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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?

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Books Faith Formation Ink Slingers Michelle Reviews Saints Spiritual Growth

Reform Yourself! A New Year’s Resolution and Book Review

As the New Year rolls in many of us are taking a long, hard look at our lives. If we are honest with ourselves we can see many areas where we could use improvement and where we long for change. Some of us may want to get our health in order; others may want to seek a new job- one that is more fulfilling and helps to provide for their families more. There are some who may wish to be a better spouse, parent, or friend and still others who to serve their communities more. Finally, there are many who wish to strengthen their faith lives and become connected with Christ in a more meaningful and personal way.

Change can be very good for us but it is often hard to follow through to achieve that change. There is so much that can get in our way from achieving our goals. It is sometimes easier to give up than to follow our dreams to fruition. There is a quote by Maya Angelou that I love which says, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Change takes time and it takes effort. It can be daunting and overwhelming. We may decide that it’s just too hard to endure what it takes to turn into that beautiful butterfly.

How can we make change easier and more attainable? They say that having an accountability partner can help boost our success in achieving the goals we set for ourselves. As Catholic Christians we are fortunate to have not only our family and friends here to support us and urge us on, but we also have access to the community of Saints in heaven too. There are so many who have gone before us who can lead the way through the example of their lives and through their prayers for us.

I was recently blessed to have been asked to review a new book by Shaun McAfee called ReformYourself! How to pray, Find Peace, and Grow in Faith with the Saints of the Counter-Reformation. It focuses on the saints of the Counter-Reformation (the much needed reformation that took place in the Catholic Church during the same time the Protestant Reformation was taking place), how these saints are relevant today, and how they, through their teachings and example, can help us to achieve long-lasting reformation in our own lives.

Like Mr. McAfee’s previous book (Filling Our Father’s House), this book is an easy and enjoyable read. The book does not have to be read in chronological order and to be honest it seems as if it is better when read as the Holy Spirit guides you, allowing Him to bring you to the saint He knows you need to connect with right now.

The chapters highlight ten different saints from the Counter-Reformation including St. Francis de Sales, St. Ignatius, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Pope St. Pius V, St. Philip Neri, St. John of the Cross, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, and St. Charles Borromeo. Mr. McAfee did an amazing amount of research into the saints’ lives. He shows how they were important to the Counter-Reformation happening within the Church, he masterfully translates their stories into very intriguing and relatable lessons for today’s Christians, and then he connects it all through prayer.

So many of us want change in our lives and yet we are scared to actively seek out that change. We worry that we will fail. We think it is too difficult. We feel we don’t have the support we need. Thankfully we are not alone! There are some pretty amazing saints who have gone before us whom we can look up to as we strive to institute reformation in our own lives. I talked about how having an accountability partner can boost your chances of success… in his book Mr. McAfee provides us 10 different accountability partners who are eager to inspire us and pray for us as we work to change our hearts and lives for the better.

As you think about how you want to change your life in this New Year I encourage you to look to the saints for guidance and encouragement. It can seem as if change is just too far out of reach, but if you have the support and prayers of those around you plus the saints in heaven, well, there’s no telling what you can accomplish!

I was given this book in exchange for an honest review, but I can tell you that I would definitely buy this book. The insights provided here are invaluable. As Mr. McAfee states, “… the man who moves a mountain begins with carrying away small stones” (98). If we wish to change ourselves we have to begin somewhere and the easiest place to start is with small changes- picking up one stone and moving it. Eventually those small changes become big changes and suddenly we realize we have moved mountains! Studying the saints’ lives, looking to them for inspiration, and asking for their prayers can all help us take that first step and to continue on the path towards personal reformation.

This year if you want to change something about yourself and your relationship with God or with others begin by moving that first stone. Don’t think about the entire task ahead, simply pick up that first stone and move it. As the journey becomes more arduous ask those around you to help but also ask the saints to help too. You will be surprised at how eager they are to guide you and how amazing your reformation can be when you have a little help from your heavenly friends.

Interested in Shaun McAfee’s book? You can find it here. Don’t be afraid to Reform Yourself!

Categories
Confession Ink Slingers Kasey Spiritual Growth

Something Beautiful

I have a love/hate relationship with social media.

I have given up on most platforms.

Twitter seems like a savage wasteland to me.

People don’t really care about “linking up” with you on LinkedIn if you have had the same job title for almost ten years, never check your messages, and have no idea how to congratulate someone on their “work anniversary.”

If I am going to streak- it’s not going to be on Snapchat and do people even use Tumblr anymore?

However, I am an avid Instagram and Facebook user.

