My dear husband, Chris, and I joke around and tease each other regularly. Recently, after making some outrageous, teasing comment, he asked, “Tell me the truth. Everyday you tell yourself, ‘I really hit the jackpot when I married Chris.’” I just gave him that look which expresses just how ridiculous I think he is. He is very familiar with that look. Throughout the day I kept coming back to that playful conversation and it really caused me to reflect on just how blessed I am in my marriage.
We were not practicing a faith of any kind when we were first married, but after the birth of our first child I got the profound feeling we needed to “get right with God.” When I expressed this desire to Chris he suggested we look into Catholicism; the faith of his childhood. Secretly, I had always been drawn to the Catholic Church. I jumped right on board and within two years we were both confirmed and firmly planted on the right path.
Living the Life
In June, Chris and I celebrate 29 years of marriage. We have co-created seven living children and lost two in devastating miscarriages. We’ve moved six times and survived countless deployments and absences during his military career. We have endured colicky babies, tyrannical toddlers, defiant teenagers, and strong-willed adult children. We’ve homeschooled, sent children to private schools, and at the end of May, we will have successfully graduated five of our seven kids. We’ve advised when asked and then stood back to watch our adult children discern vocations, college, and jobs. We joyfully celebrated the sacrament of matrimony for our eldest 15 months ago and recently welcomed our first grandchild. It has all flown by so fast. Married and family life has definitely had it’s ups and downs, but I thank God I had my best friend by my side through it all.
Often I reflect upon how graced I’ve really been to have been made a Catholic by God’s Grace. Honestly, I know I did not deserve any of it and yet here I am, abundantly blessed and striving everyday to live a holy life out of gratitude for the favor bestowed upon me. None of this would have been possible without my marriage to Chris. He has steered and led this family down this road for 25 years without faltering. We would not be where we are without his headship. What a Divine favor that he took the reins without hesitation.
That evening, after he had led our family rosary and we had put our youngest to bed, we retired to the media room for the evening. I turned to my beloved husband and said, “Truly, I want you to know that I do believe I hit the jackpot when I married you.” He gave me that look which expresses just how ridiculous he thinks I am. I’m very familiar with that look.
If you are married, today might be a good time to reflect on how fortunate you are to have your spouse. Look back over your married life and see the hand of God working throughout it. Not everyday is a “jackpot” day, but you may find that overall you are deeply and wonderfully blessed by your spouse. If, like me, you feel you hit the jackpot with your spouse let him/her know. Say it. Show it. Shout it. God is so very good!
Sometimes, I’m a willing passenger. But most of the time, I promote myself all the way up to chief engineer.
I’m talking about the Complain Train that I frequently find myself on. Let me tell you, last night I was definitely the chief engineer, taking the lead and steering my complain train all over the place, not stopping for anything or anybody, spewing complaints left and right.
How I relish my role as engineer of the Complain Train! Look out world—like it or not, this train is coming through! I say. Complaining makes me feel validated. And heard. And it gives me an opportunity to let off some steam, much like the Seinfeld episode where Frank Costanza establishes a holiday (“Festivus”) where one of the main activities is the “Airing of Grievances,” (i.e. “I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”).
Except the Complain Train is a train bound for nowhere (isn’t that a song?). It has no triumphant ending, no satisfying resolution. There’s no pulling into a station with a great sigh of relief and feeling of accomplishment. The Complain Train is nothing but an unproductive, herky-jerky, never-ending ride through Frustrationville, Crabby Corners and Waste-of-Time Town. It’s a fruitless journey.
And that doesn’t take into consideration what this harmful habit does to the state of my soul.
Because Sistas, here’s the truth about complaining: It steals my joy. It brings down the people around me. And it does absolutely nothing to change my circumstances. In fact, verbally flinging all that unhappiness into the atmosphere “boomerangs” the words right back into my brain and magnifies them even more. When we complain, the problems often become bigger, not smaller, especially when we aren’t really in the mood to look for solutions to those problems. Sound familiar? **raises hand**
I don’t purposely summon the Complain Train. I don’t seek it out or buy tickets in advance. It just seems to show up and I simply hop on with no hesitation. I don’t even think about it, I just get on and go. Not good.
