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Allison Gingras Ink Slingers

Happy New, New Year: Trying an Autumn Reset

Happy New, New Year!

For over 20 years, each January 1st, I made a massive list of all the things I wanted to change or accomplish in the upcoming year. Not sure what precipitated this tradition? Maybe my love of making lists along with the thrill of physically crossing an item off said to-do list!

My resolutions were carefully written down, organized by theme, and numbered by the order in which I would tackle each. Now that I think about it, my list resembled the front cover of a woman’s magazine:  

  • 10 ways to a healthier me;
  • 10 books to read (probably the only one I actually accomplished, especially after I launched a podcast featuring Catholic books);
  • 10 decluttering projects to tackle; 
  • 10 ideas for being a better mom (wife, domestic goddess); and
  • 10 Spiritual practices to adopt (the other one I mostly complete).

Some Things Never Change

Decluttering last Summer, I found old journals containing resolution lists from previous years. It was funny (or maybe a little sad) how many items carried from year to year, and to this day still, remain incomplete. These incomplete items are the ones in most need of discernment. Maybe they continue unresolved because either they are not part of God’s plans for me or I need to move them up in my priorities. 

The lists included such things as:

  • 10 ways to lose weight and keep it off;
  • 10 Sunday meals to bring the family together;
  • 10 people to reconnect with; and
  • 10 strategies to get out of debt!

The Autumn Reset

One September, as summer wrapped up and the calendar filled with new activities, I felt an urge to take a fresh look at my January resolutions. The timing seemed perfect, even my calendar (which followed the academic year) was clear and ready for a reset. I tend to enter Autumn refreshed and refocused, as opposed to frazzled in January following the hustle of the holidays, so again the timing just seemed a better fit.

And it was.

First, I lowered my expectations. I set realistic, attainable goals based on my current situation and not what might come. Kind of like not buying size 8 jeans when you are still a size 12 as a motivator to lose weight. In case you have yet to have this experience; trust me, it never works! Celebrating small victories kept me much more motivated. Ten ways to declutter the house, with the list consisting of the ten rooms I wanted to tidy up; I became more specific:

  • Tackle the kitchen junk drawer;
  • Throw away all socks without a buddy;
  • Eradicate all dust bunnies from under beds and in corners; and (my personal favorite)
  • Find the actual top of my desk.

Second, I took a long, hard, and prayerful, look at my life and decided what things were essential to not just me but my family. Prayer became the center of every decision. I would take my list of lists to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and sit with Jesus, seeking his counsel. “Lord,” I would ask, “Which of these items align with the Father’s will.” Some tasks from the original resolution list disappeared altogether, while others would stay but move much further down on the priority scale.  

God First, The Rest Will Follow

My spiritual goals took precedence over everything because when I am in right relationship with my God, so does everything else. However, I simplified this list as well, focusing on those activities and practices that best honed my ability to hear Him speak into my life.  

  • Attend Mass weekly (or more often if I can). This resolution is important because it is a tenet of the Catholic faith, but also it is just plain good for you, your soul, and your whole family;
  • Join (start or stay with) a women’s faith sharing group;
  • Pray every single day; it is easier than you think, especially when you recall prayer can be as simple as a conversation with God!

One of the benefits of this reset thinking included realizing, God wants me healthy, but he wasn’t looking for me to some perfect avatar of myself. My shape-up list, which I framed as becoming a ‘healthier me,’ at a closer glance, focused more on becoming my social media avatar. Which you will not be surprised to learn is not an accurate assessment of who I am or could even become especially having reached the half-century mark. How could I reframe the reset goals to benefit not just me but my whole family? Easy, I asked my family for ideas on how we could all improve our well-being. The new list included very attainable goals:

  • Eat at home (together, at the table) more often;
  • Incorporate fun into our workouts — try a sport, discover fun places to walk or bike ride, motivate each other to move;
  • Try new foods and recipes.

Stop Stealing Other People’s Blessings

Lastly, the crazy Autumn reset included taking a hard look at my calendar. How overscheduled had we become? When deciding which activities to start in the Autumn, have I accounted for practices, games, volunteering or fundraising requirements, and even a possible championship run! If we are honest with ourselves, our calendars fill-up with good things, but not all are the good things God wants for us. Do I overextend because I fear what my “no” will mean to the school, organization, or activity, to whom I have given it?

Once when I complained about being overwhelmed and stressed, my Spiritual Director, the late Deacon Jerry Ryan, wisely countered with, “Stop saying yes to everything, you are stealing other people’s blessings.” Wow, I just never saw it that way! He also mentioned a little something about my pride and my misconception that only I could do the task in question. Someone else will step up if you say no, maybe they are just waiting to be asked? What a magnificent resolution for my Autumn reset, to help someone identify and use their gifts for others.

