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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Lydia B. Spiritual Growth

Lenten Lessons Learned

Lenten Lessons Learned

 

Lenten Lessons Learned
The decade rosary that stays under my pillow, my faithful prayer companion each morning and night.

As I prepared myself for the next introspective soul searching that marches in during this year’s upcoming Lent, I wanted to share my lessons learned from 2018. Or, more honestly, lessons I should have learned. Sometimes I feel sorry for God. If only I were not so obtuse…

Last year I signed up for Dynamic Catholic’s “Best Lent Ever” emails, which suggested journaling. As I type this, the black leather-bound book is sitting open on the airplane tray table to my right. I know what you are thinking–how did I get a flight that was not purposely overbooked? Divine intervention. But seriously, I have this journal open and my heart is beating up a storm. I just read the words, “This Lent, I am examining why I feel joyless—angry even.” Aren’t those some uplifting words?

Let me take you back to Day One of Lent 2018. I was six months postpartum, desperately working to get my waist from 38 inches to at least 32 inches. As a female in the military, I can get fired and lose my job if my waist is larger than 34 inches by the time my annual physical fitness test rolls around. No pressure, right? Combine that with my husband deployed for the fifth time, a new sexual assault victim advocacy role, three kids five and under (none in school, of course), 19 hours of Alaskan darkness, and apparently, deep-seated anger issues.

Day Three of Lent was a list of all my worries. Looks like I ran out of room and went to page two with the laundry list of everything bothering me. The twist to day three’s journaling was to list the beauty in my life, which was a real struggle. During that moment, I turned off my go-to program, “Forensic Files,” and turned on “Joy of Painting” by Bob Ross. It may seem like a small thing, but someone told me the little things in life prepare us for accomplishing the rare, extraordinary thing that comes our way. I was told progress is cumulative, so do a little each day. My Catholic sponsor also reminded me, “Garbage in–garbage out.” Who and what we surround ourselves with is who and what we become.

Rounding out Day Seven of Lent, I saw a tiny note scribbled in the margin: “Progress, not perfection.” I know I am not alone in feeling like I am a failure if life is not perfectly balanced. At this point in Lent, it was clear to me the four basic pillars–spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual–had violently collapsed. The realization of this failure hit me hard. I rallied back to the Cross.

I began the Dynamic Catholic seven-step prayer process each morning: (1) Gratitude: Thank God for what you are most grateful for today, (2) Awareness: Revisit the times in the past 24 hours when you were/were not the greatest version of yourself; talk to God about what you learned, (3) Significant Moments: Identify something in the past 24 hours and explore what God might be saying to you through that person or event, (4) Peace: Ask God to forgive any wrongs you have committed and fill you with peace, (5) Freedom: Speak with God about how He is inviting you to change your life, so you can experience the freedom to be the best version of yourself, (6) Others: Pray for anyone you feel called to pray for; ask God to bless and guide him or her, and (7) Pray the Our Father.

Being a wife, mother, and employee isn’t easy. But it helps to start the day adoring Christ and asking for Mary’s help.

Fast forward to nearly one year later. Honestly, I do not hit all seven steps every time I pray. Prior to my three kids waking, I aim to spend 45 minutes talking with God. Most of the time, I end up with only 10 minutes because my kids seem to have a master plan to thwart any alone time I might have envisioned. Isn’t that life as a mom? So I have improvised. Before I get out of bed, I grab the decade rosary I keep under my pillow. I practice the Nicene Creed (I only have a quarter of it memorized), and pray the Our Father and a Hail Mary. Then I pray motivation to get up. Next, as I am putting make-up on, I read a Catholic quote-of-the-day. If the quote doesn’t speak to me, I listen to 10 minutes of a Catholic podcast.

When I hear the pitter patter of little feet, I start the morning routine. I go into my daughters’ room where I have a blessed Crucifix hanging and a Miraculous Medal. I bow, cross my arms for a blessing, and place a kiss on Jesus’ face with my fingers. I glance to the calendar in the kids’ room. Every day or so I write in a new name of someone who needs prayer. I touch the Miraculous Medal and pray a novena for those people. Then I bow and thank God for creating me. I tell Jesus I love him and ask Mary to pray for me.

In the quiet moments after I drop off all the kids to school and daycare, I think about what I did great and not-so-great the day before. I pray for courage and humility. I ask for signs. As my day unfolds, I stop and pray when I feel my composure slipping or my ego cropping up. At 3:00 p.m., I pray a Hail Mary and Our Father in unity with a Catholic Facebook group. Our prayers join together as our collective spirit asks for the healing of the Catholic Church, justice for those who have abused others, and accountability for their abusers.

Finally, at bedtime, I pray. I reach under my pillow for the decade rosary. When I get to the Hail Mary beads, my mind brings forward an image of a person that needs prayer. This week it was for the souls of a 97 year-old grandmother of a friend, a 22 year-old military service member who died of suicide, and 40-year-old friend who died of a rare cancer and left a family behind. I see each of their faces, one for every bead. Visualization is powerful and I can feel my soul merging with those in the next world.

