Categories
Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Martina Offering your suffering Prayer Purgatory Real And Raw Series

Do the Thing You Hate for the Holy Souls in Purgatory

Real and Raw

Welcome to this installment in the series REAL AND RAW – SOUL-STIRRING STORIES, a series focused on taking a candid look at life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.


 

It’s no coincidence that this post went up today. Today of all days. I’ll circle back to this point in a moment.

 

***

 

For me, this ended up being the one thing I used to joke about with friends. Like, if you EVER – and I mean E-VAH – saw me doing this, you should probably look for the four horsemen of the apocalypse because some serious you-know-what is going down and you should probably start praying…NOW.

It all started this past August. My mental wheels had been turning for some time and I was reluctant to find a workout program because I have a hard time sticking with things. It didn’t help that the previous two times I had attempted to work out, I had miscarriages. My older children pointed this out to me, and even though logically I knew it was coincidental, I couldn’t shake the fact that if I were to jump back in with something, it wouldn’t be what I did before. I was a gymnast for years as a child and I loved the idea of doing barre. Of course I ordered two DVDs. They, of course, just sat and collected dust while I went back and forth on whether I could do it.

I live with (and love) my excuses, y’all.

My husband, on the other hand, has been a huge advocate of programs like P90X for years, taking breaks and creating his own workout plans. I always admired his resolve to get up at 5 a.m. (did you know that’s a real time??) and work out, go to work, then squeeze a second workout in the evening before dinner or after the kids had gone to bed.

Upon the sudden and absolutely tragic death of my nephew, Brendan in May, the purpose and focus shifted. It was the thing I hated. And I knew it was the only way I could honor his short life and bring focus and greater purpose to what I was doing.

It was running.

Except I hate running. I loathe it. I joke to friends that if they saw me running, they’red probably be a piece of cake in front of me. I HATE running.

Or so I thought.

In the dead of summer in Texas, I thought that would be a LOVELY time to start my new mission. A friend was selling her treadmill and my husband was on board with my latest, wild-eyed idea.

And that was how that started. Except you don’t just hop on a treadmill and start running – not if you’re me. I relied on my mental notes to carry me through. To start, I reasoned with myself that I’d walk one mile at a time, three times a day, six days a week. Crazy, huh? Three consecutive miles seemed too daunting, but breaking it up into one mile each seemed doable, if not completely exhausting. I wasn’t looking to run initially because, hello, see what I wrote about it at the beginning of this post, friends. I also rationalized that I didn’t like how long it took to walk, so running simply became the quickest way to finish.

That’s all that was.

But I ended up with some pretty fierce pains and injuries after pushing myself a bit. After the first two weeks, I went for all three miles in one stint (because hello, I have a life and this was sucking up too much of my time!) and the result was some pretty gnarly pain in my knee (something to do with my meniscus…?), then my other knee, and then my hip (it was like they were ganging up on me). I took a week off completely to recover, then eased back up into walking/running the three miles, alternating a few minutes walking with a few minutes running. 

The injuries were pretty deflating and reminded me of my three miscarriages. It was a mental block as well as physical. I learned early on that what I was doing was more of a mental game than anything else. So, I set my mind toward focusing on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t. And that’s when things began to change.

It suddenly felt like I was accomplishing something – each day I could do a tiny bit more, and on days when I didn’t feel like I didn’t do much, I reminded myself why I was doing it. It was and still is and will continue to be hard for a very long time. Each time I get out there, I remind myself of all those whom I love who have died. I especially think of my nephew whose athletic resolve was absolutely remarkable.

And as much as I still hate running, I love that it has allowed me to offer that suffering for those in need. It’s not like I enter into some specific prayer on the treadmill – not yet, anyway. Most of my focus is on converting that struggle to keep running on why I’m doing it. I focus on specific memories I have, the people affected by their loss, and placing myself in their shoes as best as I can and just trying to find a way to keep those memories alive. I ask for their prayers as well because hello, I’m suffering on that treadmill and I want to make it through injury free so I can continue the next day.

It’s now been four months since I started and I have been absolutely encouraged by this process. I still hate running. Maybe not hate – I low grade despise it. But I have been able to work through injuries, mental defeat, walk-to-run programs that did not work for me, and was finally able to break through and run my first mile a month ago! I just recently worked my way up past two miles and am now journeying to three miles daily, something I was finally able to do yesterday, November 28. More time on the treadmill means more time to think of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. And more time thinking of and praying for those souls is never wasted time. They need our prayers and I needed to focus on making that more of a priority in my daily life.

So, why is today significant? At the top of the post, I mentioned today’s post was not coincidental. I typically post or schedule on Tuesdays, but friend and fellow editor Rita asked for Tuesday so she could promo our annual Advent Photo Challenge, so we switched days. As it turns out, November 29 is my nephew Brendan’s birthday. He would have been 19 today. I hadn’t planned on running this post this soon, but the switch in days prompted me to go ahead and share. I ask for your prayers for the repose of his soul and for grace and healing for his loved ones, especially his mom, dad, and siblings. 

