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Elle Stone Ink Slingers Saints Spiritual Growth

When Work Sucks  – Bringing St. Augustine into the Workplace

 

October Blues

October has been…a tough month, sisters.  I think it’s awesome that the world is stuffed with tiny gourds, pumpkin spice lattes (pumpkin spice everything, really), and window stickies of witches on broomsticks, because this is such a great escape for me from how tough October really has been.

For us that work on an academic calendar (students, teachers, youth ministers, moms with school-age children), September was magical.  The world was new. I was filled with hope for the new year.  Everything was possible, all doors were open.

By October, the grind got me down.  Reality made an extremely unwelcome appearance.  The challenges are stacking up. Our resolve, although it’s made a good show, is more and more falling short.

Recently I’ve been talking with dear girlfriends of mine, truly holy women of God, who are falling to the October blues.

One’s a third grade teacher, whose students are struggling to learn discipline.  She’s being tough but fair, and…parents are enraged. They’ve basically started a vendetta against her.  That’s…that’s rough.

Another is a family member who works for the church.  Her program is on FIRE. It’s awesome. But she’s surrounded by coworkers who do less than nothing.

A third girlfriend of mine is a mom whose son is exuberant and energetic.  His pre-K classroom is inhibiting, lacking time for play and exploration. His teachers want to get him tested for ADHD because he can’t sit still.

Finally, I have a dear friend who’s lost all motivation in her classes.  She’s just…thrown the towel in. The professors are sending her to the moon and back over things that have little to nothing to do with her path of study.

 

ANGER

One thing that is so interesting about these women is that the October Blues don’t have them sad, miserable, or dejected.

Instead, these things have made them ANGRY.  

I talk with these holy women, and I’m hit by the force and power of their ANGER.

At first, this was odd for me.  Anger doesn’t feel like a holy response.  Anger feels like we’ve taken our calling to bring Christ into the workplace and shoved it into the trash bin.  It feels like the devil has already won, pulling us into these dark places.

Not so!  At least, if we do it right.  

 

Daughters of Hope

I found awesome insight from St. Augustine of Hippo.  He has such a crazy great quote for these workplace dramas.  Take a minute to read it a couple times, let it sink in:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage.  Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

We come into work in September, full of this HOPE.  This excitement, this joy. Then we’re surprised in October when all we feel is anger.  St. Augustine, man, what a smart guy. This anger is not IN CONTRAST to the hope we felt before.  This anger is A DIRECT RESULT of our hope.  We come in with hope of being a good teacher, of having a strong church staff, of a great school year for our kids, of invigorating classes.  And then we see how flawed things really are—and we are filled with a holy, righteous ANGER.

 

Stuck

Although this anger is good and right, we do risk falling into the devil’s trap when we get stuck in anger.  Hope moves to anger, but if we don’t move out of anger we fall into a cycle of bitterness and resentment.  

St. Augustine calls us to a next step—a really terrifying step, actually.  He calls us to move from anger to COURAGE. We must have the courage to change things.  Instead of just staying angry forever, we have to change what we can.

And whoa man, this is BOLD.  There is so often at work that I try to stay under the radar, not causing waves.  Being the “yes woman” or the “nice girl” on staff. Sometimes this is out of genuine kindness, but TBH, a lot of the time this is because I’m not brave enough to go against how things are.

 

How do?

So, how do we foster this courage, and how do we live out true hope in the workplace?  Here are some ideas. I have very little work experience, but I am blessed to be surrounded by holy and experienced working women.  They have given me these amazing tokens of wisdom that help me navigate the toughest work situations.

1. Pray for discernment.  Get digging!  Before you do anything to change things at work, you need to get to the root of the problem.  Your coworker annoys you—why? But really, why? Don’t just say it’s because they steal the stapler, because that’s not good enough.  A huge part of this is you need to open yourself up to the possibility that you might be the problem. At the same time, don’t beat yourself up for things that aren’t your fault (I feel like us women fall into this ALL THE TIME).

2. Tackle personal failings in confession.  So, some things were your fault.  Take them to confession. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  This Saturday. Go. Make a commitment to change, and pray for God’s grace to do so.

