Catholic Sistas Post

A Deeper Look

My mom and I share an interest in flower gardening. Over the years, she has given me many “starts” from her perennial gardens, and I try my best to keep them alive. Sometimes it works, other times I am forced to take the walk of shame from the flowerbed to the garbage can to toss the feckless, fruitless, failure into the bin.

A few years back she gifted me with one of her “money plants” that grew for years in wispy waves in the flowerbed along her garage. I always admired the cuttings she made from the plants every fall.  Delicate, pearlescent silver dollars dangled from tall stems in a vase on her table. No additional flowers were needed to brighten the arrangement—these beauties made a bold enough statement on their own.

With that vision in my head, I planted her silver dollar money plants along my garage too, and took special care not to kill them. Turns out, these plants are hard to kill. In fact, given even slightly reasonable conditions, they will multiply. Massively.  Like dirty laundry in the corners of your kids’ rooms.  By the following fall, I had more than enough plants to create my own stunning centerpieces.

But there was a problem: My silver dollars weren’t luminous white discs. They were ugly, bumpy and brown! They looked dead. Oh no, I thought. Here comes another shameful trek to the garbage can. Stupid plants. What did I do wrong?  I couldn’t figure it out. My money plants all died back over the winter, with no chance to adorn my table.

The next year, I was determined to do better. The prolific plants doubled in number again! But when the end of summer came along I was in the same frustrating boat, staring with furrowed brow at a sad crop of dry, wrinkly pods. That’s it, I decided. Time to call in the plant cavalry (ie my mom).

What she told me on the phone first made me fall silent. And then it made me smile. And then it made me laugh for a good long time.

I had been missing a very important piece of knowledge. I dashed outside to snag a stem of silver dollars and pinched a pod between my finger and thumb. Then I slid my fingers back and forth, ever so gently, and voila! The unattractive outer layer fell away and revealed the lustrous shiny coin I was yearning for. The ugliness that I had scorned for two seasons was merely a protective covering—a botanical body guard– that hid the fragile beauty beneath it.

Isn’t that the way it goes sometimes, Sistas? I pondered the notion in my prayer journal: We can be so quick to make judgments and come to conclusions that turn out to be so wrong. And I’m not talking just plants here, of course. Whether it’s the mom who is consistently late to her children’s events, or the co-worker who is struggling to stay awake, or the child who is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, we have to remember we are looking only at the unpleasant outer layer. We don’t know if there’s an elderly parent’s care making the mom late, or an abusive spouse situation creating the co-worker’s exhaustion, or a special needs diagnosis causing the child’s behavior.  Only the outer layer is visible to us in that moment of time.

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Catholic Sistas Post

Roadside Reality Check

In the midst of this busy, hot summer, I’ve been trying to faithfully log 30 minutes of speed walking/jogging (I have never found a good name for it. Is it wogging? Jalking?) almost every morning.  It hasn’t been easy–I am often unmotivated by the heat and humidity. Plus I, as a woman in my mid-50s, have chronic shin splints, creaky knees and arthritis in my hips. But I know I need to stay active to keep the cholesterol from skyrocketing, not to mention keep the midlife muffin-top from overflowing even more, so I trick myself by saying my wogging time is my “think and pray time.”

I live on a country road that’s so country it’s just one notch above a dirt road. It doesn’t even warrant a real name–it goes by a mere letter: “D.” The advantage of jalking on Road D is that I do, indeed, get quiet think and pray time. I am more likely to be interrupted by screeching killdeer or scurrying groundhogs than by a truck or car whizzing by. I can get in a full rosary without distraction. But for a number of years, while pondering and praying over life’s issues, I have wogged along the shoulders of Road D in the same fashion: South side heading out, north side heading home. The gravel crunched under my Nikes as I dodged the deer tracks, the chunks of broken-off asphalt and the occasional beer can. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I made an impromptu change. I moved from jalking along the side of the road to wogging smack dab in the middle. It was a simple move–maybe six feet over. But what a difference it made! Suddenly, I was out of the shade of the giant oaks and into the bright sunlight. I could see my end goal (home) better. I enjoyed a smoother surface underfoot: The crunch morphed to a soft thup thup on the pavement. The road seemingly stretched before me, like one of those horizon shots from a car commercial. It was refreshing to move from the sidelines and onto the straightaway. My spirit instantly lifted.

This little variation in my routine made me wonder: Are there other areas of my life where I am on the sidelines, making some progress but not willing to take any new risks? Am I stuck in a rut, assuming the path I’m on is best, when I haven’t noticed the more exhilarating path just a few steps away? Or worse, maybe I did notice it and I chose to ignore it.  After all, the side of the road is safer and more predictable, while the middle is more risky and vulnerable. It takes a bit more courage and effort to run my race from that central position. It’s easier to keep wogging along the sidelines doing the “same old, same old.”

As I pondered my new routine during my prayer journaling, I experienced a gulp-worthy realization: Yep, my spiritual life is probably too comfortable as well. I am missing opportunities, hampered by routine. I am playing it too safe. I am on the sidelines.

