Categories
Ink Slingers Lynette

How Fit Are You?

Believe it or not, there are many ways to improve your fitness - Lynette walks you through the ways to make that happen!

This past year, our family was considering joining the YMCA.  Faced with pre-diabetes and auto-immune issues, I knew what was best for me – a healthy diet with a good dose of exercise, a word I have cringed at almost my entire life.  Sure, I’ll walk the neighborhood with a friend for an hour (in perfect weather, mind you), or walk the beach, but the decision to work out at the Y required commitment and sacrifice and what I likened to perhaps straight out torture.  It was easy to postpone joining until I broke a bone in my foot over the summer and the co-pay cost for physical therapy to regain my mobility afterwards was over three times the cost of joining the Y. So, there we were. A family membership to the YMCA – now it was up to me to use our investment wisely.

My PT specialist said the best equipment for me to start off with at the Y at first would be the stationary bike.  The first day I jumped on and made it about five minutes before I thought I couldn’t go a minute longer, until I remembered what he told me – slow and steady – and I made it to twenty.  The next day was about the same. I mentally nicknamed it the “torture device” and I was convinced I wouldn’t keep it up for long. It seemed that getting past the point of pain and agony to even remotely find it enjoyable was questionable at best and it was easier to look for ways to avoid it.  But, motivated by the fact that I didn’t want to waste money or my wanting to walk the beach at some point again (forget focusing on the health benefits – that didn’t seem to be enough of a motivator!), I persisted. I looked for ways to pass the time – listening to my favorite music, praying the Rosary and offering up the “torture”, reading a book on my phone – and found that focusing on something else that was more of a motivation to me greatly affected my ability to persist.  As the weeks went by, it slowly became something I began to look forward to and became convinced it was worth doing. I had passed the “hump” as they say.

I was listening to some of my favorite songs while pushing myself to keep exercising the other day when I was hit with the realization that this same scenario happens in our spiritual life as well.  We know what is best for us spiritually – prayer, the sacraments, Mass, etc., but we struggle with even starting towards our goal, afraid we will give up. So, we surround ourselves with all sorts of the latest and best spiritual workout equipment – a beautiful Rosary, the newest prayer book, DVD retreat programs, a statue of our favorite saint.  Their alluring appearance beckons to us, promising to transform us into something better, something more beautiful. We decide to face the giant and begin strong, but find we quickly lose steam. We start the Rosary and are immediately distracted, the new prayer book isn’t inspiring us like we had hoped, the narrator on the DVD series has a monotone voice, the statue becomes just another item on the shelf to dust.  Struggling with giving up altogether, we say it’s “torture” to stay committed and look for ways to avoid it. With perhaps flawed motivations and our own guilt, however, we find a way to push forward, but are often driven to the point of becoming resentful. What are we then to do?

Unless we look for ways “to pass the time” and persevere until we find those hidden gems that allow us to become more motivated and begin to relish what we are doing, we will not be successful in our ability to persist.  Our human tendencies to demand immediate reward for our actions makes it difficult to sometimes see the long-term graces of our efforts. And, unfortunately, many times we too often feel our spiritual life must conform to some preconceived ideals and expectations that we impose upon ourselves, without the prayer and reflection necessary to determine where God might direct us.  We fall prey to the “I should do this or I should do that”, regardless of where we are in our own personal spiritual journey.  And there, I believe, lies our spiritual demise. Lifeless and without meaning, we simply just give up.  

Every day, Jesus offers us His greatest gift – His infinite mercy.  He knows our struggles to persist, our flawed motivations, and our guilt.  He knows how many times we give up and look for ways to avoid Him. But most of all, He knows that we love Him, and that we are seeking to draw closer to Him.  Be merciful to yourself. Tomorrow you can try some of those new “workouts” again. Today, seek Him in a way you perhaps haven’t thought of before. Watch a
sunrise and be intentionally present to Him in all its beauty.  Call a friend, laugh, and rejoice in who He created in them. Slip into a church and just sit with Him quietly without a preconceived agenda. Meet Him where you are today and let Him transform you, heart and soul, into the beautifully fit creation He has destined you to become.

Looking for ways to improve fitness? Look no further, friends!

Categories
Current Events Ink Slingers Resources Your Handy-Dandy List

New Year’s Resolutions: Top Tips and Suggestions

It’s that time of year! 