3. Take responsibility.  Although some things might not be your fault, you can still take responsibility for improving the situation.  Your child might have a horrible teacher, which is not your fault. But you can take responsibility—you can make the commitment to supplement your child’s education, you can meet with the teacher, you can request a new teacher.

4. List five tasks/goals.  Delineate your five central goals or tasks at work (or at school/with your kids).  These are the five things that constitute you doing a good job, the five things that will mark your success.  Have your boss, your spouse, or a college mentor sign off of them. Your hope will THRIVE off of having tangible ways of measuring success.

5. ID Breaking Points.  At the end of the day, there will only be so much in your power to change.  But you need to decide what is going to far. Maybe your boss loads you with more tasks in a week than there are hours in year.  Maybe your professor is genuinely impossible. Maybe a teacher is killing the resolve and the joy of learning in your child. These are breaking points, and you know when these pop up, you need to act.

6. Increase the amount you say “no.”  This ties in directly with points #4 and #5.  Once you have your tasks/goals and breaking points, you need to say no to that which goes beyond them.  Practice saying no, even in silly situations. You’ll find a balance. I feel like we women feel like saying no is unkind—that we’re denying others our help when we say no.  However, if we’re aware of our limits, then there is a humility in accepting our limits and say “no.”

7. Make a plan for honest communication.  Spend a day and listen to how many times you hear yourself say that “everything’s fine” at work when it’s really not.  I do it ALL THE TIME. This is another thing that I need to practice, like #6. When someone asks me if things are fine, and they’re not, I have to work on saying the words to express that.  When someone offers to help, I have to practice accepting that help. I was amazed by how much my workplace changed for me when I started honestly expressing my needs.

8. Kill with kindness.  This one is a bit of an aside, but it has worked for me so well that I have to share it.  That angry parent? That nasty coworker? That inept teacher? Send them a thank-you note.  I’m serious!  Find something honest for which you can thank them (don’t thank them for their smile if all they can do is scowl).  You’d be amazed at how much relationship building you can achieve through a surprise (almost sneak-attack-style) dose of gratitude.

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Alison W Ink Slingers Motherhood Parenting Single Parents Vocations

Trust Jesus to Lead You to the Fireworks

One year on vacation at the beach, my family took off for the evening to spend some time on the boardwalk. It was a special evening since there was a public fireworks display scheduled. It was crazy busy (of course) and we left the house later than we should have. There were people everywhere and we ended up driving around forever trying to find a parking spot. We took some side streets, then circled a gas station. We searched and searched for a decent place to park. We could have parked a few miles away, but the road was busy and I had to consider carting the kids through traffic.

We started to bicker, because frustration doesn’t look good on anyone. Tensions were building and kids were complaining. Finally, we decided to just go back to the beach house. We found a place to turn around and started heading back.

As we passed the boardwalk, I saw two boys in orange vests parking people! We managed to whip into their little parking lot and found cheap, perfect parking. It was a win for everyone, even if we were still a little irritated with each other.

We parked and made our way to the boardwalk. There were so many food choices we started bickering again. (I think that is the most common fight in my house: “Where are we going to eat?”) That old argument felt even more frustrating after the long parking trial.

If you have a family, I assume this sounds a little familiar.

We finally decide on a restaurant, but found out it had a 45-minute wait. At this point, I was pretty certain we would miss the fireworks, but we were all so hungry and hunger wasn’t helping attitudes.

After a long and irritating wait, the hostess finally took us upstairs to our table–and it was facing out to the ocean. A few minutes later, fireworks start going off literally right outside the restaurant.

We ended up having the perfect seats at the perfect time. The fireworks were beautiful and my heart just filled with joy. Had we left on time, had we not driven around for so long, had we not waited for dinner for almost an hour, we would not have experienced that perfect location or perfect timing. 

I think life can be like this. Sometimes when we are going through hard things, when we can’t see where the road is going, we start to get frustrated. We can feel like Jesus has abandoned us.

But God always sees the end–He always know the fireworks are coming. He has a plan, even when we don’t understand it. It’s up to us to trust that He will use everything, the good and the bad, to move us in the direction we need to go.

