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Ink Slingers Martina Mom So Hard Series

It Had to Start Somewhere


Welcome to this installment in the series Mom So Hard – Finessing the Intricacies of Your Modern Catholic Family, a series focused on taking a look at the Faith through the lens of being a Catholic mom. This series is going to–using a spiritual foundation as our starting point–walk with you and share candid and practical elements that make up our days. We will look at primary spiritual elements, recognizing that without God, nothing is possible. How do we start our day? How do we end our day? If God does not bookend our days (at a minimum), we can start to see how feeling overwhelmed or worse can creep into our day. Even the most mundane of chores and activities can be done to glorify God. So, grab some coffee, a notebook, and a pen, and let’s get started, shall we?


In thinking about any series for Catholic Sistas over the years, I tend to mull over an idea for weeks, months, and sometimes even years. But mostly it tends towards months, between six months and one year. I call it throwing an idea into the prayer hopper. It might seem like FOREVER before I start something the Holy Spirit needs me to do.

Having a tendency toward frustration at a lack of vision (my own), I started telling the Holy Spirit if He wanted me to do something, He’d have to 1) give me the tools to make something happen and 2) He’d have to literally get me off my bahookus to make something happen.

Welp. There you have it. Long before I sit down to write, often I spend a great deal of time marinating in what I want to say. What message is it that I want to convey to readers? If it were me reading, what did I need to hear or read when I was in my younger momma days?

So, that is my starting point.

And because I am nothing if not a stream of consciousness, I want to talk about two very different things that will end up merging at the end. Ready?

OBSERVATION ONE

Let’s talk about Sandra Lee.

Have you heard of her?

No?

She used to have a show called Semi-Homemade on the Food Network back in the day. I have to tell you, I was seriously intrigued by her style. She didn’t cook food from scratch, necessarily, and she didn’t pop open a pre-made meal from the store and throw it in the oven. She was somewhere in between. She found what worked for her, which was a beautiful mix of taking store-bought foods and adding homemade whatevers to put her own spin on a meal.

And you know what, friend? It WORKED. BLAM-O – instant-ish meal time.

I hadn’t really thought of her in a long while until the other day when I started to think about this post. See…I started to peel back layers of a really BIG onion (with a thousand layers) of bad habits that went back to my childhood when it came to being messy, disorganized, and general mental chaos. It started with Fly Lady in 2002. I was a stay-at-home-mom to two kiddos, one in kindergarten and one toddler who slept like a cat – still does to this day (#lame). We were living in our first home, a townhouse in Northern Virginia and the responsibilities of being the primary in keeping the home started to weigh down heavily upon me. I had bought the lie that the value of my work only resided outside of the home.

My mother-in-law mentioned FlyLady, so I went and visited the website, signed up for the email alerts and poked around the website. The concept that stood out to me: in general was my house didn’t get to be a disaster overnight, and it wouldn’t get clean overnight either. The journey was in the process. The first method that stood out to me specifically was 15 minutes a day in a specific room with a timer and a trash bag and have at it. When the 15 minutes was up, you were done. The second method that has always stuck with me, even 17 years later, is to keep the kitchen sink clean at all times.

Keeping the sink clean at all times seemed to be too daunting in the beginning, but I worked really hard to make that habit stick. I was more determined to break an old habit and create a new and better one for my own mental health. As the years passed, I began to look hard at the source of my stress. Even if I couldn’t exactly “fix it” or dial down the stress in the moment, I knew on some logical level that it was something I could eventually get past. Even more than keeping that sink clean, I worked harder at looking at messes differently. Some days, the same dang mess would stress me to level 10 and the next day, it was seriously ‘meh.’ But…WHY?

If you’re like me and you’ve stared down the barrel of years’ worth of bad habits, now is a good time to look back and see where those habits began. Then, if you’re able, jot down some areas in your home that bring you distress. Let’s start breaking it down, one piece at a time. Like Sandra Lee, let’s start the process of finding generic solutions and marrying it with specific solutions for your home. 

OBSERVATION TWO

St. Therese of Liseux has been a long-time favorite saint in our family. I found a particular affinity for this young and beautiful model of the Faith when I reflected upon her relationship with God – offering all she had, right down to the most mundane and boring activities, to our loving Father. While I would continue to struggle with the value of my work in the home, I knew deep down I would eventually have to discover the roots for those feelings. In the meantime, I would make myself a dutiful student of the Faith, living each day the best way I could, examining my own actions and words each evening, and resolving to do better the next day. Sounds good on paper, huh? 😉 

It wasn’t until a friend was commenting about her own journey that a lightbulb went on for me. She, too, had gone into her marriage somewhat (ok, outright) unhappy with her lot in life. Being at home, taking care of the home, caring for small children is some of the most thankless work around, especially if you are mired in the idea that it must be compared to worldly achievements and accolades. She went on to share her ‘aha’ moment, in which she had a stern talk with herself–asking if she were to be evaluated fairly on her work at home like she would at any paying job or career–how would she fair? Her realization would soon become my own.

