Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Love Letter

Today I finished my fifteen month journey of reading the Bible in a year.

Obviously I didn't accomplish my original goal of reading it all in twelve months, but life happened and here we are.  It's weird to think that when I began, I was a whole year younger, with so many dreams and hopes for what the year would bring.  The journey wasn't anything I expected.

I struggled in the first few months to find a system that worked for me so that reading God's Word didn't feel like a chore.  Eventually I sucked it up and developed the habit of waking up fifteen minutes earlier every day so that I could take that time to sit with God and soak in His message.  Some mornings my heart was too heavy or too tired to read, so I simply sat in silence with God, or poured out my heart in my prayer journal.

Because I was no longer beginning my day with the stress, anxiety, and nonsense that often comes with scrolling through social media or watching the news, I began to feel more peaceful, and I noticed God's Spirit moving in me in a more real way.  I began to make better choices throughout my days and develop other good habits.

From the outside, my life hasn't changed much in the last fifteen months, but I honestly feel like I've been on a real journey.  I've had some beautifully fun reunions with old friends who are more like family, and I've been through some seriously dark times and struggled in silent desperation.  I've had deeply profound spiritual experiences at the beach, and had tearful meltdowns when circumstances led me to eat cold Chipotle alone in the car after a long, frustrating day at work.  I've had identity crises where I've tried to reconcile who I was with who I am with who I want to be with who God created me to be.

And all along in these growing pains and turbulent existential waters, the love letter that is God's Word has reminded me of His love, His peaceful ocean of mercy. 



And I've learned that what's even more important than loving God is recognizing this love He has for us.  His love for us is fierce and gentle, all-encompassing, unconditional.  He takes us as we are, and, if we let Him, he will make us new creations in grace.

Take this from 1 John 4:10 as His valentine to you:
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.

He loves me.  He loves you.  He loves the cranky lady in line  at the grocery store.  He loves the person in front of you who failed to use their turn signal.  He loves the person in authority at work who continues to make decisions you disagree with.  He loves us.

He loves you.


It's not coincidence that Lent begins on Valentine's Day this year.  God's message of love for us is also an invitation to take the time to let Him tell us just how much He loves us.  One great way for women to do this is by signing up to receive daily Scripture readings with short reflections through Blessed Is She.  These have been a huge source of grace for me!

In addition to these daily dives into Scripture, I'm going to be re-reading one of my all-time favorite books, I Believe in Love by Father Jean C.J. d'Elbee.  Every time I read it, I am able to go deeper into the mystery of God's love for us, and He helps me to believe even more strongly in Love. I highly recommend it!

So, Happy Valentine's Day, Happy Lent, and take heart knowing that God loves you more than you will ever know!  He loved you first and He will love you forever!




Monday, January 8, 2018

Lately (i.e. Winter is Dumb, but God is Good)

"The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41)

But I've been wondering. . .is the spirit willing?  Lately, I think not.

Deep down, the commitment is there, but in the day to day, I'm just plain tired.

Tired of the way things are.  Tired of trying to figure out what the next step is.  Tired of trying to change things when all my efforts are met with failure.

Disappointment and frustration cloud my view of all that I should be grateful for and all the ways I can live more fully where I am.

My sins suck me down, and others around me are beginning to feel my anger and frustration since I no longer have the energy to hide it--or am I even trying anymore?

People notice, and their humbling comments bring me to my knees, and once again, Mercy intervenes.

*           *           *

"I am dead to sin and now living in Christ Jesus."

The preacher let the words sink in, then repeated them, "We must remember and live that truth:  I am dead to sin and now living in Christ Jesus."

I want to remember.  I want to live like this, to believe it in my heart, to let it pulse through my veins.

But I get in my own way.  I let the darkness of my sin, of my fear consume me--fear of my self, of who I think I should be, of who I actually am, of who I want to be, of my constant state of failure at trying to be a woman of Love.

But if I am truly dead to sin, I need not fear my weaknesses or my failings.  I will still fall, because I'm human.  But I am now living in Christ Jesus, and He will make up for all I lack, in His mercy, His grace, His goodness, His love.

*           *           *

I always have such high hopes when the New Year rolls around.  This year was no different, and even though the first week was as boring as a pile of dirt and colder and more miserable than I can really handle without turning into a monster, I still have hope.  

