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Ink Slingers Lynette

Is the Grass Always Greener on the Other Side?

How many of us have found ourselves, standing high on our tiptoes and straining with all our might, peering over the fence we stand behind, desperate to see what’s on the other side? Whether our fence is our marriage, our work, our faith, our friendships or relationships, what is on the other side sometimes seems so uniquely appealing. The other side is uncharted territory, brimming with adventure and intrigue. We become entranced and our minds create the reality we think the vision before us will provide. The longer we gaze over the fence, the more we are pulled in, and our eyes and ears become increasingly blind and deaf to what we leave behind.

Desire, the main theme of the book Fill These Hearts by Christopher West, is a real treasure trove of insights into our yearnings as humans.  Drawing on his own experiences, the lives of the saints, and Catholic contemporaries, West gives us much food for thought.  “Our life is a gymnasium of desire,” said St. Augustine, who knew well the struggle of our human hearts.  “There is no escape from the burning desire within us for the true, the good, the beautiful,” states Fr. Peter Cameron.  “The burning yearning for ‘what is real’ is incorporated into our design.  This burning can lead either to the torment of pain or the torrent of love. It will either consume us or consummate us.”


So what do we do with this burning desire? Some search for it everywhere, desperately hoping they’ll find it and be content. It’s reflected in our culture – music, art, books, movies, tv, advertising, etc., that either tout the “fix” we need or lament our “broken” condition. Some, having given up the futile searching, turn desire into a thing to be despised. Fr. Tugwell knows the danger that thinking can create, “Though we may, from time to time, have to brake firmly to stop ourselves rushing headlong into silly satisfactions… we must not make braking a whole way of life. It is more important, eventually, to know how to say ‘yes’ to a desire, than to know how to say ‘no.’ At the end we shall have to surrender ourselves utterly and recklessly and without any inhibition to the overwhelming attractiveness of God.”


Ultimately, therein lies the answer to our desires….in the overwhelming attractiveness of God. G.K. Chesterton expressed it well, “And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.” And run wild we can. Many saints have spoken of “divine madness” or “holy intoxication.” We are wired by God to desire and to desire boldly. In the words of St. Therese, “I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire.” The emptiness we feel is our longing and desire for Him. That emptiness must be there, for without it, we wouldn’t seek Him. “The ‘wanting him to fill it’ becomes our most ardent desire, out most ardent hope. It is that living hope which enables us to bear with the torments of our yearning in this life.” (Christopher West, Fill These Hearts)


So, again, what do we do with this burning desire? Let it become our prayer. “Desire is your prayer; and if your desire is without ceasing, your prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.” (St. Augustine) “It is ‘not with the noise of words’ that God hears us”, says St. Teresa of Avila, “but with longing.”

The grass is infinitely sweeter on the other side of the fence, but that fence is what separates us from the divine. While jumping over the fences of this world may be tempting, what is written on our hearts is jumping over the fence into His greener pastures, where we can truly run wild.

I want to run on greener pastures
I want to dance on higher hills
I want to drink from sweeter waters
In the misty morning chill
And my soul is getting restless
For the place where I belong
I can’t wait to join the angels and sing my heaven son
g

Heaven Song by Phil Wickham

What fences are you peering over? What on the other side seems so appealing? What is behind you on your side of the fence? What are you not seeing that is there?


Take this time to reflect on what God is trying to show you on your own side of the fence, even if it doesn’t seem very green right now. He will water it with grace, if you let Him.

Resources:

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lynette Prayer

Complete Surrender

Complete Surrender

“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” Luke 23:46

The last seven words of Christ.  Here, upon the Cross, is the Word made Flesh.  The second Person of the Holy Trinity. The Redeemer, the Savior, Love and Mercy Itself.  And from His Sacred lips come words of complete surrender, body and soul, to the Father.

