Pope Benedict on Lent and Renewing My Faith

Quote

Lent is a time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments.
-Pope Benedict XVI

I know this is a little late, with Lent ending today, but I was going through some old email and came across this quote.  While Lent offers the opportunity to renew our faith, especially with new members coming into the church on Easter Vigil, the renewal of one’s faith shouldn’t be confined to one 40-day period of the year.

To me, renewing my faith is a continual process.  I am always trying to learn more about my religion and deepen my faith in God.  There is just so much I feel I don’t know.  I want to understand, and in order for me to grow in my faith, I need to continually seek out answers to my questions.  Luckily, my parish is blessed with 2 priests and a religious sister who are available to answer questions.

A community of believers plays a huge part in renewing and deepening one’s faith.  Those fellow believers allow you to have support when you doubt, strength when you fall, and prayer when you struggle.  I am lucky that I have several friends who are also “seekers” in their faith journey, and they are also available to answer questions, or to hold my hand as I try new(ish) experiences.

For me, knowing that the Mass has been celebrated for the last 2,000 years, and that it is in mostly the same format throughout the world each Sunday helps me to strengthen my connections to other believers.  Knowing that there is a body of Catholics celebrating the same sacraments I do gives me a sense of continuity to the earliest Christians.

I am trying better to live by Christ’s example and to follow the teachings of my Church.  There were too many years when I was away from the Church, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I don’t necessarily like who I became during those years, so my challenge is to bring myself back to where I was – and I can do that by renewing my faith each day.

“A Clockwork Christmas” – Stories of Redemption and Love

I have never read a “steampunk” book before.  This was an interesting group of stories for me as I learned about this world of Victorian invention and ingenuity.  It is a group of four stories: Crime Wave in a Corset, This Winter Heart, Wanted: One Scoundrel, and Far from Broken.  I liked 3 out of the 4 stories a lot.  Wanted: One Scoundrel was probably my least favorite out of the 4.

In Crime Wave in a Corset, we meet a young lady who has been a thief most of her life.  She recently stole a Faberge egg from a university professor, who wants it back.  However, in order to get it back, she will have to break into the home of a well-known Irish crime lord.  While planning the theft, she has to learn that some of the walls she has built should be breached.   This was my favorite story.

In This Winter Heart, we meet a mother and her child who are going back to the child’s father’s home, as they have fallen on hard times.  The mother’s secret destroyed their marriage and the father doesn’t realize he has a son.  While there, she is hurt while rescuing their son.  They have to realize what is important and what the definition of “human” is.  This was my third favorite story.

Wanted: One Scoundrel is the story of an Australian suffragette, whose father is extremely wealthy.  She wants to start a political party, but needs a man to be the figurehead.  She finds one, but he is not who he appears to be.  She needs to learn that being independent doesn’t mean being subservient.  This was my least favorite story.

Far from Broken is the story of a woman’s will to survive.  Her husband is a spy for the government.  She was taken as a way to control him, and ended up being tortured almost to death.  He made a deal with the government for her care, and now they both have to come to terms with the agreement.  This was my second favorite story.

I received this book through the NetGalley system.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“At Last. At Last. I’m Home At Last.”

At church on Sunday, one of the points in the homily was an exercise Fr. Joseph had completed in college.  It was what each individual wanted to have written on their tombstone.  He said that one classmate wanted “Found a cure for cancer”; another wanted “Visited all the countries in the world”; and a third wanted “At Last. At Last. I’m Home At Last”.  The ensuing homily centered around the notion of “home”.

I got to thinking about my home.  I have had several in my life.  Homes that I lived in with my parents, homes I shared with my husband, places that felt like home, even though I didn’t live there.  When you are away from home, it is a struggle to to feel centered – to have a place that you can go to and be accepted, a place that is a refuge.

Lately I have been thinking that (re)finding my faith is like finding a home.  The Church has always been a constant in my life – even when I was away from it.  It was always in the back of my mind and heart.  Even though I came back a few years ago, I wasn’t really back.  I had issues that I needed to address.  But through the combination of various people I have met, the priests in my parish, and the reflection I have been doing, I think I have begun to find my way home….home to the faith community that means so much to me; that has meant so much to my family; that has allowed me to experience the beauty of the Mass again.

