Categories
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.

 

Categories
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
Anni Discipleship Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

Journeying to Christ

Last year, The Shepherd on a Search was all the rage. Touted as a Christian-based answer to the Elf on the Shelf, the premise seemed to follow one of the shepherd children on a search for the newly born Babe in a manger. While my family participates in “Elf on the Shelf,” – to the extent of moving said creature nightly – I never thought about participating in The Shepherd on a Search. The elf took enough brainpower to remember to move!

This past year, I didn’t see much about The Shepherd on a Search. I also didn’t see many posts about Wise Men traveling to the nativity set in homes, as their movement toward the nativity is similar to that of the shepherd.

However, this time of year inevitably leads all of us to embark upon our own quest for a deeper relationship with the Babe, turned Man, in the manger. During the Christmas season, the Church readings remind us of the Christ Child’s lineage, His mother’s fiat, and the Holy Family’s. Days later, the tragic fate of the Holy Innocents, whose martyrdom serves as a clear reminder of the hunt for Jesus from the time of His birth. We are reminded of the safety, security, and love of the members of the Holy Family, which provides the perfect example of safety, security, and love to emulate in our own homes and families. Lent is a time in which we reflect on the Man the Babe grew to be – the One who would prepare for and ultimately sacrifice His life, for all of us.

Which leads me to ask, what about our own search for Jesus? During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and the inevitable exhaustion of post-holiday euphoria, where do we go to find Jesus in our hearts?

Where do we go to find Jesus in our homes?

Is it…

  • in the stillness of the early morning, before the rest of the household awakes?
  • when the house winds down, the lights are off, and the house is tucked into bed?
  • in the middle of the day, amidst the hectic pace life finds us scurrying?
  • that we find Jesus in the smallest or most inconvenient times of the day when we look to the heavens and ask why?

Everyone’s search for Jesus is as unique and individual as our fingerprints. No two searches are the same, although many times there are similar features and themes throughout the journey. We can pretty much be guaranteed there will be peaks. Where we experience the glow of love, shining as radiantly as the sun on a warm summer day. There will also be valleys, in which we feel a void, a chasm of silence in our souls. We will turn and wonder why, or wonder if we are truly alone.

Yet, all of our experiences are meant to do what the star did for the shepherd and the wise men centuries ago – our experiences are meant to draw us closer to our Savior!

Jesus was not born imposing Himself on us. In fact, even before His death, He gave those who doubted Him an opportunity to walk away during the Last Supper. He doesn’t force Himself on any of us!

Instead, He awaits our journey to Him with open arms. Gently, He calls to us. Patiently, He travels with us, waiting for us to recognize and acknowledge Him.

And, when our travel to Him is complete, He openly embraces us.

Lent is the perfect time for us to assess our individual quest to Jesus. It’s the perfect time to consider how close we are desiring to get to Him. We desire to see Him face to face the way the wise men did centuries ago. If there is something holding us back from desiring that intimate, we should seek the close relationship He offers.

DISCUSS

Where are we on our journey?

What help do we need to move forward?

How can we help others along their travel?

Where will each of us find Jesus during Lent 2018?

Categories
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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Domestic Church Mary P.

Financial Stewardship: Creating A Family Budget

Happy 2017! The new year means that people are thinking about ways to change and fix all the things about their lives that need changing and fixing. Faithful Catholics might think about improving their spiritual lives – resolving to start praying more, going to confession more, yelling less, being more grateful, etc. In the midst of that crucial spiritual stock-taking, I want to propose a more “practical” item that deserves consideration – finances. Specifically, I want to address creating a budget.

Money issues are a practical matter, but they have spiritual implications as well. For example, one of the major causes for marital strife and even divorce is financial difficulty or disagreement. Having a workable family budget goes a long way toward creating personal and familial harmony. Without a budget, there is much more room for stress and conflict. More broadly, money is a tool to be used in the service of our calling as spouses, parents, and missionary disciples. We must be good stewards of it in order to carry out that calling. Budgeting is part of that stewardship. 