My reflections and ponderings of last year (and my attitude this past week) provided me with some ugly truths about myself, leading me to think that quite possibly the changes I need to make are not so much in my external circumstances, but in my soul.  I can't just keep holding on to a superficial optimism that if I endure the difficulties with a glued-on smile, that's doing God's will for my life, and everything will turn out okay.  

I need to actually open my heart and soul and life up wide to His promised Grace and Mercy and let Him do something new in me.  And I think part of opening myself up to that is letting go of my old self, the comfortable self that likes to be cozy and comfortable and watch lots of cheesy wholesome movies.  Last year I developed better habits, one being a routine of reading the Bible and praying in the morning before I go to work.  This prayer life is a good foundation, but I find myself now at a crossroads--it's time to actually live.  That means that I need to do things that scare me, but that are good for me (like doing more yoga and exercising to get into shape, like cooking healthy meals, like finding friends nearby who share my faith).

Because as I've written before, in order to love others as we love ourselves, we have to first love ourselves, to take care of ourselves, to allow ourselves to be loved by God and formed into new creations by His merciful touch.  

I want to believe with every fiber of my being that I am dead to sin and now living in Christ Jesus, and to let His Love transform me from the inside out so that with every breath I take, I am living life to the full in His Love.

I believe, Lord.  Help my unbelief!


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Fiat

As this short season of Advent swirls around us in a flurry of busyness, the word fiat has been on my heart.   It is after all, thanks to Mary's fiat, her "yes" to God's will, that the whole Incarnation came about as it did.  She said yes to something that could cause scandal, yes to bringing up the Son of God, yes to carrying Him in her body for nine months, yes to giving birth to Him.

She probably didn't know when she said "yes" that she'd have to give birth to Him after more than a week of bumbling along on a donkey while nine months pregnant, or that she'd have to give birth to Him in a cold, dark, dirty stable, or that after His birth they'd have to hide out in the desert for two years.  She probably didn't know when she said "yes" that she would have to watch him suffer and die at the hands of the people He loved so dearly.  But she said "yes" to God, and though it caused her times of pain and suffering, she allowed God to use her to help bring about the salvation of the world, through the miracle of a tiny baby.

In a way, this is how God uses all of our fiats.  Every time we place our trust in God, we say "yes" to His will for the salvation of the world.  Most of the time we don't have any idea how His plans will unfold, but we know that it likely won't be easy.  There will be sacrifice, pain, and suffering along the way, but it is through this sanctifying grace that we are transformed to become whatever God wants us to be.  It is through our fiats that He brings about the most glorious things!

This year, my greatest desire is for us all to appreciate more fully the love that God has for us.  He came to earth to be one of us, to share in our human experience, to be treated horribly and executed so that our sins will not be held against us.

The miracle of the Incarnation becomes more real for me every year, and when I close my eyes, I find myself on my knees.  I kneel beside the manger, holding Mary's hand as she rests and recovers from the difficult journey and the birth.  While she sleeps, I watch over her baby, my brother, my King.  I want to touch the soft cheek of the baby Jesus, because I know that with only a touch, I can be healed of my petty, whiny, selfishness.

O heal me, Jesus, and help me to embrace fully the plans You have for my life.  Help me to focus on the love and blessings I do have and not be so worried and anxious about what I don't have.  And thank You for coming to save us.

May the joy and peace of the infant Jesus fill our hearts this Christmas season!

(To see the sweetest interpretation of how God's ways are beyond our wildest imaginings, 
watch the video below.)



Merry Christmas!



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

To Believe or Not To Believe

On a cloudless autumn day, under the sky so peacefully blue, the sun shines down like rain.  The tops of the trees catch the light like fire and begin to flicker like flames in the soft breeze.

And in the midst of the warm, bright plans we make, doubt creeps in and darkness grips the soul of it all.

Sweet gray pots etched with silver words and holding baby flowers catch my eye and speak to me: Love, they say.  Joy.  Believe.  Words that remind me, words that call forth beauty, hope, peace, words that call me on to live these things in my life.

We don't need any more plants in our tiny apartment, but the words and the sweet baby orchid blossoms of white and purple beckon me.  On closer inspection, I see the pots are cracked--hence the reason they are sitting in the break room marked down for associates.   

I don't need a broken pot with another orchid in it, I tell my husband.

No, you don't, he says, but you're going to get one anyway.

He knows me well.