“Eternal Father,
I offer You the most precious blood
of thy Divine Son, Jesus,
in union with the Masses said
throughout the world today,
for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory,
for sinners everywhere,
for sinners in the universal Church,
for those in my own home,
and in my family. Amen.”

PRAYER OF ST. GERTRUDE THE GREAT


REFLECT

Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before the experience of loss?
  2. How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
  3. How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
  4. Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
  5. How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
  6. How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
  7. If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
  8. What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?

RESOURCES & SPIRITUAL HEALING

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

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

 

DotheThingYouHatefortheHolySoulsinPurgatory

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Michelle Spiritual Growth

Offering My Everything to Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Martina Offering your suffering Prayer Spiritual Growth

How to Lose Weight the Fast Way

How to Lose Weight the Fast Way

::disclaimer:: This post is not intended to cause distress toward those who suffer from eating disorders. The title may inadvertently suggest that. What this post *IS* is geared toward spiritual fasting and the fruit that comes from that. 

I’ll never forget the Thursday evening that kicked this whole thing off. I stared at the list of options on the clipboard for a spiritual bouquet. Myself, along with our entire team of Jesus Is Lord facilitators were putting the bouquet together for the program’s upcoming confessions in the church. With over 250 attendees from our Spring English program alone and combining our Spanish course as well, we were in desperate need of more confessors. The spiritual bouquet was both for our confessors and that enough brother priests would answer the call to help shower down God’s mercy on the attendees.

That was 33 weeks ago.

I remember looking at the options and thinking nope, nuh uh, don’t think so…OH! I can do THAT! I’m not sure why, but fasting jumped out at me. It was just after 7 p.m. and I had already conveniently missed dinner with the rush of getting to the parish hall to make sure things were set up. In my mind, I had the whole thing figured out. I’ll just go home, suffer and whine a bit, then go to bed…tomorrow will be somewhat harder, but I think I’ve got this. This will be easy.

The next day I was – shock of shocks – HUNGRY!! Why didn’t anyone tell me this was going to be…HARD? What’s worse is that my husband and I decided to eat our typical date-night dinner in, which meant preparing the children’s dinner and then preparing ours after they had said prayers and been sent to bed.

I wasn’t just hungry by the time we ate. I was ravenous.

As we sat down to eat and said grace, I said nothing to my husband who had no reason to suspect I had willingly starved all day. That first bite of food was INCREDIBLE. Seasonings, spices, and the overall flavor of the food was somehow…enhanced. It was like I noticed my food as opposed to taking it for granted.

I should mention I had absolutely no intention of going any longer than 24 hours, but as circumstances unfolded – meaning, I did not purposely seek to fast those first few days – God would reveal His challenge for me.

It wasn’t until I met with my spiritual director that following Friday that I finally mentioned the daily fasting. The first week had provided such insight and productivity that I was actually excited to continue! Instead of feeling slumped over and in pain from not eating, I tackled projects I had put off for years. I couldn’t explain this surge in energy, but I wanted to explore it more. For the time being, it would be a one-day-at-a-time commitment, but I was excited to see where it would go. After fleshing out the pros and cons during spiritual direction, I went home and told my husband, who was shocked but cautiously supportive.

And so began my journey of fasting.

 MY OBSERVATIONS

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Prior to the spiritual bouquet, I had not been able to take advantage of such intense fasting before due to being hypoglycemic. This means my blood sugar plummets if I don’t watch what and when I eat. I have a history of passing out – outside of church, seeing spots in the pews, feeling lightheaded and dizzy, especially during winter when you go from colder weather into buildings that are adequately warmed up. It is aggravated during pregnancy. Knowing this has prevented me from really exploring fasting. It seemed physically impossible. Only one time in 33 weeks did I experience the effects of being hypoglycemic, and due to my hyperawareness and vigilance I knew it was coming and was able to avoid the crash, praise be to God!

DISCIPLINE

Because I freely chose to continue the fast, I knew I could set it up however I wanted. I prayed and asked God to let me know exactly what my daily fasting should look like. When I made the decision not to approach this with a sense of legalism, it freed my mind and heart to really focus on what God wanted me to do. For me, that meant keeping my morning coffee, thank you Jesus! I also gave myself permission to eat if I ever felt like I needed to. In those first days, I would often wait until dinner was prepared and we sat together to eat. Like most families, dinner isn’t always served at the same time and the longer I went without eating, the more anxious impatient ugly STARVED I became. From that realization, I eventually adopted my personal 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. rule. 3-5 p.m. is always the hardest time of the day. As I attuned myself toward prayer and sacrifice and suffering, I immediately felt that pull that there was someone out there who needed my 3-5 p.m. suffering specifically. And, in case you haven’t noticed, there is an overabundance of suffering out there in the world that cries out to us in which we can unite ourselves! Sometimes, God would place a specific intention, person, or situation on my heart to which I could offer that tough part of the day. Like literally, I could not shake this urge to pray and be intentional with my suffering for a specific person. Other times, I would spend time in perpetual prayer for someone from the moment I wake up. The variety by which I was able to suffer each day astonished me. Never before had I called to mind exactly how fasting could be such an intense prayer that I could offer up. I felt completely consumed and used up and so completely at peace with this seemingly small offering. My two hours a day felt like I intentionally offered something for someone else and united me to Christ’s suffering on the Cross. It was nothing short of amazing. I felt like through the fasting, I was able to obtain for a time this ability to really connect with God. I was able to hear His marching orders for my life with incredible clarity. There are really no words to describe this.

