Monday, February 9, 2015

Growing in Trust during Pregnancy

I'm pretty sure time goes by more quickly when one is least that is what it seems. With every passing day I get closer and closer to our due date. At 31 weeks of my pregnancy, it is now single digits for the weekly countdown until baby James is here (unless, of course, he comes early or late). 9 weeks to go! And so much to do!

As I have been reading different materials and constantly thinking about this baby, I have been reflecting on the different stages of becoming a parent. I'm sure others will have different experiences, but as a first-time mom, this has been my journey so far:

First Trimester

The first months were coupled with excitement and also worry. Aaron and I weren't surprised about the double lines on the pregnancy test, but we were excited. At the same time I was also worried about miscarriage; I know of a lot of women who have had miscarriages, and while the books say it isn't that common, it seemed pretty frequent in my world. Because of that, I was nervous about telling a lot of people at first, but I also knew that if anything did happen, they would be of great support if needed.

Second Trimester

The "middle" months came with joy, unbelief, and impatience. I'm sure the joy part is pretty obvious...we're having a baby! The unbelief part was "I cannot believe an actual baby is growing inside of me!" And the impatience came with waiting to see the baby bump grow and not look like I just ate too many donuts. During the second trimester we also had the official ultrasound and found out we're having a boy (James Henry). I also started to feel him move around, and those kicks and punches continued to get stronger.

Third Trimester

As I entered the final months of  this pregnancy, the joy and excitement are still there, but the worry came back when I got further into the reading of my pregnancy books..."what if he is stillborn? what if he is born prematurely? what if he isn't healthy when he is born? what if something happens after he is born?" And then I realized that all I can do is trust the Lord with the life and health of our son.

Trusting God and in His will has to be a continuous part of our lives, and yet it gets more difficult during various transition times. Some "trusting moments" came easily, such as deciding to transfer to Saint Mary's University without ever stepping foot on the campus and joining Echo, knowing I could be placed in a location far from home (let's be honest, I thought I'd be placed in the Midwest, so of course I jumped right into the program).

Reading the letter from Notre Dame stating my apprenticeship was going to be in Fort Worth, Texas was not my finest "trust moment." I cried. But then I came to accept it and knew God had some great plans for me down there! Other times when trust came with great difficulty was when long-term relationships ended, but at least now I can look back on the experiences to see how I have grown and what it taught me.

Now that I'm married with a child on the way, I feel like I need to trust God even more, and this is the most difficult trust. I don't often think of terrible situations about Aaron being taken from me through unexpected accidents or whatever else, but they occasionally creep into my brain because tragedies do happen. And it's scary to think that the life that we created together, our son, could suddenly be taken away. But we don't know the plans God has for us and all we can do is trust in His will and that the Lord will provide for whatever happens. Easier said than done sometimes, but I think the more we say it the more we'll believe it.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit."  - Jeremiah 17:7-8
"When you pass through the water, I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned; the flames shall not consume you." - Isaiah 43:2 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rebel With A Cause

I'm a rebel youth minister. Watch out world.

I'm currently in my fifth year as a (paid) youth minister at a parish. The first four years I was down in Texas, but now I'm ministering in Minnesota. While some things are different between the two dioceses I have worked for, other things stay the same. Like having to do a "self-protection" safe environment class for faith formation/youth group.

If one were to survey youth ministers across the country, I'm sure they'd tell you that this is their least favorite session to teach. And I will bet that the main reason why it is their least favorite is due to the lessons and materials provided to us by whatever company was contracted by the diocese for the safe environment sessions (i.e. Virtus, Keeping Children Safe, Protecting God's Children/Called to Protect, etc).

Of course we (the youth ministers and faith formation coordinators) understand the importance of this lesson and why we have to do it...but the material provided to us that the diocese wants us to use is terrible. TERRIBLE! If they want teens to actually learn something, there needs to be major changes...perhaps they should consult people who actually work with youth!?