I would say honestly it’s felt like being a half-hearted employee who, yes, gets the work done, but was I truly joyful about my state in life? That was the struggle. That was what society had engrained in my head – all my “true value” should be defined by pursuits outside of the home. And it was then that I realized the flawed logic of it all. 

I had taken the first step – I was able to pinpoint the source of my frustration. With God, prayer, patience (yes, I said it), a whole LOT of coffee, and some ingenuity, I knew I could improve my relationship with God, my husband, my own self, and my children. Like Sandra Lee’s approach of homemade this and store-bought that, I knew I’d have to implement some strategies that were given to me and start to cultivate and trust my own gut when it came time to modify those strategies and make them my own. 


REFLECT

Let’s dig deeper. Did this post resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before getting married?
  2. What was my spiritual life like before children?
  3. What is my spiritual life like now?
  4. How would I like my spiritual life to be?

RESOURCES

CATHOLIC PLANNERDAYBOOK – “It’s the best first step you’ll take towards organizing a better tomorrow.” Martina Kreitzer, foundress of Catholic Sistas

BOOK – The Possibility Mom: How to be a Great Mom and Pursue Your Dreams at the Same Time right now! by Lisa Canning

It Hard to Start Somewhere

 

Categories
Alison W Faith Formation Ink Slingers Motherhood Parenting Single Parents Vocations

God Will Give You More Than You Can Handle

I hate the cliché “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I’ve spent a decade as a single mom and I’ll assure you this isn’t true. God has given me, or at least allowed, more than I could handle. Some days were soul crushingly more than I could handle.

I know the sentiment is to reassure people, but I’ll be honest and say it didn’t reassure me. And I won’t boldly say God gave me all of my problems, I know that I created most of them on my own. So this isn’t a blame game, but more of a reality-check.

The problem with the quote is the YOU, more specifically, “YOU can handle.”  

We aren’t expected to handle everything alone. Jesus said his grace is sufficient, so we could know we need his grace. We also need the people around us, and that is really painful for those of us that have been abandoned on some level.

I struggle with the sin of pride and if we start talking honestly, I‘d say many of us do. The pride of thinking we can handle everything on our own, so much that we don’t even want anyone to help. You see I’ve gotten quite good at providing by myself and I’ve gotten quite good at shutting people out. Part of that comes from a place of necessity and part of that comes from a place of pain.

I think this is a huge problem in society. Look at the high levels of people on medication for anxiety and depression. Look at the suicides and broken homes. Look at the fall out of us thinking we could do things all on our own. The pressure is so high and people are cracking under it.

Jesus cried in anguish when the apostles fell asleep. The living God needed people to be there for him.

St. Teresa of Calcutta so boldly set off on her own at the prompting of God. But it wasn’t to be alone. The sick and suffering were what sanctified her soul and led her to sainthood.

We need each other, both to help and to be helpers.

I’d like to re-write the quote to say, “God will provide the grace, strength and help that you need.” He will and he has for me repeatedly. I’ve always known I wasn’t alone in raising my children alone because Jesus was helping me every day. I know without his grace I would have never endured the hardship of so many trials. I know without the people in my circle, I couldn’t have covered all those shifts, practices, dinners, payments, appointments, court dates, homework, etc. We were created to love each other and help each other.

God will absolutely give us more than we can handle. That’s not to say he will leave us abandoned, but it is to say we will have days or seasons that are too much. We aren’t called to walk this life alone.

We were created to be the body of Christ and to help each other and to lean into God’s grace. We have to help build the body of Christ to come together with all of our strength and struggle. We weren’t meant to be self-sufficient, we were meant to need help, both Heavenly and earthly. By God’s design, He will give you more than you can handle, but He will provide the grace, strength and help that you need. May God bless you!

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Alyssa Azul Ink Slingers

Heart of His

Heart of His

The scariest part about it is when we are alone.”

A paramedic told me exactly this last December when I experienced my worst anxiety attack. These words made an imprint on me.  My head seems to say one thing, but my heart screams another. I know I shouldn’t be alone. I know it’s healthy to reach out to someone to talk to. But, stubborn as I am, I want to learn how to be strong alone.  This was my mindset.

I’ve been reflecting lately on the kind of woman I want to be, and I fear that I am slowly becoming one that is closed, controlling, and cynical towards the world. When I am alone is when I feel most vulnerable.  As an eldest daughter with a single mom, I’ve invested years into killing my desire for love and validation. I’ve guarded my heart with the same barricades that my mother used for herself, so that vulnerability would not be an option for me. My anxiety stems from a need for control. A need to control my studies, my career, my family and other people’s perception of who I am. Most of all, a need to control my emotions.

