A Difficult Christmas

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Christmas is meant to be a time of joy, festivity and love. However, for some it is a difficult time. Whether it’s because of major life struggles and challenges we face, or because of painful memories associated with this time of year.

How do we make it through this festive time, when our hearts are wounded?

Reflecting on that first Christmas is a start. Mary and Joseph knew they were called to be parents of a Holy Child, and yet they could not provide a decent place for this child to be born. This required a lot of trust on their part.

The wise men who were seeking him, had only a star to guide them. The star that would only have shone in the darkness, by day they travelled by faith and memory and not by sight.

It is a grace, a gift of God to be able to find joy and peace during suffering and difficulty. I believe this requires a deep faith and trust in God. Like the still waters at the bottom of the raging river, a person with deep faith will rest in God in those deep, peaceful waters while the waves crash overhead.

Through faith we find the strength to move forward, to forgive, to love and to smile through our wounded hearts.

I pray those of you who are in need of healing, and most of us are, will have the courage to give your wounded heart to Christ so that he can heal your wounds and illuminate your path.

I leave with the words from Max Lucado “Perhaps the wound is old, and you are angry. Or perhaps the wound is fresh, and you are hurt. Part of you is broken, and the other part of you is bitter. Part of you wants to cry, and part of you wants to fight…. There is a fire burning in your heart. It’s the fire of anger…

There you are left with a decision. Do I put the fire out or heat it up? Do I get over it or get even? Do I release it or resent it? Do I let the hurts heal, or do I let the hurt turn into hate?

The worst part of all is that, without forgiveness, bitterness is all that is left.”

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Leaving Bitterness Behind

 

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In the bitter cold winter, the trees seem dead and bare. While we can still find glimpses of beauty on a cold winter day, we are easily caught up in the negative aspects of winter, the cold, the limited sun light, the difficult labor of shoveling snow. When we embrace bitterness, our souls look like the trees in the middle of winter. We too can focus only on the negative and lose sight of the sun shining overhead, the snow glistening and the children playing.

The image for my book, was drawn by Paola Lecanda and depicts a woman who is walking away from the dead, barren trees. The shadow behind her shows that she is walking towards the sunlight. The symbolism of the eye in the background is her ability to self-reflect. To look deep within herself and root out the bitterness. This work of leaving bitterness behind, does not have to be done alone. Christ wants to help us if we just let him.  Our Catholic faith is so rich and the opportunities for healing through the sacraments alone are a treasure many of us take for granted. This book I have written is meant to be a tool for those prepared to do the work and enlist divine help in doing so.

Have you ever met someone who seems constantly discontent? Maybe you know someone, who is always complaining and you can’t remember the last time you saw them smile. Imagine that is the person you see in the mirror every day.

There was a time in my life, when I no longer recognized the person in the mirror. The person I did see, I no longer liked. She was flustered, angry and overwhelmed most of the time. Most days, this was hidden behind busyness of caring for family, apostolate and a semi-superficial prayer life. Unfortunately, my family was usually at the receiving end of my anger and complaints. I enjoyed my prayer time, but refused to do any deep self-reflecting. Apostolate and writing became the perfect escape.

One day while examining my conscience in preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there was this one habitual sin that didn’t get much thought, I just knew I committed it and was sure to do it again. This time, a question popped into my mind, “Do you want to just keep bringing that up in confession or do you want to change it?”

I knew full well, the Holy Spirit was poking at my conscience and I knew the right answer was to want to change it. I went into the confessional that day with the conviction that I was not going to confess that one sin again.

From that point on, Christ was very generous with his grace to allow me to move into the direction of making this change. However, he was also very gentle and patient with me. Rooting out this one sin was not an easy process. This is when my trip to leave bitterness behind, began. The next few years, were not easy but it was a grace-filled time. While I was still in the healing process, the inspiration came to write down what I had learned and to share it.

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Purchase the book here “Leaving Bitterness Behind: A Catholic Approach to Healing Past Hurts”

 

 

Why Is This Happening?

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I know I have been on hiatus for the past 19months according to my last post on this blog. Life is full, and it’s not that I stopped writing, I just didn’t make blog writing a priority. Admiration is warranted to those bloggers who manage to make the time to post blogs as often as every week, or multiple times a week.