 

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Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth Victoria K

How to Radiate Awesome (…and still be humble)

 

Spiritual Coach

So…true confessions.  I’m definitely hard on myself when it comes to the spiritual life.  It’s like I have an angry personal trainer (I imagine someone in spandex with crazy 80’s hair) yelling in the back of my head: “Be patient.” “Be nicer.” “Why aren’t you at daily mass?” “Say that rosary!”  

It took me a while to realize that the real core of being Catholic is not a number of rosaries recited or our list of Catholic books read.  It’s letting God love you.  We, as His Church, are His beloved bride, cherished by Him above all creation.  He loves us SO ridiculously much.  He loves us into existence.

And if He loves us that much—if He is willing to sacrifice, to fight for us, to call us to His heart, we should definitely love ourselves.  Love ourselves, be kind to ourselves, actually be a fan of who we are as individuals.

The Source of Awesome

Of course, I know the counter.  Too much self-love, disordered self-love, that’s vanity and pride.  And yes, we should avoid thinking of ourselves as the be-all-end-all of awesome.

Key to this, I believe, is a healthy understanding that the source of our awesomeness is God Himself.  If I ever were to get a tattoo, it would be the quote from St. Catherine of Sienna: “Be who you were meant to be and you will set the world on fire.”  When we’re being what God made us to be, we’re ridiculously awesome.  And that’s something to radiate, something to shine forth to all the people around us.

Top 7 Ways to Radiate Awesome

So, with this in mind, here’s my list of how to be awesome (and still be humble):

  1. Do what you love. If you could spend the next fifteen minutes doing whatever you wanted, what would it be? Read? Go for a walk?  Call up that dear friend? Drink a nice cup of Chai Tea?  Make some time to do it sometime this week.  Of course, nothing sinful—rather, something which brings you genuinely, unforced joy. God gave you this desire in your heart.  Do it.
  2. Celebrate your accomplishments.  Don’t let something you’ve achieved pass you by!  Think about it this way.  If we never acknowledge or celebrate the goodness of our achievements, how can we truly thank God for them?  I don’t mean that you should wave banners and blow horns for yourself.  But definitely take a moment to reward yourself for all the hard work you did on that project, and how you opened yourself up to the prompting of the Spirit. 
  3. Volunteer.  If you have an awesome talent, God probably wants you to use it for His Church.  Play the piano?  You probably should be doing that at church.  Good with finances? You probably should be on the parish finance council.  Great with kids? Nursery, youth ministry, catechist.  Knit? Prayer blankets are one of my new favorite things.  Radiate being awesome by sharing it with others. 
  4. Talk about what brings you joy.  Wow, do we complain a lot in conversation!  Or, at least I do.  The ironing isn’t done.  This student is annoying me.  I can’t maintain classroom discipline.  I have a deadline coming up.  These things pile up and fill my conversations to overflowing. Rarely do I make time in conversations for how awesome it is to read books for work. Or how a dear friend randomly showed up at my doorstep this past weekend.  Or how I love to write, how I just wish I could write all day.  In your words, share the awesome the Lord has given you. 
  5. Get out of your comfort zone. Take a jump! Take a (safe) risk.  Preferably one that helps you laugh at yourself, discover something about this world, connects you with people outside of your normal lane.  Take that exercise class, go ziplining, talk with the cashier, give a talk at a youth group meeting, introduce yourself to that family behind at mass with the loud kid.  Maybe you’re actually awesome at curling.  Or maybe you’re not—but it’s pretty awesome that you tried. 
  6. If you’re genuinely good at something, don’t tell people that you’re bad at it.  That’s lying.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and what’s sad is that I often fall into this trap.  So, if someone says to you: “You’re such a wonderful cook.” And you say: “Oh no, not really…” STOP.  You ARE good at it, and you should celebrate the truth of it.  Also, see #3.  You should be helping at soup suppers. 
  7. In all things, give thanks.  Our lives should be engulfed in thanks.  Everything we have, everything we are is a gift.  Be awesome, your honest form of awesomeness, and praise God with it.  Thank God in your prayers for your unique brand of awesome—and thank Him in your life by radiating awesome.

In what ways do YOU radiate awesome? Share in the comments, friends!

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Ink Slingers

Life Goals

It happens to me every time I attend a funeral, especially a Catholic funeral Mass. I cry, I mourn and I thank God for the Catholic Church. A Requiem Mass is not just a ceremony but a prayer filled, beautiful sending home. While the loss of a loved one is always sorrowful, this goodbye always leaves me filled with hope. And, without exception, I find myself thinking on the spoken remembrances of the deceased. I am always moved to hear the story of their life and how they touched the lives of others. I enter into a reflection of my own life; am I living the best life I am capable of? Am I fulfilling what I was created for? Or, am I so busy living for today that I have forgotten I am not meant for this world?