I use the material provided more as a guideline for my safe environment self-protection lessons, I never teach "from the book" for this session. The material I had in Texas is actually better than what I was given in Minnesota (it's not a good sign when the material keeps referring to high school students as children), so I used that as the base material for talking about boundaries (and sexual abuse). But if we're going to teach a self-protection class, then we need to teach that their sexuality is something worth protecting.

Tonight I gave this session to my sophomore (Year 2) Confirmation group and the first talk I gave was an introduction to the Theology of the Body with an emphasis on the dignity of the human person and that everyone has great worth and value. This is something that should probably be talked about all the time with them...but it isn't. So I wanted to reach their hearts first and my hope was to give them an understanding of why we teach this session and why it is important. This is the kind of information that needs to be added to the lessons provided, and it is why I will never administer the plans as they were written. Yes, it's more work for me to re-write a lesson, but it is worth it...the teens are worth it.

After the session tonight, the catechists/table leaders kept praising me on what a great lesson it was and they thanked me for the material I covered. It certainly is great to receive affirmation, but I give all the glory to God, for it is through His inspiration that I was able to say what I did tonight.

I know I didn't go into great detail on what I taught, but if you're a youth minister and interested in the lesson plan I did, contact me and I will send it your way!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Traditions, Old and New

Growing up I always loved Christmas, and I definitely have my parents to thank for that. They made it such a special time of year: finding the perfect tree to cut down and decorate, baking cookies and teaching us how to put the right amount of sprinkles on them, watching Christmas movies and singing the songs, and of course the excitement of St. Nicholas and Santa. It was the traditions that our family had that made the holiday season come alive. My brother and I were so excited about the gifts Santa brought that we started waking up earlier each year to open our stockings and then wait for our parents to wake up to unwrap the rest of the presents under the tree. It started off at 6am, but soon turned to 5am, and when we were a bit older, excitement still coursed through our veins on Christmas eve/morning that we were out of bed by 2am opening our stocking gifts. That usually resulted in sleeping on the couch, but I'll always cherish those times spent with my brother. We know who left the gifts under the tree, but it was still magical and the gift tags still read "To: Lisa, From: Santa."

Every Christmas we had the same routine of attending the 5PM Mass, spending the night with my dad's family munching on a buffet of goodies, opening our gifts on Christmas morning, and then spending the remainder of the day with my mom's family. Last year was the first Christmas I was not home in Wisconsin, instead I spent it in Texas with my husband of three weeks. And it was weird. Mass was different than what I was used to, plus we had to sit in the parish hall, and my husband had to work on Christmas eve. On Christmas morning I woke up early before he came home so I could still make the morning magical; our apartment was set up perfect and I had breakfast started. It was enjoyable, just different.

This year we live in Minnesota and once again we'll be able to do the "normal" routine of Christmas celebrations. But we don't know if every year will be like this one, and it likely won't be the same. We're starting our own family and we'll need to come up with our own traditions for Christmas (and Advent). I know that it will be a special time for our own children, but we also want to keep the focus on Jesus and not just the "magic of the season." I don't know how we'll make that happen yet, but it's exciting to think about. Change is difficult and I would love to stick with the familiar celebrations, but as a new family things will be different.

What are your traditions you have started with your family?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Intentional Advent

I'm baaaaack! I thought Advent would be a great time to start blogging again, so here we go!

Every year at the beginning of Advent I always have a glorified vision of what the season will look like for me and my spiritual life. I romanticize the prayer time, thinking it will be lovely to spend it in front of our beautiful tree with some candles lit and my mind set on the Nativity of our Lord. In reality, I always wonder where Advent went and feel guilty about the lack of prayer that ends up happening. Right now the home is a mess and our tree is only half decorated. My husband and I are both exhausted; he began a new job a couple weeks ago and I have a baby in my womb zapping my energy here and there. And of course let’s not forget about all the extras fighting for space in the calendar: grocery shopping, Christmas shopping, doctor appointments, Christmas parties, and extra work commitments.

