Truth and Trust

Well, the good news is I think I hit my stride with the whole home school thing. The bad news is I still have my new chin hair. I tried real hard to find my tweezers, desperately ransacked the bathroom cabinets where they’re *supposed* to be before I remembered that I had to throw the tweezers away the other day because a kid was using them to fish for turds in the toilet. Not lying. Wish I was, but I’m not.

So, the next time you see me I’ll probably look like I’m auditioning for Duck Dynasty, but I’mma go with it and embrace the new normal. (It has yet to be determined if my husband will want to embrace this new normal. However, he is a wise, intelligent man, so I think he’ll take what he can get chin hairs not excluded.)

As I settle into this new schedule, new facial hair and all, it’s been amazing to me to look back and see how God has been preparing me for this time. I’m part of a ministry team that leads a women’s retreat every year at our church. This year’s speaker, Amber VanVickle, spoke about suffering and trust. She told us about how she did a challenge once in which she didn’t ask God for anything for an entire month. And the second she said it, my stomach dropped. I instantly knew I had to, needed to try it, and I thought, “Well… shit. I’m going to have to do that.” (Sometimes my response to the Lord tugging at my heart is less than stellar, y’all.)

So that’s what I did for Advent this year. I did not ask the Lord for anything in prayer. There were no requests, no supplication, no demands, nothing. Just me and Jesus and lots of time…because incidentally this was around the same time that I thought I was signing up to do a holy hour in the Adoration and somehow got signed up for a holy two hours. This was also before I had come to terms with the idea that silence before the Lord is an integral part of prayer. I had the blessing of hearing Meg Hunter Kilmer speak at my parish and when asked about how to pray, Meg said, “Silence. You need to sit in silence with God for at least 15 minutes a day.” My response, again, was, “Well, shit.”

Clearly Jesus had work to do on my heart.

What followed was an intense, challenging, beautiful time of me being frustrated with my own distraction and struggling to maintain focus while also trying not to fall asleep in Adoration. And at the same time, I was fighting every urge to ask, ask, ask in prayer.

Important side note: obviously, God wants us to ask things of him. Very specifically in scripture he tells us to knock, seek, ask. But so many times in our asking, we’re not surrendering. In our requesting, we’re actually trying to control or manipulate the situation. At least for me, my prayer life had become more about what I thought was the best solution to the problem and less about fiat and Thy will be done. Letting go of asking meant letting go of control.

When you take away the ability to ask and request, you’re left with only the ability to state and to profess. So my prayer life quickly became statements of trust and truth rather than begging to have my desires fulfilled. My journal entries during this time became less lists of demands and morphed into litanies of truth and surrender:

Jesus, you know my heart. You know my weaknesses and my failings. You know my addictions and sins. Lord, you know the depths of my hurt and all of the spots, the deep places I need healing. Jesus, I know that you are faithful, that you are before all time, and transcend all knowledge and understanding. You are unchangeably good. I believe you are pursuing me, healing me, drawing me out of the walls I’ve put up.

God, I believe you are faithful and you have a plan for me. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that no prayer is ever wasted, no moment unproductive if spent with you. I trust that your will would be done and that you are holding me securely in your hands. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that I will meet you in faithful silence every when it is hard for me. You are real, you are moving, transforming, dwelling, and guiding. You are love. Jesus, I trust in you.

Dec. 1, 2019

God, I don’t know what our future holds, sometimes I’m tempted to listen to fear and the idea that we haven’t suffered any real tragedy so it’s coming, that our future is somehow shadowed and shaky. But I’m reminded of your truth, that even in hardship and worry and storm and draught, you are present. You never change. Your love is constant and so is your mercy. So, whatever the future holds, I know you are holding us. Whatever the tides may bring, I will say yes to the call, your call to me within them.

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that whatever you’re calling me to, you will equip me and provide for me within that call. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that your ways are not our ways and that is good. Jesus, I trust in you. Trust that you are guiding, protecting, leading, and shepherding all of us. Even when you seem distant, you are there. Even when I’m confused, threatened, and afraid you are there. Jesus, I trust in you. Whatever the next days, the next year bring, I know I am covered in your mercy.

Dec. 15, 2019

I find myself compelled to return to these entries because once again I’m in need of peace. When my heart is troubled, when I’m grasping too much, attempting to control too much the answer, at least for me, is to trust. Trust and truth can do much in the face of fear and anxiety.

The truth is that God has not changed. He is real, He is moving, He is intimately in love with us, and He can redeem all things. All things.