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Catholic Sistas Post

On Potholes, Pity Parties and Problematic Pants

“They’re just so ugly,” I told my sister-in-law last week. “They don’t fit, I did not order them and I do not want to wear them.”

“And they are so not in your color wheel,” she said sympathetically.

“I know, right?” I countered. “Obviously there was no consultation involved. I would like to return them.”

“But you can’t,” she said.

“I know,” I sighed.

The offending piece of attire we were bashing? My Big Girl Pants.

I was not in the mood to put them on. I knew I had to, but that did not stop me from whining about it.

The Big Girl Pants are never a welcome sight in my world, because they signify a looming cross that I will need to take up and carry. I had hoped that I had successfully avoided the need to don the Big Girl Pants for a short time, all the while dreaming that it was a permanent separation. Nope. They were back. They were insistent. And they were definitely accompanied by a cross.

We all have crosses to bear in this life. I often tell my seminar attendees that Jesus did not say, “Pick up your Ghirardelli chocolate bar and follow me.” Or, “Pick up your new car and follow me.” Or “Pick up your Lotto winnings and follow me.” No, sorry. He specifically said “Pick up your cross and follow me.”  And, because they are crosses and not feather pillows, they are uncomfortable. They are heavy. They can even hurt. We don’t want to pick them up at all, much less carry them around for any significant length of time.

But despite the oh-so-wise things I say in my presentations, when this new cross of mine was on the horizon, I spent some time prayer journaling, aka having a downright pity party about it. Try as I did to avoid the pothole of sadness and despair that is often associated with this cross, I ultimately flung myself headlong into said pothole. I implored. I complained. I got mad. I brazenly suggested other options to the Creator of the Universe: “Why couldn’t it be this way or that way instead, God?”

Read the rest of the post over at Catholic Sistas here.

Catholic Sistas Post

Book Review: The Kingdom of Happiness

Happiness—it seems so elusive in our everyday lives, doesn’t it? This is likely not because it doesn’t exist anymore, or because we humans are a hopelessly discontent lot or even that we are too lazy to pursue it. More likely it is that we aren’t pursuing the correct definition of happiness, and therefore we miss the mark.

This is the premise of Father Jeffrey Kirby’s book, Kingdom of Happiness—Living the Beatitudes in Everyday Life (Saint Benedict Press, 2018). Father Kirby asserts (rightly) that Jesus is and has the path to authentic happiness, and that Jesus did us the favor of laying out that path when he gave his Sermon on the Mount and presented the Eight Beatitudes.

The word beatitude means “blessed”; this is a foundational understanding that starts us down the path. Happiness then, Biblically speaking, is defined in the book as “receiving, accepting and seeking to live in a state of beatitude, a condition of being blessed.” “Happiness,” Fr. Kirby contends, “is the satisfaction that comes from beatitude and the awareness of this blessing, and its providence, power and purpose in our lives.”

Through personal stories, practical examples, Scripture-based study and reflection questions, Father Kirby reaches out and leads us through a methodical uncovering of the providence, power and purpose we are meant to experience. He dissects the beatitudes with careful attention and a tone of encouragement, drawing out the meaning of Jesus’ teaching and convincing the reader that she can leave behind despair and reach a more meaningful existence with the Beatitudes as a compass.

There is an abundance of spiritual gold in this book. In Chapter 1, Blessed are The Poor in Spirit, my yellow highlighter was especially busy. Fresh insights such as “In our lives and in our own choices, we have to approach the kingdom of happiness with a poverty of spirit,” and “Being poor in spirit means we choose not to command things of God, our world, our loved ones, or of ourselves. We truly surrender and seek to be open to receive all things as a gift from our heavenly Father and to generously give ourselves in service to our neighbors,” are now etched in my brain. Before reading this book, actually seeking to be poor in spirit was not on my radar as a consideration.

Read the rest of the review at Catholic Sistas here

Catholic Sistas Post

Getting Out of the Baby Pool

“The world offers you comfort. You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

–Pope Benedict XVI

I have always loved this succinct quote from Pope Benedict. It’s a jolting statement that both convicts and motivates me.

And so does this particular, albeit more informal version: “Get out of the Catholic baby pool!”

This blunt directive is not a quote from a saint or a pope—it is something I wrote several years ago in the journal I use at Eucharistic Adoration. The words came to me quite suddenly, an unmistakable holy whisper to my heart, as I sat silently praying in the Adoration chapel and asking the Lord for guidance and direction. This was the answer I “heard” from him.

Well, Sistas, I don’t know if you’ve ever laughed out loud in an Adoration chapel, but let me warn you that if you do, you get some funny looks. I couldn’t help myself; it cracked me up. My Lord really knows how to speak to me on my level!

After I gathered myself a bit, I started to process this clever little inspiration. The truth hit me hard: As a Christian, I had been going through the motions and spiritually sleepwalking for a long time…

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Catholic Sistas Post

Learning to Be a Better Pencil

I’ve done it for years. Decades, really. I’ve made lists. You know the kind— where you write down all the tasks you need to accomplish as a wife, mom, employee, homemaker, all of the above? I actually got pretty good at it over time. I use a business system to help me track and organize my various to-do’s. I create weekly and monthly goals that connect to my daily planner. And once, in a highly creative but mercifully short-lived phase, I color-coded my list according to priority. Yep, that’s me: A list-maker supreme.