I love catching everyday, unposed pictures of my kids doing school work and silly obstacle courses through our house. I want them to be able to look back and fondly remember all the small cracks of our life that made it interesting and funny. I also love watching my friend’s children grow up- even those who live very far away.

But what social media has offered me in terms of connection and friendship has often been balanced out, if not sometimes completely tipped over, by negative feelings that are often centered around envy, regret, narcissism, and rejection.

Sometimes the feelings are simple to sort out.

Should I really be a part of this mom’s group or is it an occasion of sin because it leads me to gossip and exclude others?

Those questions, once asked clearly, are often pretty easy to answer.

But sometimes the feelings are more complicated.

Recently, I found myself in a hole.

It was the type of hole I fall into on sleepless 3am nights- endlessly scrolling through the social media account of an ex-best friend.

I know, it sounds really dramatic.

(No, I didn’t leave any snake emojis.)

In truth, I have come to accept that our falling out was the result of mutual poor choices and growth in separate directions. However, the loss of this friend felt like a marital divorce and it has taken a very long time for the pain to plateau into something manageable.

At the height of this friendship, I would have called this person my soul friend. We were this scary life force that moved in separate but highly coordinated patterns- calling out of the blue because the air suddenly began to crackle.

I told her everything.

Everything.

And for an introvert with bookish tendencies- this is a big deal.

But, for both complicated and uncomplicated reasons, it ended.

It had to.

And I understand that now.

But here I was in the dead of night passing through highly curated pictures and this awful ugly feeling started to well up inside me. As I reached closer and closer towards the years of our friendship, I realized how carefully I had been cropped out of this person’s life.

Any photos of us together were gone.

Any reference to holidays that we used to spend together were negatively vague.

Things we used to enjoy together were now being enjoyed with others.

Friends we used to share are now sharing glasses of wine with a woman who wanted to make sure than any reference to our relationship was wiped from existence.

I was angry all over again.

I felt justified to hate her all over again.

And, if I let myself admit it, deep down inside, in my loneliest of places, I was just so uncontrollably sad.

And for the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to go into the shower, turn on the water, and weep. And it was freeing to just allow myself to be frustrated; to not have anyone in the room telling me that I should “just get over it” or list off all the reasons that this particular person was terrible. I didn’t have other voices deciding whether or not my “grieving process” was healthy.

The truth?

I’m glad my heart is still soft.

I loved this person.

And sometimes, when a song comes on the radio that reminds me of a concert, or a birthday, or a funny car dancing moment, I want to know that my heart is still tender. It lets me know that I am not completely closed off to other relational possibilities.

That being said, the hardest part is knowing that I keep my heart insanely guarded- even from people that have more than proven themselves worthy of my friendship and vulnerability.

Fellow Catholic Nerd Friends

I mean, nothing can bond you to another mother quite like a phone conversation in which someone walks you through taking your infant’s rectal temperature, am I right?

I have found that any anger I hold onto grows hot in my hands and makes it impossible to reach out to others.

To heal.

I needed to forgive this person.

Again.

When I thought all this was settled.

In these moments, I try to lean into scripture but I often feel like I am wading through murky waters. For example, up until the moment of the resurrection, Biblical forgiveness and punishment always seems pretty straightforward.

God asks for you to repent, you say you’re sorry or… the whole world might be flooded.

Hey Pharaoh- let those people go…

…or the angel of death might come knocking at your door.

Even as children we are given this ultimatum- say sorry for hitting your brother in the face or you have to sit in time out.

There’s a transaction. Someone has to be sorry and change or there is a punishment- natural or otherwise.

And then the Cross comes and the transaction changes- God is on both sides of the proverbial table.

God with the human mother who can speak on behalf of creation and God who is supernatural and can act as judge.

I have struggled with how to apply this concept to perennial pain- especially when I feel justified and the recipient could care less about my internal war with how to come to peace with them.

My biggest stride in this intellectual quandary has been coming to terms with the fact that Jesus walked the road of Calvary for me and for the person I am trying to forgive. In a sense, we are on the same side of the transaction.

I am not the judge and jury.

My job is to repent and to learn.

My job is to fairly recognize and identify my own pain and shortcomings.

My job is to grow in holiness.

My job is to trust that God knows what is fair.

God can set up the consequences.

Secondly, I have been told that time heals all wounds and hopefully, at the end of the end, that will be true.

But one look at the Sacred Heart of Jesus tells me that, even now, His heart is encased in a vine of thorns. My choice to recycle my forgiveness- to give it even when it isn’t asked of me, removes a thorn from that entrapment.  