The truth is that sometimes we have to get uncomfortable to really see how Christ pursues our hearts, how he wants to sneak in past our messy, disordered affections and addictions to show us what real satisfaction can be. There is truth and peace resting in his Sacred Heart and he longs for us to make our way there.

The truth is that when I let my dog out early this morning, the birds were still singing. Up before dawn, perched in a dying tree in my back yard, they were singing their hearts out to herald the coming day. They’re still singing and I think there’s a lot to trust in just in that.

St. Joseph

Photo by @seb on Pexels.com

Today is the feast of St. Joseph and I can’t think of a better example for our current situation. Before last year, I dismissed St. Joseph as someone who was rather boring. I mean, he’s important, but I never found him particularly exciting…until he started stalking me.

A year ago, St. Joseph kept showing up everywhere in my life. He turned up in books, in conversation, in emailed devotionals, and internet ads. I ended up getting to know him better and I’ve developed a deep devotion to this quiet, humble, holy man. I completed this consecration to Jesus through St. Joseph right before Christmas and it rocked my understanding of this incredible saint.

The thing I want to touch on today regarding St. Joseph is the idea that humble submission to God’s will is radically transformative.

I found St. Joseph to be boring partially because he never says anything in scripture. But that’s the point. Joseph doesn’t say anything because he is listening. God reveals himself to Joseph through Mary and through dreams. Joseph listens and obeys.

That’s obviously overly simplified. Digging deeper, we can understand that St. Joseph was handed a situation that he never predicted. Mary’s surprise pregnancy was never his radar. It was inconvenient, hard to understand, and difficult to accept. But instead of railing against the situation, instead of fighting, turning to bitterness or resentment, or even just opting out, St. Joseph put himself at the service of the problem. He made the conscious decision to partner with God, to willingly take on the role of protector for the Virgin Mary with all that in entailed, and in doing so his life was radically transformed.

I think it’s important for us to notice that St. Joseph took time to listen to God. It’s so easy to want quick resolutions, to want to hurry up the confusion and rush to a conclusion. But if we slow down and lean into the discomfort, we open ourselves up to hear God speak to our hearts.

Once he discerned God’s will, St. Joseph was all in. He took Mary into his home and embraced a situation that others wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. At the potential cost of his reputation, risking being completely misunderstood and mocked by his contemporaries, Joseph chose God’s will for his life and never turned back.

This partnering with the problem allowed St. Joseph to become co-creator with God and Mary. It allowed him to receive the Son of God into the world in a way that no one in human history can duplicate all because he listened, because he approached his discomfort and confusion with humility and trust of the Father.

When we find ourselves in similar situations, in places or events that are uncomfortable or difficult to understand, may we approach them in the spirit of St. Joseph. May we take time to listen, to slow down, to understand that even when things don’t unfold the way we want them to, it is usually because the Lord has a grander plan for our lives. God’s plan is certain to push us and draw us out of our narrow minded view of things. God’s plan isn’t necessarily safe in the way we’d describe safety in human terms (after all, Joseph fled a murdering king and lived the life of refugee in order to protect the Christ Child), but God’s plan is good.

A good plan from a good God is one that draws us into further holiness, into deeper communion with Him. Jesus promised us suffering, it can’t be denied. But how we live out that suffering is up to us. Will we partner with God in our suffering and allow the discomfort and difficulty to transform our lives? Or will we let the suffering harden us and lead us into submission to fear and anger?

The choice is ours to make.

St. Joseph, terror of demons, pray for us!

Corona Virus Got You Down? The Antidote to Fear is Faith

I gave up social media for Lent, so naturally my defense mechanism has been to compulsively check the news every five seconds. I’m working on it. The headlines are just saturated with Super Tuesday and ugly politics, but the biggest story of all is corona virus. I cannot escape it. The dread, the worry, the state by state analysis of its spread, the death toll, the potential vaccines, the worry, the worry, the fear, the panic.

It has been fascinating to watch it all unfold, fascinating to experience it playing out in my own heart. I’ve tried to check my emotions because I know that the media is fueled by clicks and site visits and there’s money to be made by inciting panic. And yet. Every now and then I find myself gripped by a fear that I can’t shake, my mind walking down the road of what if’s and could be’s. As I watch the internet reinvent headlines over and over, as I listen to people talk about it on the radio and see the numbers on face mask sales soar, I see an entire world that has been shaken to its core by something that has been here all along.

It’s our mortality and we don’t like it one bit.

Corona virus is new and scientifically impressive because of its characteristics as a disease, but perhaps more so because of how it sheds a light on our privilege. Most modern day humans living in the developed world have no concept of the imminence of our mortality. Even a hundred years ago, people grappled with death on a more daily basis than we do in the year 2020. 