Who do I say I am?

Would I be recognized as being a woman who knows who I am and whose I am? My identity is to be found in Christ.  I am a child of God. I am a wife, a mother, sister and friend loved into being by God. My faith in God is the core of who I am. I have finally come to understand, that my strength as a woman, wife and mother originates and stands firm in the knowledge that I am first a daughter of our heavenly Father. The deeper I trust in this, the better equipped I am to completely let go of the unrealistic worldly expectations placed on me as a woman. I can abandon myself to Him. I have nothing to fear knowing He will never leave me.  I am certain that if God is not the center of my life, it’s not a fruitful life.   I have tried doing life without keeping my gaze on Christ and found little success in living joyfully or peacefully.  Without God as my anchor, my spiritual and mental well-being is so easily disturbed. When I rely solely on my own power, I close myself off to allowing the Spirit to move in me and through me. I become so easily distracted by the unnecessary flighty things of today. Disappointments and frustrations follow me when I am solely focused on seeking worldly approval and accolades. As Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen, reminds me “we must daily claim the love of God” by cooperating with His desire to draw me in closer and closer to Himself, the source of Truth and Love. I am beloved.

We are all saints in training.

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Matthew 6:21)  I am thankful for a great many things in my life, next to faith; motherhood has been the greatest gift I have received.  Becoming a wife and a mother has both ruined and transformed me. I can think of nothing that compares to the joy of embracing my babies, growing with them as my heart stretches near to breaking and overflows with all that is bittersweet on the journey of motherhood. Sharing in this blessing with my husband has magnified the wonder of it all.  I have always wanted to be a mother and to have a family; this vocation has fulfilled the desire of my heart. Marriage and motherhood are intensely beautiful, although neither is easy nor perfect. Ever. But, the beauty is, I am being refined and perfected in these roles. God is using the people and the relationships I cherish to teach me to love better, to forgive more and to grow in mercy. It is in persevering in this tiring and trying work of caring for and loving my family well that I am growing in holiness. They are my treasures on this journey. And, every instance that I am able to be generous in self-giving it is as my grandmother would often say, “another jewel in my crown”.  Family life and relationships are the place we learn to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). God’s will is that all of His children become holy. We are called to live courageously as saints in training, that we may receive our crown of glory.

It is good to keep the end in mind.

Do I acknowledge and share with others that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Am I living as if He is my only hope? Am I greeting each new day with the end of this life in mind? I know, who wants to think of their death? It is not pleasant, demanding really. But, I hope that as my life is running its course towards its eventual unknown end, I am clinging hard to my faith while keeping my heart wide open. The example of my life is certainly not always pretty; I can be hard of heart, stubborn and judgmental. That friend I have been giving the silent treatment, the child I exasperatedly snapped at, the disrespect I threw at my husband,… these are the moments I need the Holy Spirit to remind me I have taken my eyes off Jesus and it is time to turn and plead forgiveness. The gate is narrow. The way is strenuous. I have found great help in leaning on Mary, our Blessed Mother, who proclaimed do whatever He tells you. Our Lady is a constant, gentle guide along the way, leading her children to her Son. In the end, when I arrive at my eternal destination, I pray I am bruised and exhausted from persevering in the loving and serving that has been asked of me, so that it is in the glorious beatific vision I find myself resting.

Heaven “is neither an abstraction not a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity.
It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
-Pope St. John Paul II 

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Homeschool Ink Slingers Janalin

Bringing Simple to your 2017 Homeschool Year

I love the turn of a new year!  Just like the beginning of the academic year, it gives us a chance to reflect on what is going right as well as affording the opportunity for re-alignment if our steps towards our goals are off of trajectory.

2016 was a doozy of a year for me.  With the addition of our fourth child on top of all of my other commitments, it seemed like I would never escape survival mode.  I spoke a little about my struggles in my last homeschool blog post here at Catholic Sistas and have made some positive strides since then towards taking better care of myself as a first priority.  But yet the vicious cycle of the seemingly never ending everyday chores…. you are telling me that they need to eat again??!?!!!!

In my reflections of the past year it was very evident that I needed to simplify many areas of our life for 2017.  I began this process by listing the things that could be cut out or reduced.  I began to see the same patterns of busyness emerging that cutting out activities would not be enough to solve.  To overcome this survival mode crisis it became clear that I would also have to simplify my duties at home.  Official menu planning and chore charts (for the kids and myself) emerged.  And after all of this systematic organization it became crystal clear what would ultimately solve my crazy, over scheduled, hectic life… getting rid of the STUFF in our home. 

My mind immediately flashed to the Little House cabin that we frequently visit with it’s sparse decor.  I’m pretty sure Ma could have kept her home clean and tidy in nothing flat. 