I’ve been a single mom for more than ten years now. Some years were hard and draining. They were financially tight. They were tiring and frustrating, not to mention lonely and scary. In those hard moments, I learned to trust Jesus. More than that, I begged Him to be active in my life. My attitude and direction changed when I really started to trust Him.

If you’re struggling, trust Jesus. Trust Him. He loves you more than you love yourself. Ask Him to be active in your life. May God bless your road and may it lead to fireworks!

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Books Ink Slingers Offering your suffering Victoria K

Why Everyone Needs to Read Hatchet (Not Just 6th Graders)

Reading for Work? Heaven.

I’ve recently started teaching 5th and 6th grade Language Arts classes (basically English Class, I’m not quite sure what’s up with the fancy title).   As I’ve been lesson planning, I’ve had the pleasure of devouring several wonderful books (reading for work?  I’ve died and gone to heaven).

I don’t know if I just didn’t read as a pre-teen, but it seems like there are a ton of classic 5th and 6th grade level books that I haven’t read (A Wrinkle in Time, The Giver, Number the Stars, Fever 1793, Esperanza Rising).  (Or maybe it was during the phase when all I read was Harry Potter over and over and over again).

Although many of these books are wonderful, one has hit me right in the gut (in a good way, if that’s even possible).  One that you need to read and your kids need to read and your friends need to read and their kids need to read and that random guy in the car next to you needs to read.  Hatchet by Gary Paulson.

Hatchet

Hatchet is the story of a thirteen-year-old boy, Brian Robeson, who is struggling to cope with the divorce of his parents.  On the flight to visit his father, the plane he’s on crashes and he’s left stranded and alone in the Canadian wilderness.  He’s faced with the task of surviving alone.

I read some of the challenges Brian faced and scoffed, thinking: there’s no way a 13-year-old boy could handle that.  But then I would re-read the section.  Paulson has constructed every section with so much reality and honesty.  Brian only has knowledge a boy that age would know.  He messes up and struggles as a boy that age would.  

 

Immense Struggles

It seems that nowadays pre-teen books are all exaggerated dystopias (I’m thinking of the Hunger Games variety).  What’s awesome about Hatchet is it has similar themes—youth faced with immense struggle—but it is so real.  The immense struggles are ones that some of my students face: divorce, loneliness, stress.

What’s more, the wilderness challenges he face are all well within the realm of possibility.  A student reads this and is faced with the thought that this could, maybe, happen to them (Hunger Games, not so much)—which is what makes the lessons so much more powerful.

 

The Dark Cave

There are poignant moments in which Brian is overwhelmed, frustrated, depressed, and desires nothing more than to give up.  Through real despair, Brian learn and grows:

“He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work. It wasn’t just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that–it didn’t work.”

I’ve copied this quote and I keep closely accessible I definitely have caught myself “crying in the corner of the dark cave” sometimes.  But I read this quote, and I realize something so crucial:

Life is going to suck sometimes.  You are strong enough to handle it.  You’re going to mess up.  You can still handle it.  You’re going to be overwhelmed.  You can handle it.  You’re going to be beaten down.  You can handle it.

Self-pity doesn’t work.  Giving in doesn’t work.  But what if you can’t handle it?  When you’re really weak?  Can’t go on?  Want to crawl into a corner and cry?

God can handle it.

 

Tough Hope

Letting God handle it requires a special type of hope. A strong, real, very Christian brand of hope.  Brian develops such a hope:

“Not hope that he would be rescued–that was gone. But hope in his knowledge. Hope in the fact that he could learn and survive and take care of himself. Tough hope, he thought that night. I am full of tough hope.”

I work with children lost in the woods.  They live in broken homes.  They have lost parents to death, illness, violence, substance abuse, divorce.  I work with children who are bullied, who battle mental disorders, who are drowning in stress and anxiety and loneliness.  

Of course we work to fix what we can, but there are innumerable things we can’t fix.  There are kids we just can’t rescue.

And for a while there I was angry at God.  My every prayer was that God would magically fix their situations.

Hatchet taught me to think differently.  God might not “rescue” these kids, at least, not from an earthly perspective.  But my new prayer is that God will shine through their lives in the form of beautiful, profound, tough hope.