This blog was never meant to be an on-line diary so I don’t usually share my updates. However, I will briefly let you know that 15 months ago we welcomed another baby boy into our family and I have published my first book!

We all go through seasons in our life when we are overwhelmed with the blessings we are receiving and then others seasons when we feel like we can’t take anything else going wrong. The last 19 months has been no different for me. The strangest feeling is when both of those seasons seem to be happening simultaneously. When we are receiving so many blessings while also enduring the cross, or watching those we love struggle with their cross.

When those tough times hit, and hit hard, the temptation comes for us to ask “Why?” The questions itself is not a bad question. Our human nature demands an explanation for everything, including why things happen the way they do.

However difficult it is to accept, sometimes this question is not answered. Part of the life of faith is accepting that we may never get the answer to this question. Not knowing ‘why’ is how we know we are not in control of every aspect of our lives. There are some things in life we cannot control, therefore we do not and
may never know why circumstances are what they are.

In my book, “Leaving Bitterness Behind” I mention that when we ask God, “Why is this happening to me?” it is really a question of trust. Do we or can we really trust God? We forget that God is a loving Father, and like any good parent, sometimes He will allow bad things to happen to us, for our own good. We may not understand it. We certainly may not like it. If we trust Him, He can make something good come from our suffering. We need to hold on to that faith, while we don’t understand why things are happening now, we hold on to the hope that one day we will come to understand, and it may not be in this life.

Like children, we don’t see the whole picture. We only see what is in front of us now. God can see the whole picture, He knows how what we are going through now, will affect the situations we face in the future. We have to trust that He is preparing us, molding us, shaping us, carving us into the best vers
ion of ourselves. Being shaped, molded and carved is not a painless process.

Knowing why isn’t always necessary anyway. Once we accept that we may never know why, then we are free to move on. Fight the good fight. Do what needs to be done and keep moving forward. In doing this, we experience a lasting peace and freedom.

 

Authentically Feminine

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I saw a picture recently on Facebook that included this quote: “When a culture of ladies arises, a culture of gentlemen will follow.” – Jason Evert.  While I do believe there is so much truth in this comment, I can’t help but be saddened by it as well. As a mom of three boys, I can’t help but ponder how my boys will fare as men in this culture that does not encourage them to be gentlemen. Could we reverse Jason Evert’s quote? “When a culture of gentlemen arises, a culture of ladies will follow.” Or is chivalry dead because feminists killed it?

It has been disheartening, to say the least, that I have had to talk to my older boys, ages 16 and 12 years old, about a certain movie being released on February 14th. The preview for “Fifty Shades of Grey” was shown at the theatre when they went to see “The Hobbit” a few months ago. As their young minds are still being formed, and they are still coming to understand what it means to have dignity, be treated with dignity and to treat others, especially women, with dignity. The hype around this book and film, sends a message that is contrary to what I am teaching my boys, contrary to the men I hope they will one day become.

My hope then is that if they at least understand what authentic feminism is, their behavior and demeanor around women will inspire lady-like behavior from the women God places in their path. What is authentic feminism?

Pope Saint John Paul II said it best in his letter to women, Mulieris Dignitatem and the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi put it together beautifully in a song titled, “Reasons to Live.”

In order to appreciate authentic feminism we have to appreciate the author of authentic feminism. God, Our Creator, designed man and woman. He created us in his image and likeness. This fact alone, gives each human person a dignity that surpasses all other creatures He ever created. God gave man and woman rational thought and free will. He created us equal, but different. Those difference were not meant to make one superior to the other, they were meant to complement each other, to complete the other.

Being created in His image and likeness also means that we were created to love, to serve, to know Him and make Him known. While we know God as Father, through scripture, and the action of having His son born of a woman, we also know God possesses both male and female characteristics. God can create life on His own, yet when He created human beings in his image, he intentionally creates them so that one needs the other in order to procreate. Man is not complete without woman and vice versa.

Through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, we are left with a distorted reality. We live in a fallen world, and so human dignity, rational thought and free will have been twisted. Throughout history we see how this has affected the way human beings treated each other, and how the dignity of women was not upheld or respected.

There are some benefits to the Feminist Movement that include, the right to vote, the right to choose to work in or outside of the home, the right to equal pay for equal work, employers including family leave and flexible hours to be conducive of working mothers, the right for women to actively stand up for the oppressed or marginalized in society. Since the face of poverty and abuse victims are still predominantly women and their children, being active in defending the rights of women against physical and financial abuse is an important and necessary cause.  In this way we see that Catholic social-doctrine and the Feminist movement share many similarities.

