Category Archives: Wise Counsel

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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Which Poverty Would You Pick?

Poverty is on my mind today. As an American, I do not think that I fully understand true material poverty. I have always had food to eat and a roof over my head. But this isn’t the only type of poverty. There is spiritual poverty. I have been debating which is worse: material poverty or spiritual poverty?

I have some experience with material poverty. Being in a large family, I saw all the sacrifices my parents made to ensure that our needs were met, yet we definitely had no excess. My mom stayed home with us while dad worked long hours. When other children came to our home, they couldn’t understand why each person was limited to 2 slices of pizza (homemade, of course!) My older sister and I shared clothing. I remember a time when all I had was a uniform which I wore to school, a pair of jeans, a top, a Sunday church outfit and hand-me-down pajamas.

I also have experience with spiritual poverty. As a liberal arts major at a public college, I was given a heavy dose of Marxism and Existentialism which rocked my world view. I was not wise enough to question these philosophies, nor was I formed enough in my own faith to combat the questions they raised. I actually believed my professors who said things like, “Forget everything that your parents have taught you. Their ideas are outdated. We are open-minded here and consider all thoughts.” These statements were lies on a very fundamental level which I won’t go into now. However, I did believe these professors and I let their agenda influence me. Over time, I found myself in a deep spiritual poverty. The choices I made during this dark time of my life were harrowing to say the least.

I guess in the end I would look to two world figures who probably know poverty better than most people, or at least show by their actions that they care for the poor. First, there is Blessed Mother Teresa. In A Simple Path: Mother Teresa, she says: “There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

Blessed Mother Teresa would visit America only out of obedience. It was very hard for her to be amidst such spiritual poverty. The material of poverty in India was easier for her to deal with than the spiritual poverty here. I feel her pain. I believe that spiritual poverty is much more challenging than material poverty. As I typed that last sentence, I am realizing that now that I have written this, God will probably let me experience true material poverty, which is scary indeed!

But the real difference in the types of poverty and how to respond to them is wonderfuly stated by the second world figure who I think deserves to be listened to because of his actions. That is Pope Francis. I think this excerpt from Pope Francis’ Lenten message for 2014 sums it up quite nicely:

“In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual. Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally. In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.

No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person – is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide. This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us though Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.

The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution: wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness. It means following and imitating Jesus, who sought out the poor and sinners as a shepherd lovingly seeks his lost sheep. In union with Jesus, we can courageously open up new paths of evangelisation and human promotion.

 

Are you a human being or a human doing?

I’ve been getting a lot of calls lately from close friends, family members and even acquaintances that have an overwhelming need to vent. These calls or conversations last at least an hour or two. If I had to group these conversations into a category, I would name them “mid-life discontent” or something of that nature. I have listened to both men and women who range in age from late 30s to early 50s.

I am a pretty good listener. I really try to understand their perspective. I also try to imagine the other person’s perspective, too. Often times, after listening for a long, long time, what I suggest is not what they want to hear. Why? Because usually it is true and it is hard to do. Believe me, I know this to be true because I have good friends who will listen to me and suggest the wise course, which I sometimes do not want to take!

I called these conversations “mid-life discontent” because my callers are usually not happy about a situation in their lives. Sometimes, it is a result of their choices. Other times, it is a result of their spouse’s choices. Often times, it is because they chose to act before seeking wise counsel or discerning God’s will. In our hurry-up-and-go world full of messages of instant gratification, slowing down and listening and pondering the right choice is not even considered. It seems that we have taken in the lie that we should always be “doing” something versus “being” someone.

I work really hard to be a human “being”. I try not to rush ahead to solve a problem or to accomplish my own game plan before listening and discerning. Sometimes, I am accused of being “lazy” or not being open to a change. That is not so! If only the accusers understood how much self-control it takes for me to slow down, listen and wait!!! It is not in my nature to do these things. It has taken considerable prayer and change for me to get to this point. I like to “do” just as much as anyone, but I have learned the hard way that “being” is much better than “doing.” So, even when I am being confronted for my lack of “doing”, I fall back on prayer and listen to God’s will. It has served me much, much better than my old human “doing”…Now, if I could just get more people to try it!