We all know how busy December is and throughout Advent we should take time to calm our minds and hearts and focus on prayer a little bit more. There are so many Advent resources out there that, at times, even trying to figure out what we want to do for this beautiful season can be overwhelming. So maybe instead of creating some grandiose plan for the next four weeks, I need to take Advent day by day. Perhaps my prayer time will be different every day, and some days it might be 5 minutes, other days I can spend 30 minutes with Scripture, soaking in the presence of the Lord. No matter what, it needs to be intentional. That’s what Mary’s pregnancy was all about, it was intentional on bringing forth the Savior of the World. It’s ok if our prayers aren't glamorous and we don’t get in that full 30 minutes or an hour of prayer time. We need to do what we can, and as long as we’re being intentional about it, we won’t feel guilty. Because sometimes you just need to go to bed at 7:30 PM with dirty dishes crowding the sink and your Bible unopened that day.

Despite our busyness, let us intentionally focus on the Lord and on the joy and peace this season brings. Every day may our lips proclaim "Come, Lord Jesus" and our hearts rest in His love.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Prophetic Priesthood and Celibacy

I read a great piece on why priests are male and celibate. I'll be honest, the article did a better job of explaining celibacy than it did for why women can't be priests. The author's main argument for that was the natural differences and how males and females complement each other. There are many more reasons than that and I was hoping he was going to go into them. Oh well.

The article, written by Fr. Damian J Ference, can be found on the Word On Fire blog here.

Back to the celibacy is the paragraph that really struck me:

Celibacy stands boldly in the face of a fallen world as a powerful witness that there is more to life than sexual pleasure, and that there is more to sex than just pleasure. A healthy celibate priest (or religious or layperson) becomes a prophetic sign that points to a much deeper and more satisfying reality than can be contained in the material world. In the spirit of St. Augustine, the healthy celibate reminds us that our hearts are restless until they rest in God, no matter how much sex we may have to try and fill them up.
I'll be honest, I haven't thought of that before. I've never had an issue with the celibacy of priests, I think it's a beautiful thing. When discussing the issue with others, my main argument for celibacy is that they are married to the Church. They enter into a sacrificial role, giving of their lives to serve the Church and to give greater glory to God.

Priests live radical lifestyles. They have chosen, for themselves, a life of celibacy. If you told the "average Joe" that there is more to life than sex, he'd probably give you a funny and disgusted look. Our world has made sex a normal part of life. It is no longer sacred and is often an act that is defiled. The "hook-up culture" runs rampant in high schools, college, and what people try to pass off as their "adult lives." Reading articles and comments about casual sex, whether the people are in relationships or not, saddens my heart.

I doubt we will ever go back to a time when sex was seen as a sacred act reserved for marriage, but maybe we can create more reverence for it than there currently is now. And that is why it is so important for priests to remain celibate. They are the world's example that there are more ways to love than just sex! Another line from the article: “He’s happy, and he doesn't have sex. How is that possible?” Sex has become trivialized and most people find it a waste of time to talk about abstinence and purity because "everyone will just do it anyway." That is not true; the more we discuss chastity, the more it becomes ingrained in the hearts and minds of teens and adults. It worked for me.

The article also related celibacy to marriage:

And this is not to say that celibacy somehow downplays the beauty and power and holiness of marital love. But the witness of the healthy celibate is a reminder to married couples that their marital love must always be celebrated as a participation in God’s love, and make present the love between Christ the Bridegroom and his Church in order to be truly satisfying.
As a person who will be entering into the sacrament of matrimony in nine months, I find that quote beautiful. Sex is not about pleasing your partner, rather it is to be an expression of true love and, as stated, a participation in God's love. The act of love for a priest is his celibacy. The act of love for husband and wife is sex. And yes, it is very difficult to wait, but that wait is definitely worth it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Farewell, Papa!