I never fully understood why my foolproof method to controlling my life and suffocating my heart wasn’t working until I recently dove into Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge. As women today we are always pressured to “keep it together”.  I had always perceived danger or chaos if I let go and let my guard down. We don’t like to turn to our neighbors for help, because who wants to burden someone else with heartache? Surely not me! I needed to start at the beginning. First by opening up my heart to He who created this heart in me. Instead of hiding and negotiating what my worth is with God, I needed to embrace His validation. I needed to allow myself to receive His love, which is something many women, Christian or not, struggle with today.

What that book showed me was something even more valuable than what my desires were–it was that I am not alone in this. That I don’t need to fear loneliness with the millions of women, and most especially, the Lord on my side.

Since then, I’ve found that loneliness has now become solace. Regular prayer, reflection, and breathing help me cope with stress and anxiety, as well as mend my heart a little at a time. Although the doubts, worries, and insecurities still attack, I know there is a refuge in a place where I can be still and free from distractions. Free from feeling like there is something I have to do. I experience the most peaceful loneliness and unity the moment my knees meet the floor in adoration. There is no greater serenity than to be able to come before the Lord and give him my plans, fears, and worries.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

 

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Anni Faith Formation Ink Slingers Prayer Spiritual Growth

Anxiety, Change, and a Whole Lot of Trust

Not too long ago, I was surveying the to-do list of what seems a million things as my family adjusts to our newborn, my postpartum medical issues, and we prepare to move in the next month. The more I considered everything, the more I began realizing my breath shortening, my pulse getting quicker, and my palms starting to sweat. For those with anxiety, you will certainly appreciate those signs of an upcoming panic attack. And, I was quickly able to take steps to ward off that particular panic attack.

One of my favorite prayer times is when I am elbow deep in dishwater. At those moments, I am able to fully focus on speaking with God, and often find myself staring out of the window perched above our sink, either laying my heart on the counter for Him, or listening to His whispers in my heart. The day I just previously described was one of those days – and, recognizing those symptoms – and taking the concerns to prayer – was one of the ways in which I felt my anxiety lessen.

As I stood there at the sink, wiping my hands to dry, I heard the whisper on my heart, “Why question? Why worry? Has God not always provided, even in the midst of doubt?” And, I began thinking about the times in my life in which I felt as though the deck were stacked against my odds – and, the one thing which continues to be constant in my life.

God is always present, always available, and believe it or not, always trustworthy. 

We may not always see Him as trustworthy, and I know quite a few individuals who have left not just the Catholic Church, but faith altogether, because of their doubt in Him. Their doubt about His plans lead them to question His existence altogether. Their lack of trust seeps into their view of God, and taints their ability to recognize His plans and designs as they come about.

And yet, when I experience anxiety, I am doing what those I know have done – I am lacking trust. I lack trust in His word, His plans, and His ultimate goal.

When I consider that, I realize I am not alone. All of us go through a period in which we experience doubt, and we struggle to trust. Our society actually doesn’t make trusting God any easier. We are constantly surrounded by our own doubting Thomases in our lives, and we even experience our own moments of being like Thomas. However, our moments of doubt or lack of trust don’t ever seem to be openly discussed.

Heraclitus is credited with saying, “There is nothing permanent except change… The only constant in life is change.” For so many individuals, change can be daunting, and it can be scary. During times of change, trust can be elusive.

However, St. Augustine is quoted as saying, “Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to His love, and the future to His providence.” God had a divine plan – one which includes every single one of us. And, as St. Teresa of Avila is credited with saying, “May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.” As we undergo the constancy of change, we don’t have insight into God’s plan – for others, or for ourselves. And yet, frequently we fall prey to the whispers of the devil, telling us to doubt God’s plans. We succumb to the notion that we should know and be able to control the change we experience in our lives.

When we lack trust, we are trying to control the change, but we are also trying to convince ourselves that we know best. We are, in effect, telling God that He has no clue what He is doing. We tap into, and channel, Satan’s reported favorite sin … the deadly sin of pride. And, as St. Faustina reminds us, “A humble soul does not trust itself, but places all its confidence in God.”

Therefore, let us each take account of our lives, our approach to change, and our level of intimacy with God. Let us commit to the countercultural notion of placing our trust in something, or rather, Someone. He is not One who visible to us at this point, but He is visible to us through others. The One in whom we should place all our trust has our best intentions in His heart and knows exactly what He is doing. As Jesus told Thomas in John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.”

