All posts by gracespark

Running from Job

God has been telling me lately to read the Book of Job. I have read the Book of Job many times, and the last time I read it, I really liked it. I liked that he had tremendous faith. I liked that he had the fortitude to even respond to his “friends” who were not being very understanding of his situation. I liked that although he had some pretty frank discussions with God, he ultimately revered and trusted in Him.

Last year, my sister told me she was supposed to read the Book of Job, and she really didn’t enjoy that book of the Bible. I told her all these encouraging words about how great Job was and how amazing his faith was. I told her that this was a story of triumph. Yes, it was a difficult story, but it had a really good ending.

Today, I am about halfway through Job. I should have already read it by now. I just cannot seem to want to read it. Here I was, encouraging my sister when heavy things were coming into her life. And now that I am heading there, I’m running away. I have had to force myself to read Job. How hypocritical am I? This is embarrassing to admit, but I have let my feelings get in the way of listening to God. Because I am not feeling good about reading Job, I’ve dragged my feet. I’ve even taken to reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations! My son told me it was a good book, and even though I have read it before, I thought now would be a good time to dive into this massive piece of fiction! Ha, Ha. Oh the lengths we go to so that we can avoid facing what we need to face.

Tonight, I plan to read another chapter of Job. I plan to listen to what God has to say to me. Then, I will fall asleep finding out what’s in store for Pip. I have a feeling that his “great expectations” may not end up so great after all.

Winning at all cost?

My son played in an out-of-town soccer tournament this weekend. His team won their division. But as they made their way through the tournament, they encountered a team coached by a person who truly believes in winning at all cost.

This team had very talented players from a variety of countries. They had speed, they had footskills, and they had experience on the field. Many of their players literally towered over my son and his teammates. We knew it was going to be a very close match. After a very physical game, the outcome was a 1-0 loss for our team. But it was still early in the tournament, so the boys could still make it to the finals.

After that game, this coach of the other team told the head referee that we (parents) were making “racist” comments to his team members from the sidelines. Okay. I have played soccer all my life and I have not met a more mellow, unconfrontational group of soccer parents as our team has. If cheering occurs at all, it is encouraging and addressed to our own team. When this coach made this claim, the sideline referee who was in front of us parents for the entire game said, “I didn’t hear anything like that, but I did hear your players cussing at me.”

Fast forward to the final game for first place. Yep, you guessed it. Same team. We are taking our seats when a parent from the other team walks over and says that she has heard that our team is racist and she knows exactly the comments we have made. She tells us that we should teach our children how bad racism is. We looked like a row of guppies. Our mouths were just dropped open because the claim was just so ridiculous. None of us had even remotely said anything like that! This team was pulling the race card and it was a “he said, she said” type of situation. How could we “prove” we hadn’t said anything of the sort? They knew this and their coach knew this, so they kept the lie alive.

Simultaneously, another couple of teams of this coach’s arrive and start saying all sorts of outlandish things to us and about us. We were literally surrounded by a crowd of negativity. In the first game, my husband had heard their players yelling at each other very nastily in the back field, accusing each other of whose fault it was that our team had scored. I heard a parent from the other team say that he was only there watching our game because the coach had said it was mandatory that his son’s team be there. His son was not playing in that game, but they were not allowed to leave. I could not believe what lengths this coach was willing to go to win this game. It was an unbelievable experience in many ways.

In the end, our boys won the game in overtime. They played clean, but aggressive soccer. They passed around the other team even if our team got punched in the stomach on the sly. Our team kept their heads in the game.

However, this mom (me) who tries to live a virtuous life, got taken down. After two hours of teenagers saying rude and disrespectful taunts to myself, the other parents and the players, I lost it. I let their toxic attitude and nasty comments get under my skin. I am embarrassed to admit that I just couldn’t help myself. When we scored the winning goal, I stood up and cheered for our team really, really loudly.  I guess I am human after all.

 

Family Fishing Abundance

My family went fishing today. My youngest had not yet caught a fish “in her entire life.” It was a gorgeous day for being outside. It was cool with a breeze, yet sunny. And this morning, the fish were biting! We were at a pond which is for catch-and-release fishing only. I was okay with this since I realize I would have been the one to clean the fish if we had planned to eat any.

My son seemed to have the lucky fishing pole. As soon as his line hit the water, there was a fish on his hook. This started as amazing, but quickly became unbelievable to the rest of the family. While my daughters continued to cast away with no results, my son just kept reeling in the fish. We lost count after 14. I tried to explain to my other children that there are no guarantees with fishing. Sometimes, you catch some, sometimes you don’t. It’s a great lesson in patience.