I’ve heard these words of Christ every year as I’ve moved through Lent, Passion Sunday, and into the Triduum, but I hadn’t ever truly considered the full implication of them until recently.  “Jesus, I trust in You!” has been a mantra of mine for several years and while those words have helped me turn to God in trust, I noticed an increasing void. A call to go deeper, to surrender, complete surrender.  It is one thing to trust, another thing to let go. Not just a little, but as completely as Christ did on the Cross. I can profess that I trust Jesus, but then still act as if I have to orchestrate a solution to the problem or influence someone to change their behavior.  Trusting doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve stopped playing God.

In searching for a prayer to help me with letting go, I came across the story of the Servant of God, Father Dolindo Ruotolo, a Franciscan priest from Naples.  An unassuming man, he referred to himself as “the little old man of Mary, Most Holy.” Contrary to his own self-perception, however, he was hailed as a saint by Padre Pio and revered among many as a prophet, predicting “a new John will rise out of Poland.”  There are thousands of accounts of miracles attributed to his intercession as he sought to bring compassion, healing, and mercy to the poor and the sick (and he had no fear of being near those who were contagious!) He must have had quite a way about him, writing prescriptions for those in dire need with the signature: “Doctor Cretinico Sciosciammocca” (Doctor Stupid Fly-swatter)” – not so stupid considering the treatments he prescribed brought about miracles! Captivated by this “little old man”, I was drawn to his ardent love of the Church, his unwavering devotion to our Blessed Mother, and his ability to give time to countless charitable works while yet penning 33 volumes (10,000 pages) of in-depth commentaries on the Old Testament.

Yes, this “little man” had struck a chord within my soul just as I imagine his presence would have done to so many others during his life.  Perhaps the secret to his tireless work amid his own personal sicknesses and sufferings (even his name, Dolindo, means pain) was his ability to give it all to Jesus in complete surrender, in loving imitation of our Lord on the Cross.  His “spirituality of surrender” is powerful, as I can attest to after having begun my apprenticeship in the process of “surrendering”. Why an apprenticeship? Because I quickly discovered by Day 3 of the Novena that this wasn’t a Novena I would pray once or twice and then move on along my spiritual journey.  This was more like the Via Dolorosa of Surrender that I needed to walk every day of my life until the end, just as Christ embraced His Cross and carried it to His final end, an act of complete surrender to the Father. 

I discovered Fr. Dolindo’s Novena of Surrender a few months before Lent began and the timing could not have been more apropos.  When it comes right down to it, there is so very little on the grand scheme of things that I can control in my life. My human nature and my tendencies to anxious thinking rebel at the idea of letting go and giving up my imagined sense of control.  I consider it somewhat of my own personal little miracle, procured I am sure through the intercession of the Servant of God, Father Dolindo, that there have been moments during these ever-changing days where I have felt a peace I have never felt before.  Whatever may come in these days, weeks, and months ahead, I will continue to walk bravely on down the Via Dolorosa of Surrender, with these words on my lips ~

O Jesus, I surrender myself to You, take care of everything!”

Do you struggle with surrendering certain aspects of your life to God? 

Which ones?

How can you incorporate a “spirituality of surrender” into your life?

*Click for a pdf containing a brief biography of Father Dolindo and the text of The Surrender Novena

*Click for a beautiful tri-fold Novena card (available in two sizes)

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lynette Offering your suffering Prayer

Memories on the Other Side of Our Humanity

memories, humanity

Of all the memories I have, I ran from one memory in particular for decades, its wreckage surfacing periodically in the waters of my soul – ugly pieces covered in sharp barnacles, full of wormholes, severely waterlogged. Over the years, I tried to remove the pieces on my own, struggling under their weight, injured in the process by their rough surface. One day, almost drowning in the wreckage around me, I gathered the pieces in desperation and flung them far into other waters – the waters of God’s limitless ocean of Mercy, the very ocean that flowed as blood and water from Jesus’s pierced side as He hung on the cross. It was only then He revealed to me the divine hidden amid the wreckage.

