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Ink Slingers Mary Beth

Murky Waters and Marvelous Mornings

 

Murky Waters and Marvelous MondaysTo passersbys, I must have looked like some kind of crazed fisherman. There I was, standing at the end of our dock, thrusting a weighty, steel pond rake deep into the water, and then pulling it slowly and awkwardly back up to the dock with a rope. Maybe they thought I was angling for supper. Maybe they thought I had spied some kind of mini-Loch Ness monster and was vying for a spot in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Maybe they thought it was some strange kind of aerobic exercise program I was into. Or maybe they are used to seeing weird things going on around our place and paid no attention (this seems the likely response). Whatever the case, I looked ridiculous. But I didn’t care. One of my dock chairs, a vintage “hotel chair” that I had recently refurbished, had fallen victim to a vicious thunderstorm and had plunged into our pond. I couldn’t allow my prized Pinterest project to rust away at the muddy bottom; I was determined to fish it out.

The biggest problem, aside from the utter clumsiness of the process, was that I had no idea where the chair might be. The pond water was murky and unsettled after the storm and I couldn’t see a thing. I was casting randomly, from one side of the dock to the other, and even into the deepest water off the edge of the dock, to no avail. I was sweating, the rake was heavy, and the rope tied to the handle of the rake was leaving angry marks on my palms. I was getting nowhere fast, so I decided to abandon my efforts and resort to my typical Plan B: Ask my husband to do it. Plan B usually works, but this time hubby was busy and couldn’t get to my request right away. I was disgruntled and discouraged.

The next morning, I walked out to the dock prepared to begin my rake-flinging spectacle once again when I stopped and smiled. There was the chair, in a mere six feet of water off the side of the dock. Six feet of clear water. I was amazed; I could see it plain as day. I waded in a few feet, grabbed the bottom rung of the chair and pulled it right out. No need for flinging, no need for acrobatics, and no fear of onlookers questioning my sanity.

Later, I pondered this development in my prayer journal: What a difference a day makes, Lord, I wrote. Many times I am faced with a challenge, and the situation seems overwhelmingly cloudy and confusing. I’m not sure which way to go. Nothing I try seems to work. I get disgruntled and discouraged. And then morning comes. I have rested, I have pondered, I have prayed. Things are now clearer. The solution appears. I can proceed.

The experts tell us to wait 24 hours before responding to a complicated or contentious situation that needs our response. There’s a truth behind that practice, my friends: The passage of time gives us a chance to calm down, gather more information, and regain perspective. For us Christians, it also allows us a chance to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance and the right words to use or the best action to take. Waiting—and praying— can bring about a much better result.

Are you in the middle of a puzzling situation, Sista? A day makes a difference. Rest, ponder, pray. Try not to worry. Give the murky waters time to settle and the Holy Spirit time to work. You’ll be amazed at what a fresh outlook the morning brings— with no fear of sea monsters, sore hands or becoming the talk of the neighborhood.

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Books Ink Slingers Mary Beth Reviews

REVIEW: Beyond Sunday by Teresa Tomeo

Beyond Sunday - Becoming a 24:7 Catholic

Most people likely know Teresa Tomeo as the intelligent, inquisitive, straight-talking host of the Catholic
Connections radio program and a co-host of EWTN’s The Catholic View for Women television show. But
in her new book, Beyond Sunday—Becoming a 24/7 Catholic, Tomeo sets aside her decades of broadcast
journalism experience to sit down and have a chat with the reader over a cup of coffee, one-on-one.
Not literally, of course. But the tone of friendship and encouragement in this book reaches out from the
pages and compels us to heed her sound advice to take our faith beyond an hour of Mass on Sundays.
Like a good friend, Tomeo urges us to think beyond the pew and dream about what a truly abundant life
in Christ would look like on a daily basis. Drawing from her personal experience as a previously
“nominal” Catholic, Tomeo outlines simple, practical steps to growing in our relationship with God and
learning to share our faith with our family and friends. She meets us at a lukewarm Point A, where she
admits she once resided, and walks us gently to a joy-filled Point B, where she presents a picture of a
24/7 Catholic faith life.

In the first chapters, Tomeo provides insight into the possible reasons, both cultural and personal, for
our halfhearted attitudes, and how a lack of formation has sent our consciences adrift in recent years.
But she doesn’t leave us treading water there. She re-introduces us to the gifts of the Church and the
“Three M’s of Faith” that can help us get fully grounded again. Plus, she offers reflection questions at
the end of each chapter so the reader can take baby steps beyond Sunday each week. And in Chapter 7,
Five Cures for the Common Catholic Cold, she offers lifelines of wisdom for our spiritual growth,
including (my favorite) a recommendation to “Silence the Noise.”

Teresa Tomeo and I have a few things in common, especially when it comes to our faith reversion
journeys. When I returned to the fullness of the Catholic faith five years ago, the Holy Spirit cooked up
some major enthusiasm in me as well (I termed it getting out of the “Catholic baby pool”). I can identify
with her aspiration to impart the “lessons-learned the hard way,” so readers can avoid the trap of
mediocrity she (and I) had fallen into. I understand the feeling of gratitude and peace she has at being
drawn out of that mediocrity. And I can relate to her desire to help others get beyond Sunday and into a
deep, full, daily relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Perhaps that’s why I was attracted to
this book and why I give it high marks: Beyond Sunday is an instructional guide to getting out of the
Catholic baby pool. There is no downside to this personal pathway from good to great! In Tomeo’s
words, “Why settle for a so-so relationship with God, when you can have a great relationship with him
that is filled with abundant joy?”

