Lenten Requirements

Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is such an interesting thing in this era of social media and technology.

Back when I was young, Ash Wednesday was a big deal to us because, well, we are Catholic AND we went to Catholic school.  Other than McDonald’s offering fish sandwiches on the menu, the rest of the world didn’t seem too clued in to what we over in our Alabama 1% Catholic community were doing.

When we would show up places after school, we were looked at funny or asked what was on our head.  I don’t even really remember there being a lot of Ash Wednesday services at all the Protestant churches like there seem to be today.

Lent-pixBut, now, social media is exploding with reminders of the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday.  The hashtag #AshTag is trending on Twitter.  There’s blogs upon blogs upon blogs suggesting ways to make the most of your Lenten season.  There’s Instagrams left and right of people’s ashy foreheads (guilty!).  There are even a few new and very cool apps out there that are specifically for meditation and reminders to pray daily and not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.

It’s an incredibly interesting time to live.
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Two Wrongs CAN Make a Right…

Family

My husband and I are both passionate about raising loving, respectful kids whose strong relationships with Christ and His Church are lived out in their relationships and community.  Sometimes, though, we disagree on our approach and I wonder if our different backgrounds have put us on completely different pages when it comes to reaching our parenting goals.

I’ve got advanced education in Pastoral Studies, Theology, and Teaching. My husband has advanced education in Administration, Teaching, and Social Studies.

I’m a cradle, Catholic-school girl Catholic.  My husband is a convert.

There are times when I seriously challenge my husband to become more comfortable with and better understand the words, signs, and gestures of our faith.  Sometimes he makes himself talk about (or listen to me talk with friends about) theology, Church doctrine, and what it means to be Catholic because I’ve shown him it’s an important conversation.

There are times when my husband seriously challenges me to remember that all those words, signs, and gestures mean nothing if we do not live as Christians in the real world.  Sometimes I make myself to stop talking about theology, Church doctrine, and what it means to be Catholic because he’s shown me that it’s important to just be a Christian interacting with our world instead of talking about how Christianity interacts with our world.

There are lots of times I’m convinced he’s wrong.  There are at least as many times he’s convinced that I’m wrong.  Then there are those moments – those oh-so-precious moments when I’m missing the mark and he’s missing the mark, but together we are exactly right.

This week our 1st grade daughter was asked by her principal to represent her school by leading the pledge at the City Council meeting.

My response:  I’m so proud of you! Because you are so kind and loving and respectful, you are showing people what it means to be a good Christian in our community, how to show Jesus’ love to everyone around you, and they are obviously noticing!  What a great job!

My husband’s response:  I’m so proud of you!  Because you are so kind and loving and respectful, you are showing people what it means to be a good citizen in our community, how to make our world better, and they are obviously noticing!  What a great job!

My daughter, who claims she wants to be either a teacher or a singer when she grows us, was instantly petrified.  She didn’t want to do it – she was too nervous because she doesn’t think she knows the pledge well enough, she doesn’t know these people, and she doesn’t know what it’s going to be like.

I responded by telling her I think we should take a few days to pray about it first. I told her that sometimes doing good things and being a role model isn’t easy.  We talked about how Mary said “yes” when God asked her to do something big even though she didn’t know a lot about what it was going to be.

So…she went to her dad and told him all the reasons she didn’t want to do it

My husband responded by telling her she should take a few days to think about it first.  He told her that it would be a great chance for her to be an example for other kids in her school and that it would give the city leaders hope to see someone her age doing something so big.  They talked about Rosa Parks and how little people can do big things that make them nervous if they do them by thinking about others instead of themselves.

My response wouldn’t have been right on its own – neither was my husband’s.    But both of them together?  We brought Church, State, and family together and I think all of us got a lesson from the ‘school of deeper humanity’…

2 wrong people + God = the right family.

Family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation.

There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise the many and varied forms of division in family life.

But, at the same time, every family is called by the God of peace to have the joyous and renewing experience of “reconciliation,” that is, communion reestablished, unity restored.

Familiaris Consortio #21

(Listen, I know that comparing standing up in front of the 6 people on our city council and reciting the pledge to Rosa Parks or, you know, the Mother of God is a little heavy handed and over the top, but it’s a pretty big deal to her! Plus, I am an English major and hyperbole is a legitimate way to prove a point!)

The Cheerful Giver?