And although this space is too primitive for most of our tastes I think we all can agree that it has a beautiful peacefulness to it. 

Simple = Restful. 

After reviewing many homeschool homes and spaces I found that the best SIMPLE ones had the following features:

  1. A reminder to keep our faith at the center of our lives. 
  2. Minimal books and supplies. 
  3. A featured book area where the titles are facing out.
  4. A writing desk.
  5. A reading chair.
  6. Lots of natural light.
  7. Organized supplies within reach.

This is my virtual friend Jennifer’s newly remodeled learning room that embodies all of the above qualities keeping the room restful and conducive to learning.  Inspirational! 

When we return to simplicity, organization and cleanliness we return to God.  Our priest once told us that cleanliness was next to holiness.  And I believe there is so much more wisdom in that phrase than I could recognize then.  Here is to a clean, SIMPLE, and holy 2017!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ink Slingers Liz The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

Eternal Rest Unto Dreams

Eternal Rest Unto Dreams

photo source

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”-Proverbs 19:21

A bride kneels next to her husband as they receive Holy Communion for the first time as a married couple.

A novice, covered in flowers, professes her vows.

A giggling toddler runs across the playground, her strong, happy mama close behind.

A confident, compassionate doctor saves the life of a child.

A starry-eyed mystic travels the globe, immersing herself in the best of the Faith in every corner of the world.

These are the dreams of Catholic womanhood. They are healthy and happy and holy goals for life. One or more of them, or some version of them, rests in the hearts of all of us from the time we’re old enough to scribble them in a journal or share them with a friend. They are dreams worthy to be worked toward and attained. But dreams, like all other created things, are subject to both the will of God and the distortion of original sin.  No matter how pretty or holy our dreams might be, sometimes they just cannot be sustained or achieved. Chance, physical or mental illness, or even death come crashing in on the beautiful pictures we’ve created of our futures. These thwarted dreams can be small, or they can shake the very core of our identity. For example …

“The physical side effects of my fibromyalgia have recently become disabling. My plan to homeschool my children is now out of the question.”

“I always thought God was calling me to religious life. But, due to my serious bipolar disorder, I can’t find an order that will accept me.”

“I have severe PMDD. Hormonal fluctuations make it very difficult for me to get pregnant. My husband and I dreamed of a large family, and we are open to life, but we are quickly getting older, and we’ll be lucky to have even a second child.”

“My spouse was just diagnosed with early-onset dementia. I imagined us spending our old age traveling and praying together. Now I know soon the only place we’ll travel is to the doctor.”

So, what happens to a dream deferred? What should we do about the pain we feel when we lose a piece of ourselves we have long envisioned is central to our path to God? Accepting the death of these dreams in a holy manner is somewhat similar to grieving the death of a loved one. Deep down we know that we must acknowledge “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” But coming to this acknowledgement is painful, difficult and often lifelong. Here are four suggestions for grieving an important dream. Repeat as often as necessary:

  • Let it out. You can’t hide from the Lord how upset, betrayed or confused you are. There is no way to extinguish your feelings, and to try simply putting them aside is unhealthy. So tell Jesus, since he already knows. Pour out your heart again and again at Mass, at Adoration, at home. Yell your prayer, if necessary, or cry your prayer. Whatever you’re feeling, just tell him.
  • Pray the Rosary. Praying the Rosary for the dead is an important tradition of our faith. It is just as important, in a different way, to pray for a lost future. As you move through each decade, ask the Blessed Mother’s intercession for discernment, for strength and healing, for acceptance, for a miraculous change in your circumstances, but above all, for grace. You absolutely don’t have to pick just one outcome. As long as you pray sincerely for his will to be done and open yourself to his answer, you’re praying for the right thing.
  • Attend Mass. It’s not possible to have a funeral Mass for a life goal, of course, but it is very good to formally offer your grief to the Lord. Our outward actions often help our inward dispositions, so if you find it helpful, make this a special, extra trip. Wear somber clothing, light a candle before church begins, asking the intercession of your favorite saint, and afterward, ask the priest to give you a blessing. Explain that you are seeking God’s will for your life.
  • Bury it. Put your earthly hopes and dreams to rest in your own heart and soul by hiding them in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Get on our knees and give up all your idealistic pictures of life and your broken visions of the future. Give him your word that you will continue to do this again and again—dead dreams don’t stay always stay buried–and give him your promise that you will not, as J.K. Rowling famously wrote, “dwell on dreams, and forget to live.”

After you have done all these at least once, perhaps many times, ready yourself for your new mission and go forward with the only hope that will never, ever die. In Heaven, all our dreams will be waiting for us, fulfilled through Christ in a way we cannot yet understand.

RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

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