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Amy M. Ink Slingers

Struggling

Struggling            I have been struggling to write this post.  Starting and stopping over the course of a few weeks.  Many apologies to my editor!! I’m not sure what the block is.  Sunday morning I decided to go swim laps at our city pool.  My oldest son was serving a late mass, so I had time in the morning, and it’s free (always a big plus!!).

            I have always enjoyed swimming, from the feeling of weightlessness to the cool water as I cut through the water.  I am in no way a competitive swimmer though. Quietly swimming my laps alongside the other (mostly daily) swimmers and water-walkers helped to let my mind run free and not even to compose a to-do list or reflect too much while I swam.

            It’s been a summer of slower schedules but mixed with unexpected things, which is typical.  Praying, reflecting, asking for direction and healing mixed with grace and forgiveness – these have been my constants.  However, I haven’t been seeing or feeling any progress.  Why?

            Recently, I read that when we are putting others down or wishing we are better at something, we are actually questioning God’s plan for our lives; we are, in effect, saying that how God made us isn’t good enough.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  That I feel inadequate as a mom of teenagers (or adolescents or preschoolers or toddlers…) is a reflection on how I am looking at myself.  Trusting in God’s plan and purpose for my life needs to be my focus.  If I work from a place of hoping in God, trusting that He made me exactly like He wanted, joy is easier to come by, and I can find peace in my daily activities, even when they don’t go as planned.  

            However, when I try to do it on my own, I’m not letting Jesus lead, and I’m not taking His yoke upon myself.  He tells us that His burden is easy and His yoke is light.  That is because He is with us.  I don’t have the strength to do this life on my own.  I will be weary, worn out, and beaten down.  Taking Jesus’ yoke, letting Him lead me, gives me His strength.  Only then can I do His will and find peace.

           When I read a book, I am terrible about flipping to the end to see how it turns out. This habit has ruined more than one mystery for me. Reading ebooks helps some (it’s much harder to flip quickly to the end!).

            Unless I let go of the questions I have about how life will turn out or how to do, God can’t get into my heart.    “God does not fit into an occupied heart.” (St. John of the Cross)

           I am praying for guidance while my mind is still plotting a course on its own.  I want to know how the situation will play out.  If we do this, then they will do that and so on.  It doesn’t work that way.  While on the surface, I’m asking God for help, I’m not truly giving Him the reigns.  It’s time to let go of the questions and truly give God my heart and my life.

            How many times in the bible do we hear people asking for healing?  Or we hear that Jesus healed someone even before they ask.  Sometimes, the person has been suffering for years, as was the case with the woman hemorrhaging for 12 years. (Matthew 9:20)  Other times, it is a fever as was the case with Peter’s mother-in-law. (Matthew 8:14)  Jesus would be preaching or walking along and someone would call out to him for healing. (Luke 7:11-19)  

            Jesus’ healing took on many forms.  He healed the woman at the well by his knowledge and forgiveness of her sins.  He healed the woman brought to him by the elders by his forgiveness and refusal to cast stones at her or her accusers.

            Our need for healing can take many forms: physical, spiritual, emotional, mental.  There are times we aren’t even aware of our need for healing.  A small thing that doesn’t seem significant chips away at our well-being.  After time, we look, and God seems far away.  

            It happens in our relationships with other people too.  We take for granted that our close relationships, family or friends, will always be there.  Without work and awareness, though, that isn’t the case.  A day slips by, maybe two, which grows into a week or a month.  Suddenly, we look around and that relationship that was always there is gone.  

            When we let bitterness invade our thoughts, we turn our back on forgiveness.  Even the smallest of grudges can turn into bigger issues.  

            Letting go of control and letting go of the “need to know” releases these issues from our minds and our hearts and lets God come back in, where He belongs.

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Consecrated Life Current Events Faith Formation Fatherhood Ink Slingers Interviews Marriage Michelle Motherhood Parenting Priesthood Single life Sisterhood Spiritual Growth Vocations

Theology of the Body Congress: Hope for a Broken World

 

theology of the body congress

There is no denying that our world is broken. We only have to turn on the television or read the news online or in print to know that our world is hurting. As a result of this brokenness, we see our society seeking to change what it means to be a family. As concerned parents we have to wonder how we can prepare our families to remain faithful to God’s vision and hope for the family.

