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Ink Slingers

Journey Through The Desert: Lent 2021 Photo Journey

Lent 2021 begins tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow.

Shortly after Ash Wednesday last year, many Catholic churches were closed for a long time due to C*vid. Some are still closed. For many of us, Ash Wednesday and Lent a year ago mark the beginning of a time in spiritual desert; unable to receive the Eucharist for so long. For many of us it’s allowed us to grown in our faith; spurring us on to make greater efforts in our relationship with God. Lent 2020 was hard. Some of us feel like we’ve been living in Lent since March 2020 and haven’t left that  desert. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of where you’re faith is right now, Ash Wednesday 2021 marks a way to re-focus ourselves on Christ. 

Our 2021 Lent “Journey Through the Desert” Catholic Sistas Photo Journey helps us to do that. The words on our Photo Journey prompt remind us to look around our lives and be a little more aware of God’s presence. To reflect on those things present but also those things in the past. The Catholic Sistas Photo Journeys are set up to allow us to reflect on where we see Christ and where we’re lacking Christ and need growth.

 

Join Us

So if you need something to help you re-focus you a little bit more on Christ, or you just enjoy reflecting on your faith visually, consider joining Adrienne, Allison, Anna, Celeste, Laura, Mandi, Rosemary, and me (Rita).

Be sure to use #CSLENTIPJ (Catholic Sistas LENT Instagram Photo Journey)  so we can find your photos and share some of them in our stories!

And just a little side note, say a little prayer for us Texan Catholic Sistas (and many others in the South). We’re struggling right now with unprecedented weather that our state, city, and homes were not built to handle. 1/3 of my city (Austin Texas) has been without power since early Monday morning (parts of the power grid are frozen). So between unprecedented, record- breaking weather and C*vid still things affecting many thing, we’re entering Lent a little differently this year.

How the Lent 2021 Photo Journey works

• Each day has one word associated with it. Most of these words are from the readings for the day, some are about the saint of the day, and some are just related to the season of Lent. Snap a photo or find an old photo related to that word. The photo does not have to be faith-themed, as the goal of our photo challenges is for us to see God in our everyday lives and reflect on Him.

• Use the hashtag #CSLentIPJ and any other appropriate hashtags (#gray, #adore, #suffer, etc) when you post your Photo Challenge photos. This allows us all to search Instagram and other social media platforms for other participants. You can even follow the hashtag on Instagram so you’ll see all the photos posted from everyone participating. We will be sharing participant photos throughout the Photo Challenge, and the way we find them is through the #CSLentIPJ hashtag.

• While our main platforms for the Lent 2021 Photo Journey are Instagram, and Facebook, we are present on many other platforms. Tag us with @CatholicSistas on INSTAGRAMPINTEREST and FACEBOOK. And if you’re blogging about your Lenten Photo Challenge, link back to us or comment below with a link to your post.

• When you use the hashtag #CSLentIPJ on Instagram, it will enable us to find you on Instagram and possibly feature you in our stories!

• Click the graphic below to download the CSLentIPJ graphic for quick reference. Note that the dates of the weekends are a different color to help visually break up the days.

• Lastly, consider joining us on Facebook in our group CATHOLIC SISTAS – THE COFFEE HOUSE. Here we can share pictures of the challenge and we get to know each other in a private setting. Please request to be added and answer the group questions, and you will be approved as soon a moderator is able to add you.

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Ink Slingers Lynette

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's ResolutionsThe days of December marched on, steadfastly moving forward, boldly proclaiming the finality of another year. Even before the day after Christmas had completely dawned, I could feel the annual ritual beginning to stir. I secretly braced myself for the onslaught of questioning that would soon be the unavoidable focus of conversation for several weeks to come. Only hours into my day, my unsuspecting friend with great enthusiasm quipped, “So, what’s your New Year’s resolution?” I smiled and politely responded, “I’m not sure yet,” all the while fighting the urge to launch into a long verbal dissertation on my utter disdain for New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I chose to excuse her well-intentioned question and listened with sincere interest as she eagerly told me of her plans for the coming year.

The Rub with New Year’s Resolutions

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we shouldn’t make resolutions. I think resolutions to act or not act in a certain way are essential to our growth as individuals. But I also believe our approach is grossly misguided when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions. I can’t provide any empirical evidence to confirm that belief, but my own experience and observations have led me to question our obsessiveness with this somewhat futile endeavor. For many years, I blindly followed society’s New Year’s insanity without a thought to what I was really doing. I’d conjure up the perfect resolutions and start out on January 1st with vim and vigor, only to fizzle out within weeks. Observations of those around me confirmed the same behavior. And it wasn’t just a behavior change; a significant amount of money was being spent by myself and other individuals trying to achieve these self-imposed feats of willpower and endurance. The question that began to weigh on my mind was twofold: why do we subject ourselves to such torture every year and why do we fail so miserably at staying the course?  

