Faith, Hope, Personal Reflection, Scripture

Loud Fears and Quiet Desires – New Year’s 2021

I spent all of yesterday, New Year’s Eve, trying to concoct a meaningful way to spend the final day of 2020. My inability to land on anything had me avoiding most possible activities and instead hiding with my nose in a book for as much of the day as possible. Now, that’s a pretty darn good way to spend a day, but that isn’t what I truly wanted for myself in the final 24 hours of the year we’d endured.

I wanted to conquer an unfinished home project. I wanted to exercise. I wanted to write more of a new story. I wanted… to not feel frozen by the fear that the coming year will look no different from (or worse than) the one ending.

That’s really how I spent yesterday: frozen. My thoughts ran a ponderous path about resolutions and expectations for 2021 and I discovered I was afraid. I am afraid. I’m afraid to make any resolutions that will set me up for further disappointment in myself. I’m afraid to name particular goals only to see the year pass without reaching them. I’m afraid to pin any hope on the expectation that 2021 will be better.

The truth is, I’ve never been gung-ho about resolutions and yearly goals for drastic changes. So I’ve tried to tell myself this doesn’t matter. As the past year has felt different than others in so many ways, though, so does this marking of the new year. There’s a longing for change, for better, that is pressing in on me.

Now, here we are. New Year’s Day. I woke up still feeling afraid to link any goal to the timeline of this year. The certainty of disappointment is a leech, draining my typical optimism and difficult to remove once it’s latched on.

The reason I ended up here, typing up a blog post about plans for the new year while still afraid to make any plans for the new year, is the intuition that I am not alone. 2020 brought me grief and loneliness, undesired changes and scrapped plans. It stole the balance I’d previously (imperfectly) achieved. I feel like I’ve been stumbling through week after week, instead of walking upright with at least a partial view of the path before me. I’m not alone in that, right?

This is the point in the inspirational blog post when I should point out that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7) and that God’s “grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That’s how it might have read if I was writing it on other New Year’s mornings. I’d have wrapped it up there, built up by the words of scripture and moving forward with my hope firmly anchored in Him.

It’s ok if you’re not there, if the moving forward in hope part isn’t ready to happen yet. Maybe that’s what I really came here to say. Wherever you are right now, you can work with it. God can work with it. The calendar doesn’t have any say in God’s timeline. I’m grateful for that this New Year’s morning.

When the fears fall silent and I listen closely enough, I can hear the desires of my heart. Though I am afraid to admit them, there are some very particular goals I long to fulfill this year. There are specific changes called for in my life.

I will listen to those desires of my heart more than the fear lodging there. That’s the only resolution to share. Pursuing their voice over lesser noises might be the key to every way in which I can make 2021 better than 2020.

Catholicism, Faith, Holiness, Jesus, Scripture

The Narrow Way

Today’s Gospel reflection for Catholicmom.com is from yours truly. I wrote it a few months ago actually. Rereading it this morning when it was published, I’m struck by how the Holy Spirit knew that even I would need these words at this time. Perhaps they’ll mean something for you too.

Today’s Gospel reading is Matthew 7:6, 12-14.

Click here for my thoughts on the Lord’s words about the narrow path of discipleship.

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Photo Credit: CatholicMom.com

Dignity, Family, Gratitude, Intentionality, Motherhood, Scripture, Worthy

Do Not Laugh – Thoughts on Compliments, Selfies, and Psalm 139:14

My three and a half year old son walked into my bedroom as I finished combing my hair. Mentally, I was running through what remained of readying ourselves for the day. I was distracted and about to send him back out with instructions to brush his teeth so we could leave on time.
 
He cut me off with his words, “Mommy, you look beautiful. You should take a picture.”
 
Immediately, a voice spoke in my head, “Do not laugh.”
 
I had to close my mouth because that was the exact response I was about to make. I looked my son in the eye and smiled. I said, “thank you, peanut,” and put my comb away.
 
He remained at my side, waiting. “Take a picture.”
 
The voice was there again. “Do not laugh.”
 
Don’t laugh at his admiration for you. Don’t dismiss the clarity with which he sees you; clarity that is fogged up in you by years of insecurities. I didn’t laugh. Instead, I took the picture. He asked to see it. Satisfied, he gave me one more heart-stealing smile, then bounded away to see what his sister was up to elsewhere.
 
Honestly, I almost deleted the photo. What did I need it for? I saw the roundness of the belly where I’d love for it to be flatter; the softness of the arms where I wish they were toned. I saw the gray hairs I don’t pull out anymore. I saw the migraine behind my eyes, and the thick glasses because I didn’t feel like putting in my contacts when I could barely stand to have my eyes open in the daylight. I saw the awkward half-smile because selfies seem meant for younger, perkier people.
 