I had a priest tell me yesterday that “God is easy, it’s the people that make things difficult”.  I think that helped solidify my notion of home.  I know that I have a home in my faith, in my belief of God.  I also know that I have a home on earth with those who love me and with those who support me.  My home isn’t necessarily limited by the four walls holding up my house, but it is built by the hearts and hands that are there to hold me up when I am struggling.  To those people, I say thank you.

Taking Time During Advent to Prepare

During Advent, not only are we called to be watchful, but we are called to be prepared.  We should be prepared to not only receive Christ, but to receive Him with Joy.

While waiting for the birth of Christ, we are asked to meditate on the gifts we are given.  There are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of life and liberty, and the gift of those around us.

Too often, we are in a rush to get to Christmas.  Each year, the holiday decorations come out earlier and earlier.  Those same people who grumble about the stores having Christmas items up are rushing to put up their Christmas tree on Thanksgiving Day.  It’s not Christmas yet…it’s Advent – WAIT!

Unless we take the time to wait – to watch and prepare – to be appreciative for the great gifts we have been given, we won’t know the true meaning of Christmas.  The joy of Christ’s birth will be lost amid the rush, lost amid the day-to-day struggles we all face, and lost to time once again.

In my family, we wait to put up our tree until after my birthday in the beginning of December.  This year, as I have been listening to the homilies at church and really trying to refocus myself, I’ve come to realize that to my girls, Christmas isn’t so much about Christ.  That makes me sad, but when I think about it, Christmas wasn’t about Christ when I was growing up either.  Christmas was about family and gifts.  I think I’d like to make a change in how my family looks at Christmas.  I don’t want my girls to be so focused on Santa and the gifts he brings that they miss the true meaning of the season.  I want them to think about the gifts they have been given, and the gift of Christ.  I know it will be difficult – there’s so much focused on the commercialization and they are only 4 and 7, but I think it’s important for them to understand. While they are joyous about the season, it’s for the Santa aspect, not the gift of Christ.

Are you taking the time to prepare to receive Christ with joy?

My Pants are Going to Stage a Walk-out

A few weeks ago, I decided to put together a team for a local weight loss competition. I found 3 other people who are all motivated to lose weight. A few of us decided that during December, we weren’t really going to worry about watching what we eat, working out, etc. We were just going to live and eat what we wanted. It’s not like I am going on an eating binge and eating all of my favorite foods that I know I won’t be able to eat once the competition starts, but I kind of am.

I haven’t been too worried about my health. Sure, my family has a history of heart disease, blood pressure issues, strokes, heart attacks, and cancer. (Ok, so that list sounds REALLY BAD.) But I wasn’t going to let myself stress over it – December is stressful enough.

But here’s the thing. As I go on my “farewell tour” of my favorite foods and restaurants, I have begun to realize that they don’t all taste as good as I want them to. I know this is a good thing, but I guess I wasn’t expecting it. It’s like I can hear my body say “Enough is ENOUGH!….Fix us already!!” (Ok, and I also hear my pants saying that they can’t take it anymore….one of these days, they are going to stage a walk-out and I will be stuck wearing track pants to work.)

So on January 3, I start a new journey. One I have tried before. One I have failed before. What will be different this time? Me. It comes down to me. It doesn’t matter that my husband is super supportive. It doesn’t matter that I will be cheering my other team members on (because I will). It matters that I want to do it. That I am tired of being out of breath. That I am tired of not fitting into clothes. That I am tired of seeing large numbers on the tags of my clothes. That I am tired of not wearing the clothes I think are cute because they don’t look right on me.

By the time I go to Tennessee in May, I want to have run a 5K and be signed up for another. I want to be in a smaller size of clothes. I want to crave healthy food, not crap. I want to know that I can eat things I like (popcorn, chocolate, and Pepsi – I’m talking to you!) in moderation and without feeling guilty about it later. I want my sister-in-law and her family to ask my husband when he got a new wife. I want my daughters to be proud of me.

I want to live. I want to be me.

Being Watchful During Advent

In the readings for the first Sunday of Advent, we were admonished to “be watchful”.