Even as I type this, I find that last admission laughable. While we’ve got the benefit of modern medicine, disease control, better living conditions, etc, we’ve also got a whole slew of things out there that our ancestors didn’t grapple with. Lock down drills, active shooter warnings, chemicals in our food/water, and global warming are all things that our distant relatives probably never worried about. Sure, we’re not necessarily worried that our children will die due to scarlet fever and our dinner (usually) isn’t dependent upon what we grow or catch, but the fact remains that death is a part of life, like it or not. Always has been, always will be. 

The difference between us and our ancestors is distraction. We fill our minds and our schedules with invincibility, controlling and scheduling every moment of our days. If we’re allowed any free time at all, we fill it with scrolling or gaming or texting, anything to keep us from sitting alone with our thoughts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sitting in silence sucks. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with ourselves. Our humanity, sinfulness, regrets, and discontent are difficult and its so delightfully easy to avoid them. Our mortality even more so. 

However, distracting ourselves doesn’t change the fact that some day we will die. No amount of internet research or hand washing will ever make our mortality go away. We can’t control it, or anticipate it, or make it fit into our vision of how we want things to go, so we ignore it. 

The trouble with that is that by ignoring and trying to control, we attempt to make ourselves into God and we all know that will never end well. I’m not saying that we need to live in fear, constantly looking over our shoulder for the Reaper ready to mow us down. What I am saying is that we need to befriend death. We need to remember that we have each been created by a loving God whose deepest desire is to know us and to draw us into His heart. All of life is an opportunity to grow away from the worldly things that tie us down, our selfishness, pride, greed, power, all the things that separate us from that love and to move forward toward Him. It is only through death that we can move on to the next stage of knowing and loving God. 

I know this is easier said than done. I am as desperate to live a long and happy life as the next guy. Stepping out into the unknown requires vulnerability and trust, both of which are incredibly scary. But when we get caught up in the fear, when the loss of control taunts us, I think it’s important to remember what’s true. I ask my kids this set of questions all the time when I see that the enemy is speaking lies to them or I see them struggling with fear: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? He made you good and He made you for good things. Christ conquered sin and death and if we make of our lives a daily offering to Him, constantly offering up all that we have, all that we’ve been given as gift to the Father, then death has no sting.

I realize that this is too simple an answer for some. It is for me some days. Living life to the fullest doesn’t erase the fear of death or the unknown. However, I do think that there’s merit in looking our mortality in the face. It gives us the opportunity to ask hard questions of ourselves. Why am I so afraid to die? What is it that I am afraid to lose? Who or what am I holding onto? Am I willing to give those things to God? What unhealthy affections am I more loyal to than to Christ? What sacrifice is it that death would require of me?

These aren’t fun questions to ask ourselves. They aren’t enjoyable dinner conversation starters. However, if we truly seek to serve God, if we truly desire to be held in the arms of our Savior, to give our lives to His provision, these are questions that must be asked.

For me, the thing that I’m most afraid to lose is my children. The thought that a disease could come along, sweep them away, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it is a horrifying realization. But what I have to remind myself if that they’re not my children. They’re God’s. They are eternal souls given left to my care. If I am frightened by my mortality and theirs, then I need to be making sure that I am doing my very best to honor their eternal souls, to teach them love, and to bring them as close to Christ Jesus as I possibly can.

And that’s what fear can do. It can either paralyze us or give us purpose. Pope Benedict XVI famously said that we are not made for comfort, we are made for greatness. Greatness requires sacrifice and self-awareness. Any suffering that life could possibly throw at us can either isolate and ruin us, or be a channel through which we encounter the Lord. 

We’re not in control, but we do have a choice. At the end of the day, we have no say in who contracts a highly contagious disease and who doesn’t, but we have a choice in how we respond. While there’s certainly no good time for a global pandemic, Lent does happen to be a particularly good time to contemplate our mortality. We live in the shadow of death, it’s true, but what that means is that we live in the reality that each moment is a gift. Each moment is a grace and we get to choose whether we live our moments in fear, or make the conscious decision to live our lives running to the Father in thanksgiving. And when we struggle with the trust, struggle with having enough faith, I think it is enough to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief,” and to step out in faith anyway.

Holy Week! And a Passion Play Set for Kids!

I hope your Holy Week is going well! Easter is my favorite holiday forever of all time. Add to that the fact that the kids are old enough to really start grasping the story and I’m just really excited to share it with them.

 

I did a little Pinterest hunting (you can follow me here if you’d like) and found some really great Holy Week activities to do with little ones. We’re going to attempt a foot washing mini-service with some of our best friends on Thursday, we’ll do hot cross buns on Friday, and watch Prince of Egypt on Netflix a few times this week.