 

You don’t have to be a navy seal to know what to do in choppy waters

When my brother-in-law was stationed in Hawaii with the navy, my husband and I had an affordable way to visit the islands. In a real, physical way, I learned on that trip that you don’t have to be a navy seal to know what to do in choppy waters.

I went snorkeling for the first time in Hanauma Bay. Once I got over the awkwardness of the snorkeling equipment, I was in awe of what was swimming all around me. The view of the exotic fish along with the undulations of the coral reef was intoxicating. I could not pull myself away from the beauty of this indescribable scene. I have no idea how long I was snorkeling, when giant waves seemed to appear out of nowhere. (If any islanders are reading this, they are probably laughing at that idea, but to a “haole,” it seemed true.)

I was in no position to deal with these waves. Less than a foot below me was the beautiful, but razor-sharp, coral reef. I thought to myself, “If only I could go deep…” Instead, I frantically swam against the waves, scraping myself to get to a clearer section of water and to the safety of the beach.

This situation came to mind recently when I was talking with a wise friend of mine. I was sharing that I had been struggling with many things in my life that all seem to be coming at me at once. (If a wise person is reading this, he/she is probably laughing at this idea, but to me, a fool with little faith, it seemed true. ) My wise friend shared this analogy:

Ask anyone who has served on a naval submarine when do the most sailors get seasick? They will tell you that it’s when the sub is at the surface and the water starts getting choppy. Thankfully, they are on a sub, and they can decide to “go deep.” They just head downwards into the deep sea where the water is calm.

He suggested  to me that there are times in life when we are in choppy waters. It’s for these moments that we should develop a strong prayer life and already practice virtues like patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. When we recognize choppy waters, we need to “go deep” and rely on these things. Down deep, the waters are smooth and calm and peaceful. When he told me this, I visualized a submarine blowing its horn from the old movies. Now, when the waters get choppy in my life, I hear that sound in my head and “go deep.” And boy what a difference it makes.

Which Wolf Do You Feed?

Because I try to be honest to a fault, I want to be clear. I read and listen to an enormous amount of material every day. I also have friends and mentors who share ideas and stories with me on a daily basis in conversation. One mentor of mine has written so many books that I am struggling to read them all! So, I feel like I have no original thoughts. As the old adage goes, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” So, if you recognize something on my blog, and you know its original creator, please comment and let me know who it is! I want everyone to get credit for their work.

Now that I have clarified my concerns, I have a story to share:

Once there was a grandpa who loved his grandson terribly much. He liked to take him for ice cream and have one-on-one talks. This grandpa had grown old and wise, which don’t always come together. He wanted to share with his grandson the most important things in life. He told him this story: “Inside each of us are two wolves. One is greedy, full of pride, angry, resentful, jealous and mean. The other is honest, respectful, good, kind, patient and compassionate.” The little boy asked, “But gwampa, which one will win?” His grandpa simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Today, I will be intentional on feeding the right wolf! 

 

Peanuts in a Jar

Sometimes in life we face situations that feel like the rug has been pulled from underneath us. Often times, by the people we least expect. These situations require prayer and advice to know what is the best course of action. My husband and I are lucky to have older and wiser people in our lives to turn to for this type of advice. One of them shared this story with me:

A monkey sat in front of a jar full of peanuts. The peanuts were still in the shell, the kind you buy at the baseball game. The jar was broad at the bottom, but had a narrow neck. Just narrow enough that the little monkey could fit his hand and arm down into the bottom to grab the peanuts. Now, the monkey, being a monkey, was greedy. He wanted as many peanuts as he could possibly grab. So he slipped his hand and arm into the jar and tightly grabbed lots of peanuts from the bottom of the jar. His tight fist was full of peanuts and he felt happy! Of course, now, his hand was stuck because his fist was quite large and he could not bring his hand out of the jar. This infuriated the little monkey who began to scream and jump around. He felt trapped and didn’t know what to do. Finally, he LET GO of the peanuts and was free of the jar.

Three lessons I learned from this story:

1) Sometimes in life, it is hardest to know when we have to let go. It is in our nature to hold tightly, but that doesn’t always serve us or others around us well.

2) Being greedy can lead to other bigger problems.

3) If you stop and ask wise counselors for advice, they may show you a whole new way of looking at the problem. The monkey could have easily taken the jar and turned it upside down, thereby getting a peanut, just one peanut at a time.