At the end of the year, once the Christmas presents have been unwrapped, visitors are saying their goodbyes,  and we all are beginning to breathe a sigh of relief after all the baking, cooking, and cleaning has been accomplished, we start thinking of the new year. While we certainly don’t have to wait until the new year to make positive changes, the arrival of a new year does tend to encourage reflection.What do we want to accomplish? How has this year been great or bad, and how do we want our next year to be different?

For our family, and many others, this manifests as a list of resolutions.  But the myriad of things to want to improve can be, at times, dizzying. After all, aren’t we all a major work in progress? So here, I’ve provided some useful tips and resolution suggestions to peruse while thinking about what you
might like to work on the most this coming year.New Year's Resolutions-Top Tips and Suggestions

Ten Tips for Good New Year Resolutions:

  1. Keep goals specific. Goals like “lose weight,” or “pray more” are good ideas, but they give far too much room to either expect far too much of ourselves, or too little. Choosing a specific number of pounds you want to lose, or how often you would like to pray will help you to stick to a goal and measure your success. So, if you want to lose 20 pounds, commit to a 0.5-1lb target weight loss per week, with a goal of maintaining that within a 5 lb margin for the remainder of the year after you hit your goal. If you desire to pray more often, add 1 prayer per day to say extra, and determine whether that will be a spontaneous and meditative prayer, or a formed prayer such as a Hail Mary, the rosary, or a saint’s intercessory prayer on the back of a holy card.
  2. Keep it reasonable. Goals are meant to improve yourself, not radically change who you are. Praying more is a great goal, but not if your idea of that is becoming a cloistered lay nun while having to also go through the carpool lane, soccer games, and have 6 kids under 7. Digesting changes in small bites makes it easier for them to stick around as permanent life choices. 
  3. Push yourself. The flip side of keeping it reasonable is to still make sure that your goals actually push you. Don’t commit to eliminating your indulgence in gossip if that isn’t really a problem for you. If you have kept the same weight for 5 years, then maintaining your weight is not a good goal. Goals are meant to push you to essentially purify you over time. We all have areas where we falter and could do better (either for care of ourselves, our world, our spouse, or our kids). Make sure your goals will actually get you moving in a good direction and not remain stagnant.
  4. Remember the categories of wellness. A great set of goals incorporates not just one area of your life, but multiple. Wellness is defined not simply by physical health, but by mental, spiritual, emotional and social health. To be a healthy person, we must take care of our bodies, take care of our hearts and minds, and nurture our relationships with God, our families, our friends, and our communities. Having a set of goals that touches on each of these areas will help you to address your personal development in every aspect.
  5. Have some that don’t take the whole year to accomplish. Many of us like to check boxes on a task list. Work with this. It can be wearisome to have many goals that can’t have success measured at the end of the year. Finishing a craft project you started last year, creating a budget, or other similar one-time or short-term tasks can help you feel like you accomplished something significant while also making progress on your other goals. Another idea would be to have rotating goals on a monthly basis to encourage successes while working on problem areas. For instance, you could say that you might plan to not eat out at all in January, purchase nothing that isn’t on your list in February, and plan your groceries around your stockpile of canned or frozen foods to reduce your grocery budget in March. 
  6. Create a plan for completing bigger goals. If you want to lose weight, how will you do it? You know the saying: Failing to plan is planning to fail. A plan usually involves breaking these bigger tasks down. Thus, if you want to create a budget and stick to it, it is helpful to create your budget one month, implement it the next, and reevaluate and tweak it the following. 
  7. Consider sharing your resolutions for accountability. Harder goals sometimes require more help. Joining a budgeting group on Facebook, gathering a group of friends to commit to saying novenas at the same time, or joining a weight loss/fitness website with community forums can be very helpful in pushing you to complete your goals. Let your spouse know of your goals, too!
  8. Pick 1 or more goals to work on as a family and as a couple. Not all goals need to be personal development. Couples could choose to read a book together or pray more together. Families could commit to more family nights or to having dinner together nightly. Goals can bring couples and families together as everyone works towards the same goal.
  9. Include something that will grow your relationships. By the same token, you can work to improve your relationships without the other folks committing to the same goal. Some spouses choose to do the Love Dare, pray extra for their spouse, offer up sufferings for their children, or take their kids out individually for extra special one-on-one time.
  10. Be okay with life changes making some goals difficult or impossible. Life is fluid and changing. You may want to lose 50 pounds, but find out in March that you are pregnant, and therefore that goal is out the window. Or a family member may become gravely ill and require continuous care that means you can’t get to the daily Mass you had set as a goal of attending. Things happen. Remember what is important: family and faith. If a personal goal needs to take a backseat to more important things in life, then trust that God is simply providing a different tool for personal growth than what you had previously planned for yourself.