In the end, my Lent Lessons from 2018 translated into new ways of prayer for me. While the journaling approach seemed daunting, I am glad I did it. There is now a tangible, physical testament of who I was and what I have become. I encourage you to use this upcoming Lent to change one thing about yourself. Shine a flashlight into a dark corner. Have a serious conversation with you and God.

Be still.

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Conversion Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lydia B.

God Writes Straight with Crooked Lines: A Conversion Story

 

GodWritesStraightwithCrookedLines

So there I was, crammed into a tiny Boeing 737 bathroom whilst trying to pee into very small Dixie cup. I was flying to Alabama and due to the early morning flight, needed to check my fertility on the Clear Blue monitor I use for the Marquette Method of Family Planning. Despite the turbulence of the Rockies, I successfully avoided urinating all over myself. Win! During this debacle I started laughing out loud to myself. Seriously, how many Catholics–or women just desperate to get pregnant–have checked their LH levels at 35,000 feet?

How did I get to this point in my life, especially when I am not even Catholic? Like many conversion stories, it’s a long one. I wanted this first blog post to be my introduction. I am a real person, just like you. I struggle. I juggle being a wife to a military man, and having three jobs. I feel guilty I do not spend enough time with my six-, two-, and one-year-old. I eat off the floor most days of the week, sadly content to eat the scraps of my disgruntled toddlers. I lament I do not set enough time aside for God. I have phases where I am all over our Lord Jesus, followed by dry spells where I just keep praying for the rains of passion to come back. The struggle is real.

Perhaps because of my struggles, I have had this unquenchable drive for the truth. Ironically, Jesus said in John 8:32 that “the truth shall set you free.” I searched for the truth during my Protestant upbringing, never fully satisfied. At 18, my heart was ripped from my chest when my little non-denominational church split over an argument of whether baptism should constitute full immersion in water or just a few drops sprinkled on the head. The church voted to fire the pastor that I had grown to love like a father. Sixty of 120 people left the church. I sobbed and sobbed. There must be something better. God could not have wanted His Church to be this way.

I was early on in my military career and had the benefit of free education. I took a religion class and thoughtfully researched the top five religions. I never wavered from Christianity, but I wanted to be open-minded and hear out the others. The falseness of the other religions, especially Islam, seemed evident to me. I felt at peace knowing that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

While learning more about Christianity, however, I discovered that all roads led to the Catholic Church. Odd, I thought. Growing up, I had been taught that Catholics were going to hell for blasphemy. They worship the anti-Christ (Pope), Mary, so-called Saints, and had idols in their sanctuaries. Worse yet, Catholics believe they are eating the flesh of Christ, like some weird, perverted cannibal. Catholics are sadly mistaken people who believe Jesus never got off the cross, which is why he is still on the Crucifix. In short, to be Catholic was to be an unbeliever.

It was exactly the time I was transitioning off of active duty service that I had a come-to-Jesus meeting. I invited Jesus. I was in the Bible Belt deep in South Carolina, parked at a Red Lobster. I said a prayer to God asking for a sign that Catholicism was the right denomination for me. I closed my car door and walked into the restaurant. After the hostess ushered me to my table, I sat down and glanced at the table. Next to the salt and pepper shakers was a genuine, Italian made medallion of Saint Christopher. Let me re-iterate. I was deep in the Protestant Bible Belt and had never seen a Catholic church in the five years I had lived there. I picked up that medallion and cried. I have that medallion on my key chain to this day.

Change doesn’t come easy though, does it? I wanted proof. I wanted someone to refute all of those Catholic misnomers that Protestants indoctrinate their children with. I signed up for RCIA a year later, but no one ever called me. I signed up a second time. No one called me. I began to get discouraged and irritated that Catholics seemed so lackadaisical about gaining followers for Christ. Many Catholics seemed content to just go through the motions and bolt like a Kentucky Derby champion out of the pews after mass. I turned to Catholic radio for answers and for three years worked out doctrinal and theological issues in my head.

The olive branch to the Catholic faith came from an unusual source: Mary. If you have ever been Protestant, you know what a hang-up those Christians have with Mary being the Mother of God, Immaculately Conceived, and Ever-Virgin. But God used my first pregnancy to connect me to Mary, as both of us had very long journeys during our ninth month of pregnancy. She was the gateway. My heart started to accept Catholicism more and more. I started RCIA two more times, successfully finishing the course in 2014. This part of the journey took 10 years.

I am currently in limbo now. Terrible life choices in our 20s led my husband and me to marry different people. My annulment was granted in 2016; my husband’s is still ongoing. There is the possibility he had a valid Catholic marriage. Looking at the Catechism, it is pretty clear we are living in sin because our legal marriage was not blessed by a priest—it couldn’t be.

But guess what? Jesus came to forgive me. I have faith that whatever the annulment outcome, I can remain Catholic in my heart. I will work on purifying myself every day in some small way. For example, at Mass I go up and receive a blessing from the priest. I have had all our girls baptized. I even spent five sessions having the priest perform soul-tie cutting of every unhealthy sexual relationship I have had.

We should all strive to be Saints, and sometimes the journey there is not pretty, as you can see by this post. But do not give up. Keep fighting through your struggles. Pray. Ask God for signs and listen quietly for answers. But more than anything, believe. God is real. God loves you and He is coming back for you.