There is another I cling to, its embers stirring periodically in the fire of my soul – tiny pieces glowing with hot intensity, waiting to be rekindled, flame ablaze. Like a pouting, spoiled brat who doesn’t want to hand over the cookie jar, I hold fast.  Tucked safely in the depths of my heart, it mustn’t consume, yet it must be remembered. I fight to keep it balanced there, fearing the treasured details will fade, never to be felt again. Jesus, knowing my stubbornness, waits patiently, but His questioning is persistent. “What will you choose?” “Not yet,” I beg, knowing full well that until I do, He cannot reveal the divine hidden amid the beauty.

In all of God’s extraordinary creation, only humanity has the ability to reminiscence or recollect. “To be human is to have a collection of memories that tells you who you are and how you got there.” (Rosecrans Baldwin) In our weakened humanity, we are sometimes unwillingly bound to memories that are forced upon us. As an event unfolds and rushes into our minds like an avalanche, we feel helpless against the onslaught of each vivid detail. Those are the memories we run from, pushing them deep into the dark recesses of our minds the moment they try to surface. “Memories have huge staying power, but like dreams, they thrive in the dark, surviving for decades in the deep waters of our minds like shipwrecks on the sea bed.” (J. G. Ballard) Diving deep into the waters of that sea creates memories of its own, ones with perhaps too great a price tag. So, we flounder about on the surface, avoiding the wreckage that floats around us. “For people like me, who have blocked out a chunk of their past, you wonder – if you open that door, if you walk into that room of your memories, what will happen? Will it destroy you or will it make you stronger?” (Tim Daly)

The other side of our humanity cherishes the memories that make life meaningful.  We strive to capture moments in photographs, even though the images will never match our experience. Entries are written in diaries and journals, the writer hoping to memorialize the event despite the limitations of written language. Mementos are placed with love in carefully chosen boxes or containers, their existence a tangible reminder of what we fear we will forget. And those definable moments that are incapable of being captured are etched into the very fibers of our hearts and minds. Frozen in time, we visit the memory again and again, hoping to relive the experience in its completeness.

All memories, from the most horrifying to the most beautiful, have one defining characteristic. Trapped within the boundaries of time, those moments can neither be erased nor can they be duplicated. It is then we realize there is a letting go, a sacrifice, hidden deep within those memories. It is a letting go of our ability to change or remove that which we wish could be forgotten for all eternity. It is a letting go of our ability to transcend time and space to embrace and relive that which we hold dear. Limited by our humanness, we must accept the sacrifice of letting go, lest it crush us under its weight or eat us alive with desire.

There is One, however, whose memories will never be limited by the confines of time. Sharing in our humanity, His mortal life was subject to time, but His divine life is as present to us as when He walked this earth. The events of His life – from the horror of His crucifixion to the beauty in His miracles – are living, tangible events, not mere memories passed on through the ages. Through the grace of His divinity, we can enter into those events and experience them today just as if we were present 2000 years ago. “…and all that Christ is – all that He did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being present in them all.” (Catechism, 1085) Seem impossible? “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) Knowing our need for His presence and as living proof, He left us with tangible signs where we can encounter Him not only through our intellect, but also touch Him through our senses: the washing waters of Baptism, the sanctifying oil of Confirmation, the transforming bread and wine of the Eucharist. He gave us signs tested by science: the Shroud of Turin and the numerous miracles of the Eucharist. What lengths He has gone to prove His presence to us, even commanding us to do likewise. “Do this in memory of Me.” (Luke 22:19)

Just as we can enter each moment of His life, He is present in each moment of our lives, whether we believe it or not.  Every moment and every memory of every moment is a chance to meet Him. That memory that hides in the darkness, afraid of being discovered, afraid of being struggled with, afraid of being brought into the light, can be brought into His Passion and Crucifixion. He has already agonized over it in the Garden. He has already conquered it on the Cross. That memory that hides in the heart, afraid it will never be felt again, afraid it will consume, afraid it will fade, can be brought into His Glorious Resurrection. He has already seen its beauty and promise. He has already felt its strength and power.

