me how to fight this enemy!

Life or Death in Six Minutes

Six minutes without oxygen to the brain and you are dead. That’s all. Six minutes. Doesn’t matter if you are 80 years old or 8 days old–you’ve got six minutes. My take away from AED/CPR training this morning is that oxygen is very important.

Take out your favorite candle. Light it. Wait until it is burning well. Then take a metal snuffer and place it over the wick. In less than 10 seconds, the fire is out. Fire needs oxygen to burn anything. No oxygen, no fire.

Oxygen, “O-Two” as the chemists call it, is so simple but so necessary. It took thousands of years for humans to even know that oxygen existed. We can study chemistry and know that is exists, but do we really understand it? I think the only humans that can really understand oxygen and are still living are the astronauts. When you are up in space and there is no oxygen except for what you have stored on board the shuttle or space station, you must become highly aware of what oxygen means and what it is.

That is why I think many of the quotes of the astronauts who have been in outer space mention our good God: “To look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible, … It just strengthens my faith. I wish there were words to describe what it’s like.” – John Glenn

I think oxygen is like the breath of God in a way. It sustains our lives. It kindles fire. It is all around us whether we choose to recognize it or not. It is.

The Book Whisperer

I’ve been praying for God to show me those areas of my life where I am blind to my own sin, and boy has He decided I’m ready. Yesterday, a friend handed me a couple of boxes full of books that she no longer will be using. She explained that she had tried to sell them, but for a whole host of reasons, they never were sold. As she explained all the shenanigans (is that a word?) she went through to sell the books but to no avail, she then realized and knew that they were supposed to be given away. She is someone who listens to the Holy Spirit, but also must get banged over the head like me sometimes to listen. So, she saw me and felt compelled to hand all these books over to me.

I have to admit books are my weakness. I know the whole world is in love with e-books and kindle and nook, but me, I like a book in my hands. I like the whole experience–carting it with you places, marking it up, deciding not to mark it up because it is just too good, picking which books to keep on your low shelf or high shelf. If you saw my bedside table, and you like orderliness, you might fall over dead. I have the active book pile, the intermittent book pile, and the near-future book pile. In the active pile, I have many books because I can read three books at one time. The intermittent pile is for when the content is just too much to process or I am not ready for it, so I read a little and then I sit the book aside. The near-future pile are the books I have ordered because they just sounded so great and I want to read them, but I must finish the three I am currently reading.

Okay, so God talks to me through books quite often. Some blog, I will have to share the story of how a book changed my life. But for now, suffice it to say, in that pile of books I found a book I needed to read. I started it right away (preempting all piles on my bedside table) because it was written for young men entering adulthood. I thought to myself, “That’s my son!” I started glancing through it and got hooked. Why? Because the author uses real life examples and his advice is so wise. It is very different from any other book for young men that I have ever seen or heard about. I am about halfway through it, but I realized that some of his advice was for me. As he explains why a person should handle themselves a certain way, I realized that I don’t do that well or at all. I saw so clearly where I am weak, that it became hard to read. I don’t know how to explain this well but it is a bit like watching a train wreck that you are part of?!  I felt thrilled that my son could read such wonderful advice and appalled because I really have some voids in a lot of these specific areas.

So, as you can tell, this was quite a “ride” reading this book. Before panic took over me, I realized that this is why God brought my husband and I together! I started thinking about my glaring weaknesses, and realized that my husband is strong in almost all of them. Seriously! It’s like God saw me as I am really am and said, “She needs some help in these areas.” Meanwhile, God saw my husband and said, “He needs some help in these other areas.” Together, we are a pretty good team, as long as we stay centered on God.

Hopefully, this weekend I will finish reading the book and pass it on to my son. Then, he will have his Dad’s example to help him through those weaknesses of mine. How blessed we are to have each other!

 

Hard Work Brings Its Own Rewards

What happened to good ol’ hard work? I mean really? What happened? When physical work went away, we lost the lessons that came with that hard work and I don’t think we realized it. As an example, my children have no idea what “hanging laundry” means, but I can close my eyes and hear Grandma singing and smell the flowers she diligently planted and tended in her yard by the laundry lines. I can smell those crisp white sheets that she ironed and put on the guest bed for me. Yes, it was hard work, but both the results and process were amazing!

