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Confession Parenting Spiritual Growth Susan

Lessons from Flynn

 

What is it about parenting that can make us too controlling? How do we find the happy medium between guiding children and instilling independence? Do we care too much or are we missing something? What is the heart of the matter? How do we become holy parents?

 

The situation which raised these questions for me happened one Saturday in June when my husband and I went with the owners of local horse farm and my daughter to her third horse show. Being our third show, we have become more aware of some questionable parenting we have been habitually doing, and have had regular adult witnesses to it. What were we doing, you may ask? We were being too “helpful;” too “correcting;” too “coach-like;” and confusing it all with being “parent-like.” I, personally, have been allowing myself to be very critical. I have struggled with this as a mom, sister, friend and neighbor. Now I am seeing myself in the mirror, and something needs to change.

 

The first part of the day sounded like this: “hurry up, get ready,” “did you learn the pattern,” “you better go practice more,” “eat something,” “drink something,” “why are you upset?” “remember this and do that.” Then when she was away from us, I would gently complain to the owners on how she seems not to care, even though I know she does; and worse, overanalyzing the psyche of her behavior. They, being the kind people they are, were so patient with my immaturity. They only responded with kind words, encouragement, and understanding, allowing the subject to dissipate, and open me to self-awareness.

 

The first pivotal opportunity of change that day began when the announcer broadcast, “There is a palomino loose and he has headed down the street.” Immediately, I knew it was the horse my daughter was going to ride. Quite a few of us headed in the direction of the horse’s path. My daughter and her trainer went running across the field. They hopped a ride with a man in a jeep and later with another man on a four-wheeler to find the horse. This man knew where it went, where all horses go… to the apple orchard! They found the horse and he came to them easily.

 

Meanwhile, waiting at the trailer, I was very upset. Finally after venting, I said a quiet prayer asking God to help me not to say a harsh word to my daughter when she returns. “She is upset enough already.”  Soon, ease and calm soothed me when the owners voiced a forgiving “they-did-not-mind,” and “It’s all a learning experience. No worries.” It was their horse, and I was so embarrassed at the situation. But they were understanding and mature enough to know everything is a learning experience.

 

I voiced to my husband while waiting for the horse’s return that I did not want to say anything to our daughter that would make her feel worse; he agreed. Next, we looked across the field to see her and the trainer coming back with the horse. The trainer wore a smile and exclaimed, “that was fun!” Her words eased me even further. Compassion for my daughter stirred when I saw her face slowly returning to refreshment after shedding many tears. “It’s all good, Sweety.” And we listened to her story of their adventure.

 

Thankfully they made it back just in time for our daughter to get ready to show. Everyone had time for physical and mental refreshment. My husband kept encouraging our daughter. I, however, began to tell her what she needs to do to get ready. I did not say anything harsh, but I felt myself wavering between my let’s-get-things-done attitude and a new one of sincere support.

 

My second pivotal opportunity for change came as the afternoon progressed.  My daughter was doing increasingly well in the show classes. Her trainer was attentive to her; advising her…and us. The trainer was heading toward my daughter and politely, kindly, yet firmly said to us, “Let me instruct.” That was all I needed to gain the motivation to change. My husband and I looked at each other and admitted our fault, acknowledging: “We need to just encourage our daughter, and let her trainer do the rest.” We went right to work at trying to do so and were able to rejoice in our daughter’s success in ending the day with a blue ribbon from a competitive class.

 

We are so proud of our daughter. I am so grateful for the peacefulness, firmness, and kindness from the owners and trainer. Their correct reactions toward our negative behavior helped so very much. Thankful to God for what I learned that day and the variety of personal inner thoughts I continue to ponder, there are two lessons that really stood out to me from this experience, and that I hope will speak to you.

 

First, we need others so we can grow in virtue. Every interaction with anyone is a chance to grow in holiness. Even when we fail in practicing virtue, we immediately are given the opportunity to learn from our weakness, which opens up another chance to act with virtue. I am reminded of Romans 5:20, “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.”

 

Second, interaction with Christ is the key opportunity we need for ongoing, lasting healing. It begins with knowing ourselves as we truly are.  I asked the Holy Spirit to reveal where I need healing so I am not so critical. This was not my own idea, it was prompted by the advice on a CD called Healing and Holiness by Vinny Flynn (ironically, Flynn is the name of the horse, too! HA!) This Mary Foundation CD encourages its listeners to go beyond recognizing the sins we have committed and discover the healing we need which is the root of our sin. Vinny Flynn reminds us that Christ wants to HEAL us, not just forgive because forgiveness is only part of the healing.

 

So, bringing to prayer, “where do I need to be healed, Lord?” opens us to healing. Then when we bring it all, sins and wounds, to Confession and Holy Mass, Christ will take it away and replace it with His holy life. I had a personal experience with this when I lived in fear which fueled my anxiety. Knowing my fear was not technically a sin, I knew I still needed to be healed from it, so I gave it to Christ in Confession. I knew He would replace it with grace. The more I confessed it, the more it lost its grip on my life. I know what Vinny Flynn teaches is absolutely true and am glad he shares it ever so well.

 

I encourage you to obtain this free CD, Healing and Holiness, at www.catholicity.com and apply it to your own lives, and share it with others.

 

When in your own lives have you seen yourself more clearly? How did the Sacraments help you heal?

 

Categories
Ink Slingers

False Crawls

Question: What can live for up to 100 years, is known to be harmless to humans and moves no faster than 1 mph but can still scare the living daylights out of a grown woman who comes face-to-face with one? Answer: A sea turtle. Years ago, I was snorkeling in Hanauma Bay in Oahu while on an anniversary trip with my husband when I turned my head away from some lovely circus-colored coral and straight into the snout of a gigundous Loggerhead turtle. Even though I do believe he was just as surprised as I was to make up-close underwater eye contact, it was me (the supposedly grown woman) who let out a garbled, high-pitched scream through my snorkel and made a hasty, comically uncoordinated retreat.

Since then I’ve had no close encounters with sea turtles, but this summer I saw evidence of them. Some dear friends and I were taking a morning walk on a beach in Florida when we stumbled upon what we thought were deep tire tracks in the sand leading to and from the water (Attention coastline residents: please try not to snicker over our ignorance—my friends and I all live in the flatlands of the Midwest!). Upon closer inspection (and a little Google confirmation) we realized we had discovered a sea turtle nest, even before the official turtle patrol had found and marked it with yellow caution tape. We were delighted to learn about the endangered sea turtle’s ancient ritual of crawling out of the ocean in the dark of night and finding a safe place to dig and deposit her eggs before returning to the sea. Further down the beach, however, we found a different set of tracks. These tracks made it only halfway to the high tide line and then made a very obvious U-turn in the sand and headed back to the water. There was no nest, no eggs, no fresh, fluffy pile of sand for the turtle patrol to mark.

“Something spooked her,” explained the patrol volunteer after we waved down his white pickup truck to inquire about this unusual set of tracks. “It’s called a false crawl,” he told us. “She got scared and turned back.”

A false crawl. That term floated back into my brain the next morning as I was prayer journaling.

Hmmm. I realized that the skittish Mamma sea turtle and I have a lot in common.

Yep, there are many instances in my life when I too have made a false crawl. I’ve left a mission unaccomplished, a task unfinished, a risk untaken because I got spooked. I made some initial progress toward a goal, but then fear took over and I made a U-turn. And just like that hesitant mother sea turtle, I withdrew to the familiarity of my home base.

I suppose if we are being honest, we’ve all made a false crawl or two in our lives. Fear is a real obstacle that can keep us from moving ahead or doing the right thing or trying something new. Something (or someone) scares us and then we retreat. I think back on those times in my life when I turned around and I wonder: What if I had asked for encouragement from the Holy Spirit at that moment of decision, that critical pause right before I changed direction? What if I had said a small prayer and asked for the grace and power to overcome my fear and any other hurdles at that particular instant? How would things be different?

I sometimes forget this: When we face uphill battles and fear enters in, the Holy Spirit is our encourager. He is our Advocate, the Paraclete that Jesus promised to send to us after he returned to his Father. In fact, Parakletos is closely related to the Greek word for encouragement! The third person of the Holy Trinity can help us set our troublesome fear aside and move forward in our journey. At those moments of weakness, He can kindle a fire of courage and strength in our hearts to help us persevere. He offers hope, peace, comfort. And when we are being persecuted, He provides holy fortitude to help us prevail.

The Holy Spirit is the antidote to life’s false crawls.

And we don’t have to go far to access all of the gifts the Holy Spirit has to give. You and I were instilled with every one of these gifts when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation. They’re all there, hunkered down in the corners of our hearts, waiting to be released and maximized. All we need to do is ask the Holy Spirit to flip the switch, so to speak.

So I decided to try something new—something that will help me confront my challenges with a fresh faith and a renewed determination. The next time I’m facing a dig-in-or-retreat situation, I am going to stop and ask for encouragement from the Divine Encourager. I am going to let the Advocate take over. I am going to close my eyes and fervently pray, “Come, Holy Spirit!”

I’m guessing there will be no U-turn, no retreat, and no false crawl.

And (hopefully) no garbled, high-pitched screams.

Categories
Chronic Illness Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth Susan

Words Sent

                                                                                                          photo by Rebecca Jaynes

Brrrinngggg.

“Hello. Can you talk? I am feeling awful today?”

“Sure.”

That conversation was maybe eight years ago. A couple years earlier then it, I was hit with a simultaneous ‘triple whammy’: Heat Exhaustion, Lyme Disease, and Panic Disorder. As I set about the long muddy road to better health, I felt alone and in the dark. Many of my friends did not know how to approach me, for I was brought very low. Overnight I went from lively, confident, and motivated to exhausted, afraid, and defeated. Sunday Mass and doctor appointments were the only reason I left my home, which was not like me. But one person who put aside her discomforts gave me time.

“I get so low, Vicki, the doctors…the medications… the anxiety…my family…what am I going to do? I try, but I get nowhere.”

My friend knew the sounds and face of anxiety disorder and living in fear. She listened, and over and over patiently encouraged me on the phone that day. Slowly, bit by bit, the phrase she repeated began to deeply root into my mind.

“It’s all good, Sue. It’s All Good. Just keep saying those words whenever you worry. It’s All Good.”

“You’re right, I know you are right. It’s so hard to trust, though.”

“Just say, ‘It’s All Good.’ God knows what He is doing.”

“I know. I will try. Thank you; you’re right.”

The conversation was a long one, but echoes in my memory with those three words, one friend…and one moment.

Hanging up the phone, I was refreshed mentally and was able to put myself about doing little chore, saying, “It’s all good.” So, I walked to the mailbox, and got the mail.

Such a simple walk to the end of the driveway can be so invigorating. It is like a ‘good-bye’ to the morning and a ‘hello’ to the afternoon. The stroll itself motivated me to see the day through to the end with newness, but little did I know…not only for that day.

I opened the mailbox…

“What?!” The words I read on the flyer took firm, lasting root in my heart and soul! I read it again. I laughed a real laugh, looked up and said, “You are so funny! God, you have made your point.”

The phone was immediately dialed again.

“Vicky, you won’t believe this! A flyer in my mail today has written in its top corner in big bold lettering: It’s All Good!

“I told you it’s all good.” She was so calm, but I could tell she was smiling. We both felt such confirmation, and I His direct touch. And we knew no more had to be said.

I gently tore the phrase from the flyer and taped it on a little shelf beside my kitchen sink. It hasn’t moved since, however I have not stopped moving. The fear was being drained faster than ever, and filling up the space was faith and hope. Sure, the hard work wasn’t over, and uncertainty in its various forms still comes and goes. But with God, all is brought to good. I knew if I continued to seek God in prayer and did all I could one day at a time…..God would take care of the rest. And boy! Has He done so! But those stories are for another day.  Today? Remember……..It’s All Good!

 

 

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Michelle Spiritual Growth

Offering My Everything to Him

For a while now my family has been facing a series of crises. From financial issues to suffering through both chronic and acute illnesses to losing another baby to watching someone we love dearly make bad decisions and then having to suffer the consequences of those actions. To say it has been difficult would be an understatement. For a long time now it has felt like the weight of the world has rested squarely on my shoulders.

If it had not been for my faith and my wonderful friends I’m not sure how I would have made it through.

I’m always thankful for our Catholic belief that there is grace and hope within suffering. We only have to look at the cross to see how very powerful suffering can be. It was through suffering that we gained life.

I love the fact that we are encouraged to “offer it up” for those who may need the prayers and God’s grace in their lives. When we have a person in mind to offer our sufferings for it becomes a blessing to be able to sacrifice and pray for them in that manner. It takes away the focus on “me” and redirects the focus to “them”. It is a powerful way to make it through the darkest times of our lives.

I am also thankful for Christ’s strong shoulders that are willing to carry my crosses for me. As we suffer and face hardships we are often told to “give it to Christ” or “give it to God” and He will take care of it. What a tremendous gift it is to have a caring Savior who is willing to take on our worst pain and make it His own so that we don’t have to carry such a heavy and painful cross! Allowing God to take on our worries, our struggles, our despair, and our fears frees us in a way that we could never achieve on our own.

As I contemplated some of the problems we are facing now, I thought about how wonderful it is to hand these worries over to God. But as I thought about this I felt the Spirit whisper to me, “I want more.” Confused, I wondered what this could mean. “How can I give you more, Lord?” I prayed. Quietly an answer came to my heart… “I want everything.”

I was still confused. I had given Him my everything- I trusted Him to guide us through these terrible heartaches and I calmly placed my children, my husband, and myself all into His hands. I even had prayed, “Lord, Your will be done!” and I meant it with all my heart. How could I give Him more?

The answer came suddenly to me, “I want it all… your hurts, your struggles, your crosses, your doubts, and your fears. But I also want you to offer your joys, your triumphs, and your happiness to me.”

I felt convicted. While I have always thanked God for the good in my life, I had never given those joys to Him. I was quick to offer up my suffering, but to offer up the good in my life had never crossed my mind. While I hand Him my suffering so that He can make something good and worthwhile come from it, I was keeping my joy to myself and not giving Him that as well… I was squirreling it away for my own benefit. I felt remorseful because after all, doesn’t He deserve our joy too?

Our God is a giving and loving God. He is a strong and protective Father. He feels our sorrow and pain but He also rejoices along with us in our happiness. He wants to be included in every aspect of our lives. There is nothing we should hide or keep from Him. He wants us to give Him our suffering, our joy, our hearts, and our souls. He wants to experience everything we go through on a very deep and personal level. He wants us to invite Him into the deepest recesses of our hearts and minds. This happens when we give Him our everything.

And so today I vow to give my joy and happiness to God as quickly as I give Him my suffering and pain. Everything I have, everything I am, everything I hope for, and everything I experience is His. I know that He will make good come from all that I go through and offer to Him and He will share His love and grace with me.

When I offer my joy to God I die to myself and I begin to truly live for Him because I am no longer focused on what makes me happy but what will make God happy. By offering Him everything I am He will make me new and I will rejoice in His holy Presence in my life.

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Ink Slingers Misty Series Spiritual Growth You Did It To Me

“You Did It To Me”: Counsel the Doubtful

Welcome to the series “You Did It To Me” where we will be discussing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. This will be a twice a month series from March to September 2015. We hope you enjoy!

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

Peace.

Counsel the doubtfulWe see the word on bumper stickers, splashed across clothing and posters, bandied about by political parties and causes. For most people, peace has become a one-dimensional word that means your country isn’t at war (right now).

But Jesus promises us something far more important than even world peace–He offers us spiritual peace: that unshakable calm that permeates your whole existence, defying even the most difficult external circumstances as the Holy Spirit promises that you are safe and loved. And that no matter what is happening or will happen, “You are going to be just fine, my child.”

For most of us on the journey to heaven, true and lasting spiritual peace can seem elusive. I’ve had brief periods where I’ve experienced genuine interior peace; once I even maintained it for nearly a full week. Most of the time, though, my peace is fleeting.

But because I’ve experienced it, even temporarily, I know peace is possible. I also know that the key to peace is trust–absolute, unconditional surrender to God.