Why didn’t I delete the photo? I didn’t delete it because of a hunch that every mom ever caught off guard by their child’s admiration could relate to the thoughts filling my head. I even had a feeling that the dads out there can relate to it all, perhaps when their children look at them with unwavering confidence in their strength and capabilities. I didn’t delete the photo because, while the things I saw in it are real and true, the things my son sees are real and true as well.
 
I not only saved the photo, but decided to share it here because of Psalm 139:14, “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it well.”
 
Years aged.
Extra pounds carried.
Hair grayed and thinned.
Body tired.
Pains and illnesses endured.
Patience lost.
Voice raised.
Mistakes made.
Weaknesses experienced.
 
None of these eliminate the truth my child sees and accepts about me, or your child about you: that I am, and you are, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
 
The next time you encounter that truth, whatever the source, don’t laugh it off. Don’t dismiss it or argue against it, mentally or aloud. Hear it. Be grateful for it. Let it sink in until you can say, “my soul knows it well.”
Catholicism, Easter, Faith, Intentionality, Scripture

Missing Your Chance… Or Not

I have a vivid memory of sitting on my sister’s living room floor watching her open her birthday gifts. One from me was a bookmark with a George Eliot quote that read, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” She unwrapped and read it then looked at me with wet eyes and asked, “Do you really believe that?” I nodded. She was in her early thirties and was at the start of a remarkable overhaul of her life. She was among the first people to convince me that there is never a good excuse to believe you’ve missed your chance to be who you long to be.

Which brings me to Easter. I intended to write a blog for Easter. A few non-coalesced themes floated around my mind. I even told myself it’d be best to write it early and schedule it to post on Easter. Hours and days passed and then the chance was gone. It was Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and now, here I am talking about my unfulfilled intentions.

And it is still Easter.

In the faith I practice and believe in wholeheartedly, we celebrate Easter for a full season. This season happens to be fifty days. Fifty days of joy, of a special call to gratitude for the gift of salvation, and of reflecting inwardly on the great miracle of Easter.

The memory of my sister and the reality that I missed my chance yet didn’t miss my chance to write something for you all for Easter has me boarding a train of thought I’ll ask you to ride with me. Here it is: could anything possibly be more appropriate to Easter than to consider how what we might assume is missed or finished is far from being so?

An arrest and beating; a turning of the tide of popularity and acceptance; a crucifixion and a grave: all indeed appeared finished.

We forget that our knowledge is partial. We cannot see the full picture or understand the complete, intricate plan. We forget that the shocking empty grave and mystical appearance of the resurrected Christ was not a shock to the One who orchestrated it all. If Easter is teaching me a particular lesson this year it is to never assume that the chance has come and gone to be who I am meant to be and live as I am called to live. The dream, the goal, the change: whatever it might be that you have resigned to past opportunities and assumed must be let go, think again.

The Father above ordained the day of your beginning. Do not concern yourself with identifying endings along the way, or even the final ending He also ordains (which even then will not be a true ending, if grace allows). He gives us our chances in abundance. Some we squander and some we take. Forgive yourself the former and be encouraged by the latter. Then start taking more and squandering less, and leave the rest to God.

Family, Motherhood, Scripture, Worthy

To Annabelle, Now and Every Tomorrow

Dear Annabelle,
Look at you. Football jersey, princess slippers, can’t-sleep-without-them animals, and a smile brighter than a sunbeam. Lunging at me in jubilation. Certain I will embrace you. Certain I will laugh with you. 
You didn’t see it but last night as I laid you in your crib, relaxed and content after our mutual favorite lullaby, there were tears in my eyes. You didn’t notice the catch in my voice as I said goodnight. Something in the sight of you at that moment clarified reality. You are finishing up being my baby. You are ready to be my little girl instead. My little girl who will grow into my big girl and my young lady. The realization filled my chest with a wave of panic. The wave passed, swept out into the ocean of mixed emotions in a mother’s heart as she watches her child change right before her eyes. There’s no stopping you and so there are some things I must say before my voice isn’t the one you’re most eager to hear every morning, noon, and night.
Your face in this photo, along with a million instances of the privilege I have to see your smile, gives me a flash into the future. I am convinced you will be a woman who is “clothed in strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25). Please don’t lose that light that fills your features. Keep your hair out of your gorgeous eyes, so you can see clearly but also so you may better be seen. You ought to be seen. When you feel the kick of an urge to smile at someone across the room, the way you do for me, don’t resist it. You have no idea the kindness it is to offer that smile to another. And the way you never doubt that I and your Daddy will hear your calls? Have that confidence in your heavenly Father and the days to come won’t be able to silence your laughter.
The time will come when you doubt this so I’ll try to remind you of it often: you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Your soul, your mind, your body. Every aspect of the whole Annabelle is a wondrous gift from God. Do not belittle any part of that gift, nor listen to those who would try to tell you otherwise. Know that you deserve what is true and beautiful and good, then seek it out fervently.
Among my greatest hopes for you is that you become a woman who, like the very breath and wisdom of God, “is more precious than rubies, and nothing [anyone might] desire can compare to her” (Proverbs 3:15). Your character is a wellspring of untold worth. The potential for generosity and kindness, humor and boldness, passion and earnestness, understanding and creativity – unearth that treasure, my girl. Every person you touch will be better for it and you will pass your years living instead of waiting to live.