Of course, the youngest was not pleased. She moved to a different section of the lake and tried to cast further into the deep. She so badly wanted to catch a fish that she decided to give it all she could with her next cast. And that’s how she accidentally cast her entire fishing pole into the lake. Thankfully, her line had a bobber, so we could see exactly where her pole was located. Also, the wind was blowing towards us which meant we might have a chance to recover her pole. Sure enough, another family who was with us managed to “catch” her pole and bring it into shore safely. She went on to catch 4 fish of her own.

All this fishing made me think of St. Peter. I bet he loved the outdoors. I think he learned patience from fishing. He made his living doing something that at times can be quite frustrating. I wonder what was going through his mind when Jesus invited him to, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” In Luke’s Gospel, it explains that Jesus told Peter and his partners James and John where to cast their nets. Amazingly, Peter although grumpy and tired, simply obeyed, and the catch was so abundant it filled two boats. That’s why they left their nets and followed Jesus to become fishers of men. I don’t think they really had a clue as to what that term “fishers of men” meant. But, they knew abundance when they saw it. And their hearts must have been open to Christ’s call.

I pray that I become more obedient in my life. I pray that I recognize abundance and who provided it for me. I pray that my heart remains always open to Christ’s call. I pray that those closest to me respond to that call, too.

The One-Two Punch of Forgiveness

I’ve decided that a relationship is like a bank account. You must make deposits to be able to draw anything out. And trust is one of the crucial factors that hold a relationship in tact. When a friend or family member does something which is totally untrustworthy, they bankrupt the account. And “sorry” isn’t enough to fill it back up.

A wise friend of mine counsels married couples. Usually he finds that they are struggling because of an affair or gambling or some behavior which has broken trust entirely. The person who made the offense will say they are sorry to their spouse and expect that their relationship should be back where it was before. This offender does not understand the relationship bank account system! When they broke trust, they bankrupted their account. They are basically starting over as a couple, having to build the trust back up in the account. And that always takes time.

I am amazed when I hear others who know about these type of situations saying things like, “Well, if she had really forgiven him, she wouldn’t be treating him that way.” Or “If you really forgave her, you wouldn’t mind if she came to the family event. Let’s just all get along.” But what they won’t say is the rest of the sentence, “… even if she hasn’t ever acknowledged she stole $100,000 from you or that she did anything wrong.”

People want forgiveness without reparation, especially if they were not the ones who were offended. But forgiveness, although merciful, also requires reparation. For example, if your son breaks the neighbor’s window, marching him over to the neighbor’s house to ask forgiveness is just step one. Step two is the neighbor saying, “You are forgiven.” Step three is having your son mow the lawn for the summer to pay off the cost of replacing that window.

Somehow, in today’s world, we let go of step three. We just expect others to forgive and call on God’s mercy as the reason why. Yes, God is all merciful, but He is all just, too! The justice part is overlooked when we don’t make reparation. Scripture tells us that we are called to forgive our neighbor over and over and over. However, we are also told to pay back any debts owed and right any wrongs. Mercy and justice go hand in hand. They are the one-two punch of forgiveness. Without these two together, I think you end up at that lukewarm notion called tolerance.

 

 

Challenges of a Foster-Father

Today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker. He is so special as the Foster-Father of Jesus that he is the only saint that has two feast days– March 19 and May 1. Of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary has a whole host of feast days, but most saints just have one.

I have been seeking to understand the Holy Family more deeply–how they lived, what example they provided for every family, and specifically, what role St. Joseph played in raising the Son of God and living as spouse with the Mother of God.

I am pretty certain of a few things:

1. St. Joseph was humble. Everything about this man speaks of humility. He was a carpenter who provided for himself, then his family by the work of his hand and the sweat of his brow. Although he descended from the kingly line of Judah, he was content to work for his living.

2. St. Joseph was pure. When he discovered that his fiancée was with child, he knew the child was not his. But he also knew that Mary was not the type of girl to cause this to happen. He cared deeply for others and that’s why he was willing to quietly divorce her without fully understanding why or how this came to be. He didn’t worry about himself or his reputation first. His intentions were pure. That’s why God sent an angel to help him understand more deeply.

3. St. Joseph was receptive. When angels came to him in dreams with warnings or clarifications, he listened. It doesn’t mention that he argued back with them. He was open to hearing from God in this way. Also, we have no quotes from St. Joseph. He is silent in the Gospels. His thoughts and prayers were saved for God alone.

4. St. Joseph was faithful. His response to all requests from God (and most likely the Blessed Virgin) was immediate action. That takes tremendous faith! Again, we hear no account of St. Joseph questioning God or the angel-messengers. He took action. If you want to see how to put your faith into action, simply follow the example of the life of St. Joseph.

St. Joseph lived a simple yet faith-filled life. He ordered his entire life around God, and more specifically His Son and the Mother of His Son. He had the same responsibilities of fathers today–to provide for their families. He didn’t always have it easy, especially as an immigrant in Egypt! But he walked by faith and humbly accepted his role in the Holy Family. St. Joseph, Patron of Families, Pray for Us!

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.

 

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.