I’m not in any way a financial professional or expert. Rather, I’m a wife and mom who takes care of the family finances, and has finally found a budgeting system that I can stick to (after eight years of marriage and many failed attempts). I’m someone who has witnessed the dire consequences in people’s lives of not being good stewards of their money. As such, I believe in the importance of budgeting, and want to share some tips for those who do not have a budget.  (There are many resources out there for further information on the topic of budgeting and being a good financial steward). 

  1. Recognize your need for a budget. Even if you are in the top tax bracket, you need a budget. Budgeting isn’t just for those who must watch every penny simply in order to feed their families. On the flip side, even if you think your budget would never be “in the black,” you still need one. You might think that your necessary spending outweighs your income (and thus rely heavily on credit), but creating a budget and tracking your spending will help you see where you might be able to cut back so that your budget can balance.
  2. Find a budgeting tool that works for you. Even if you use pen-and-paper or an Excel spreadsheet, it’s critical that your craft your budget in a way that makes the most sense to you and is easily implemented in your life. I use a website called EveryDollar (created by financial guru Dave Ramsey). Until I discovered this website, I had never been able to create a budget that accounted for all my expenses (not just the monthly, predictable ones), let alone one that I was able to stay on top of. There are other websites and apps out there. Look around to see what will work for you. Take advantage of free trial offers for paid programs (as long as you can trust yourself to cancel before the trial is over if you decide you don’t want to use it!)
  3. Work with your spouse to create the budget, and make a mutual commitment to stick to it.  You both need to be on board with the budget in order for it to work! If either of you are reckless spenders, the budget will be sabotaged. (If you or your spouse are unable to get your unnecessary spending under control, considering talking to your priest or a counselor). Communicate and re-evaluate the budget often.
  4. Use a “zero balance” budget. This is a type of budget where you account for every penny that comes in. If you bring in more than you spend each month on necessities and “extras,” consciously allot the rest to savings or to paying down a debt. By using this kind of budget, my husband and I were able to pay off our student loans more quickly. You should go back and adjust the budget at the end of the month to make sure it zeroes out. If you over-budget in a category like groceries or gas, you can put that extra money toward a category you may have under-budgeted for, or toward debt and savings. Adjust the next month’s budget to reflect your actual spending habits.  
  5. Budget for the bills that you pay on a non-monthly basis, and other irregular expenses. For example, our water bill is paid quarterly. Each month, I set aside one-third of what I expect the bill to be, so that the money is all there when needed. I also have funds set up in my budget for things such as clothing, homeschooling materials, and home maintenance. I put some money into each of those funds every month so that it’s there when I need it.
  6. Track everything that you spend. This is where the website/app I use has made all the difference. I am not “on top of things” enough to record every purchase I make or keep every receipt. For a fee, my budgeting tool imports all my bank activity. I can simply drag and drop each item into the appropriate budget category. Since I rarely use cash to make purchases, this has made it extremely easy to keep track of every expense.
  7. Be realistic. For example, if you think you “should” be spending only $500 on groceries every month, but you can’t seem to come in under $600 no matter how hard you try, then budget for $600 and cut back somewhere else. Part of being realistic is budgeting “fun money” for you and your spouse to be spent however you want (barring anything immoral of course). This helps cut down on the frustration of adhering to a strict budget. If you create an overly-idealistic budget that you can’t adhere to, you are likely to give up on budgeting. 
  8. Set specific financial goals and use your budget to work toward them. One of these goals should be an emergency fund for those unforeseen large expenses (which tend to pop up in clusters). Other goals might include saving for a house or a new vehicle. (It’s best to pay cash for a vehicle rather than incurring debt. But, if you have to take out a loan, you still need to have a down payment saved up). You should think about long-term goals, such as retirement and college funds, as well. 
  9. Make charitable giving (especially to your parish) a non-negotiable. The Church does not require us to give a specific percentage of our income. But we are required to help provide for our parishes. Do not give from your surplus. Instead, give sacrificially, like the Scriptural widow who gave her last coin.

Successful budgeting usually involves a lot of trial and error. Like all efforts at self-improvement, it’s probably not going to come easily at first. Don’t give up. Financial stewardship -of which budgeting is a critical aspect- is part of a life of discipleship.