Be the princess you are, Annabelle, and be that only in the truest sense of the title. Be a daughter of the King. There is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4), Annabelle. Rather than sacrifice it for anyone, be a reason they look for theirs too. Seek the good of every soul that crosses your path. Know your worth and convince others of theirs. 

I love you.

Mamma
Advent, Christmas, Faith, Family, Hope, Jesus, Scripture

The Paradox of Suffering and Hope at Christmas

Photo provided by Trisha Hummel

Today is my cousin Trudi’s 44th birthday. It is her 23rd birthday in eternal life. I was still stumbling my way toward my teen years when Trudi was murdered. Trudi and her older sisters were thick as thieves with my older sisters while I was just one of the little cousins in our extensive family circle. I remember her as cool; fun and beautiful; bold and humorous.

This weekend I spent hours addressing Christmas cards. As I scribbled the names, streets, and cities of my cousins, I couldn’t help wondering about Trudi. Would she live in the same area, like her sisters, or would she have established her life elsewhere? Would we have attended a wedding? Would our children have played together by now? Would we have that comfortable, enjoyable dynamic that develops between family members after the years have placed us on level ground?

Hypotheticals. They do an excellent job of muddling the mind and stinging the heart. There’s nothing like loss to leave you wading through a pool of hypotheticals. And there’s nothing like Christmas time to amplify the wound of loss.

This isn’t a direct quote, as I can’t remember where I heard it, but I once read that St. John Paul II said suffering is created by feeling cut off from good. We live and love and link ourselves to sources of good. When one of those links is severed, we are left trying to patch the tear.

What has severed a link to good in your life?
Death
Divorce
Job loss
Infertility
Disease
Rejection
Betrayal

Every cut in our connections to what is good is felt keenly in this season of celebration. For some, the suffering renders Christmas undesirable. Potential joy is swallowed up in misery. Sounds of peace are drowned out by the roar of hypotheticals that can never be.

Oh, the paradox of Christmas. For Christmas, my friends, is the arrival of the Divine Response to every wound and cut and tear you carry with you. It is Almighty God dwelling amongst us. He made Himself vulnerable to encounter our vulnerability. God entrusted Himself to the arms of a mother, to the home of an earthly father, and to a community of imperfect, suffering individuals.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst

Christmas is the issuance of God’s answer to our suffering, to our feeling of being cut off from good. It is a resounding song of hope: “You are not cut off. You are not abandoned. You are not lost. For I am with you. Here in the deepest cuts, I abide with you. I may have allowed pain and loss, but I fill the voids. I AM the source of all good and I AM here.”

Christmas, when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) is the root of our conviction “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Because the Saints Said So, Catholicism, Faith, Holiness, Saints, Scripture

Because the Saints Said So: Be You (St. Francis de Sales)

I was introduced to St. Francis de Sales while I was in my sophomore year of college. In the context of a community of incredible, fun, faithful, hilarious, supportive women, I read his classic, Introduction to the Devout Life. If I name the top five books that have affected my life, that is likely to always hold steady among them for the rest of my years.

One of the hallmarks of de Sales’ spiritual advice is high, challenging standards. Another hallmark is gentleness. He did not divorce the two notions. I had trouble narrowing my focus down to just one quote from this most excellent spiritual writer so here are a few to consider:

Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.

Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections.

Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.

These snippets are written alongside mandates for the men and women who call themselves Christians to be exemplary in their moral choices, in the use of their time and talents, and in the practice of virtue. Reading St. Francis de Sales’ spiritual advice is like reading a dissertation on Jesus’ command to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Never does it become too much though, never more than a person can handle. For de Sales makes clear that to seek to be this living image of God also requires a kind realism. Realistically, know yourself. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Your passions. Your hopes. Your temptations. And lovingly, patiently cultivate your unique self.

You know when I have failed the most in living a life that glorifies Christ? When I have tried to ignore who I really am in order to be what I thought I needed to be. Inevitably, in such misguided efforts, I become exhausted and overwhelmed. I give up. I resent the real me for showing up yet again. What a pitiful way to live.

St. Francis de Sales knew better. He took the Lord’s words to heart: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). As yourself. Loving yourself is not a hippie or new age notion. No, it is rooted in the supreme reality of Christianity, that God loves you unconditionally and thus sacrificed Himself to save you. How logical then that I am deserving of love from myself and all others are deserving of love from me.

The standards, the virtues, and all that is encompassed by a God-glorifying life comes about in the day to day manifestation of that love. Love seeks the beloved’s greatest good. This is no less true when we are considering ourselves than when we are considering another person. So, “have patience with all things. But, first of all with yourself.”