The answers, I feel, are not as complicated as one might assume. Human behavior can be quite complex, but when we view our behavior in light of how and why we were created, the reasoning behind our actions becomes much more clear. I don’t think anyone will argue the fact that it is built into our human nature to strive to improve who we are as individuals. Just look around and the evidence is clear; self-help books and motivational talks, exercise programs and equipment, classes on virtually any topic you want to become more proficient at, etc. At the core of that desire to improve is our God-given call to holiness. Scripture is replete with verses confirming we are to seek holiness above all things: “Be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16); “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7); “…offer your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,..” (Romans 12:1), to name a few. Denying this innate call only serves to undermine our ability to grow to our fullest potential as individuals, for we were created to be images of our Creator Himself.

Our failures to achieve that which we set out to do with such resolve at the onset of a New Year are found, I believe, within that very same calling. Perfection is found only in God, and therefore only God is capable of bringing anything to perfection. As New Year’s Day crept closer and closer, I found myself resisting, even more, the nagging insistence to jump on that bandwagon of resolutions. The stark reality was that change was needed, and not just small, insignificant change. For months, I had known what those changes were, but I also knew, from previous attempts, that those changes were next to impossible for me to implement. It was exactly that mindset, however, that these were changes “I” needed to bring about, that had driven me to failure every time.

New Year's Resolutions“Take Over, Lover of my Soul
Take Control
I surrender, There’s nothing I want more
Than to know you, LordWhat am I supposed to do with all my kingdoms next to you
You’re the Lord, You’re the Lord
I could gain the world and more
It’s all nothing next to you
My reward..”
(Take Over, Shane & Shane)

I was scrambling to get ready to leave for an appointment, but as the music and the words of this unfamiliar song filled my room, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, stunned. Those things I needed to change – those “kingdoms” I had so carefully built with stones of selfishness, pride, and vanity, were nothing. Like a queen desperately trying to defend her king in a losing game of chess, there comes a time when she realizes she is left powerless to protect him. She surrenders, and a new king reigns victorious. At that moment, who did I desire as my king? How many more battles I willing to engage in to try to protect those kingdoms? I let my heart answer; there was only one King I truly desired, the one whose kingdom I knew was everything, and I was done fighting.

Inevitable Surrender

I surrendered that morning. I laid down my weapons and simply asked Him to take over. New Year’s Day came and went and I didn’t make a single resolution. God was already quietly working on my heart in the shadows, stripping me of my kingdoms, one by one. Some I freely let go of, others were taken from me. But through it all, I would play that song and let the words become my prayer. And then, I would surrender again, and again, and again.

The process has not been easy, nor has it been painless. What worthwhile change ever is? I am still a work in progress, but He has accomplished more in me in the last month than I could ever have hoped to achieve on my own. As long as I “show up” everyday willing to answer the call to pursue holiness, He will continue to bring about that perfection in me with His grace and mercy. “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.” (Phil 4:13)

The world doesn’t need our New Year’s resolutions, it needs our surrender. A surrender to all those kingdoms that make us less than who we are called to be; beloved kings and queens in the eternal kingdom of our Lord.

How are you surrendering to our Lord this year?
Categories
Ink Slingers Kasey Sacramentals Saints Spiritual Growth

My Island of Lost Things

I’m not quite sure when I officially began calling my eccentric Catholic behavior a “ministry of lost things.”

I’m not even completely sure if calling it a ministry is completely stepping over some sort of invisible line in the sand.

However, I can pinpoint when it all began.

My family had just moved. We had traded our tiny apartment, in a fancy neighborhood, for a flat just a couple miles west. The new abode came with a backyard, a dishwasher, and in unit laundry. All this might seem mundane to the non-urbanite but for those of us who hail from the concrete jungles of the world- it is well established that moving a couple miles can often feel like moving to a different planet.

I was very happy that my new planet was laundromat free.

However, what I didn’t foresee was how much I was going to miss the little town center in which I took many of my evening walks. It had little boutique shops. There was a bakery with just the most delicate little pastries glistening in the cold case. There was an independent bookstore that served wine and hosted book clubs.

In the middle of a bustling city, it was quaint.

And I liked that.

My new place is certainly an upgrade in many ways (holy dishwasher Batman!) but it is primarily flanked with convenience stores and gas stations.

It wasn’t long until I found myself a little un-enchanted with my evening walks. What was my destination now? Where was I going to go for inspiration and the post-parenting refill I had so desperately come to depend on?

That’s when I found my janky thrift store.

It didn’t smell as good as the bakery- like, at all.

It wasn’t artfully put together like all of the boutiques I aimlessly wandered around even though I was newly married and completely broke.

It wasn’t as hipster chic as the bookstore that crammed people into the little cafe area for book discussions and angry poetry.

But it is quiet and quirky.

And I could walk to it and pick up funny items like lost artifacts, turning them over in my hands while wondering why someone would have gotten rid of a hand painted mug of their own face.

It has become my little island of lost things.

My first real “find” happened several weeks into my weekly adventure. It was hidden behind a box that contained an automatic salt and pepper shaker. (Yes, I guess that’s a thing.)

My first find was a statue of St. Tarcicus- the patron saint of first communicants. I recognized the image right away. He was similar to the stained glass image in the church where I had done my student teaching. He was young, innocent looking, and holding a chalice in his hands.

He was also $1 which seemed extraordinarily cheap considering he was beaten to death in the streets of Rome while trying to bring the Eucharist to Christians in prison.

I thought about putting him down but then a memory popped up into my head like a “Whack a Mole.” A few years previous to this experience I had been walking through a rather colorful neighborhood in Chicago when I had seen a statue of the Virgin Mary collecting dust in an eccentric second hand clothing store.

 

Shrine of Christ the King- Chicago, IL

She had clearly been in a church at one point.She was also wearing a sombrero and a “Jesus is My Homeboy” shirt. 

I felt so frustrated and sad as I walked past the store. Who do these people think they are? Why is it funny to mock us? Would they do this to items that are considered holy for other religions?

I got home and told my husband.

I was expecting him to side with me.

And he did- sort of.

“Why didn’t you just go in and buy it?” he asked.

The thought had never occurred to me. I tried to explain to him that we didn’t have a lot of expendable money. How could we afford a church sized statue? Where would we put it?

I can’t remember what he said… exactly. But I remember how I felt afterwards.

Perhaps we didn’t have tons of money. Perhaps it would have looked funny to have a huge statue of the Virgin Mary in our tiny kitchen.

But she belonged to us and in a place where people would love her and treat her with respect.

She was a part of our shared culture with other Catholics.

And ultimately, it is everyone’s responsibility to protect our story, teach others to respect who we are, and to collect and distribute useful holy items.

I could have easily found a church or religious group for the sombrero wearing Mary.

Back in the present time, I dug around in my back pocket and pulled out a crumpled dollar that I was saving for a popsicle from the palates man. (I could write a whole post about Mexican popsicles… but I digress)

St. Tarcicus now sits on my window ledge with other orbiting bits of Catholic life that I have found in the cracks of thrift stores and basements. I have collected a Ukrainian Mary and Jesus picture, stacks of icons, a Lladro Jesus, a few Marian themed vases, Catholic missals, Bibles, and a box of medals and scapulars.

Some of these items have stayed with us but most have left and now sit on the shelves of other Catholic homes and churches.

And I would like to believe that, once again, they are loved and used properly.

I think we live in a world which trends towards a sort of romanticized monasticism. We regularly get pitched buzzwords like “mindfulness” and “minimalism.”

I am not here to disprove the importance of living in the moment or to argue that capitalism and materialism are actually the true paths towards eternal happiness.

They aren’t.

I certainly believe that gratefulness and intentional stewardship will lead one’s soul into a more permanent and robust sense of joy.

But what I love about the Catholic Church is that there are so many “yes, and” moments. In this particular case, “YES, you can be a good steward of your wealth AND the items you use can (and should!) be beautiful.”

YES, the body of Christ can be found wherever two or three are gathered in His name AND we can make the space we do regularly meet in a beautiful representation of what we believe.

Sts. Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church- Chicago, IL

Catholic art- converts.

Stained glass windows- soothe aching hearts.

Icons of saints- teach us about a faithful life.

The Catholic Church has a working definition of truth, goodness, and beauty that extends through centuries of liturgy, art, and music. In a very (very, very, very) small way, I feel like my mini ministry can pay homage to the preservation of our identity and the belief that in this crazy, upside down world, the Catholic life will continue and ultimately prevail.

Perhaps for me- one thrift store at a time.

Categories
Amy M. Ink Slingers

Life on Hold

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

Matthew 16:24-27

 Life on Hold
         

            Sometimes I feel like a life on hold.  Life is on hold while we run from activity to activity so quickly while planning how we can fit it all in.  We run on coffee and fumes and daydream (because sleep is fleeting and too short when it is achieved) of the day when we won’t be sleep-deprived.  We talk about how someday we’ll be able to help and make a difference.  Please don’t get me wrong.  I love watching my children play their sports or do their activities.  I cherish our daily walks.  At the end of the day, I fall asleep nursing the baby in the chair, too tired to carry on a conversation.  I feel guilty that I have little to give to anyone outside our immediate family.  I know this season of life will pass and all too soon at that.  It’s little consolation in the moment though.