 

I managed to put together a Passion play set for the kids the other day and they’ve really liked it. (Former children’s librarian talking here…giving kids tools to tell stories is so good for early literacy. Narrative skills help with vocabulary development, drawing conclusions, and story comprehension, so story play sets of any kind are great to have around!)

 

Anyway, I thought I’d share the links I found to be helpful and the pictures of our play set in case anybody else wanted to make one!

 

I got most of my inspiration from these two blog posts:

When You Rise – preschool activities for Holy Week

When You Rise – Passion story telling set

Because I’m both classy and Catholic I thought it was only fitting to make the tomb of our Savior out of an old Dos Equis box. Other than that, I used paper and had the kids color the scene with markers to finish out the tomb.

IMAG0931
You can sort of also see that the tomb has a trap door to make the Resurrection possible. The kids LOVED showing their daddy that the tomb was empty!

 

For Golgotha, I used an old flower pot turned upside down and some sticks and fake moss from Maggie’s Fairy Princess birthday party the other day. I chose the flower pot because it looked like a hill, but also because it has a drain hole that Jesus’ cross could easily fit into. Eventually I’m hoping we’ll be able to act out all of the stations of the cross, so it was important that Jesus would be able to “carry” his cross. I had some old kabob skewers lying around, so I used rubber bands and the skewers to make the crosses.

IMAG0930

 

 

I found an old peg doll that makes the perfect Jesus. I sewed him a little outfit, used some fabric scraps for burial cloths and we were good!

 

IMAG0932

 

So, there you go! Anybody else have good links or ideas for Holy Week with kids? I’m always interested in hearing what other families do to celebrate. 🙂

Happy Almost-Easter!

Mary Susan

Liturgical Living – St. Patrick’s Day!

While we try to celebrate at least one liturgical feast every month, I must confess that we kind of fell off the wagon after the Christmas season.

 

But, St. Patrick’s day is coming! We come from some green blood on both sides of our family, so I’ve always loved St. Patrick’s day. I love it even more now that I’m Catholic. There’s such rich heritage that comes from St. Patrick, so I’m excited to jump in and celebrate his feast right this year. (I will refrain from harping about mainstream St. Pat’s celebrating except to say, ugh.)

 

Here’s a link to my St. Patrick’s Day board on PinterestI’ve gathered a few good ideas there, but I think I’m going to focus on keeping it simple. The feast of St. Patrick falls close to the day we’re celebrating Mag’s birthday this year, so I’ll be doing some serious party prep and I don’t want to overwhelm myself.

 

I also want to focus a lot on the story of St. Patrick, his ministry, and the culture of Ireland. So, in the days leading up to St. Pat’s, we’ll be learning the Prayer of St. Patrick…

Prayer of St. Patrick

Christ be with me.

Christ within me.

Christ behind me.

Christ before me.

Christ beside me.

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me.

Christ above me.

Christ in quiet and in danger.

Christ in hearts of all who love me.

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

 

The kids have already memorized a few prayers, so this is a great and fairly simple one to add to our arsenal.

 

We’ll also be hunting down some books on St. Patrick. I’m thinking specifically the Tomie DePaola book, but we’ll see what the library has.

 

I’m also planning to do this Trinity Shamrock craft.

 

As far as Irish culture goes, we stumbled upon Song of the Sea, a fantastic and gorgeous movie that is based on many old and lesser known Irish legends. It specifically deals with selkies, which are some of my all-time favorite creatures, so I was bound to be in love. (Growing up, we actually had a Great Pyrenees puppy that we named Selkie because she looked so much like a baby seal. Best dog ever.) The movie is directed by Tomm Moore who also made The Secret of Kellswhich I also loved. I thought Song of the Sea was just as lovely as Kells and a lot less scary for my kids. I did have to do a lot of explaining, but they loved it so much that we watched it again immediately after we finished it the first time. There are so many good lessons to take away from this film…it deals deeply with sibling relationships, the value of both positive and negative emotions, the power of bravery and love. I could go on and on and I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking about this movie for weeks to come.

Common Sense Media has a good list of other Irish movies that might get you in the St. Patrick’s day spirit.

 

Other than that, I think I’ll be playing the Celtic station on Pandora and probably watching Riverdance. Sorry, not sorry, I have always loved the cheesy charm of Michael Flatley.

Lord of the dance, indeed!

 

 

What are your plans to celebrate St. Patrick? Let me know in the comments…especially if you’ve got a good recipe for Irish soda bread! I try a new one every year and haven’t settled on a winner.

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan