Prayer Journal Pondering

Make Room, Make Haste, Make Holy

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for two weeks. After all, January is almost over and it’s my New Year’s Resolution. But I just couldn’t seem to get the words from my brain to the Word document with all the other things going on. Perhaps I should have put “Be More Organized” on my resolution list this year!

This resolution, or more accurately, this phrase, came about through the process of prayer journaling (surprise, surprise!). The first segment—Make Room—came to me during Eucharistic Adoration in late December. I was pondering what the Holy Spirit would have me do next, specifically in 2018, and this thought popped into my head: Make Room. Make room for what? I wondered. I worked through the possible meanings over the next week and ended up with several thoughts: I need to make room in my schedule—that’s a little challenging but can be done. I need to make room for discipleship and kingdom-building opportunities. Makes sense. And I need to make room in my heart for the Holy Spirit to move. Hmmmm, that one’s slightly intimidating. But I am committed to praying for the Holy Spirit to come into my heart and clean house to make room for amazing things in 2018.

Make Haste entered into the mix when I was reading about the wise men and the shepherds in the fields who heard about the birth of Jesus and made haste to go find him. They didn’t doubt, they didn’t question, they didn’t ruminate—they dropped what they were doing and they made haste.  According to one of my previous bosses, instead of a “Ready, Aim, Fire” person, I can be more of a “Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim” person.  Guilty as charged (although I did defend myself by saying that at least I wasn’t a “Ready, Fire, Aim” person). Admittedly, I love the idea generation phase of a project, but I get bogged down in the execution. I second-guess. I want more time to test. I need to go over things with a fine-tooth comb one more time. I hesitate to pull the trigger. Yea, if I was one of the shepherds, I would still be sitting on a rock contemplating the pros and cons of heading into Bethlehem, and wondering if I really did see angels singing, while my fellow shepherds would already be gazing into the glory of the manger. I don’t make haste. But my new saint friend, Catherine of Siena, has been getting under my skin with her quote, “Start being brave about everything.” So when an opportunity presents itself in 2018, I plan to be brave and jump on it.

And finally, there’s Make Holy, a phrase that popped into my head at the precise moment when the priest at Mass was saying, “Make holy these gifts…” It’s kind of the cherry on top of the resolution ice cream sundae. Make Holy is a way, as St. Francis de Sales says, to Live Today Well. It means elevating my everyday acts and encounters to a holy level. To offer up my entire day to God, so he can sanctify the situations and sanctify me and take my meager offerings and make something holy out of them. Cue the Little Way of St. Therese: Doing dishes can be made holy. Getting groceries can be made holy. Making phone calls can be made holy. I don’t have to accomplish anything newsworthy—I can know, instead, that when God adds his grace to my everyday actions, they can be made holy. I just need to ask.

So there you have it.  In 2018, I hope and pray to Make Room, Make Haste and Make Holy.

Oh, and maybe become better organized while I’m at it…

Praying with a Pen

The Luxury of a Look-back

One of the true advantages and joys of prayer journaling is the ability to look back through your journal pages and see how God has been at work in your life. It’s a consolation, an encouragement and an inspiration to keep moving ahead with your spiritual life! By marking your lessons and insights and realizations (I call them Holy Whispers or even Holy Moly Moments) in your prayer journal, you can easily return to them and recall how God loved you through a difficult phase. Here’s how I (and others) explain it in Praying with a Pen:

“…Don’t let my excitement over Holy Whispers and Holy Moly Moments received in prayer journaling give you the impression that I get these experiences all the time, every day and with the same constant pace that dirty laundry piles up in the laundry room. I don’t. The examples I’ve shared in this book have come to me over the course of many years. I am not a mystic or a saint or even someone who feels extra close to God all day, every day. I am a passenger on the struggle bus, just like you. I am someone who has gotten much better at being quiet and listening, thanks to prayer journaling. But I have a long way to go. In fact, most of the time when I figure out something significant, I want to shake my head and say, Duh, Mary Beth! How could you have not realized this before? And I often go days or weeks without feeling I’m making any progress at all. But that’s another reason to prayer journal and mark your “moments”—when you feel like you are going through a time of spiritual dryness, you can open your past notebooks and smile and have renewed hope and faith. You will know that you are drawing nearer, daughter of a King, one page at a time.