            Yesterday was Eucharistic Adoration at church.  It was on my mind all day to go.  After I made sure the puppy was walked and the children were picked up at school and… Well as things turned out, I didn’t make it.  “Life” happened.  Instead, Adoration should have been at the top of my list.  Stop in at drop off, not after pick up.  Then the unexpected call or the nap at just the time I could have gone wouldn’t have derailed my plans.  

            I know God is there in the waiting.  He is with me as I speed through each day.  It’s me viewing these interruptions and activities as obstacles to prayer life instead of God’s plan for my life right now.  It’s me not living with the joy He wants me to have.  

            My life isn’t the moments around the activities or the games.  My life IS the activities and the games, the laundry and housecleaning, the homework and refereeing the sibling conversations, the carpooling.  These daily things need to be taken to God and done with Him and in Him and for Him, with joy, for the abundant blessings He has poured into our life.  

            One of my favorite songs right now is called, “Unfinished.”  I love listening to this song to start my day, as it reminds me that whatever mistakes I make, God only makes masterpieces, and as one of His creations I’m “just unfinished.”

            I may remain tired and sleep-deprived for years to come, but I need to redefine my goals and ambitions.  My thoughts should not be about how tired I am but about how I can offer my work and my day to God and live in His joy and Grace.  

            I may put hundreds of miles a day on my van while basically driving in circles.  However, if my joy is for the Lord, He will use me right here, right now.  It’s time to press the “play” button and live.

Categories
Chronic Illness Ink Slingers Prayer Spiritual Growth Susie

When God’s Voice Sounds Different

 
 
I recently found out that I will be needing surgery soon to remove a cyst on my ovary. This isn’t a very abnormal occurrence, but in my case it could be potentially life-altering. Just over one year ago, I had my other ovary removed due to another cyst — a much larger one that time. I also found out from that surgery that I have endometriosis. For someone in her 30s who is still single yet has always dreamed of having children (with the right man, of course), the last year has been tough, and this upcoming surgery is more than a little threatening to some of those dreams.
 
I’ve never been one of those people who gets clear, unequivocal messages or directions from God. I always try my best, albeit in my very flawed way, to be open to him and whatever he wants for my life, but a lot of the time it can feel like I’m just leaping without a lot of assurance that any given choice is God’s will. As in anyone’s life, some things I’ve chosen have worked out and some haven’t — but because I’m never quite sure if I’m hearing God right, I tend to blame myself and beat myself up when things don’t go well, and when my life isn’t turning out the way I thought it would.
 
My situation now, including the upcoming surgery, have helped me see more clearly that God’s been there with me all along. He’s allowing this time of uncertainty, and he’s given me my specific crosses, for very good reasons that can be explained with the word “love.” I realize now that God speaks to me in a quiet, gentle manner — no huge revelations, not a lot of clear, direct instructions that I look for and want, just a great deal of immense love. Earlier this year, I was on a retreat during which I felt that love God has for me to a degree I’d never felt before. Being more of a head knowledge person, I’ve always been able to trust the fact that God loves me without necessarily feeling it much (if at all). On this retreat, however, I felt it and heard it almost as clear as if it were someone standing right in front of me.
 
That experience opened me up to the revelation — which probably should have been obvious sooner — that my life right now, despite not being what I hoped it would be by this point, isn’t a backup plan that God haphazardly put together for me when I didn’t listen to him earlier in my life. His plan for me and my holiness directly includes this time of singleness, and facing potential permanent infertility. It’s not at all what I would have chosen for myself, but through this time God has brought me so much closer to him. I wouldn’t have been able to have the relationship with him that I have if he had given me a husband right out of college and multiple kids by the time I was 30. His ultimate goal for me, his deepest desire for me, is not for me to be married, but for me to be as close to him as I can possibly be. Our vocations are always meant to bring about our holiness in the best way possible for each of us, and that’s going to look different for everyone. Some people get the lives they want right off the bat, only to find out that it’s not what they thought. Others are asked by God to wait (and wait…and wait…and sometimes wait some more). He knows so much better than we do what will truly make us happy and holy, and sometimes that requires a time of pain.
 
For far too long, I’ve been listening for God’s voice to sound like a “yes” to whatever prayer I might be praying at the time. I’ve been listening for him, expecting clear instructions from above, like the voice of a pilot on a plane telling the passengers where they are and where they’re going and when they’ll get there. I’ve been listening for God to sound a whole lot like me and the way I think things should go. But God truly is that small, still voice. When he’s talking to me, he’s not my pilot telling me where the plane is headed. He’s a best friend, so close to me that he doesn’t have to speak above a whisper, letting me know that he’s here, guiding me, teaching me, and, most importantly, loving me even in the pain and uncertainty that life can bring.