When all else fails, Jesus Himself, through St. Faustina, gave us the perfect mantra and prayer to repeat over and over again. To allow us to fake it until we make it, if you will…

Jesus, I trust in You.

A simple, powerful, radical statement, which is guaranteed to change our lives, and the world around us.

I’d love to hear from you:

What has helped you during times in which you struggle to trust God’s plan?

How have you learned to trust His plan in all areas?

In which area do you struggle most to trust Him, and how do you address those struggles head on?

Categories
Guest Posts Real And Raw Series The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

We Are the Warriors: Reflections on Anxiety

 

Real and Raw

Welcome to this installment in the series Real and Raw – Soul-Stirring Stories, a series focused on taking a candid look at life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.


To start, thank you for letting me share these scattered thoughts with you. I’m no expert in anxiety; I’m just here to share my experience with this disorder. Hopefully, I can give some sense of support and truth to others who have experienced anxiety or who have a loved one who suffers from it. I know I have many beautiful sisters in Christ who have suffered from this more profoundly than I have and I am in awe of your strength.

Always.

When do I get anxious? Let me count the ways. I get anxious when:

  • I’m two minutes late (the first minute is ok; two is too many).
  • my shirt and my pants are slightly different shades of black (this one is hilarious, but try telling that to me in the moment!).
  • I make dinner and it burns, it’s mushy, it has too much salt.  
  • I see a typo on an assignment I’ve created for my 5th graders–I know they won’t notice, but I DO.
  • I say something awkward for the MILLIONTH time.
  • my husband is gone for an extended period and I get lost in my head again.
  • I try anything new (meal at a restaurant? new route home? new workout? Hello, anxiety.)
  • it’s time to leave the house before a long trip (my husband has to drag me).

So, yes. I am almost always anxious. 

The Frozen Mind

Most of the time, my anxiety is manageable and maybe even cute. It’s only slightly destructive, like the tiny jellyfish from Finding Nemo.  A couple deep breaths and I’m good to go.

Then there are times I have full-on anxiety attacks. I freeze up, I can barely function. The best way I’ve found to explain those experiences is when you open up way too many browser windows on your computer and nothing will load. I’m juggling all of these worries, tasks, hopes, expectations, and I can’t make any of them happen, not a single one, so my brain gives up.

Best case scenario, I cease and desist. I crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head. I sleep 11 hours (which is still a miserable 6 am if you go to bed at 7 pm). Worst case…I don’t like thinking of the worst case. I’m yelling, crying, curling up on the tiles of the kitchen floor. I’m sending those horrible texts, saying those horrible things, ripping apart friends and family because I just can’t think.

And it sucks and I hate it and I’m fighting it.

Research Says

Like any good member of this generation, I have spent a lot of time googling anxiety, surfing chat boards, and Facebook groups, overwhelmed by the beautiful witness of so many people staying strong against the storm of worry and fear.

And there are so many of these stories. Anxiety is the most common mental disorder—more than depression, which was so surprising to me. It’s far more common than multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia, which get so much attention on crime shows.

And we beautiful sisters are twice as likely to struggle with anxiety disorders than men. We worry, tense up, and freeze.  We imagine every possible negative outcome and these plow us down in a horrible avalanche.

We are the warriors against this anxiety.

Ugly Tears

I don’t believe anxiety is totally evil. True, I can see the devil trying to use my anxiety….telling me if I try a little harder, push myself farther, drain myself of more energy, work to finally be perfect, that I can finally be free of the anxiety.

And that lie almost works because, to be honest, I’m an extremely proud person. My confessions are often the same tape on repeat, centering on my need to be perfection itself, to act perfectly, speak perfectly, think perfect thoughts, even look perfect.

That’s where I see God using my anxiety. Anxiety is like a lightning bolt into my perfect little world. I’m imagining my pride as a little pretty pink Barbie dollhouse and my anxiety is like the toddler knocking it over and throwing the furniture around.

And it’s beautiful.

I can see God teaching me patience…with myself. He’s teaching me kindness…to myself. He’s teaching me how to laugh that ugly laugh of pure joy that I’ve kept locked up. And those ugly tears that definitely smear my poor attempt at contouring.

What’s more, there are things about anxiety I would never give up. Being concerned and conscientious are beautiful traits. They make us good friends, hard workers, women who come in with a plan and heck yeah, we’re going to get it done. They make us an empathetic smile, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on. These are our great and beautiful strengths. And I don’t know if I would give up these gifts even to rid myself of the struggles.


REFLECT

Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT these questions and print to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before this experience?
  2. How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
  3. How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
  4. Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
  5. How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
  6. How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
  7. If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
  8. What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?

RESOURCES & SPIRITUAL HEALING

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

NIMH {National Institute of Mental Health}

We Are the Warriors Reflections on Anxiety