 

20 Suggestions for New Year Resolutions:

  1. Switch late night carb snacks to carrot sticks or other snack vegetables (this change can be huge for your waistline!)
  2. Pray 1 extra prayer per day.
  3. Get to confession once per month.
  4. Read 5 extra books (or chapters with larger books) per month to each child.
  5. Hug your spouse every day they are home at least once.Happy New Year! Resolutions
  6. Commit to 1 date night per month with no “shop talk,” but rather simply enjoy each other’s company
  7. Reduce eating out to 1 time per month.
  8. Pray a family rosary once per day/week.
  9. Take one child per month out on a “mom and me” lunch date for great quality one-on-one kid time.
  10. Read 1 novel you haven’t read before.
  11. Read an encyclical by a Pope with your spouse.
  12. Take a Coursera course (free courses online) to learn about something new.
  13. Finish all those incomplete craft projects, and don’t buy supplies for a new craft project until the old ones are complete.
  14. Put $10 extra in your 401(k) every month.
  15. Cut grocery spending by $20 every trip.
  16. Create a detailed budget. (Mint.com has some great free online tools for this)
  17. Take your kids to a soup kitchen once per month to serve the poor (or an alternate service activity).
  18. Exercise 3 times per week for 30-60 minutes.
  19. Play a game as a family once per week.
  20. Focus on elimination of one particular recurrent sin. (Pick an easier one to eliminate that is a problem for you, and put a checkmark on the calendar each day you avoid that sin. Don’t expect perfection, but enjoy your progress.)

I hope these tips and suggestions help to inspire you to tailor a list that will lead you to a successful and wonderful 2016, full of God’s grace and blessings. We can all strive to improve ourselves to glorify God and uplift ourselves, our families, and our communities. May God bless you this coming new year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Categories
Advent Colleen Faith Formation Liturgical Year Prayer Spiritual Growth Year of Faith

It’s A New (Liturgical) Year! – How to Make a Resolution and Keep It

The days leading up to January 1st are filled with resolution-making for the new year ahead – eat healthier, exercise more, spend more time with our family, make more money, be more organized, think more positively. We look at our lives, find an area in which we desire improvement, and make a generalized decision to “Do Better.” We charge into the new year full of hope and optimism, convinced that we are going to vastly improve our lives, be happier and more fulfilled.

But statistics show that most New Year’s resolutions fail by February 1. Two of the biggest deterrents from achievement of our goals – vague and unrealistic expectations, and making too many resolutions. A person who makes ONE focused, measurable goal is much more likely to succeed (“I will exercise 4 times a week for 20 minutes” is much more specific and achievable than “Exercise more!!!!!!!!”)

Spiritual resolutions are much the same way. We resolve to pray more, go to Mass more, become more patient, do more works of mercy – but those aren’t really resolutions; rather, they are vague wishes that we have no actual plans to implement. We say to ourselves, “I need to pray more,” toss up a few hurried prayers throughout the day, and then look up months or years later and wonder why we are no closer to God than before.

We sometimes read the lives of the saints and become discouraged when we see their dedication and love of virtue, and their complete abhorrence of sin. We intellectually know that they are right and praiseworthy, but we sometimes think, “I could never be quite that detached from the world.” We read quotes from great saints, such as this one from St. Philip Neri: “He who desires anything but God deceives himself, and he who loves anything but God errs miserably,” and become disheartened. We feel as though we are too complacent in our sins, and don’t possess the fortitude to overcome them. How can we become a saint, when we have so many faults?

Image Credit: catholicradiodramas.com

Remember that even the greatest saints did not become saints without effort. With the exception of Mary, all saints suffered from original sin, and overcoming their sinful inclinations did not come naturally or easily. It did not happen overnight. It took a lifetime of prayer and self-denial.