Whether we are frantically running away from our memories or desperately clinging to them, it is only when we are ready to make the sacrifice of letting go, of choosing to live in the present moment fully, that we can see the marvelous new beginning He is calling us to, birthed from the memories of our lives.

As we journey through Lent, what memories are you running from?

Can you kneel with Our Lord in the Garden and let go?

Can you place them at His feet and surrender while He looks at you with love from the Cross?

As we anticipate and celebrate Easter, what memories do you cling to?

Can you relinquish them to the power of His resurrection and believe He can raise them up to reveal their beauty?

Can you trust His promise to make all things new?

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Ink Slingers Lynette

How Fit Are You?

Believe it or not, there are many ways to improve your fitness - Lynette walks you through the ways to make that happen!

This past year, our family was considering joining the YMCA.  Faced with pre-diabetes and auto-immune issues, I knew what was best for me – a healthy diet with a good dose of exercise, a word I have cringed at almost my entire life.  Sure, I’ll walk the neighborhood with a friend for an hour (in perfect weather, mind you), or walk the beach, but the decision to work out at the Y required commitment and sacrifice and what I likened to perhaps straight out torture.  It was easy to postpone joining until I broke a bone in my foot over the summer and the co-pay cost for physical therapy to regain my mobility afterwards was over three times the cost of joining the Y. So, there we were. A family membership to the YMCA – now it was up to me to use our investment wisely.

My PT specialist said the best equipment for me to start off with at the Y at first would be the stationary bike.  The first day I jumped on and made it about five minutes before I thought I couldn’t go a minute longer, until I remembered what he told me – slow and steady – and I made it to twenty.  The next day was about the same. I mentally nicknamed it the “torture device” and I was convinced I wouldn’t keep it up for long. It seemed that getting past the point of pain and agony to even remotely find it enjoyable was questionable at best and it was easier to look for ways to avoid it.  But, motivated by the fact that I didn’t want to waste money or my wanting to walk the beach at some point again (forget focusing on the health benefits – that didn’t seem to be enough of a motivator!), I persisted. I looked for ways to pass the time – listening to my favorite music, praying the Rosary and offering up the “torture”, reading a book on my phone – and found that focusing on something else that was more of a motivation to me greatly affected my ability to persist.  As the weeks went by, it slowly became something I began to look forward to and became convinced it was worth doing. I had passed the “hump” as they say.

I was listening to some of my favorite songs while pushing myself to keep exercising the other day when I was hit with the realization that this same scenario happens in our spiritual life as well.  We know what is best for us spiritually – prayer, the sacraments, Mass, etc., but we struggle with even starting towards our goal, afraid we will give up. So, we surround ourselves with all sorts of the latest and best spiritual workout equipment – a beautiful Rosary, the newest prayer book, DVD retreat programs, a statue of our favorite saint.  Their alluring appearance beckons to us, promising to transform us into something better, something more beautiful. We decide to face the giant and begin strong, but find we quickly lose steam. We start the Rosary and are immediately distracted, the new prayer book isn’t inspiring us like we had hoped, the narrator on the DVD series has a monotone voice, the statue becomes just another item on the shelf to dust.  Struggling with giving up altogether, we say it’s “torture” to stay committed and look for ways to avoid it. With perhaps flawed motivations and our own guilt, however, we find a way to push forward, but are often driven to the point of becoming resentful. What are we then to do?

Unless we look for ways “to pass the time” and persevere until we find those hidden gems that allow us to become more motivated and begin to relish what we are doing, we will not be successful in our ability to persist.  Our human tendencies to demand immediate reward for our actions makes it difficult to sometimes see the long-term graces of our efforts. And, unfortunately, many times we too often feel our spiritual life must conform to some preconceived ideals and expectations that we impose upon ourselves, without the prayer and reflection necessary to determine where God might direct us.  We fall prey to the “I should do this or I should do that”, regardless of where we are in our own personal spiritual journey.  And there, I believe, lies our spiritual demise. Lifeless and without meaning, we simply just give up.  