33 WEEKS

About halfway through the exercise, I counted how many weeks I had been fasting when I decided that it needed a limit. 33 weeks. Why not? As the weeks went on, I felt called to end the fast on Thursday, September 25, 2014.

IS IT FIVE O’CLOCK?

After tinkering with my discipline for a few weeks, it became evident to me that I needed a cutoff time, whether dinner was ready or not. I gave myself permission to eat once it was 5 p.m., by having a snack or eating early. Additionally, there were plenty of celebrations, birthdays, feast days, that essentially required me to eat much earlier than 5 p.m. By my own design and with God’s loving Hand, I opted to utilize a 3 p.m. break in fast for feasts such as Easter, my own birthday {I lamely celebrated with only a strawberry limeade from Sonic}, family members’ birthdays, and even being on vacation. I wasn’t trying to prove something. I just wanted to leave enough room to both enjoy the day while still offering some part of the day for suffering. It always worked itself out. God always saw it through. There were also a few days in which I was able to {unintentionally} go far beyond 5 p.m., the latest I recall close to 9 p.m. Though I would not recommend doing that very often, the acute hunger from those days were reminders from everything to offer up that suffering for a particular friend, to keeping those who suffer from starvation in mind.

OFFER IT UP!

I can’t even begin to explain the spiritual fruit. It was AMAZING. I saw God move mountains. I found myself looking for things to offer up versus my usual waiting for those to ask me to pray for certain things. I noticed that because I was being more proactive with my suffering, I was able to share what I had been doing with friends and family. I was humbled to be able to offer up that growly tummy for their heartaches, for their confusion, hurt, sorrow. There wasn’t much that I didn’t offer up. If I thought of it, if God placed it on my heart, or if someone who knew asked, you could bet I was making time to specifically fast for whatever was needed. Each month when I met with my spiritual director, I would give a quick report as to how things were going and whether I still felt like going.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE RIDICULOUSLY UGLY

To this point, I have pretty much painted a wonderful picture of spirituality – given you all the pluses and benefits and bonuses. What I haven’t yet shared with you is that with the good came much bad and even more of the ridiculously ugly. There were plenty of days where my own personal sin wouldn’t just be reflected in the mirror – it became magnified. Venial sins came to light in a new way…God revealed behaviors of mine that, while on the surface seemed to be petty annoyances to my spiritual journey, were actually harming my ability to live in right relationship with Him.

WHAT MY DAY LOOKED LIKE*

Because a few have inquired what a typical day looked like, I went ahead and added this additional section. No, I did not eat anything all day, although as mentioned before, if I had felt like I needed to, I would have eaten. I also drank water {or soda occasionally} throughout the day and as needed. It was more of a food fast than a liquid fast. Hey, I’m human! Through this discipline, I discovered that I had an incredible amount of self control, something I never thought possible before.

PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS

I noticed that I spend a lot of time thinking about food! If you’ve ever followed our What’s For Dinner? threads on Facebook, you probably have some idea of what I’m talking about. Everything from noticing the impact of my consumption on the grocery bill, to thinking about dinner at 9 a.m. {my poor husband who is always accosted by texts from me asking what he wants for dinner at 11:30 a.m.!} and wondering what kind of deliciousness we would have that evening, I noticed how much of an impact food had on my life. I love spending time with girlfriends and hanging out with friends in general, so I loved that this particular time frame worked with eating dinners out with friends and family and didn’t much interfere with my so-called old person social life. 😉 I also observed that once I eat for the day, I am typically “done,” my energy spent. Not eating, as odd as this sounds, actually helped me get more done through the day. Eating slowed me down. Weirdness, I know.

NOW WHAT?

As you read this, I am likely contemplating my first breakfast in 33 weeks. I have already been mentally and spiritually preparing myself for this day. Though my official fast has now concluded, and I look forward to eating our Saturday morning Kreitzer Family favorite of egg, sausage and croissant casserole, I still reserve the right to resume my fasting whenever I want if I feel called to continue for any specific intentions.

SOUND OFF: Have you fasted before? What spiritual fruit did you experience?

Me with two of my Jesus Is Lord cohorts