I need to figure out how to permanently derail this train. What better time than the start of a new year, right?
In 2018, I hereby resolve to:
Pray to be more mindful of what triggers my complaints. When I become more aware of the situations (and people?) that compel me to climb aboard the Complain Train, I can pause and reframe the situation in a more objective (and at the same time probably a more merciful) manner. If my pet peeve is standing in a long checkout line, I can put myself in the shoes of the unfortunate cashier who is not in charge of staffing but who probably wishes she was. “Poor me” soon becomes “Oh, that poor thing!”
Pray to speak only positive, encouraging words about people and to people. This can cut down on both complaining and its close cousin, gossip.
Practice counting my blessings and developing a habit of deep gratitude that simply overwhelms any impulse to complain.
Pray for others more often and more fervently. By focusing on the intentions of others, I am less likely to shine a spotlight on my own concerns.
Serve others less fortunate than I am. It’s a fact that on days when I get to serve as a hospice volunteer, I do not find myself anywhere near the Complain Train.
If I truly need to vent, I can choose to use my prayer journal to outline the problem and prayerfully seek the solution. Jesus is big enough to handle my complaints and loves me enough not to keep me wallowing there.
Just flat-out hold my tongue. Like my mom used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” And, more powerfully, as St. John of the Cross instructs us: “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Boom.
Goodbye, Complain Train. This passenger is ready to disembark and hang up my chief engineer hat for good. Or better yet, maybe I’ll look for a Mercy and Forgiveness Train—All Aboard!
If it was possible, I believe this particular wedding invitation would have arrived with a slew of royal trumpet-players in its wake. Or maybe twelve doves carrying satin ribbons would have gently deposited the invitation in my hands before floating off into the clouds. Or maybe Ed McMahon would have knocked on my door and showered me with confetti and balloons as he hand-delivered this envelope.
This was a one-of-kind, no-holds-barred, attention-getting invitation for sure. There was no overlooking it among the stack of otherwise-mundane mail. It wanted me to see it. I had to see it.
It got me thinking: wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything God invites me to do was this obvious to me? Yes, I would appreciate that kind of in-your-face notification from my Creator, thank you very much.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit send us invitations constantly. Sometimes the invitations arrive looking all fancy, like a formal wedding invitation with all the bells and whistles. We know when we see this invitation that we are being invited to something wonderful, and we are asked to RSVP. But most of the time, the God-invitations I receive are small and not quite so obvious. They aren’t pre-packaged and delivered with fanfare. They aren’t waved under my nose and yell “Hey, look at me!” No, the never-ending stream of invitations from above is usually hidden in the goings-on of everyday life: everyday conversations, everyday encounters and everyday opportunities to say “yes.” They are invitations to take that one small step. Do that one small thing. Help in that one small way. And they are easy to miss.
Every day I pray that my eyes are opened to the multiple invitations I receive to be an active participant in the Body of Christ. That I will recognize a chance to pray for someone, or forgive someone, or encourage someone. That I will seek out the “least of these” that Jesus talks about and provide some assistance to them. That I will love and serve others wherever and whenever I can. This doesn’t mean I have to drop everything and fly to Haiti on a mission trip (although I would love to do that someday). This means buying a few extra groceries when I’m at the store today so I can donate them to the local food bank. This means taking a few extra minutes to talk to the lonely widow down the road when she calls to tell me the same thing she told me yesterday. This means making the bed every morning, even though I often find it to be a waste of time, because I know my husband loves the feeling of crawling into a made bed after a long day.
I have always believed the principle among Christians that Everything is a Gift—that everything I own, do, and experience is a gift from God. This attitude helps me build a sense of humility and gratitude for God’s blessings on my life. But now I also subscribe to the concept that Everything is an Invitation.
This was my summary in a recent prayer journal entry: Beyond being grateful for my life as a Christ-Follower, I need to recognize and respond to the small-but-mighty invitations that Christ sends me to help build His Kingdom. Everything is an invitation—and I need to accept those invitations and RSVP with joy!
With or without any confetti. Or doves. Or Ed McMahon.