That is love.

That makes all of this worth it.

The last time I felt this way I floundered for a few weeks. I moped. I allowed my kids to watch too much TV while I meandered around cups of coffee and half-finished chores. My husband finally sent me to Mass by myself. I complained (mostly because I had to put on outside clothes) but he pushed my butt out the door and said, “Well, at least you can enjoy the silence.”

And then he locked me out because he can be dramatically right sometimes. (Don’t tell him I said that!)

As I sat in Mass I fumbled around an examination of conscious. I hadn’t been to confession in a couple of months. I finally made it in where I blew my nose into an entire box of Kleenex. After a few minutes of ugly crying, my confessor gently reminded me that feeling bad about the loss of a friendship was not, in fact, a mortal sin. I thanked him for his saintly patience, he allowed me a moment to pull myself together, and then I huddled in the back pew licking my wounds for the rest of Mass.

I took the long way back from church, cruising down Lake Shore Drive, looking at the city lights on the left and the lake on the right. Slowly, the realization dawned on me that the church never abandons us in times of trial. Standing right in front of me, in that confessional, was a path.

I can stand in line for the confession.

I can recognize that I have pain that needs healing.

I can confess my sins.

I can be honest with myself and with trusted others about my anger, resentment, and sadness. I can be honest about the ways in which I have contributed to the situation through action or inaction. I can forgive myself for those transgressions. I do not have to be okay all the time.

I can receive advice from my priests

I can receive advice from confidants who have my best interests at heart.

I can submit to the process of the reformation of my heart.

I can also submit to the process of rebuilding new relationships that lean on the wisdom of past mistakes.

I can accept God’s forgiveness.

I can remember that God can forgive both of our shortcomings. I can choose to view this person as someone who is loved by God and who has given me cause to reach for the higher fruits of virtue.

I can pray and do penance for both of us.

I can ask to be a friend of God’s and, in return, He will shape me into something beautiful

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Motherhood Nicole B Single Parents Vocations

The Rains of Change

“Yes, I’ve changed. Pain does that to a person.” I saw those words on a friend’s Facebook page just this week. The quote was not credited, but I traced it back to a chronic pain support website. However, when I read it, I did not think of the changing effects of physical pain, which I can only imagine are awful, instead I immediately thought of emotional pain.

In the past three years I have changed. It was a necessity. There is no way I could enter my situation and leave as the same person. My husband dropped me off at work one morning and didn’t return for over 24 hours. That’s life-changing pain. When he did return, a web of well-calculated lies started to unravel – a fake abduction, payday loans, eviction, and such chaos and deceit that it is best-suited for a Lifetime movie. The emotional roller coaster that my children, my family, and I have endured has shaken me to the core. It forever changed me as a woman, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, and friend.

Some of the changes have been gradual and are subtle only to me: greater compassion toward my students who are from difficult circumstances, the ability to brush off as inconsequential petty things that once seemed major, the feeling of pure joy when something wonderful happens to a friend, the confidence I have gained in sharing my opinion. However, other changes are more notable. They are so notable that I know the exact moment when the old me was gone and the new me had emerged.   

Last night there was rain, a storm warning, lightning, rain, rain, and more rain. This was on top of an already saturated ground. Our local meteorologist said we received the amount of two months of rain in about 24 hours. Therefore, like many, many others in my area my basement flooded. A seeping slow flood that saturated every nook and cranny of my partially finished basement. Ugh. It is a situation that can test anyone’s patience, and as a single mother I’ve found that these types of situations can be even more excruciating.  

I bought my home in November. All. By. Myself. I was terrified, not only to be a sole mortgage holder, but to take on all of the minute responsibilities of homeownership on my own (yard work, snow removal, yard work, plumbing problems, yard work, painting, etc.). Yuck. Two years ago, I would have never even thought I could do these things on my own. I had a fantastic partner. He was an involved father, a natural parent, and an attentive spouse. With him I could tackle anything. Without him, I wasn’t so sure.

As I stood in my basement, feet covered in water for the fifteenth time, I looked around. I was able to successfully move all of the children’s toys and the small furniture upstairs by myself at midnight the night the flood began. I was using a shop vac to vacuum the never-ending water and pump it outside. I had help, my wonderful parents and my grandfather came as soon as I knew I had a problem outside of my control, but here I was essentially keeping my cool in a situation that even a year ago would test my patience. The water, the rain, expected the “new me.”