I find it difficult to choose only one, because I need all of these reminders!  I know that the greatest of these is Love and that in the humdrum routine of the daily grind I struggle often to be Joy, but I choose the healthiest looking plant with promising baby white blooms and it tells me Believe


Life goes on and continues to resist our efforts to move forward.  As darkness and doubt creep in, it would be easy to let them consume us, to crush our hope.  But there in the corner of our living room is a little broken pot that reminds us:  Believe. 

Believe.  And I know that this imperfect pot is a grace, a simple moment of beauty that God is using to show me my imperfect self and a deeper truth.

While we make our plans, we trust in God and His perfect plan.   We know that when the outcome is not what we would prefer it to be, ultimately it is what God wants, and therefore, it is perfect.  This is not always easy to grasp, but then, the cross never is.  And we know that without the cross, there would be no glory.

Without our cracks, our brokenness, our wounds, our weaknesses, our darkness, we would not need His Mercy. 

We are all imperfect, cracked and broken, but no matter how beaten and bruised we are, we always have a home with God.  He heals our wounds and uses them to make us more beautiful than we were before.  We learn to trust in Him.  And life happens and we get hurt again and again, but we continue to trust and believe in His Mercy, His Healing Love, His Goodness. 

Sometimes the wounds cut deep and take time to heal, and sometimes the darkness seems never-ending, and as we wait to feel healed, we wonder what the point is of continuing to believe, to hope.  But in the darkness and in our pain, we are closest to Him on the cross.  He holds us in His Heart so that our thirst is His thirst, and I have found that the surest way to quench this thirst for both of us is to choose to believe, to pray over and over, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24).

And He will.  He will absolutely help your unbelief.  And it probably won't be at all in the way you think, but He will fix your broken pot, and in the meantime, He'll give you grace, which might look like precious baby orchids.  Or something else entirely.  Or something that you can't even see.  No matter how the grace falls--like petals, like snow, like an invisible strength deep inside you--never forget that He loves you, He loves you, He loves you!

HE LOVES YOU.


P.S.  If you're looking for a more book-length encouragement on how to keep hoping in the darkest darkness, check out Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors.  I highly recommend it! #goodreads
 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Slowing Down

The last few weeks have been busy for me.  I attended several workshops on how to set small manageable goals and habits for developing a prolific writing life (or whatever life you want to have, really).  In the midst of that I've been meeting weekly with a group to prepare for Marian consecration on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  And in the middle of all of that, I've had some intensely stressful things to deal with.

While I enjoyed my workshops and meetings, they caused my work schedule to be even more up and down than usual and the stress was starting to take its toll.  I was so exhausted to the point where I almost wasn't sure I was going to get through work on Monday.  I was off early that day and two glorious days off in a row followed, so I had all sorts of lists going of things I wanted to accomplish and errands I needed to run.  Of course, I also had to crank out a few hours on my fiction writing project, since that's what I vowed to do in my writing workshop.

But by the time I left work on Monday, I knew none of that was going to happen.  No, not even the writing.  If I was going to survive this week, I needed to slow down and take time for myself.

It's interesting how clear it all came to me while I was taking those workshops.  I was busy making plans and creating schedules so I could follow my dream to write a book, and life happened, as life does, forcing me to reevaluate my priorities.

Like I said in my last post, writing is a part of me, and I owe it myself to write regularly.  What I've discovered for myself though is that the writing will take different forms.  Sometimes I'll have the creative energy to put into fiction (and eventually I will finish writing a book!).  And sometimes I'll need to write in my journal or on this blog in order to slow down, to reflect, to process what's on my mind and in my heart.

So yesterday I didn't venture far from home.  I enjoyed a leisurely morning, then did some basic cleaning around the apartment, walked to the nearby church for noon mass, watched an episode of Dr. Quinn (the whole series is on Amazon Prime, fyi) while I ate lunch, did some reading and journaling, walked to the library to return a few books, and then drove up to work to pick up a few grocery items for meals for the next two days just in time to give my husband a ride home.

I still accomplished some things, but I didn't kill myself over it.  I took the time to notice the clear blue sky devoid of any clouds, to feel the heat of the sun and the cool whisper of the gentle breeze, to sit on the balcony in silence and eat an apple while watching the neighborhood unfold beneath me.

And after that slow-mo day yesterday, I feel more rested.  I had the clarity to sit and write here, and there's creativity flowing in my brain again, so, depending on how the day goes, I may work on my fiction later as well.