How do you try to recognize the little invitations you receive from God every day?
This coming Sunday’s Gospel reading is a familiar story. One of the things I most like about lectio divina is the chance to read and pray with a familiar passage and see it with new eyes. This comes from not just the act of reading for understanding, but from praying with it and listening to God’s voice. Join me in your preparation for this coming Sunday and pray along with the Gospel.
Read the Gospel passage slowly and write down or hold in your mind one or two words or phrases that stick out to you as you read. After you are done reading, say the word or phrase out loud to yourself and reflect on it. Do it again for other words or phrases that remained with you.
For me: pity, cleansed, a Samaritan.
After a few quiet moments, read the passage a second time.
REFLECT: What is God saying to you?
Reflecting on the words that caught my attention at first, I realized that my focus was mostly on the lepers and their healing. In reading this passage a second time I was more drawn to the leper who came back to praise and glorify Jesus, and especially Jesus’ own words. I found it interesting that Jesus was gratified by the Samaritan leper coming back to thank him. He was also mystified, and likely disappointed, that the other nine did not come back to show their gratitude. I think sometimes we humans underestimate the importance of showing our gratitude to others, most importantly to Jesus.
I think one thing God is telling me here is that a simple “thank you” or any act of gratitude is always appreciated, even by God himself.
I have three small children and I know I get irritated when they fail to say “thank you.” They are still in varying stages of learning manners, so it is a continual work in progress. And when they do say it, with no prompting, it totally warms my heart.
Just think of how special a “thank you” for our everyday blessings is to God. Even more so, those unexpected blessings, healings, or answers to long-desired prayers.
Reflect yourself on what you read. Once done, read the passage a third time before moving on.
RESPOND: What do you want to say to God?
I feel that I often begin my prayer time with a prayer of thanksgiving (I hope!). But maybe this is too general. Further, maybe I am waiting too long. I know I would rather be thanked right away for something I did for someone, not the next day or the next week (unless we’re talking like a written thank you, obviously that would take extra time). Generally, though, hearing a thank you in the moment is definitely preferred. I suppose, then, that I need to get better at showing my gratitude to God in the moment. No waiting, just stop and do it. There is no reason why I can’t stop and take two seconds to thank God for the blessing of running water while I am in the shower or washing dishes. How about for the roof over my head when it is raining outside, or the food on our table at each meal? Here’s a good one, stop and thank God for the gift of your children whenever they are acting their worst. There are a multitude of things I can thank God for throughout my day.
Thank you, God, for all my many blessings, especially for the gift to read, reflect, and understand your Word and for the amazing gift of social media to share your Gospel far and wide. Lord God, I hope to work on having a more grateful heart and attitude at all times.
What do YOU want to say to God? Respond to God in your own way.
Finally, read the Gospel passage a fourth and final time. This time just rest with the Word.
Share in the comments, what do you feel God is saying to you in this passage? How would you respond to him? You can also join the conversation on the Catholic Sistas’ Instagram account, but I’d love to hear your thoughts here too.
I have been an avid horseman* for as long as I can remember. After turning her back on me for a moment as a toddler, my mother found me surrounded by half a dozen large horses in the pasture. Later, I got my own pony and eventually transitioned to full sized horses. If I wasn’t riding, I was just with my horse(s). In inclement weather, I read about horses. Even my punishments growing up were related to horses: grounding from riding my pony or from reading my horse-related books. Even today, as a horseless-horse-enthusiast, I constantly use equine terms and practices in my daily life. My philosophe is that life follows the same rules as horsemanship: transitions are key.
Transitions, in horsemanship, are changes in speed. The best of transitions look effortless, elegant, and graceful; horse and rider move seamlessly. To achieve smooth transitions, there are several steps communicated to the horse at exactly the right time. Failing to properly prepare the horse results in choppy, ugly, and bumpy transitions. In life, transitions are the changes we go through as we age and mature. Each transition must occur in order to live, but there are small steps that can ease them and ensure chaos doesn’t reign. Skipping these small steps can lead to disastrous consequences.
What’s around me?