Every day, Jesus offers us His greatest gift – His infinite mercy.  He knows our struggles to persist, our flawed motivations, and our guilt.  He knows how many times we give up and look for ways to avoid Him. But most of all, He knows that we love Him, and that we are seeking to draw closer to Him.  Be merciful to yourself. Tomorrow you can try some of those new “workouts” again. Today, seek Him in a way you perhaps haven’t thought of before. Watch a
sunrise and be intentionally present to Him in all its beauty.  Call a friend, laugh, and rejoice in who He created in them. Slip into a church and just sit with Him quietly without a preconceived agenda. Meet Him where you are today and let Him transform you, heart and soul, into the beautifully fit creation He has destined you to become.

Looking for ways to improve fitness? Look no further, friends!

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Ink Slingers Lynette

May Her Soul Rest in Peace, O Lord

May Her Soul Rest In Peace, Oh Lord

“Look up narrative therapy.”

I was standing in the parking lot of the church, having just attended the monthly Hope and Healing support group for those dealing with grief and sorrow over the loss of a loved one.  I had attended the group a few months prior to share information about a mental health support group I help to run in the local area, as I know first hand how depression and anxiety can be unwelcome friends to grief and sorrow in the lives of those undergoing significant changes after losing a loved one.  As the Holy Spirit so often does though, I quickly discovered that first night that my reason for being there went a lot deeper. My loss was that of my mother to cancer seven years ago and being present to people who had also lost a significant other touched a part of me that I had conveniently buried along with her.

This particular night, a local college professor with an extensive background in mental health and grief counseling, attended the meeting for support and guidance.  From the conversation among those gathered, it became very apparent to me that we all suffer grief in as many ways as we are all unique. Yes, there are the clinically identified “stages” of grief, but there  is no prescribed or anticipated way that anyone will work through any or all of those stages. Grief and sorrow are as mysterious as depression and anxiety and, as much as we would like control over them, many times we are startled by their intrusion into our lives at those inopportune moments when we least expect them.  

As I listened to other people’s experiences, I was secretly hoping for my own “ah ha” moment, something that would shed light on my confusion over my seemingly belated grief over my mother’s passing.  At the time of her death, life was bustling with the activity of our large family. I delved into assisting my dad as much as I could and then when it was all over, our family life swept me back into its busyness.  Over the years, as tiny bits of memories surfaced, I dealt with them as best I could, frequently turning to the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques I had learned through the local mental health support group.  It was a real consolation to hear the professor state “life has changed and it will never be the same … nor should it be.” A reality that is obvious, but seldom one we give ourselves permission to accept as truth, thus allowing us to navigate a new “norm.”  

My “ah ha” moment wasn’t in the form of any type of knowledge based assessment of the grieving process I had assumed I would garner from conversation and/or guidance given.  It was partly in the stark realization that I had dealt with her death just like I had dealt with any other traumatic event in my life – I got through it as best I could and then tucked it all away into what was referred to by the professor as “the memory box.”  The box was then closed and sealed, quite securely I would add, with duct tape. Out of sight, out of mind. But not quite. Those mysterious moments of memory resurface, challenging us to peel back the duct tape to peer inside. Sometimes we are ready. Most times, not.  But when we do, I believe that is when God can do His most wonderful work of mercifully assisting us in working through our humanity to see the spiritual side of grief. The question in my mind as I left the gathering was “now what?” Now that I was aware of this box and its insistence that I peel back that duct tape and take a good look inside, how was I to approach it?  How would I handle the raw emotions I was sure to unbox?