That sounds like wise advice from a good friend, doesn’t it?

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Books Ink Slingers Mary Beth Reviews

REVIEW: Kingdom of Happiness

Kingdom of HappinessHappiness—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. 

I had never studied the beatitudes from this perspective and I found it eye-opening, inspirational and flat-out fascinating. And as an added treat to my left brain, Father Kirby weaves a connection between the Beatitudes and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the virtues of the Christian tradition, the petitions contained in the Lord’s Prayer, and the deadly sins. These foundations of the spiritual life are all related, Father Kirby proposes, and he proves it by plotting them on a matrix. It may be a stretch for some to connect these dots, but I found it intriguing. He also includes prayers and provides “helpful truths” at the end of each chapter, making this book conducive to a study or discussion group. I am grateful that Father Kirby’s work, though thoroughly grounded in Church doctrine and Scripture, was not an above-my-head read. It compelled me to pause and ponder frequently, but it didn’t frustrate me or bog me down with a heavy academic hand.

Viewed through solely secular glasses, the work involved in obtaining happiness using this book’s formula would be overwhelming. It’s admittedly quite counter-cultural, as it requires submission and surrender to our Lord in order to be successful.  But as Catholic Christians, we understand that this surrender leads to freedom and God can and will provide us with all the graces we need to walk this path.

True happiness is attainable. The Kingdom of Happiness invites us to make that choice. 

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Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Mary Beth Prayer

The Answer is Always the Same

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.  

When I was anxious over an upcoming event, and my imagination was running wild with concocted scenes of public humiliation (one, in particular, involving a trip-and-face-plant exhibition in front of hundreds of people), I asked for confidence and reassurance. I heard this: “More of Me.” When I was confused by an emotional response I was having in a relationship and I turned to God for clarity, the answer was once again clear: “More of Me.” 

And, not long ago, I was distraught, fearful and borderline angry over a family situation. I wanted to turn my back on God with an “I’ll show him” attitude and not even crack open my prayer journal or my Bible or go to Mass or confession or Adoration. But I was stopped by the words I kept hearing whispered in my heart:  “More of Me.” So I begrudgingly kept at it. I showed up at Mass, prayer journaled daily when I was so not in the mood, and unenthusiastically recited my rosary (all the while moaning and groaning about my situation of course).  Yet I could tell, deep down, that it was working. More of Him kept me going, pushing through the hurt and pain and confusion until at long last I emerged on the other side with a renewed sense of peace. 

I do get answers to my issues in one way or another, eventually. But more importantly, graces are poured into my heart. Courage is instilled in my shaky spine and calm is restored to my soul. I change. I grow spiritually. I trust Him more. I end up with fresh faith. Every. Single. Time.

But—here’s the catch—I only receive these benefits after I’ve sought More of Him. Which, not coincidentally, calls for Less of Me: Less of my self-sufficient attitude, less of my pride and stubbornness, less of my willingness to easily give in to the evil one’s constant offering of doubt, discouragement, and disappointment.  

This tiny revelation is going to help me immensely in the future, I know. There are dark tunnels ahead for me, and for all of us Catholic Sistas, truth be told. They’re inevitable. But I can picture myself going through the dark tunnels singing because I know how to make it through to the other side.  I know if I stay close to him, dive even deeper into his Word, get more intentional about receiving the Sacraments and spending daily time with Him in prayer—if I seek MORE of Him—I will be fine. Everything will be fine. Even when it isn’t. 

More of Him.

It never fails. 

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Ink Slingers Mary Beth

Love, Despite

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.

despite stands out

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!” We humans have faults and quirks and annoying personality traits that make us tough to love. Ask my husband, who has to bite his tongue every time I bring home another lost cat or dog, forget to put gas in the vehicle or launch into one of my infamous pouting jags after a disagreement. I know I can be tough to love! But that’s where the word despite comes in. We have to love, despite. Jesus did not say to us, “Don’t worry—you only need to love those who are easy to love.” He said to love one another (everyone–even our enemies!) and that means to love one another despite. Despite the character flaws, despite the behaviors, despite the anger or frustration we may feel. By adding the word “despite” to the command, I can acknowledge that it’s not going to be a cake walk to do this loving thing, but I need to do it anyway.

There’s also Follow Me, despite. Again, Jesus does not promise an easy path by obeying this command. There’s a cross we need to take up with this one, after all. But for me, hearing that word in my ears reminds me that when the going gets tough, I need to keep going! Whether the road is uphill, or rocky or fogged in on all sides so I have no clue where it is leading. I need to Follow Him, despite the obstacles.

And then there’s Be Not Afraid, despite. Despite the fact that the financial strain is overwhelming or a child’s situation is desperate or the diagnosis is terminal. This is a tall order, Sistas. It’s fraught with doubt, discouragement, and fear. But if and when we can Be Not Afraid despite the circumstances of our situation, we learn to trust Jesus more. And when we trust Jesus more, we can Be Not Afraid even more, despite. See how that works?

And here’s more great news: our Good Shepherd also freely gives us patience, persistence, hope, joy, grace, mercy, strength and peace, despite. Despite the fact that we are ungrateful, grumbling, complaining little sheep; despite the fact that we don’t deserve it and can’t earn it. And despite the fact that we are sinners. He loves us with an all-encompassing, never-ending love, despite everything we do to push him away or ignore him or offend him! He pours out gifts to us, in abundance, despite.

Cool, huh? It’s a perfectly formed Divine strategy. So go forth today, sweet Sista, and know you can love and be loved. Have peace in your heart and be not afraid, despite!