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Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

In this post I’m going to share my thoughts about two books I recently read: Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie and Traveling Light Deluxe Edition by Max Lucado.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
After getting past the first chapter, which I found boring and slow, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It kept my interest as I tried to figure out who the killer was. I’m not a great detective like Ms. Marple, so my attempts were unsuccessful, although, in the end, it all seemed rather obvious who the culprit was.

Traveling Light Deluxe Edition by Max Lucado
The author of this book goes through Psalm 23 line by line and shows readers that the advice in this psalm can help them to travel light through life without

“…the suitcase of guilt. A sack of discontent…a duffel bag of weariness on one shoulder and a hanging bag of grief on the other…a backpack of doubt, an overnight bag of loneliness, and a trunk of fear.” — Kindle edition, locations 157-60

I bought this book specifically because of the chapters about “The Burden of Worry” and “The Burden of Fear.” Worry and fear both contribute to anxiety. I ended up reading the first half of this book twice. I started it, then life got in the way and I couldn’t find the time to finish it. By the time I found the time to finish it I had forgotten what I read previously so I started from the beginning again. I’m glad I did because I think I got more out of it the second time I read it.

As I was reading, I realized that I carry around more baggage than I thought. Besides worry and fear, I also carry the burden of self-reliance (chapter 3), the burden of discontent (chapter 4), and the burden of doubt (chapter 17).

“The Lord is my shepherd…” That’s how Psalm 23 starts. As a city girl (or I should say suburban girl) I know what a shepherd is from looking it up in the dictionary: “a person who tends sheep” (p. 1147, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition). Until reading this book I never really thought much about what went into tending sheep. The author describes in detail what shepherds do for their sheep to take care of them and relates that to how the Lord takes care of us. After reading this book, I have a new-found appreciation for all that shepherds do for their flocks and, importantly, a new-found appreciation for all that the Lord does and the promises He makes in Psalm 23.

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Starość Nie Radość!

Can’t We Talk About Something More PLEASANT? by Roz Chast

This book highlights the events surrounding the last years of life of Roz Chast’s parents. It’s written in graphic novel format, using the same style as the Roz Chast cartoons you’ll find in The New Yorker magazine. And, while there is humor in this book, it’s also quite depressing.

It’s amazing to me how universal the process of dying is. In my lifetime I’ve lived through the aging and death of my father, 2 aunts, and a great aunt and have witnessed the aging and debilitating conditions of other family members. While reading this book I would often remember one relative or another going through similar experiences that Ms. Chast’s parents experienced. While no one relative experienced it all, collectively, among all the relatives I’ve witnessed age and die, I could point to various scenarios in this book and think about a similar experience in the life of me or my relatives.

I could totally relate to Ms. Chast and her apprehension at visiting her father in the nursing home. I could also relate to her saying that even though her dad made her “bats”, in the end, that’s not what mattered. She also said that she still dreams of her father. I do too. Although, unlike Ms. Chast, my dreams don’t always put me at peace nor is my father at peace sometimes in my dreams. Sometimes I get the feeling of dread knowing what’s coming, thinking that I’ll have to go through the caregiving experience again. Once I wake up I realize that my father is dead and no, I don’t have to go through that again. What’s past is past, thankfully.

Interestingly enough, soon after my father died, he appeared to me in a dream glowing. He told me: “Hold His hand and test the waters.” An odd thing for my father to say but clearly referencing Matthew 14 where Peter walks on water as long as he keeps his focus on Jesus.

28 Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” — New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), Matthew 14:28-33.

My father’s last words to me were: “Have a good time!” What he meant was: “I’m dying. You can now live your life. You no longer have to put your life on hold to take care of me.”

From time to time I try to remember my father’s “hold His hand” commandment when I get to a point of retreating into myself and my anxiety starts to take over and overwhelms me. God has a plan for me and all I have to do is “hold His hand and test the waters.”

(For those of you who don’t speak Polish, the translated title of this post is “There’s nothing pleasant about old age!” A phrase my father and one of his sisters would repeat often, in Polish, as they got older.)

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The first reading at Mass today resonated with me, especially in this fractured time we live in, with all the vitriol that has been spewed from both sides of the political spectrum.

Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call and the Lord will answer,
you shall cry for help, and He will say:
Here I am!
If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;

And the next verse:

Then the Lord will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.

Source: Isaiah 58:7-11 from The New American Bible.

Recently I’ve been thinking about going offline permanently, except for work. Staying away from social media, specifically. But also trying my hardest to stay away from the comments on news sites. Recently I was watching a video about President Trump’s travel ban and its implications. The comments were acerbic; the name calling was rampant. There was no opportunity for intelligent people to have a constructive conversation about the pros and cons of the ban. No opportunity to question, no opportunity to attempt to understand the other’s point of view.

Recently on Facebook, I asked a simple question about a relative’s shared post. At least I thought it was a simple question: Why didn’t President Trump include more countries in the travel ban, specifically those countries that spawned the terrorists that have attacked or tried to attack our country? I don’t understand.

And I still don’t understand. The question was never answered (at least not as of the publication date of this post). Followup comments included telling me to get my facts straight about our current vetting of refugees (I mentioned that I thought the 1.5-2 year vetting by 15 government agencies was sufficient). Another comment said that I need to “check my facts on radical Muslims attacking our shores… I need to read what’s really happening in our country. The media only tells how and what they want us to know.” But, no source was was given for these facts she speaks about. When I asked where she gets these facts about radical Muslims attacking our shores, someone else listed everything from the shoe bomber, to the underwear bomber, to the Fort Hood shooter, to the World Trade Center bombing, to the attacks in London and the attack on the USS Cole. This culminated with the comment: “Those are a few facts, would u like more.” Again, this still didn’t answer my original question. All of these bombings and shootings were committed by people who were born in countries other than the countries on the travel ban list, including by some U.S. citizens. And some weren’t even committed in this country. So, again, why didn’t President Trump include countries that have spawned terrorists who have actually attempted to or carried out attacks on our country? I may never know my relative’s thoughts on the matter (especially since this relative has since un-friended me on Facebook).

Exasperating!

I guess I should be used to this by now and not just in the political realm. Ever since I asked my teacher a math question in the first grade, and she refused to answer, the response has been the same by everyone that I’ve tried to ask a question of since. That’s largely why I stopped asking questions in school. Things did not get better in adulthood. My husband once chided me about spending too much time analyzing characters and plot lines from my favorite TV show (I’m a former English major, so analyzing characters I care about is fun for me). He says I should spend my time on learning something new. So, I asked him about the braking system on trains (he programs train simulators for a major railroad company). He never gave me an answer.

Again, Exasperating!

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my father. When it came to whole groups of people and his attitude toward them, there was no denying he was a racist. More than once growing up I heard the Polish translation for the “N” word come out of his mouth. And, considering his experiences in life, I can totally understand his attitude. But, on an individual basis, once he got to know you and you got to know him, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for you no matter your race or ethnic background. Not too long ago I was at an event and someone who was good friends with my father kept saying what a good man he was and what a good friend my father was to him. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this from his friends, former neighbors, and their families. It warms my heart that even after all these years (he died in 1993) his memory brings a warm feeling to so many people’s hearts. He truly was a light of the world.

We need more light in this world. A way to be that light is to get to know people who don’t look like we do, who don’t think like we do, who are in different circumstances than we are. Ask questions. Answer questions honestly. Don’t be defensive. Truly try to understand another person’s point of view. Only then I think we can stop seeing the “other”. Only then we can begin to see what we have in common, what unites us rather than what divides us.

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In honor of the March for Life in Washington DC today, I’m reposting this blog post I originally posted back on January 25, 2010. The total number of abortions (1973-2015) has risen to 58,586,256 since my original post.

“What would happen if there were a beautiful and highly intelligent child up in heaven waiting to be born and his or her parents decided that the two children they already had were enough?”

— Linus Van Pelt [from a Peanuts comic strip originally published in July 1970; Schultz, Charles M. The Complete Peanuts 1969 to 1970, July 2008, p. 244.]