Cheerful-Giving“Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)



A few days ago, my mother came upon a woman in a Facebook group who was collecting donated goods for some families with children who were in desperate need this holiday season.  Upon looking at the list, she felt like she could help them out with a good number of items.  She contacted me to see if I had anything on the list that I would be able to contribute.

Just like most of us, I have plenty of extra things sitting around that, in all honesty, I don’t really need to keep hanging on to.  Not only did I have a few things, once I started really looking, I found that I had a lot of things that I could pass on to these other families.

Giving away the goods was not the challenge of this act of charity.  No, no.  Physically handing things over to another person, family, or organization doesn’t take a lot of effort.  I found where I really need to learn a lesson in giving and that is in my attitude.

Because, what good are all those items given to another if they aren’t given, as St. Paul says, “cheerfully”?
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This Was Not the Plan

I don’t know when I started to realize that no matter how many and how often I made “plans” I made for my life, it would almost never go the way I envisioned it.  When I look back, I can see how different things that happened in my life were dots that were going to connect me to another dot in a way that I hadn’t envisioned and never would’ve thought of.

The first place I can really remember it happening and changing the course of my “plans” was in high school.  After two years of playing on the volleyball team (one of those years as varsity), I was unexpectedly cut altogether.  I was devastated and had all my high school plans and dreams seemingly crushed. Crossing out Plan A and writing Plan B on a blackboard.

But, that event led me to a new dot – going from running track in the spring to running track in the winter, too.  Though I never really wanted to pursue track in college or try to make the Olympic team or anything like that, I ultimately had a much more successful career as a runner than I probably ever would’ve had as a volleyball player.

God knew what He was doing.  Imagine that.

When I review my life thus far, I can now clearly see how things like that happened constantly, changing the course of my life and taking me in a new and better direction.  Sometimes they were things I had no control over (like getting cut from a team), but often they were choices offered that I hadn’t considered, I ended up choosing, and that made all the difference. Read More

I Am Not Fearless

This morning, I brought my two children to a large playground that is in a more urban setting than most of the playgrounds by our home.  Okay, it’s not like it was in the middle of downtown, but it’s right next to a large, busy intersection bordered on one side by a very upscale neighborhood and on the other side by less-than-upscale apartments.  It’s a playground that is frequented by families with children, people of various ages and races, runners and bikers, and…….the people who make you nervous.

You know what I mean when I say that.  And, I don’t say it to be mean, rude, or unloving.  It’s a reality that all of us are familiar with, especially if you have children.  Sometimes in public areas, there are people who put you a little on edge, who cause you to watch your children a little closer, who’s movements you watch out of the corner of your eye.

It happened twice today.  

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In the Garden of Souls

I recently read the book “Left to Tell” by Immaculée Ilibagiza.  It’s the incredible story of how she survived the Rwandan genocide in 1994 by hiding in a bathroom with several other women for 3 months.  During this ordeal, she had incredible experiences of the presence of God, of true meditation, and of miracles.  The book was totally wonderful and I couldn’t put it down.  I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours, including me staying up waaaaaay past my mommy bedtime because I just had to know what happened next.

Immaculée Ilibagiza

Immaculée Ilibagiza

The book has tremendous insights into forgiveness, trusting in God, and prayer and so many things spoke deeply to me. I was most amazed at how her faith could be so strong and deep and her prayer life so intense in a time when things were more horrible than anything she could’ve imagined in her life or than I could ever imagine having to experience.

I’ve used this book and what I’ve read as a reference point a lot lately.  When things have gotten challenging or difficult for me (which, incidentally, they have a lot lately as I am basically single-parenting for a month while my husband is away working), I try to find all the things in the situation that I can be thankful for.  I try to immerse myself in prayer or at least point my thoughts towards God when I am starting to wallow.  I try to be a woman of faith.

I recently had a really, really, REAAAAALLLLY rough night with my children.  And, being without my husband, it compounded the fact that I had no relief during that night and knew I wouldn’t have any the next day, either.  Anyone who has children can understand what a bad night with kids can be like.  You love your kids more than anything, but you reach a breaking point.  You start begging God to make the crying stop, to have mercy on you, for guardian angels to comfort the kids, to please let you have sleep so that you can parent well the next day.

I was pushed to my limits and beyond and I had a lot of not very friendly words with God  that night. I’m convinced I was wrestling with some demons, too.