The Heart of the Matter

One of the great privileges we have as disciples of Christ is helping our brothers and sisters get to heaven, too. Over the years, as I’ve listened to countless souls share their struggles with me, I’ve come to see virtually every problem that worries a person enough to seek my counsel as a moment in which she’s doubtful of God’s love, goodness, or providence.

My friend’s heart is troubled because someone criticized her decision to work and use daycare (or stay at home)…her husband just lost his job…her special needs child has overwhelmed her…her baby has died…she can’t conceive. At the heart of each struggle is doubt. Doubt in herself and often, doubt in God.

Am I failing at this all-important job of parenting?

Will we be able to pay the bills if he doesn’t have a job?

Do I have it in me to persevere in raising this child?

Is God punishing me by taking my baby?

Can God really love me if He won’t give me a child?

Learning from Linda

Whenever I’m tempted by my own struggles to doubt myself or God, I remember Linda.

Linda was a dear friend whose husband had an affair 20 years into their marriage and left her and their seven young children. Her husband left the faith, embraced worldliness in all its forms, then frequently refused to cover any of his family’s expenses. It left my friend constantly on the brink of financial ruin.

Yet every time Linda got a notice that the electricity was due to be turned off or the house was going to go into foreclosure (again), she would pray, “Well, Lord, you know we need $178 by Thursday or the lights are going to be cut off” or “Lord, you have to either come up with $950 in  the next two weeks or find me and these kids a new place to live.”

And I watched as God provided for Linda and her children again and again and again. I watched as she found two $100 bills in her mailbox on Wednesday evening…I watched as her recalcitrant husband decided to pay the mortgage after all instead of going on another expensive trip with his paramour. I watched gift cards to Walmart roll in when she told God her children needed shoes (and it was exactly enough for seven pairs of shoes)…I watched food stamps finally get approved when they were down to a single meal left in the cupboard.

I watched Linda tell God she needed someone or something if she was going to make it even one more day as a single mother–and that’s when God would prompt me or another friend to stop by to encourage her. Those were the times we’d spontaneously start a novena or rosary for her, discovering later just how desperate her need was for graces.

I watched Linda, and saw a woman who asked for what she needed and then gave the outcome over to God. She truly surrendered her fear of homelessness, hunger for her children, and even a lifetime of loneliness to the Holy Spirit, choosing instead to assume God would provide for their true needs. She had the marvelous ability to let God choose how he was going to provide for them, too; she told me that even if they ended up in a homeless shelter, “Well, that’s still a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs, which is more than many in this world have.”

Linda had no doubt that the Lord would provide, whether she needed a bill paid or strength to endure the loneliness and pain caused by her husband’s betrayal. And because she replaced doubt with trust, she gained that true interior peace that Jesus offers to all of us in the Gospel. Most striking to me was that while Linda was arguably the most beleaguered person I’d ever known, she was also the most joyful. This woman knew that God was good, that He loved her, and that He was going to come through for her each and every time.

And He did.

Want Peace? Foster Trust

I learned a great deal from my friend, Linda. Most of all I learned that whenever God asks me to help a friend carry her cross, doubt and trust are the two choices at the heart of the struggle, no matter what that struggle is. While many situations may require me to help someone brainstorm real-world, practical solutions to her problems, I still try to reinforce to those struggling that once she’s done her part, she must surrender the outcome–as well as the means to that end–to God.

We shouldn’t upbraid ourselves, either, if our initial response to life’s trials is fear. Feelings are morally neutral and often reflexive, especially when a situation reminds of us past suffering. Even Jesus was afraid. But once we’ve experienced our fearful doubts, we can still choose to say: “Jesus, I trust in You.” We may have to say this hundreds if not thousands of times before our words conform to our will. But there’s a reason why even secular counselors teach clients to replace negative thoughts with affirmations–because if you say it often enough, eventually even you will believe the truth.

Personally, I’ve found counseling the doubtful to be one of the most joyful works of mercy to perform for souls, because I see the fear and anxiety in my loved ones give way to a beautiful interior peace when the person does choose to trust. May God bless us all with the ability not only to counsel others to abandon their doubts for peace, but to lead by example.