  • Be watchful for Jesus. 
  • Be watchful for opportunities to minister to others. 
  • Be watchful for others ministering to us. 
  • Be watchful for the movement of the Holy Spirit

Be watchful for Jesus.  To Christians, we are in a perpetual season of Advent, waiting for the coming of Christ. This is amplified annually during the Christmas season as we wait for the birth of the Christ-child. Our readings, our reflections are about watching…watching those around us for the joy of the season.

I am seeing this daily in our home. This is the first Christmas that our youngest actually understands that there’s something going on. She is sooo excited about Christmas – sure, it’s the excitement of Santa and of getting gifts, but she is enthralled by everything Christmas-related. She was so happy to help me set up our small Nativity scene the other night. We talked about each piece and what they were. Now whenever she walks by it, she says that it’s her “special thing” that she did with Mommy. For her, Advent is taking “too long”; but for us, it’s not long enough.

Be watchful for opportunities to minister to others. The holidays are a time that donations spike. People are in a giving spirit and they are called upon, whether by others or by their conscience, to give of their time, money, or talents. Ministering to others doesn’t have to be formal affair…maybe it’s as simple as holding the door for someone who is burdened with items, or a kind smile when you see someone who is frazzled. It may be volunteering for a task at work, your church, or other organization that would stretch your comfort level. It’s amazing how ministering to others can influence your everyday life.

Be watchful for others ministering to us. I tend to rush through my day always playing catch-up. I don’t always notice others as I go about my tasks. I tend to want to do things on my own, and I will struggle through a task even though someone else may have offered to help. My challenge in the coming years is to learn to accept others who are ministering to me. To accept that smile, to accept that offer to babysit, to accept that little girl’s hand in mine and not to rush through my day. Accept each person ministering to you as a gift and say “Thank you” with a spirit of thankfulness and grace in your heart.

Be watchful for the movement of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves in unexpected ways. Stories of people who made a serendipitous connection with a stranger abound, or how the non-answer to a prayer was really the answer to the deeper prayer. Be watchful for how the Holy Spirit moves in your life and the lives of those around you. For us, we struggled for years with wanting to have a child. We decided to become foster parents so that we could help others, but we still wanted to have a child of our own. We were finally blessed with the gift of two little girls who fit perfectly into our lives and our family. God heard our cries and even though we weren’t blessed with a child of our bodies, we were blessed with children of our heart. The Holy Spirit moved in mysterious ways.

How have you been watchful this Advent season?

There’s No Place Like Home

Grandma and Grandpa

This was written at St Martin’s University in 1998.

Growing up in Iowa was more fun than it sounds.  Every summer, my mom and dad would load up us kids and trek us halfway across the state to my grandparents’ farm outside of Ames.  Admittedly, this doesn’t sound like that much fun either, but when you are a kid and you get to spend from the day after school gets out to the day before school starts again, it’s a blast.  Three months of sun, being outside with animals, spending time on rainy days making all sorts of little projects Grandma saw on TV, is a kid’s dream come true.

I spent every summer from when I was born until I started high school at my grandparents’ farm.  I guess I didn’t realize until I was older just how much I appreciated being there for long periods of time.  Not only did I get to spend time with relatives that I only saw every couple of months, but I was exposed to an entirely different atmosphere than at my parents’ house.  Mom and Dad lived in the city, but Mom had grown up on the farm.  At this point in my life, I realize that those moments spent next to my grandparents and great-grandparents are irreplaceable.

The images that I remember are of fields of corn in the summer…actually walking between the rows and pulling weeds and tassels; rows upon rows upon rows of soybeans…again, actually walking between the rows and spraying weeds for hours on end; rows of mown hay being bundled into bales…and more bales…and more bales.  Then there are the fun images – those of a calf first learning how to stand, all wobbly and scared.  A Brown Swiss cow standing in the midst of all the black and white Holsteins chewing her cud.  Getting up early in the morning to go feed the calves and to help Grandma with her chores (and Grandpa too…if you got up early enough).  Walking what seemed to be HUGE herd of cows down the road to the other form…and scared that they would run away and then what would happen?  I remember picking flowers, picking corn, picking beans (green beans, not soybeans), and my favorite — strawberries.