So it only came naturally to me when I reverted to the Catholic faith five years ago to approach my spiritual growth in the same structured manner. Soon I found myself making a list of books I wanted to read, jotting down virtues I wanted to explore and develop, and later, noting elements of the faith I wanted to re-learn (better this time). And I made prayer intention lists— lots of prayer intention lists. But more recently I began penning things I thought the Holy Spirit was nudging me to explore— in particular, ways I could maybe help build the kingdom using the talents and gifts He’s given me.

Sometimes the spiritual list-making worked. I checked off several important milestones in my faith life and I felt like I had accomplished some significant goals. But then…

Read the rest of my post over at CATHOLIC SISTAS  here.

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The Answer is Always the Same

It never fails.

Whenever I am in need, or can’t figure out something, or have to make an important decision, I try to first offer my question to God. It could be composed in my prayer journal. It could be in the form of a petition during Mass. Or it could be whispered in the dark of a sleepless night. But no matter what the question or quandary, I hear the same answer loud and clear from Him lately: “More of Me.”

That’s it. He wants me to draw nearer to Him, to pray more to Him, to ask Him to reign ever more completely over my life. That’s His answer to my problems big and small—More of Him. It’s not an easy answer to accept. I would rather He just go ahead and fix it, thank you very much—whatever “it” is: Just answer my question or solve this problem and we can all move on, God. But that’s not how He typically works. Instead, He wants us to lean on Him harder and lean into Him deeper whenever we are at a crossroads.

Read the rest of the post over at Catholic Sistas here.

Catholic Sistas Post

Love, Despite

I am a word nerd. Always have been. Growing up, I knew how to read before I started school. I wrote funny poems about and for my second-grade friends. And I often stayed in at recess just so I could get a jump on my new spelling words. When I first discovered the existence of a thesaurus, my nerdy word world was rocked! My Creator made me this way, so I choose to run with it. And because he made me this way I have learned that whenever he wants my attention, he likes to send a word for me to ponder. The ponder word can bubble up during my prayer journaling time, while I’m reading a book, while I’m saying the rosary or even while I’m spacing out in the car or the shower. I know the word when I see it and hear it because it usually compels me to pause. The word crackles my brain circuits for the tiniest moment and makes my heart sit up and take notice. I love this special way God and I have of communicating. It always draws me nearer to him. It teaches me something that’s relevant to the particular season of spiritual growth I happen to be in.

The most recent word that has been surfacing on a regular basis in my life is despite. Initially, I thought it was a negative word that implied a struggle, a difficulty, a challenge to overcome. But after stewing on it and wondering how God wants me to apply it in my life, I found it to be a positive, faith-filled word. A turning-point, change-of-perspective word. A word that I need to integrate into my daily life to keep me motivated and help me to become a stronger disciple of Jesus.

One example? Jesus commands us to Love One Another. That wouldn’t be so difficult if we weren’t humans, am I right? As EWTN’s Mother Angelica once said, “If it wasn’t for people, we could all be holy!”

——->>>>>Read the rest at Catholic Sistas  here

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Jumping off the Complain Train

Sometimes I’m a willing passenger. But most of the time I promote myself all the way up to chief engineer.

I’m talking about the Complain Train that I frequently find myself on. Let me tell you, last night I was definitely the chief engineer, taking the lead and steering my complain train all over the place, not stopping for anything or anybody, spewing complaints left and right.

How I relish my role as engineer of the Complain Train! Look out world—like it or not, this train is coming through! I say. Complaining makes me feel validated. And heard. And it gives me an opportunity to let off some steam, much like the Seinfeld episode where Frank Costanza establishes a holiday (“Festivus”) where one of the main activities is the “Airing of Grievances,” (i.e. “I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”).

Except the Complain Train is a train bound for nowhere (is that a song?). It has no triumphant ending, no satisfying resolution. There’s no pulling into a station with a great sigh of relief and feeling of accomplishment. The Complain Train is nothing but an unproductive, herky-jerky, never-ending ride through Frustrationville, Crabby Corners and Waste-of-Time Town. It’s a fruitless journey.

And that doesn’t take into consideration what this harmful habit does to the state of my soul.

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Everything is an Invitation

If it was possible, I believe this particular wedding invitation would have arrived with a slew of royal trumpet-players in its wake.  Or maybe twelve doves carrying satin ribbons would have gently deposited the invitation in my hands before floating off into the clouds.  Or maybe Ed McMahon would have knocked on my door and showered me with confetti and balloons as he hand-delivered this envelope.

This was a one-of-kind, no-holds-barred, attention-getting invitation for sure. There was no overlooking it among the stack of otherwise-mundane mail. It wanted me to see it. I had to see it.

It got me thinking: wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything God invites me to do was this obvious to me? Yes, I would appreciate that kind of in-your-face notification from my Creator, thank you very much.

Read the rest at Catholic Sistas HERE!