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and theologian, called rain, “wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech…” and as I worked to clean it up for the umpteenth time that day, I let my mind reflect on the years of intrinsic changes I have endured. I am stronger, more confident, I make every decision on my own. From how to clean up a flooded basement, to what to make for dinner, to what school my children should attend. There is no co-parenting, no discussions, no compromise with another. It is sometimes lonely, stressful, agonizing, and still unbelievable to me that this is where I am, but I have to believe that I can do it. The most difficult part has been to set precedence and boundaries. To believe that I am making the correct decisions for myself and my children even when others might believe I am flat out wrong.

As I reflect through the sound of the falling rain, the slosh of the water, and the hum of the shop vac, I am proud of the change. I am proud of myself. It is definitely not that I am happy with my divorce, I grieve for it everyday, but through this devastation I have become a strong, confident woman who would not have been present in my old life. The pain has changed me into the woman, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, and friend that God meant me to be.  

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Anni Books Ink Slingers Reviews Spiritual Growth Testimonials

The Importance of a Faith-Filled Life: A Book Review

 

When I was a teenager, the Roma Downey series, Touched by An Angel, was all the rage. Millions, my family included, would tune in every week to watch how God’s angels touched the lives of everyday people – people like you and me. We would watch and wait for the last scene, when the angel looked into the heart of the one God had helped to say assuringly, “God loves you.”

At that point in my life, I devoured one angelic testimony after another, savoring each tale of how an angel guided someone through difficult trials. These books were more than just testimony to the incredible nature of God’s creatures… they provided hope for the readers. They reminded us that God is around us, providing miracles as signs of his presence for those of us trudging through life.

Therefore, when I was provided a free copy of Once I Was Blind But Now I See, a testimonial by Charles Piccirilli with Kimberly Cook, in exchange for an honest review, I jumped at the chance. To read about a man who, having dabbled in the occult, made his way back to God through to the Catholic Faith, and experienced God’s hand and voice in his life? Of course I had to review that book!

Mr. Piccirilli actually doesn’t go into depth about his life with the occult. He chooses instead to gloss over that dark life so that he may focus on what came after; adamant that once he banished the demons which used to invade his space and embraced a life with Jesus, his life turned around.

As I read how Jesus has physically, emotionally, and spiritually touched Mr. Piccirilli, I was moved, but in ways I did not expect.

Mr. Piccirilli’s experiences were just as hopeful and well-written as the best angelic testimonies, and made for a real page turner. I read the entire book in one day.

Simply put, Mr. Piccirilli’s story is amazing!

For one who reads this book, however, I must caution that Mr. Piccirilli’s experiences are outside the normative experience for most of the faithful. But, it does not mean it can’t be true. Throughout the bible, we are told of prophets who will be in our midst – and, simply because a man may be a prophet, does not mean his faith will not be tested like the rest of us. There is no discussion of Mr. Piccirilli’s test of faith, but it can be argued his time with the occult is test enough.

When reading this book, I wondered how Mr. Piccirilli’s claims can be true? How is it that God could bless this man’s life so much? What could Mr. Piccirilli have done to deserve these incredible and miraculous experiences?

Reading Once I Was Blind But Now I See challenged me, in a positive manner, as well. I asked myself where my faith had gone – the faith of my childhood, which led me stay up hours past my bedtime to finish a book of angelic miracles I had purchased that morning?

As I sat in prayer on this book, I was gently reminded of one of my favorite bible passages. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 highlights the gifts of the Holy Spirit. While one of my gifts may be writing, Mr. Piccirilli’s gifts seem to be healing, working of miracles, and prophecy. While that may be uncomfortable to some, it’s a good reminder that we are all called to recognize the gifts we have been given, embrace those gifts, hone them, and then use them for the glory of God.

Like any gift from God, there is nothing neither I nor Mr. Piccirilli could possibly to do to deserve what was received through His grace.

Once I Was Blind But Now I See serves as a reminder that God does answer prayers – perhaps not on our schedule or in the manner we would like, But He answers them in the ways that are in accord with His plan. This book also highlights how God allows for us to use our free will… to choose to follow His directions and His plans for us.

It is a testament to how loving and forgiving God remains, even when we try to strike our own course, instead of following His path.

In a manner which is engaging and easy to read, Mr. Piccirilli shares how he has been touched and immensely blessed by God. His book reminds readers of the importance of living a life filled with faith – not in expectation of the miraculous, but rather because God is here, providing miracles all around us each and every day.

And, no matter what way miracles may manifest in this world, this book is a testimony to the greatness of the glory of God.

Because, with God, all things are possible.

**This book was provided free of charge to the author of this piece, in exchange for an honest review. If you are interested in further information about this book, or would like to purchase this book, please visit The Lion of Design.**