St. Augustine is quoted, “God loves each of us as if there was only one of us.” This means the Holy Whispers you receive will be different from my Holy Whispers, and your Holy Moly Moments will be different from my Holy Moly Moments. God will speak to you in your own language. “If I sense something from the Lord, I write that down,” says Debbie Guardino. “The more you pray, the more comfortable you are in knowing whether it’s the Lord’s voice you hear. The Lord is never speaking above my head in prayer journaling.”

You will want to track those unique-to-you whispers and moments so you will be able to appreciate your steady spiritual growth and progress. I had always known God’s hand was at work in my life, but when I began to track my spiritual growth and insights through my journal pages, I was floored. I could clearly see that grace was changing me, that prayers were indeed answered, that I felt greater peace despite any upheaval that was going on in my life at the time.

Prayer journaling will help you see what God is doing in your life, too, if you learn to mark your moments. Adriene, Jackie and Debbie have all seen the benefits of tracking and reviewing their journal entries. “It is so wonderful to look back at past entries—I can see just what God was showing me during all seasons of my life,” said Adriene. “One of the best things about journaling is it allows me to trace God’s hand of faithfulness,” Jackie said. “When I feel like God isn’t hearing me, I can go back in my journal and see where God has been faithful even though he didn’t answer my prayers like I thought they should be answered (Ha—why do we think we know better than God?).” Debbie adds, “I rely on looking back on my previous prayer journaling experiences when things are difficult: ‘You did hear me and you answered!’”

My friends–mark your prayer journaling “AHA!” moments so you can have the luxury of a look-back!


Prayer Journal Pondering

Forward in Faith

Wowza, is this world a hot mess right now.  Violence in our schools, deadly mass shootings, incredible natural disasters, government scandals and corruption—and that’s just on the national scale. Every day it seems we are faced with some new challenge in our own little worlds too: Challenges to our belief in goodness, our belief in humanity, and even our belief in a loving, ever-present God.

In one week in October, we had two deaths in our family. One was a long life well-lived, yet still came as a surprise. The other was a life sadly cut short, but was anticipated after a five-year bout with cancer.  I’m the first to admit it’s hard to make sense of it all.

In times like these I turn to an encouraging phrase that came together for me one morning in prayer journaling.  After reading the day’s gospel about Peter who tries to walk across the water to meet Jesus and then takes his eyes off Jesus and starts to sink, I wrote, Move forward in faith. Not just move forward, passing through the tragedies and the illnesses and the unfortunate events we are forced to deal with. There are millions in this world who simply move forward. The trick is moving forward in faith.  Not turning away from God, or being paralyzed by fear, or losing hope, but letting Jesus accompany us through our grief and confusion, allowing him to fight our battles with the evil one, and inviting him in to tend to our physical, emotional and spiritual needs.  Moving forward in faith means keeping our eyes on Jesus as we attempt to sort out and sift through life’s chaos. It’ the only guarantee we have against outright sinking.

Forward in Faith has helped me hand off my adult son to God this year, when the mom in me was desperately trying to hang on to my role (can anyone else relate??).  Forward in Faith has helped me leave a close-to-my-heart, part-time job behind as I make room for better things. And Forward in Faith has helped me slog through the grieving process and comfort others along the way.

I wrote this a few pages later in my prayer journal:

Jesus, you tell me: “Take courage, It is I. Do not be afraid. I am with you. I love you and you are mine.” So… Forward in Faith we will go together. Help me to be unafraid and always willing to move forward in faith with you.

Don’t try to go it alone, girlfriends. Focus on Jesus and go Forward in Faith!