We know that sin separates us from God, so we must make a concerted effort to avoid sin. We know that prayer is essential, so we must pray. (“It is certain that he who prays is saved; he who prays not is damned.” – St. Alphonsus Liguori) But if our resolutions are “avoid sin” and “pray more”, we are going to make no more progress than when we try to “lose weight” and “think more positively.”

To make progress in the spiritual life, we need a plan. To overcome a vice or grow closer to God, we cannot simply have a vague idea in the back of our mind. We must make a firm resolution and implement it. We must write down our resolution, think of it throughout our day, have a way to measure our success, and pick ourselves back up when we fall.

The spiritual writer Thomas a Kempis said, “We would be well on the way to perfection if we could weed out one vice from ourselves each year.” May I issue a challenge to all of us as we head into this new liturgical year?

Let us choose one vice we struggle with, and strive to eradicate that vice from our souls and to grow in the corresponding virtue. What sin do I find myself confessing over and over again? What sin most robs me of peace? What sin is most responsible for discord in my family? Spend a few minutes sincerely examining your conscience. Be completely honest with yourself. Pick ONE thing. Try to choose the thing that is truly most damaging to your soul, but it also should be something that is a bad habit, something you do frequently. If you find yourself participating in petty gossip once or twice a month,  yet you find yourself having outbursts of anger several times a day, work on the anger. Be very specific, don’t overthink it, and don’t waffle on your decision – pick one and stick to it.

1. Offer a short prayer each morning – “Jesus, today help me to not lose my temper with my children.” “Lord, please help me to overcome the habit of taking your name in vain.” We must show God that you are serious about this by asking for His help! We can’t do it by ourselves. “Those who imagine they can attain to holiness by any wisdom or strength of their own will find themselves after many labors, and struggles, and weary efforts, only the farther from possessing it.” – St. John of Avila

2. When we find ourselves in a situation where we are tempted towards our particular sin, we should say a short silent prayer asking for help. “Lord, help me remain patient.” If we can walk away from the situation to rid ourselves of the temptation, we should do it.

3. If we successfully overcome the temptation, we should say a prayer of thanks for God’s grace. If we succumb, (and we often will), we should say a prayer of contrition. To take this exercise a step further, we can assign ourselves a little penance for every time we fail. If we are striving to speak kindly about others, and found ourselves making 3 rude remarks about someone today, we could say an extra 3 Hail Marys before bed in reparation for our sin.

4. We should have recourse to the sacrament of Confession frequently. There is a unique grace attached to this sacrament that will aid us in overcoming our sins. We should tell our confessor that we are working on this particular fault – he may have advice or words of wisdom for us. When we receive Communion, we should again renew our dedication to overcoming this fault, and ask Christ, Who is present within us, for strength.

A word of warning – We are going to fall, especially if a bad habit is deeply ingrained in us. We should NOT be discouraged. Proverbs 24:16 tells us that even the just man falls seven times – but he rises again. We are sinners in need of God’s mercy. Our failings will keep us humble; we must get back up and keep trying. If we exercise every day for a week and don’t lose a pound, we may be tempted to quit exercising. However, we know that if we persevere, we will eventually shed the extra weight. The same principle applies here. Perseverance is key. Continue to pray for God’s grace. “Pray with great confidence, with confidence based upon the goodness and infinite generosity of God and upon the promises of Jesus Christ. God is a spring of living water which flows unceasingly into the hearts of those who pray.” – St. Louis de Montfort

St. John of the Cross said, “He who loses an opportunity is like the man who lets a bird fly from his hand, for he will never recover it.” Let us not let the opportunity of our LIFE pass us by. We are created to know, love, and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him in the next. If we do not do these things, then nothing else matters. We frequently hear that this world needs more technology, money, environmental protections, education, good politicians… No, what this world really needs is more SAINTS. We can have none of the other things if we are not striving to be the people God calls us to be.

It is not easy or fun to work on our sins. Sin is comfortable. Practicing virtue is uncomfortable. It is much easier to indulge than to deny ourselves a bodily pleasure. When we are tempted to give up because it’s hard, we should remember that, “Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.” (St. Rose of Lima)

As St. Therese said, “You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” As we enter into the new liturgical year, let us make up our mind to become saints. Let us begin our work to overcome one sin. We have a specific plan, let’s put it into action. Let us build up the Body of Christ and encourage each other on the path of holiness. With God’s grace, let’s see how much spiritual progress we can make in a year.