Today Fr. Ron chose to say the Mass of Thanksgiving for Pope Benedict XVI, and that is when it became real to me that he would no longer be the shepherd of the Church here on earth. Eight years is a relatively short time for the papacy, but Benedict XVI left quite a legacy. I have a stack of books of his written work, almost all of it published while he was pope. He led us with a gentle spirit, yet legitimate concern for our spiritual welfare.

Fr. Ron gave a wonderful homily about Pope Benedict. He mentioned how, as a boy, Joseph Ratzinger was very shy, but had the courage of his own father to stand up for Truth. And his whole papacy has been about fighting the relativism so prevalent in our world today. There is a Truth and Jesus is it. He always encouraged people to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As I listened to Fr. Ron reflect on this point, I thought about how it seems people today are afraid to have a personal relationship with Jesus. They're afraid of that encounter they could have with the Risen Lord. But why? I know I can find myself sometimes skirting around my own prayer life. Are we afraid we could change!? Are we afraid of the unknown? Afraid we might see an image of the Blessed Virgin in our toast the next morning? What keeps us from that relationship?

This Lenten season has been about strengthening my prayer life. I have begun almost every day with Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. I find comfort in praying that way and see it as a way to get back on track. Some mornings my thoughts are quite distracted or I'm pressed for time, so my prayer doesn't seem as genuine, but it's still there. The mornings when I take time to actually have a conversation with God and express myself are the best ones.

This morning the Pope tweeted: "If only everyone could experience the joy of being Christian, being loved by God who gave his Son for us!" We can only experience that joy when we are in true relationship with the living God and acknowledge His presence in every moment of our lives. In his last Wednesday audience, Pope Benedict said he felt the presence of the Lord with him every day of his papacy. Can we say that about our normal, everyday lives? I'd like to acknowledge that same presence. Maybe some days we have to look for it, but joy and peace are a simple prayer away.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Into the Desert

Another year, another Lent. I can't recall any memorable Lents from years past, but I do know I enjoy the season. It is a time to step back and step into the desert with Jesus. For all of us that means something different, especially what we need to step back from. In years past I have viewed numerous lists of creative things to do for Lent or even thought of my own, and I would always want to take on too many things. I would want to pray the Liturgy of the Hours more and pray the rosary more and make time to read spiritual readings, and of course get in more reflection time. Well, it does become too much and it's easy to "fail" at what we want to do for Lent.

This year I'm keeping it quite simple. I'm looking forward to it, yet dreading it at the same time. For Lent 2013 I will be waking up earlier in the morning and using that time to pray. I am not a morning person, so this will be a sacrifice of my time, but I'll also be adding in more prayer. And coffee. It will be difficult; even this morning I didn't get out of bed until an hour after my alarm first went off. But I believe it will be fruitful. I will be stretching myself to grow, but in that growth I will become a more balanced person. I'm hoping that praying and reflecting in the morning will better prepare me for the day and also set my mind toward God.

Blessings on your own Lenten journey, whatever you have chosen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Gospel Reflection

This Sunday's Gospel couldn't be any more perfect for the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. And the Church didn't plan it...this is just the way the calendar falls this year!

We have heard the story over and over about Jesus preaching to a large crowd and then telling Peter to "put out into the deep and lower your net." Peter was probably tired, since he would have been up very early (or all night) fishing and had no luck with catching anything. I'm sure he thought Jesus was a little's the middle of the day, no way are they doing to catch anything. But Peter was obedient to a man he barely knew and to his astonishment he hauled in an amazing catch of fish.

When we're tired and fed up with our work, how often do we say to Jesus, "but at your command I will..." We all lead busy lives and can be tired and frustrated after a long day, and because we're tired we don't take the time we need to pray. I know I'm guilty of it. Before we can do what Jesus asks of us, we first need to listen, which we all know is the toughest thing to do. God doesn't shout at us or give us great signs; He stirs our heart in silence.