How about homegrown vegetables–remember those? Both sets of my grandparents had giant gardens that produced more than they could ever use. They canned what they might need in the winter, but then they shared with neighbors and whoever was in need. The closest my children can come to understand this is having a commercial canned food drive for the food pantry at church. I would like to say I learned to garden from my grandparents, but I grew up in the city where my parents had moved which was far from the family farm and small town where my grandparents lived.

My paternal grandparents were farmers, although both had college educations which was rare for those times. My maternal grandparents were a barber and housewife who took in washing and ironing. Both sets of grandparents knew what hard work meant. My parents were wise enough to send me and my siblings for long visits during the summer. It was during these trips that I learned to hand wash dishes, hang laundry, make beds, weed gardens, fish for dinner, herd cattle out of the corn, drive a vehicle, walk to daily Mass, and build wood bridges over creeks.

Telling you all about my grandparents makes me miss them terribly since they have all passed on. They loved me in a very special way. My own husband never really knew any of his grandparents because they had all died by the time he was five years old. He did get to know three of my four grandparents which was a blessing for him.

I’ve thought a lot about my grandparents and their hard work ethic. I think the real secret to their ability to work hard was their ability to rest. They had a mid-afternoon rest time where we would all gather in their living room and pick our nap spot. They had the most comfortable pillows in the world. I can still see them and feel them in my mind’s eye. And somehow that room was cool, even though they didn’t have air conditioning. We would rest for an hour and it was wonderful. We were ready to go with another round of work once we had rested.

Even better yet, as hard as they all worked, they loved God even more. So on Sundays, after Mass, we enjoyed time together over a large meal. We did nothing on Sundays except be with Christ and be together. It was slice of heaven on earth. All my grandparents had faith and lived it the best way they knew how. I may not have learned how to garden from them or how to run a farm, nor do I have the rewards of the type of hard physical work they knew, but I have something even better — their faith.

Winning the Lottery and Knowing You are Dying

“I know what I’d do if I won the Lottery,” my sister said to me.  I thought to myself, “Really? She knows what she would do? Hmmm…I’m not quite sure I know what I would do.” She continued, “I would pay for our entire family to go on a Disney Cruise.” Right now, that’s about 70 people at least. “Yeah, that would cost some money,” I replied.

I’m not sure how we got started talking about winning the Lottery, but our conversation right before that is what we would change if we knew we were dying. That was a much easier question for me to answer. I said right away, “I wouldn’t change one thing.” That sounded crazy to my ears at first, but I followed it with, “I have fought long and hard to get my life ordered on the right things. I have put God first, my spouse second, my children third, my family next, followed by my neighbors and community and church. I don’t think I would change a thing.”

But the more I thought about it today, the more I realized I would change some things. I would go to daily Mass. I would wake up much earlier and pray. I have done both of these things on and off for the past few years, but I cannot seem to be consistent. It’s like my selfishness and my love for God are battling it out. Sometimes, I feel as if I am on the sidelines watching. Sometimes, my vocation as wife and mother makes me wonder if this is even possible. So, I think I would change this, but everything else, I wouldn’t change.

As for the Lottery, I have given it some thought. Although I never play the Lottery, if I did, I know what I would like to do with that money. I would like to buy a large property with woods, a lake, and cabins all around. I would build a Retreat Center for Families. This would be a place where families could come and spend time to relax and grow in their faith. I would ask the Sacred Heart Sisters to teach and plan the retreats because this is their charism–to serve the Married Church–and they are awesome at it. I would make it so that money was never a barrier for experiencing a weekend full of grace and spiritual growth. On the days when the Retreat Center was empty, I would have a 24-hour Adoration Chapel and I would pray.

As I type this blog, I am thinking the whole time: “You will never win the Lottery. Why are you even writing this?” Just now, it hit me. In all truth, I have won the Lottery already, and it is because God’s plans are so much bigger than mine. See, Jesus Christ died on the Cross for each single person. He made sure each of us “won the Lottery” in the most incredible way possible. He gave us Eternal life and invites us to be adopted sons and daughters of God! This changes the whole way we look at living and dying, too. If I knew I was dying, I would know I was that much closer to being with God face-to-face. I imagine I would be experiencing a “quickening” of sorts that would prepare me for this. Although those around me would grieve, I would only more strongly have to share my belief and faith in God’s plan. I would want everyone to know that we all have won the lottery, and death has been conquered! I pray that all people will come to understand that they have won the lottery in this way when they know they are dying.