However, authentic feminism is opposed to some of the views of secular feminism, especially when it comes to sexuality, reproductive rights and roles within family and society. Here we see how the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction.

The false notion that artificial contraceptives have given women sexual liberation is one of the most mind boggling notions of the feminist belief. A woman’s body is designed to go through a natural cycle in preparation for reproduction. Instead of recognizing the beauty of this cycle and empowering women to learn about their bodies, society encourages women to suppress their God given gift to reproduce despite the fact that she will face many dangerous and unnecessary consequences. Consequences such as cancer, strokes, heart attacks, fertility issues and in some cases death. Listening to Janet Smith’s talk on “Contraception, Why Not?” I learned that the pill was originally created by a man. Why? So he could use woman as an object for pleasure without having to deal with the responsibilities of becoming a father. That doesn’t sound like it’s in line with protecting the rights of women.

If we take a closer look at abortion. Feminists use statements like, “My body, my choice.” Truly this sounds noble enough. However, abortion damages the woman’s body, along with her emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being. Abortion kills female babies in the womb and at times, kills the woman as well.  If we truly care about female rights, we would fight to end abortion in order to protect women. Former secular feminist and Director of Planned Parenthood shares her experience with this first hand. I implore you to get to know Abby Johnson.

A woman who embraces her authentic feminism embraces her role in the family and in society. Her role to bring her feminine genius to the workplace, to politics, the courtroom, and to her home.  She lives at the service of others, bringing her ingenuity, compassion and nurturing spirit to everyone she meets. She may do this on a large scale by initiating change to improve benefits for the impoverished in her community, she might work to educate those who may not otherwise receive an education. She may choose to use her feminine genius to build up her husband and educate her children at home.

Living at the service of others, does not mean she degrades her own dignity to help someone else. An authentic feminist knows her boundaries and holds true to her convictions. While she recognizes the needs of others, she would not go against her conscience or undermine herself in the name of serving others. This would be contrary to what God designed her to do. Only by treating others with dignity can we transform society, one heart at a time. A woman who embraces her authentic feminism will serve others by building up their dignity and not by engaging in behaviors that are physically damaging, illicit or immoral.

Looking Back to Move Forward

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As the famous line from the movie tune says, “The past is in the past”. How then, can looking back help us move forward?

When I first met my husband, many years ago in our parish youth group we were asked to look up and share our favourite Bible passage. He found a passage on marriage and shared how he believed that during tough times in marriage couples should look back at what brought them together instead of looking at what is tearing them apart in the present moment.

At the time I didn’t appreciate the wisdom in his statement. Looking back to move forward is actually a great first step in working out those tough marital issues that will inevitably come up.

I don’t think I am sharing any earth shattering wisdom here. It’s pretty simple really. Every marriage goes through a dry patch or a few dry patches. We get caught up the in busyness of everyday life and our relationship with our spouse takes a back seat. For some marriages this is a minor and temporary occurrence, yet for others this time can be harmful to the married couple. Neglecting our spouse leads to feelings of loneliness and temptation to seek fulfillment in other things or other people. This opens the door to anything from addiction to infidelity.

Regardless of the type of damage or hurts we are dealing with in marriage, a good starting point in re-committing to working through those issues is to look back and rekindle the euphoric love shared during the early days of dating and marriage.

Here are 5 ways to look back:

  1. Talk to each other or to others about how you first met. Ask another couple how they met. They will most likely ask you to share your story, as well. Share this story in front of your spouse and make sure to make eye contact. You may be surprised to find that old familiar spark in his eye as those memories come to mind.
  2. Dust off your wedding photo album or play your wedding video if you have one. Leave the wedding photo album accessible. Let him find you looking through the pictures. Invite him to look at them with you. Show them to your children or guests who come to visit and share memorable stories you recall of some specific photos.
  3. Play your wedding song or other meaningful music from the time you were dating or first married. Play these songs in his presence. If you are so inclined sing or dance along together.
  4. Did you keep old cards, letters or love notes he wrote you? Make them accessible, read them, reminisce and share this with him.
  5. Recreate your first date or engage in the activities you did together in your first months or years together. You may have to refresh your memory by talking to him about how you used to pass the time together at the beginning of your relationship, which is also helpful.