Part of me feels guilty that I didn't follow the schedule I made for myself, especially after just coming out of those workshops!  But I think we need to learn to forgive ourselves when we don't accomplish everything we want to.  Sometimes, especially when life throws us curve balls, we have to slow down and take care of ourselves.  Otherwise, how can we ever be expected to care for others?

During these two days of slowing down, I've lived more intentionally, more mindfully, and I've reconnected with my center, which is Jesus.  He's still holding me close; He never let me go.  And He hasn't taken the pain away, but He's transforming it, and transforming me so that I can bear it with all the love with which He bears His.

This book by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, changed my life. Just FYI.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Way I Am

As I sit here letting my fingers glide over the keyboard, I know that it has been too long since I've really written on here regularly.  Ingrid Michaelson is playing, and I am reminded of that time her song "The Way I Am" was an incredible grace for me.

The song was new to me, but I loved it.  I was on a retreat with the Little Flowers (my household, which is like a spiritual sisterhood) my sophomore year of college.  In a moment of prayer, little introverted me received an immense grace.  I felt for the first time really and truly unconditionally loved for me.  I felt I had lived my life up until then content to hide in the shadows of my older siblings, lost in my own little introverted head.  God whispered to me that day that I am unique, that I have my own light to shine, and I don't have to compare myself or try to live up to someone else's expectations:  I have only to be me, and God will take me the way I am.

With the words of Ingrid's quirky song in my head, I felt really and truly loved and alive.

It's funny how over the years we change, and yet we stay so much the same. 

I couldn't resist!

At a workshop I recently attended, I heard it put this way:  Change is inevitable; growth is optional.

I love that.  Change will always come with time, and often without our having any control over it--seasons, age, sickness, outward obstacles that prevent us from going where we want to go.  Growth, however, is an option.  Growth is born out of our reaction to whatever life throws our way.

Lately I've been focusing on that whole, "Bloom where you're planted" idea.  Part of that blooming means first rediscovering myself.  For too long I've played the victim of circumstance.  I can't seem to get ahead making any big changes, so I'm starting small.  These small steps are creating momentum, and I find that I'm accomplishing more, but more importantly, I'm remembering who I am.  That helps me remember to do the things I love. 

By making a priority to write, I am remembering that writing is a part of who I am.  It's how I express myself, how I best communicate with others.  I have stories in me that I need to tell, and I'm letting myself tell them now.  As I allow this part of me to bloom, as I accept my need to be this person, I am being more true to myself, and that will help me not only move forward but also live more fully where I am.

In many ways, though I've changed and grown a lot over the years, I am still that immature, romantic college sophomore who made the song from an Old Navy sweater commercial her anthem.  She's a part of me, a part of who I have become, a part of who I am becoming.  The darkness that has fallen over my life these days is similar to the darkness I experienced before that revelation, but I've placed my hope once again in God and in His particular care for me.  

In my time of need, He is reminding me how much He cares for me.  He is telling me that He won't take away all the pain, because the pain brings me closer to His own suffering heart.  He wants to hold me close to His heart, to let His blood cover me and purify me.  He takes me the way I am.  He wants more for me than I want for myself, and when I give Him full reign over my life, He teaches me how to love myself better, and in turn, love others better.    

He takes me the way I am.

He takes you the way you are.

He loves us unconditionally.  Even if we keep making mistakes and falling and failing miserably and ignoring Him completely, He is still there to pick us up.  And He wants us to do this for each other.

I aspire.




Thursday, September 28, 2017

Note to Self

"Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.  Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you." (1 Peter 5:7-10)
 Cast all your anxieties on him,  Give him your worries, your pains, your fears, your tears.

for he cares about you.  He loves you with an everlasting love, a merciful, steadfast love.  He loved you first and will love you forever.

Be sober, be watchful.  Get off your phone.  Turn off the TV.  Be mindful of the words you say, of the thoughts you entertain.

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.  Keep your eyes on God, let God be your strength, your focus, your light, so that you do not become easy prey.

Resist him, firm in your faith, Give God your yes in all things--embrace the crosses and the sufferings he sends your way, trusting that he will carry you through the darkness, no matter how long it takes.

knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.  No one is alone in their suffering, in their fight against sin.  We all experience anxiety, temptation, fear, loss, doubt.

And after you have suffered a little while, even if it seems much more than a little while,

the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, because he calls all of us, because he loves us dearly, more dearly than we can ever know

will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.  You look forward to it, and hold onto the promise with hope, and in the meantime you continue to Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." (John 15:9)