There are certain smells that always will take me back: the smell of a cow lot or pig lot (no one else seems to like that smell), the smell of fresh cut grass; the smell of my grandma’s house on anything she sends me; the smell of cookies and cakes and roast; the smell of corn on the cob just before it’s time to take it out of the pan to eat!  It is funny how something so simple can bring back a wealth of memories and feelings that you had forgotten about.

I was always amazed how Grandma kept up with all the people that were in and out of her house.  The “boys” (aka my uncles) were (and still are) always coming and going.  There is memorabilia all over the house from when they were in 4H. My favorite picture is the large framed picture of Uncle Charles showing the cow.  That picture hangs over the bed in the basement.  There are running jokes about how slow Grandma eats, or how she is always going to clean off the pool table, or how she’s going to get a head start on her Christmas cards.  I think that other things were just more important to her, and she wanted to make sure her cards and letters had her personal touch on them.

I remember when Great-Grandma was still alive and living at the other farm.  I used to walk over there to make cookies with her.  Great-Grandma had the coolest house – it was old and had all sorts of nooks and crannies to hide in.  At the other farm, the cow pasture (a real pasture) had a stream.  I was only allowed to walk along the stream one time.  Great-Grandma also had to get up really early and give the older calves their milk.  That was always scary because we had to go down into the basement (which everyone knew had a snake in it) then mix up the powdered milk with the water and VERY carefully walk up the narrow staircase to go outside.

Even if I went back now, I would still fall back into the same pattern that has been in place since I was born.  I would still get to sleep in the “Big Kid’s” room.  I would still sit at the same place at the kitchen table.  I would still know where everything was, because nothing has been moved in years.  Grandpa would still take a nap before lunch in his recliner, while Uncle Charles would take his nap after lunch either on the living room floor or downstairs.  Grandma would still take forever to eat and would fall asleep in her recliner at night.  Grandma still measures the grandkids (and great-grandkids) on the refrigerator. She still threatens to swat us with a fly swatter or make us sit in the corner if we misbehave.  There is a continuity at the farm that I haven’t found anywhere else.  It’s almost as if the farm exists in its own time warp.

I can remember when things were a little different.  The farm had its own gas station (for lack of a better description).  Uncle Mark lived at home (he’s the youngest), and he drew pictures and portraits.  Grandma drove.  Grandma kept a bigger garden – almost part of field.  I remember when Grandpa still grew sweet corn and we spent a lot of time husking it in the back of a pickup, then carting it into the house for the “womenfolk” to boil it, take it off the ears and freeze it.

Looking back, I realize that even though they weren’t obvious to me at the time, I learned a lot of lessons about life that have stayed with me.  The value of hard work and the benefits you receive from a job well done.  The satisfaction of playing when all the work is done, and even how to make what seems like a tedious job fun.

Note: In the 13 years since this was written, a lot has changed.  Grandma died a few  years ago after being sick with Alzheimer’s.  Grandpa no longer actively farms, although he occasionally raises some pigs for Iowa State.  The other farm is gone, it was used for a controlled burn a number of years ago.  But the feeling of family, of continuity, of love, still remains.  It is, and always will be, the center of our family’s gatherings.

What I am Thankful For – Day 2

Picture taken by Todd & Kathleen Jacobs (c)

Today I am thankful for two wonderful little girls.  They came into our life just when they were supposed to.  Watching these two grow, learn, and evolve has been a journey. It’s always so entertaining to see what keeps them occupied.  With Autumn, give her a sketch pad or a book and she is happy.  With Skylar, give her a coloring book, some Playdoh, or just sit with her and she is happy.  I can’t wait to see what the future brings for the two of them (and for us).  There are days I still can’t believe they are ours.

Thank you girls for bringing light and joy to your parents.

What I am Thankful For – Day 1

Today, I give thanks for my husband who has been my partner for the last 15 years.  We have weathered many storms together, and I have always known that he is there for me and I am there for him, no matter the situation.  He is always there to balance me and lift me up.  From that day 20+ years ago when we first met to today when we woke up, every day has been treasured.  Sure, we have changed along the way, but we have changed together.

I am looking forward to our future.  Thank you, my love for taking this journey with me.