Between 1979 and 1984 St. Pope John Paul II began giving Wednesday audiences known as “Theology of the Body”. In his talks he spoke of the beauty and dignity of the human body. He reminded the Church that each person was made in the image and likeness of God and that the human body therefore had a specific meaning- it made visible an invisible reality. Instead of being made simply for personal pleasure or gain, the body was capable of answering fundamental questions about life but also was able to give us the means to love others in the way that God loves us. It is through the God-given gift of our human bodies, made both male and female, that we are able to find true happiness and fulfillment.

TOB for every bodyTheology of the Body is not simply for married couples or for those wishing to teach their teens how to stay chaste. These of course are wonderful reasons to study Theology of the Body, but TOB is made for all people. It is for those who are single, those who are married, for the anxious teen, the celibate priest or religious, for those who are in relationships, those who wish to instruct others, and most importantly it is for families. TOB reaches into each and every facet of our lives and helps to educate us all on the beauty and the sacredness of the human body.

This coming September in Southern California The Theology of the Body Institute will host a Congress to bring St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to all those who wish to discover the joy and freedom that comes from understanding the sacred gift of the human body.

The Institute’s mission reads, “…the 2016 TOB Congress will propose a powerful vision of sexual complementarity that reaches the core of what it means to be human, made in the image of the God Who truly is a Family – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Through presentations from experts in the field of TOB, participants will encounter God’s plan for fruitful, self-giving love, which lies at the very heart of what the family is meant be, as well as ways of ministering to the human family on the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and sociological level.”

TOB

The three day Congress will be led by over 30 powerhouse Theology of the Body experts and enthusiasts including Greg and Julie Alexander, Christopher West, Jason Evert, Dr. Pia De Solenni, Bill Donaghy, Dr. Angela Franks, Matt Fradd, Fr. Sean Kilcawley, Sr. Regina Marie Gorman, O.C.D., as well as many more amazing men and women dedicated to sharing the joy and freedom that comes from understanding God’s intent for the human body.

Through keynote speakers, break-out sessions, and panel discussions Congress goers will have the opportunity to hear how TOB relates to numerous topics that affect our lives- pornography, teenage sexuality, infertility, same sex attraction, the struggles of married life, the struggles of family life, teens in a digital age, TOB for singles, TOB for feminists, divorce, and many other issues.

In the coming weeks here at Catholic Sistas we will be featuring interviews with a few of the keynote speakers from the Congress. We are honored to be able to share with our readers the insights these amazing individuals have gained through study, through prayer, and through their everyday lives. Not only have they dedicated their lives to learning about the sacredness and beauty of the human body and how it relates to love of self, love of others, and most importantly love of God, but they also seek to live their lives embracing these tenets as well.

We hope that you will be inspired by their stories and encouraged by their advice. We hope that they will bring hope to you in a time where hope often seems to be lacking.

 

male and femaleOur human bodies are sacred and wonderful. They are fearfully and wonderfully made. They can lead us into a fuller and deeper relationship with not only one another but ultimately with God. It is through our humanity that we can come to know God. Theology of the Body gives us the insights and the tools we need to grow closer to one another and to our Father.

If you are interested in attending the Theology of the Body Congress in Ontario, CA from September 23-25, 2016, please check out the TOB Congress website here. You can read about their mission, you can view the complete lineup of speakers and their topics, and you can register for the Congress.

If you are interested in learning more about the Theology of the Body but can’t attend the Congress, check out the Theology of the Body Institute website here. “The Theology of the Body Institute spreads the life-giving message of Theology of the Body through graduate level courses, on-site speaker programs and clergy enrichment training. Theology of the Body Institue seeks to penetrate and permeate the culture with a vision of true sexuality that appeals to the deepest yearnings of the human heart for love and union.”

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for interviews with some of these amazing speakers! I promise you will not only learn about the importance of the Theology of the Body in all aspects of your life but you will also be inspired and entertained!

tob pope john paul II