Looking back will rekindle those old familiar feelings, helping us to see our spouse differently. Through the same positive lens we used during the euphoric days of our relationship. This along with the grace of God will help us to take the next step. These are only 5 ways, I am sure there are more ways to be nostalgic together. Share them in the comments. I look forward to reading them.

Emptying the Marriage Fridge

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The other day, while cleaning the inside of my fridge, I deliberately chose to stay focussed on one thing. I turned it into a prayer. “Lord, show me how cleaning out my fridge could actually be a metaphor for a life lesson.”

Now my fridge isn’t all that dirty. I usually keep it clean, wiping it down now and then, especially after spill, doing a monthly purge of expired items. As I emptied the freezer, to my surprise I realized I didn’t purge it often enough, there were items in the back of the freezer I had completely forgotten about. I worked my way through the fridge, emptying shelf by shelf, removing the glass shelves to give them a good wipe. I realized there was some spillage I had missed in my routine wipe downs. This clean up took a lot more time than I had anticipated, a little more elbow grease and more hot water to get all the pieces looking shiny and clean again.

Life Lesson

Having been married for 18 years to a devoted, faithful man, I can easily take him for granted. Over the years we have made our efforts to stay connected as a couple. We arrange care for our children and schedule in some couple time. We work in ministry together and we are a prayerful couple. Once in a while we butt heads and have a disagreement, but they don’t usually last long. On the surface this marriage appears to be healthy and stable.

There comes a time in every marriage, when some purging is necessary. As Christians we understand that we are called to actively pursue God in our daily lives. To respond to his call to grow in relationship with him, this growth is constant and it’s flowing. At some point, to move closer to God we need to detach ourselves from certain habits or baggage. Matthew Kelly, a Catholic evangelist once said, “Every journey towards something is a journey away from something else.”

A marriage, certainly a Christian marriage that looks secure on the surface may have some underlying problems that need to be dealt with before this couple can move forward in their relationship with God and with each other.

Emptying the Marriage Fridge

Sometimes the couple will not be aware of what is impeding their growth. They have become so comfortable and accustomed to the stain, they don’t see it anymore. A praying couple will hopefully allow room for the Holy Spirit to inspire them to start emptying their shelves. Giving them the grace to discard what needs to go and give what remains a good cleaning. It doesn’t mean this couple is living a façade, by putting on a show for others. In many cases they believe they have a firm marriage. A faithful couple could be oblivious, believing their monthly date night and making up quickly after a disagreement means they are doing well. Perhaps this is so. Maintenance is a big part of building a strong marriage, but is it enough?

 

Supernatural Grace

Cleaning out my fridge is done within an hour or so. The type of work required to complete the purging cycle in a marriage is likely to be much harder. I am not talking about the bad habit he has of forgetting to put the lid back on the toothpaste, or the toilet seat down. Obviously there are deeper issues directly affecting the physical and emotional intimacy, trust and communication within the couple.

To look deeply within ourselves, through the eyes of faith, and to do it together with our spouse, requires a great amount of humility. It also requires a huge dose of supernatural grace. Supernatural strength is necessary to take the time, to be sincere with ourselves, with God and with our spouse. To put in the consistent and constant effort to work at what needs to be worked at, to forgive the failings we see in our spouse and to seek forgiveness for the failings we see in ourselves. None of this is easy, but it is necessary. Routine maintenance is not enough, because it doesn’t allow for growth.

Blessings Abound

When I finished cleaning the fridge, my shelves were shiny and the fridge did look a little empty, but it had all the essentials. The expired items wouldn’t be missed, and stains were gone. Now this could also have been a lesson on how we waste too much. This is the usual thought I have in mind when I clean out my fridge, freezer, pantry, etc., since we obviously spent money on items we didn’t have much use for. However, God used this time to show me how blessed I am. That even after discarding, cleaning and scrubbing, I have a good working fridge that still has the essentials I need to feed my family.

When we are willing to do the work, God blesses us in abundance. He doesn’t just give what we need, he provides in abundance. Couples get a new, clean, fresh start, with enough grace, love, forgiveness, empowerment, protection, prayer, and intimacy to keep moving forward. Certainly, the opportunity for a major clean will come again at different stages in their married life. The pain will be different, the habits will vary each time, or maybe some old habit will have managed to creep in again.