One of the first requirements for smooth transitions is awareness. Horses are very reactionary as flight animals. Every change in the environment, vocalization, weight shift, and mood can induce the horse to react. As a rider, awareness is essential to communicate effectively with the horse. Quietness is a prized trait in a horseman because it allows the horseman to prevent negative reactions from the horse. Great horsemen are said to have quiet hands guiding the horse, quiet legs moving the horse, and quiet minds focusing on the horse and the goal. In life, awareness of God is essential. God is not only in control, but also present and more than willing to bestow blessings if asked. However, distractions are everywhere concealing God’s presence and blessings. That’s why it is essential to actively seek God in everything–even distractions. Sometimes God hides His blessings in sadness and disasters, but He’s always present and waiting for signs of awareness. In quiet contemplation, God reveals Himself to those who seek Him.
What am I doing?
Another key requirement for smooth transitions is a goal. As sensitive animals, horses are capable of easily detecting or abusing the rider’s intentions or confusion. A clear goal, even a simple “go from point A to point B”, gives the horse confidence and almost instantly yields greater harmony between horse and rider. At times, the horse seems to read the rider’s mind simply because the rider is focused on the horse and their combined goal. One of the most used clichés is “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Often, this cliché seems true as the best-laid human plans result in chaos and confusion. However, the error isn’t the plans; it is the exclusion of God from those plans. God has plans for each and every one of His creations. These plans are written in our hearts and revealed through quiet time with God, prayer, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Mass, and reading Scripture and Faith-filled writings.
Pause and think…
Smooth transitions are also preceded by a ‘half-halt’. Basically, a half-halt is a subtle cue from the rider for a minuscule pause from the horse. While it isn’t a specific cue for change, it distinctly alerts the horse to an upcoming change. Large transitions, like from a halt to a gallop or vice versa, may require several half-halts as preparation. They must be appropriately timed for the desired effect. Poor timing diminishes the effectiveness and the transition suffers. In life, the equivalent of half-halts are moments of prayer. Like a half-halt, prayer doesn’t have to be obvious or time consuming to be effective. Prayer prior to large changes in life, like marriage, buying a home, changing careers, etc, is infinitely more effective than prayerful supplication after these changes have taken place. A simple, “God, what do you want me to do with my life?” can suffice as long as there is an opening or slight pause to allow God to answer.
Let’s do this…
Following the half-halt is the actual cue for transition. Obviously, the cue is very important to the transition; without it, the transition wouldn’t exist. Since horseback riding is a dynamic relationship between horse and rider, change is constant and predictable. Like the half-halt, the cue must be timed very precisely, more precisely than the half-halt. In addition to precise timing, the cue must be proportionate to effectively communicate the command. A large transition or disobedience requires a strong cue; while a weak cue may not produce a transition at all. Similarly, life is a dynamic relationship with God, with God supplying the cues. Many times God’s cues are very subtle, while other times they’re like a 2-by-4. Subtle cues from God are best heard in the stillness after a half-halt of prayer. During trying times, God sometimes has to use a 2-by-4 to combat the inattention, disobedience, and lack of time given to Him. However, He always gives cues to those who ask Him for guidance.
Whew, that’s finished…
Once the transition occurs, the final step is praise. Depending on the rider’s effectiveness, praise can be subtle, almost undetectable to all but the horse or effusive. Since horseback riding is dynamic and training occurs every time the rider is with the horse, sometimes excellent preparation results in mediocre or even dismal transitions. An honest attempt, even without spectacular results should always be rewarded. God also deserves praise even through transitions that seem bad. After all, without God no transitions would even be possible. As the Author of our lives, God knows the plan, and provides ample guidance. For this, He deserves praise and gratitude. He will ultimately reward His Faithful with Heaven.
Life with horses has helped me live a better life with God. My transitions haven’t always been as smooth as I’d like, usually because what I want and what God wants differ. When I’ve followed the steps to graceful transitions, God has blessed me abundantly. I’ve given God free reign. You should too! *I use the term horseman because I don’t need to feminize the term to preserve my femininity. I also use the term horseman synonymously with rider because that is the most common form of horsemanship. I based my description of transitions on the discipline of dressage (French for training) and is often the foundation of other disciplines.