Prayer Journal Pondering

Green Bean Benevolence

“Make sure you take time to connect with the people you’re working for,” our parish priest advised us as we prepared to depart for our home improvement mission work deep in the hollers of Kentucky. We had our project lists in hand, our tools at the ready and our trucks loaded with supplies. All 22 of us were eager to dive in to the manual labor required over the next five days. But our pastor wisely counseled us to put down our hammers and paintbrushes and invest in the relationships with the homeowners we were serving as well.

That advice paid off for me. In green beans.

Head on over to Catholic Sistas to read the rest of the story here.

Prayer Journal Pondering

False Crawls

Question: What can live for up to 100 years, is known to be harmless to humans and moves no faster than 1 mph but can still scare the living daylights out of a grown woman who comes face-to-face with one? Answer: A sea turtle. Years ago, I was snorkeling in Hanauma Bay in Oahu while on an anniversary trip with my husband when I turned my head away from some lovely circus-colored coral and straight into the snout of a gigundous Loggerhead turtle. Even though I do believe he was just as surprised as I was to make up-close underwater eye contact, it was me (the supposedly grown woman) who let out a garbled, high-pitched scream through my snorkel and made a hasty, comically uncoordinated retreat.

Head on over to Catholic Sistas to read the rest of this Prayer Journal Pondering!

Prayer Journal Pondering

A Magnificat New Year

My palms were sweating like crazy. It was only my second attempt at the Sacrament of Reconciliation since returning to the Catholic Church after a 25-year hiatus. I stood in line at an unfamiliar church with unfamiliar people in order to sit across from an unfamiliar priest and confess my sins and struggles. Somehow I suppressed my overwhelming desire to turn tail and run, if only because I was concerned that my new boots would slip on the marble floor and I would end up doing ungainly splits in front of an imposing statue of Saint Joseph. This was not on my life bucket list. So I imagined myself breathing into a brown paper bag to calm down and I stepped into the confessional area.

Sisters, am I glad I did.

Read the rest of this post over at Catholic Sistas!

Tiny Revelations

Don’t Taste It!

Every once in a while, a television commercial truly entertains me. Instead of fast-forwarding past it (or, more accurately, having my hubby fast-forward past it), I want to watch and enjoy it. Mostly, it’s been the insurance company commercials that make me hit the pause button and giggle. The “Mayhem” commercials influenced me enough that I named our adopted hyperactive/unpredictable/destructive stray kitten after the character. The “Jake from State Farm” commercials spawned Halloween costumes for my husband and me—he being Jake with the red shirt, name tag and, of course, khakis, and me as the suspicious wife in my robe with a phone in my hand. And I cannot get enough of the synchronized swimming dogs in the Farmers Insurance commercials. They just crack me up.

My current pause-worthy commercial is from Geico. It features a bevy of raccoons feasting on leftovers in a dumpster and having a very human-like conversation about whatever is tickling—or terrorizing— their taste buds.  “Oh man, this is terrible. Try this. It’s awful,” one raccoon says to his buddy. “It’s like mango, chutney… and burnt hair.”

I laugh out loud every time.  Isn’t it so true that when we taste something bad, we want others to experience it too? I did it just the other day at a restaurant in a city known for its foul tap water. “Ugh! This water tastes like gravel,” I told my husband. “Taste it!” He didn’t fall for it. In fact, rarely does anyone over the age of 8 ever fall for this request. So why do we even bother asking?

I think it’s because we humans like shared experiences. We want affirmation, we want a co-experiencer, we want to pull someone else in so we can revel in mutual disgust! It’s much more fun to lament in a group than to complain or criticize in private.  And it’s harmless…as long as the subject matter is harmless. Bad water, spoiled food: harmless. Talking about people: not so much.

When the subject is people, girlfriends, that’s when we can get into trouble. It’s a slippery slope. We can be tempted to gossip, slander and tear down. Did we have a poor customer service experience in a store? We want to plaster it all over Facebook. Did someone disappoint us? We are drawn to tell others in our circle all about it. Did a co-worker make a mistake? We can’t wait to let others know about it at lunch. We want them to “taste it” too, whatever “it” is. This is a bad habit to get into–one that has eternal consequences. We can’t fall for it, friends! As Saint Paul warns the Ephesians in 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” When you are tempted, or when you are in a group that is giving in to the temptation to gossip, slander or tear down, take action: Say a prayer, tame your tongue, change the subject, walk away. Don’t taste it! It’s worse than gravel and burnt hair—it’s sin.