Lent is approaching quickly, a wonderful reminder for all of us to enter into the desert once again. So often we want to be like Peter and say "Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful person." But Jesus responds to all of us, "Do not be afraid." This Lent, do not be afraid to put out into the deep and cast your nets. Do not be afraid to leave things behind and follow Jesus. Do not be afraid to put God first and things of this world second.

Jesus didn't say "It's alright to sit on your couch and drink beer all night, I'm sure you'll make it to Mass on Sunday." No, he said "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Joy Amid Tragedy?

Up until yesterday, I didn't have time to sit down and really reflect on what happened on Friday. My excuse is that I was busy and didn't have time to read the details of the story. All I knew was that there was a school shooting and the victims were innocent children who were 6 and 7 years old. Tragic and sad? Yes. But why read more and reflect on it if I'll get sad in return? And that is exactly one of the many problems we have in this country.

Our deacon talked about it at the end of his homily on Sunday, and that's when it really struck me. 27 lives taken right before Christmas. Their families can't get them back. Their families will be suffering grief and mourning the loss of their loved ones while the rest of the world celebrates this usually joyful time. And I thought to myself, how crazy that this happened right before Gaudete Sunday...the Sunday of Advent when we're supposed to be rejoicing and focusing on joy and the coming of Christ. And the songs we sang at Mass today were about God's goodness. Good can come from anything...but it will be difficult to find the good in this.

After an event with middle school youth, I finally sat down at my computer at work and read up on the tragic events of last Friday. I became teary eyed thinking about all of it and also hearing about the brave teachers and administrators of the school. They are certainly martyrs. The reality of the event slowly started to sink in. After getting into my car and driving, I just wanted to cry, but held back for my safety on the road and for my trip to the grocery store. I didn't want to look at people, but I did and offered a smile, and everyone smiled back. Small signs of hope and joy.

We can choose to let it affect us or we can choose to ignore it, and I think all too often people choose the latter. It's what I did at first, but then I remembered that we're all connected and if we don't let this break our hearts, then what will? We cannot become complacent in the world we live in, staying inside of our own little bubble and thinking things can't/won't affect us. But we can't hide. We cannot become emotionless robots. Change only comes when we love, not when we fight and argue over rights and who is to blame. Our world is lacking in love, and it all begins at home. Unfortunately tragedies will happen, whether from nature or mentally ill individuals, but we have to come together as one human race for comfort and to find peace once again.

"At dusk weeping comes for the night; but at dawn there is rejoicing...You changed my mourning into dancing." Psalm 30:6, 12

"Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy." John 16:20

God has made promises to us through His written word. "Joy" appears numerous times throughout Scripture, even paired with mourning. We can keep faith and take hope in these words and promises. Life is difficult, no one ever said it would be easy, but if we seek it out and seek God, we can experience joy.

Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Below is a poem I found on Facebook:

Twas' 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38,
When 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven's gate.
Their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air.
They could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.
They were filled with such joy, they didn't know what to say.
They remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.
"Where are we?" asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.
"This is heaven," declared a small boy. "We're spending Christmas at God's house."
When what to their wondering eyes did appear,
But Jesus, their savior, the children gathered near.
He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same.
Then he opened His arms and He called them by name.
And in that moment was joy that only heaven can bring.
Those children all flew into the arms of their King.
And as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace,
One small girl turned and looked at Jesus' face.
And as if He could read all the questions she had
He gently whispered to her, "I'll take care of Mom and Dad."
Then He looked down on earth, the world far below,
He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe.
Then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand,
"Let my power and presence re-enter this land!"
"May this country be delivered from the hands of fools"
"I'm taking back my nation. I'm taking back my schools!"
Then He and the children stood up without a sound.
"Come now my children, let me show you around."
Excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran,
All displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can.
And I heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,
"In the midst of the darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT."

Written by Cameo Smith, Mt. Wolf, PA

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Awesome Video about Mary

The folks at Busted Halo have done it again! I love their videos and their newest is "Mary in 2 Minutes."
Check it out!