Sometimes the couples need help from their community to get over some major stumbling blocks. A spiritual leader or a marriage counsellor who can see the situation objectively, this is not a sign of a bad marriage or of weakness. It takes great strength and humility to admit you need help from a third-party. It is precisely in our weakest, most humbling moments that God’s grace and blessing abounds.

Today I pray for all married couples, that they may seek the courage to clean out their marriage fridge and benefit from the supernatural grace and blessing that comes with the opportunity for a fresh start.

 

Rudeness Justified

Is there ever a time when being rude is justified?STOP

As Christian-Catholics we are taught early on that we must always be charitable, in our thoughts, words and actions. We do this by placing love in action and concretely putting the good of others ahead of ourselves.

We live in a world rampant with temptation and sin. In our effort to avoid temptation and sin it may be necessary to take on such a powerful stance against evil that we risk appearing rude. When Christ asks us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he didn’t mean we should avoid being rude to do so. In fact, it is a great act of charity to be a witness to others in this regard.

When we refuse to compromise our convictions we are showing love. Love for God and others. Our actions should be communicating this message:

      “I love you too much to allow or to accept this harmful act or invitation.”

Our motivation to avoid temptation and occasions of sin is out of love for God and out of love for the soul of the other.

Christ did not compromise nor did he think twice about calling out evil where he saw it. He called it out whether the evil manifested itself among the Pharisees, the merchants in the temple or even among his friends. When Peter denounced Christ’s foretelling of his suffering and death, Jesus didn’t soften his response because Peter was a friend.

  “Get behind me Satan…” Matthew 16:23

Jesus calls out the evil he recognizes. He knows the tempter is using Peter to inspire doubt and fear in God’s plan for Christ’s suffering and death. He risks appearing rude to call out the tempter and stop Peter from accepting this line of thinking which is contrary to God’s plan. We are called to imitate Christ. Through Christ we have this same authority to call out evil.

We have all faced moments of temptation, an offer to indulge in some pleasurable, illicit or inappropriate act or exchange. Satan puts out his net through a seemingly harmless invitation to some act of pleasure. It may be a simple comment, conversation or invitation that we derive some sort of effortless pleasure from. An act that we can easily dismiss the potential harm it will cause. Even if we acknowledge the invitation is inappropriate and may lead to sin, we may be more concerned about appearing rude for refusing the invitation than we are about the consequences of accepting such an invitation. By accepting the invitation we allow Satan to expand the net.

If we refuse the invitation or walk away from the situation, act or conversation by utilizing the courage and authority given to us through Christ, we to are saying like Christ, “Get behind me Satan…“ and instead of expanding his net, Satan`s attempt is stifled.

Perhaps our greatest challenge is what we read in the Gospel of Mark 8:11 – 26, where Jesus warns his disciples:

“…keep your eyes open and guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.“

Just as we forget that Christ can work through others for our good, we forget that Satan can work through others for our ruin. Jesus points out to the disciples that the Pharisees refusal to accept his divinity and his teachings and Herod`s pursuit of pleasure are the invitations to sin they need to be guarded against. Like the disciples we don`t understand Christ`s warning. Our understanding is very limited. Jesus says to us:

“Do you have eyes but cannot see and ears but do not hear?”

It is only in Christ that we will be able to recognize evil and perceive the potential dangers. The Holy Spirit will inspire in us the holy daring necessary to stifle Satan’s efforts to entrap us.

Christ desires to open the eyes and ears of our heart. He invites us to bring others to him who also need their spiritual eyes and ears opened. In this same Gospel of Mark we read of a blind man being led by the hand to Christ. It is an act of kindness, an act of charity to bring those who are spiritually blind or spiritually deaf to Christ. We may not be able to take them to Christ physically, though we may attempt to invite them to prayer, or to Mass, etc., However, we can bring them to Christ in our own prayer for them and we can aid in opening their eyes and ears when we refuse to give into the smallest act of temptation.

If Christ did not point out Peter’s statement was coming from Satan, would Peter have recognized it? Would the other disciples have known? Would we who read this passage thousands of years later recognized the tempter in Peter’s comments? Probably not. In this same way, we are called to stay close to Christ and to call out evil where see it, for the good of our soul and the good others.