But, eventually, the hours passed and the crying stopped and the children rested (though, I didn’t really).  And, as I laid awake with my thoughts, I cried at my weakness and lack of faith.  I thought of Immaculée and how strong she was during something that was truly from the devil and lasted for THREE MONTHS (not just 3 hours).  I thought to myself, “The Lord barely gives me trials in comparison to what Immaculée and so many people suffer.  How could I ever hope to attain heaven when I can’t even make it through a tough night of parenting?”

Suffice it to say, I was disappointed and ashamed of myself.

The next morning, I prayed in thanksgiving for the new day, for my beautiful children and their happy little faces, and I asked God to forgive me for all the unpleasant things I had thought (and, some which I spoke allowed) the night before.  I prayed for the grace to be a better parent and to somehow come to an understanding of how I could ever reach sainthood when my struggles, trials, and life seem so small in comparison to what so many others live through.

And, God in all His mercy and kindness, gave me some words of comfort and a reminder of how we are all called to sainthood.

I love a good flower garden!

I love a good flower garden!

“[Jesus] set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers he created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy.  I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers.



And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden.  He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but he has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when he looks down at his feet.  Perfection consists in doing his will, in being what he wills us to be.”  (St. Térese of Lisieux)



I will probably never be a rose or a lily in Jesus garden of souls.  I will never, God-willing, have to suffer something like Immaculée did that is so horrendous and agonizing that it must be shared so that others may learn and have their faith deepened.  But, being a less significant “flower” doesn’t make my life or my sufferings any less important to the God who created  and loves me.  He glances down at my small life and hears my prayers.

It comes down to this – God has willed my life and sufferings to be what they are and my perfection, my sainthood lies in being aligned with that reality.  It’s my job, now, to be the best little dandelion or daisy that I can be.  Because, the garden of souls currently growing on the earth would be incomplete without mine, even if it’s not the prettiest or most noticeable one growing there.

This little guy loves his dandelion mama!

This little guy loves his dandelion mama!

Love Revolution

As with everyone else in the nation, I am saddened and disheartened about what happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday.  Once again, our sense of peace and security has been rocked.  And, I’ve noticed people saying that events such as these are upsetting when they happen, but not really “shocking” any more since it seems like something major like this happens fairly regularly nowadays.

But, on the flip side, I noticed almost immediately people throwing up the Mr. Rogers quote about looking for the “helpers” in the tragedy.  I’ve seen it quoted more times than I can count.  And, it’s a great thought, especially for children and really for all of us.

The wisdom of Mr. Rogers

The wisdom of Mr. Rogers

When things like this happen, we first have the shock and awe of graphic pictures and videos on the news and Internet.  Everyone’s emotions get all keyed up as we try to take in exactly what happened and understand the details of the situation.

But, again, it seems more quickly than usual that the stores of heroism and “helpers” have cropped up equally as fast.  From runners finishing the race and running to the hospital to give blood to former NFL players helping others who were hurt to the volunteers of the race who ran towards the blast to strangers taking people in and giving basic first aid right on the scene – the good of people, of a city, of a nation suddenly came out in ways that inspire and move us.

And, this is wonderful.  And, it gives us hope in humanity.  And, it proves that we were made good, not evil; to love, not hate.  It proves that “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

John 1:4-5

John 1:4-5

But, why, oh why, does it take a tragedy – a bombing, a school shooting, a natural disaster – to get the best out of us?

Somehow, on a daily basis, we miss the need of our neighbor to be carried, to be comforted, to have the “bleeding” of broken hearts and lives tended to.

We don’t run towards those who are suffering in less obvious ways – from loneliness, fear, being unloved.  We aren’t rocked by the events that are blasting apart families and taking innocent lives.  We walk past those crying, calling out, shell-shocked, who just need someone to see them and care for them in their hour of greatest need.

St. José Maria Escriva said, “If we Christians really lived in accordance with our faith, the greatest revolution of all times would take place.”

This is what our country needs – a revolution.  But not just any revolution.  We need a revolution of Love.  We need to be fighting to out love each other, to see who can do more, give more, who can be pushed to the highest heights of the love we were meant to share.

We’ve proven over and over again when tragedy has struck that we are, indeed, a Christian country, who’s values are firmly planted in the understanding that God IS love and we have a responsibility and innate desire to show that love to others.  But, when will we start living that on a daily basis?  When will we stop waiting for things to get really bad to start doing the most good?