We (me included as a repeat offender) need to put a clamp on this kind of “sharing.” Proverbs 11:13 teaches us: “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered,” So…let’s not reveal secrets. Let’s be trustworthy. Let’s vow to keep a lid on the destructive talk. When the subject is a puzzled palate, go ahead—invite others to taste it! It’s all in fun. But when the subject is people, let’s keep it covered, build each other up and give only grace to those who hear!  Deal? Deal.

And we can all just keep on wondering what mango, chutney and burnt hair tastes like…

Praying with a Pen, Tiny Revelations

Praying for Little Things (or Die, Stupid Wind!)

The air was ten-degrees-below-crisp as I stretched my hamstring muscles and tried to get ready for a run/walk/trudge down the road. It was early morning but The Wind was already at an unfriendly level and I needed to give myself a pep talk. I can handle ten-degrees-below-crisp, but ladies I despise wind in my face. This is a problem because I live in the flatlands of rural America, you know, where “the winds come sweeping down the plains.” All day. Every day. When it’s not breezy, people around here are kinda spooked: “Nice calm day, isn’t it? For now?” I should be used to it, as I have lived 90% of my life in this area. But I am not. Like an angry old woman, I still shake my fist at The Wind when it makes me catch my breath, or nudges me off course, or blows my hair into rats-nest tangles.
In past winters, The Wind got the best of me on my daily walk attempts. I would high-tail it back to the house, not even making it to the end of the driveway if the wind was too strong for me. I gave up, admitted defeat, waved a white flag of surrender after about 3.6 seconds. Diet and fitness goals notwithstanding, I was not going out there to be battered about like one of those inflatable clown punching bags. I would retreat to the house, search out a chunk of a Ghirardelli Sea Salt Soiree candy bar (side note: a little bit of heaven on earth) and stew about my thwarted diet and fitness goals.
This winter I decided things were going to be different. I was going to ask my good friend the Holy Spirit for the extra fortitude I needed to take on my nemesis. Now friends, let’s get real here for a sec: Over the course of my lifetime I have had to ask the Holy Spirit for the fortitude to handle much more onerous tasks, believe me. On the scale of challenges for which I need Divine Assistance, wind in my face is not even on the radar. Still, I know God is interested in both the big and small obstacles in our lives, and I figured the fact that I liked to pray on my walks/runs would give this dilemma a little more weight with the Almighty. So I gave it a go. I prayed for resilience against The Wind.
Well, guess what. Outside of the few days when the temps dipped below humane levels, or the road was encrusted in death-defying layers of ice, I’ve been out there! In The Wind! Walking, jogging, wogging, whatever it is that I do. I’m feeling better, I’m getting outside, I have more energy and I’m keeping the winter blues at bay.
Granted, I bought thermal jogging pants, insulated sweatshirts, a hat with a pocket for those little warming blocks, fuzzy running gloves, head warmers, a hilarious fleece kerchief-type thing that goes over my mouth and nose and, yes– running goggles. People, I look like an escaping bank robber with bad eyes and a misshapen head coming down the road. But I’m out there, by golly, running against the wind just like Bob Seger wants me to do. With my uncoordinated yet highly effective attire and a prayer for strength before I leave the house, “The Wind” has been reduced to just “the wind.”
What have I learned? I pondered this in my prayer journal one morning this week. “God is truly invested in my day-to-day life,” I concluded. He is not just to be called on for the big honking problems I have. He wants to walk with me—and you–all throughout the day: through the highs and lows, the interruptions, the ordinary frustrations.
He wants to walk with us through the wind, the literal kind and the figurative kind. He wants to hold our hands and help us through it all, day by day, hour by hour, step by step.
I like this concept of walking through the wind of my daily life with Jesus.
And bonus—he doesn’t mind what I look like while we’re walking.