Narrative therapy is a form of psychotherapy where one looks at their autobiographical narrative, or story, with personal reflection into the areas that need to be re-written.  In the TEDx talk, Change Your Story, Transform Your Life, John Sharp, psychiatrist and therapist, provides key tools for editing our personal documentary, which then sheds light on what can become of our future history. Looking into the past with a more mature, adult perspective, helps to determine what “inner truths” were based on misconstrued reality.  His threefold re-writing approach is a very practical visual analogy – what story have you been feeding yourself? (your fork) What can you add to the story? (spoon in your strengths to reassess truths) What do you need to cut out? (your knife)

Being a writer with a love for things that “make sense”, I set out to examine the story of “mom and me.”  Starting with my earliest memories, all the way to her last days, I delved into what I knew, or at least what I thought I knew.  I looked at all of it – the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly. For as many fond memories there were, there were equally as many difficult moments where we stuborrnly butted heads.  Bottom line was, we were two strong-willed women who loved each other, but we were also flawed human beings in need of God’s grace.

But the story changed drastically the last month of her life.  Three years prior, she had been diagnose with multiple myloma, a typically debilitating, painful cancer.  Truly by God’s mercy, she was graced with three years of manageble symptoms and was able to continue her daily activities, including working at Catholic Charities where she had worked for over 30 years.  The last few months though, the cancer took over and my mother, refusing to “give up the ship” decided to try more aggressive treatment which required hospitalization. In my heart, I knew that decision would be the deciding factor in how she would spend her last days.

That last month changed everything.  It was God’s providential timing that my children had just finished their school year and I was able to be of help to my father by taking the “morning shift” with my mother.  Meeting with her doctor, helping order breakfast for us both, tending to her physical needs, etc., became the new reality. Where I would have liked to have had a few in-depth mother-daughter conversations, especially about faith and what we were going through, it was apparent that my mother was going to cling to her belief that she would beat the cancer and such conversations were therefore taboo.  There were many times we just sat quietly, her lost in thought, me lost in prayer. As she became weaker and the chemo took its toll on her aging body, those daily small acts of mercy were my way of telling her I loved her.  

There was only one time I saw my mother waver, crying out asking for God to help her.  That day she asked me to come back in the evening to pray with her before bed. Holding my hand with one hand and my fathers with the other, she would close her eyes as I let the Holy Spirit lead me in vocal prayer for her.  I would bless her forehead, walk with my dad to the parking lot, and head back to my family. At times it seemed almost surreal, at times it was far too real. Before I knew it, our time with her was over and I was kneeling in the wee hours of the morning by her bed in hospice, again praying out loud, palms upraised, as the Holy Spirit prompted.  The feeling of her presence as my dad, my brothers, and I were gathered there, will forever be etched in my heart and soul.

The real “ah ha” moment came as I worked through the story of my mom and I recalled my surprise one day when I discovered a book of my mothers, its pages well worn and highlighted.  The title of the book was Divine Mercy Triumph Over Cancer by Ronald M. Sobecks.  While cancer took her earthly life, I know her real triumph was trusting in God’s Divine Mercy.  What transpired between my mother and I over the course of our years on earth is unchangeable history, but the story is still being written.  Every day is an opportunity for me to witness to that Divine Mercy in her memory and an opportunity for me to practice the spiritual work of mercy in praying for the repose of her soul.  And if my mother, by God’s infinite mercy, is already singing His praises among the Church Triumphant, I know, without a doubt, she is praying for me.

As we approach the Feast of Alls Souls, let us continually re-write our stories, witnessing to and praying for God’s mercy upon all those who have gone before us.  May their souls rest in peace, O Lord.

 


Food for Thought

  1. What has been your experience with grief over the loss of a loved one?
  2. Are there parts of the story that need to be evaluated and perhaps re-written?
  3. What can your future story with that individual look like?
  4. Can you move from an earthly story to a spiritual story, trusting in God’s Divine Mercy?
  5. How can your story now incorporate Divine Mercy in memory of your loved one?