“Let us go forward in peace, our eyes upon heaven, the only one goal of our labors.” -St. Therese of Lisieux

Join me?

Categories
Andrea Faith Formation Ink Slingers

Be Better

It’s that time of year, folks! Specifically, the end of the year… when we take stock of the past 365 days and look ahead to the next 366 (leap year!). This is also the time when we make New Year’s Resolutions. Awesome resolutions (“I’m going to devote every second of free time volunteering for worthy causes!” “I’m going to lose 23.7 pounds and run a marathon!”) that you’re lucky to still be committed to in February.

Maybe you’re looking ahead to this annual tradition with a gleam in your eye and a spring in your step. Maybe like me, you’ve had too many of these things go bad so fast that you’re squinty-eyed, looking ahead with mistrust and concern. Maybe you’re too exhausted to remember that 2011 is almost over. It is. You’re welcome.

This year I’m making it simple. I started to make a list, earnestly and honestly examining myself for what I could sincerely attempt to improve upon. It was long and unattainable, as it always is. Upon further analyzation, I realized it really could be summed up into one, neat little resolution. So, my New Year’s Resolution looks something like this:

Should work out okay…

I don’t want to screw it up with specifics, so I’m leaving it at that. There’s something like 5,000 things I could be better at or about, and I figure if I leave my resolution open-ended, my odds of success increase exponentially.

Maybe I’ll be better at being patient. Or, maybe I’ll be better about eating healthy. Perhaps I’ll be better organized in my prayer life. Maybe a year from now, at the end of 2012, I’ll be so much better at everything that my 2013 New Year’s Resolution will simply be to maintain the awesomeness I achieved in 2012.

I like the idea of resolutions in theory. A new year, a new slate, a new chance for self-improvement. It’s just that… I really can’t think of a year I was successful… ever. Honestly. I’m really wracking my brain and coming up with nothing. There’s no “I resolved to wake up early every day and read my Bible and now that it’s December and I am still doing this, I can say I met my goal.” going on over here. I have a hard enough time during Lent, let’s just put it that way.

And you can’t help but wonder, “Why?”. If Resolutions worked out as they were supposed to, every year you would be a new and improved you. The good habits you made the year before would stay with you into infinity. Now, this isn’t a perfect world, so I don’t expect the ideal to be reached per se, but not even one year? Just one? Is it just me? Is this a scam?

It was this frustration that drove me to commit myself to a resolution that’s realistic. Someone with a lot of free time and a very poor grasp of science once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Oh yeah? I don’t think so, friend. I grant you that it sounds nicer than “Shoot for the moon. Although you should know that if you miss you’ll either die in space, smash into an asteroid, or incinerate in our atmosphere.” The stars? Stars aren’t the nicest places, anyway. Short on water I hear. And oxygen. But sure, sounds like a great time.

Anyway, back to resolutions that don’t pan out. All that failure? That was before. Now I’ve figured out the system… solved the puzzle, if you will. I have found a way to all but guarantee myself a good 2012. Wait a minute… Did I just make a better resolution than I ever have before? Am I already better at something?!

Bingo. My resolution is already off to a fantastic start, and it’s not even 2012 yet. I can’t wait to see all the other stuff I’m going to be better at! If life were golf, I’m walking up to the first hole 3 sub-par. If life were football, I just sacked life’s quarterback in his own endzone and got myself a safety. You get the idea.

I know what you’re thinking right now. “Wait a minute… I thought this was a blog for mothers whose three-year-olds are discerning the priesthood, and they’re paying you to write this crap? What does this have to do with Catholicism?”

I understand your concern, pious reader, and it will not shock you to learn that they’re not paying me. They can’t afford me. I demand Bailey’s and coffee as compensation, and that starts to add up.

Additionally, I’m not really sure why they let me write here, either. I think they either feel sorry for me, or there’s some obscure indulgence attached to putting up with convert shenanigans. For what it’s worth, there’s always the hope that my writing will also “be better” in 2012. Pray for me.

Finally, it has nothing to do with Catholicism. I mean… I could make something up about how resolutions and the new year are symbolic of sacramental grace and firmly resolving to go and sin no more… but I think we both know that’s reaching.

Still, if you’ve made it this far, I wish you all a very happy Christmas season with your family, and for all of us- I wish that 2012 will be a year that we may all truly be better.

What’s your resolution this year?