Taking Nest-Building to a Whole New Level

A robin has decided to build a nest in a terrible location–on our house. Somehow, we all overlooked this giant nest in our comings and goings. This bird’s choice of location is by our downspout under an overhang. My husband noticed the nest and swept it down. He took the twigs and grass and sprinkled them in the woods.

The next morning, the nest was back. Apparently, this robin is a quick worker or her mate is a really good helpmate. So my husband once more swept the nest down and took away the raw materials.

That afternoon, the nest was back. As we loaded up in the minivan to visit friends, we watched my husband once more knock down the nest. I said, “Poor bird. She just wants to make her babies a home.” My husband said, “She has 7 acres of woods to choose from, and she picks a metal downspout?” I’m thinking she may not be a very smart bird after all.

My brother and his family arrived the next day for a brief visit. He saw my husband knocking down another nest. His comment was that he had the same problem at his house. He said, “The way I figure it is that we have this whole outdoors to share. There’s plenty of room for their nest elsewhere.”

Yesterday, my children and I were enjoying an Easter Monday celebration with our dear family friends. When we arrived home, my husband informed me that he had knocked down 4 nests. These robins have kicked into high gear! The time for laying eggs must be imminent.

I remember those days when I was pregnant with each child. I would kick into high nest-building gear. My husband would come home from work and find our household rearranged. Large and heavy pieces of furniture would have moved from one room to another without a mark on the floor or walls. I remember him looking at our giant sofa and saying, “You and I together could barely budge this thing. How in the world did you move it into an entirely different room by yourself?” The facts didn’t count when it came to preparing for the new life in my belly. And once those babies arrived, my husband and I spent hours enjoying God’s little gift in our lives, and still do!

I hope that our robins choose one of the many thousands of trees for their next nest which would be a much better choice. I understand they want a safe nest for their soon-to-be baby birds. I think the robins are showing us how much life matters. I wish that every couple would take to heart the perseverance of our robins in creating a loving, safe home for their soon-to-be baby. And then every couple would be able to enjoy this amazing gift from our good God for the rest of their lives.

What Happens When the Easter Bunny Forgets His Job

I knew our family had changed when I awoke early on Easter morning and realized that the Easter bunny had not come. Our family was so focused on the real meaning of Easter on Holy Saturday that even the Easter bunny forgot to do his job. As I crept past my youngest who had found her way onto the couch, trying not to wake her, I realized what an amazing change this was for all of us. On the counter was my youngest daughter’s favorite plastic bunny with a note hanging around its neck that read: “Dear Easter bunny, Wishing you the blessings and joy of Easter!”

As I frantically put together baskets as quietly and quickly  as I could, praying all the while to my youngest’ guardian angel to keep her sleeping while I did my duty, I realized that while Easter bunnies are signs of Hope, my family understands that Jesus Christ is the real Hope. By the time the family dog heard my scrambling and woke my daughter, the Easter bunny had safely delivered his baskets once again.

Fast forward to today. I think my son had it right. I told him this morning that he has soccer practice tonight. His response was, “On Easter Monday?” Because we celebrate the Season of Easter in our family, we take Easter week off. Yes, you read that correctly. Easter is not just Easter Sunday. It actually is a season that lasts 50 days. My son asked, “Why would they schedule practice during Easter Week? That doesn’t seem right.” Let me be clear, he loves to play soccer and never grumbles about practice. My response, “No one knows or they don’t care. But we do, so we have to both celebrate and offer up these crosses for them.”

Many Christians I know don’t even realize Easter is a season. They ask me, “Why 50 days?” Well, there’s this really important thing that we celebrate on day 50. It’s called Pentecost. That’s 9 days after the Ascension which is another celebration during the Easter Season. Of course, the Blessed Mother and the Apostles prayed for 9 days to prepare for Pentecost. That would be the first Novena! And the Pentecost is the founding of the Church. So, we have Easter Sunday, the day of our Lord’s Resurrection, followed by Divine Mercy Sunday, then the Ascension and it all culminates in Pentecost when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was so immense that a group of fearful, tentative followers began to share the Good News so profoundly that it changed our world forever!

If you have never celebrated the Easter Season, I suggest you find some resources about these next few weeks and learn more about how to glorify our good God and to prepare for the Holy Spirit coming into your life on Pentecost. It may fundamentally change the way you and your family will celebrate Easter.