I am praying for the people of Boston.  I am praying for those “helpers” and heroes.  I am praying for those who inflicted this type of pain on innocent people.  But, mostly, I am praying that we, as a nation, as people of God, will not stop here.  I am praying that we will really begin to live our faith and start the revolution of love.  It’s time.

It-Is-Time-For-A-Love-Revolution-7

The Converted Person

A small excerpt from the book Show me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings by Henri J.M. Nouwen that really spoke to me.  Emphasis added.  I hope you enjoy.

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“The converted person does not say that nothing matters any more, but that everything that IS happens in God and that God is the dwelling place where we come to know the true order of things.  Instead of saying: ‘Nothing matters any more, since I know that God exists,’ the converted person says: ‘All is now clothed in divine light and therefore nothing can be unimportant.’  Converted persons see, hear, and understand with a divine eye, a divine ear, a divine heart.  Converted persons know themselves and all the world in God.  Converted persons are where God is, and from that place everything matters: giving water, clothing the naked, working for a new world order, saying a prayer, smiling at a child, reading a book, and sleeping in peace.

All has become different while all remains the same.”

Ray Lewis is half right.

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“If God is for us, who can stand against us?” retorted Ray Lewis to a reporter’s question about how he won the Super big game played in a stadium shaped like a Bowl. Really Ray?! Honestly I was a little pissed. What a stupid thing to say. What bad theology. Do you really believe God picked you, Ray? Forget about Mr. Lewis’s well documented trouble with the law or his pregame hysterics. Put aside any personal like or dislike for the now retired linebacker for the Ravens.  It was this ridiculous statement that irked me and caused me to make that disapproving “tisk” sound through my teeth like a Midwestern grandmother.

The humor twitter account Unvirtuous Abbey may have tweeted it best:

Twitter Post

After my judgmental cacophonous noise making, I instantly thought about Jim Harbaugh, the losing coach of the big game. Following Ray’s line of thinking, the God of the universe pre-ordained John Harbaugh (coach of the winning Ravens) to defeat his brother Jim in a football game.  I’m not sure who is Cain and who is Abel in this, but the logic follows that Jim is God’s enemy and John is the righteous and worthy champion of goodness and light. Come to think of it, the entire 49ers organization must be fallen rebels, akin to Lucifer and his cohorts.  Who can stand against Ray Lewis and God? Not the 49ers, the devils they are.

Fully pleased with my exaggerated self-righteousness, and even more pleased that I kept it to myself and only privately judged this man and his words, I promptly turned off the TV and played Ruzzle for 45 minutes. But something wasn’t right. Maybe it was the nachos or homemade honey mustard sauce, or maybe it was that still small voice that speaks to the deepest parts of ourselves when we haven’t uncovered God’s full story, but something wasn’t letting me rest comfortably in my righteous indignation.

Finally I found it. Ray is half right. God is for Ray Lewis. God desires the absolute best for Ray. God loves Ray Lewis beyond measure. God is also for Jim Harbaugh, even though he didn’t win the shiny football trophy. God is for the 24,000 children who will die today from preventable diseases resulting from unclean drinking water. I have no doubt God will weep for them. God will also weep because we didn’t do anything to stop it.

God is for me. God is for you.

Ray is also half wrong.  God doesn’t love Ray more than Colin Kaepernick. God didn’t choose the Ravens over the 49s.

Fortune doesn’t equal blessing.

God doesn’t prove his love for us through worldly fortune. To believe that is to say God doesn’t love the poor, vulnerable, marginalized, abused, hungry, thirsty, or dying. To say that is stupid and bad theology. Quite frankly it goes against everything Jesus said and did.

God is for all of us and no one can stand against us, and sometimes we lose. God being for us doesn’t always look like winning. Jesus on the cross didn’t look like winning. God is for us, when it comes to what is best for us. Winning the Championship might not be what is best for us.

And here is the key; God has bigger plans for us than our earthly mini-battles.  God has bigger plans for Ray Lewis than football champion. I’m not talking about Ray retiring and becoming a minister or founding a youth sports organization or helping out families in Baltimore. I’m talking about forever.

God’s big plan for all of us is heaven. God being for us is only completed and perfectly experienced in heaven, forever. God is for us spending that forever with him in eternal praise and total bliss. God is for us experiencing the beatific vision.

God is for us going to heaven. When we choose God, nothing can stop us from spending forever with Him.