Recently my aunt and I were discussing the issue of, as my aunt calls it, “how does it come to be that you get the feeling that you are you?” You’re probably thinking: Huh!? But, it’s not that difficult to understand, really. At least the concept isn’t difficult. The actual answer is a mystery, however. What she means is why is it that she was born the 8th child in her family. Why wasn’t her sister Helen the 8th? Or her sister Frances? Or, even her brother John? When (and how) was it decided that Helen would be child number seven, Frances child number six, and John child number five. And, I’m not talking about why their parents picked those names when they did; I’m talking about why the person as a whole was born when he or she was born and into the family he or she was born into.

In our discussion yesterday, this brought to mind a recent Sunday reading from church:

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the same benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.”
— 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11, The New American Bible

St. Paul goes on to say that each of us is a part of a whole, and each of our gifts are meant to be used for the benefit of the community. And, each of us, no matter our gifts, are integral to the functioning of the whole. (See: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30.)

Well, this got me thinking. Maybe the reason each of us is born, into the family we are born, at the time we are born, is because God knows what that family and in a larger sense, the world as a whole, needs. The child being born is given those necessary gifts. And, that child as he or she grows is responsible for using those gifts for the betterment of the family and the world at large.

Now, this of course, brings us back to the quote cited at the start of this post. And, this is something I think about quite often. What if God wants a certain child to be born, knowing that that person is what the world needs. And, the parents decide that they are done having children or in the extreme case, what if the child is conceived and then aborted. I often wonder what if one or more of those 49 million aborted babies was supposed to grow up to cure cancer or some other disease. Maybe each of them wasn’t supposed to do something so heroic, but whatever gifts were given to that baby, in some small way, was supposed to make our world a better place to live. But, now by the fact that this child was not born, the fate of the world (or maybe just the fate of those that this child may have come in contact with in his or her daily life) is changed. And, what are the ultimate consequences of that choice by the parents? No one will ever know what God intended.

All of this is a mystery, of course. But something to ponder. And at the same time, we all should ponder what gifts God has given us and we should ask ourselves: “Are we using those gifts for the betterment of our family (however we define family) and the world at large?”

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Personally, I’ve never felt a desire to give birth to children (although I’ve always said that if I’d marry, I wouldn’t deny my husband the joy of biological children.) However, since the 2nd grade, when I learned what adoption was, I had felt a strong desire to adopt children in the event that I would marry someday. Eleven years ago I married a wonderful man, but motherhood is looking less and less likely a possibility as time moves on. Recently I came across an article on Facebook titled “Spiritual Motherhood“. Perhaps I should take Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s advice:

“From now on your daily prayer should be, “God, send me spiritual children and I will never turn any one of them down. The more the better.” Simple as that. Pray for the gift of spiritual children. It might very well be that in your beautiful desire to be a biological mother you have overlooked cases where you could have become a spiritual mother….

You are called to motherhood right now. Not next week, not next month. I’m absolutely convinced that God has placed people in your path and called you to motherhood. Your task is to love those that are weak, unhappy, helpless, and unloved.”

I’m posting this ahead of Mother’s Day for all the women out there who, for whatever reason, have not been blessed with biological or adopted children. Sometimes a sadness and depression can set in, a mourning if you will, when this happens. But, perhaps God has a different sort of motherhood in mind for you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the biological, adoptive, and spiritual mothers!

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This past Lent, as I do every Lent, I went about doing an examination of conscience in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation. One of the ways that I do this is to review a printout that I have of the Ten Commandments that also has more specific offenses relating to each Commandment. Whenever I get to “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother”, I usually tend to skip this one. My mother died almost 42 years ago; my father a little over 22 years ago so I figured this didn’t apply to me.

This year, as I was reading the chapter “Dancing for Joy” in the book Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly, as part of the Best Lent Ever program, my mind began to wander.

 

The more we close the gap between the life we are living today and the life Jesus invites us to live through the Gospels, the more we will experience that joy.

So what stops us from closing the gap and dancing for joy?

— Kelly, Matthew. Rediscover Jesus [Kindle edition], Locations 1525-29

As my mind wandered, I realized that “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” did apply to me. More specifically, “Honor Thy Father”. Some time after my father died, he appeared to me in a dream. He was glowing, similar to how angels are pictured to be in old paintings, although with much more light. In this dream he spoke to me. He said “Hold His hand and test the waters.”

Anyone who knew my father would know that he never spoke like that in real life. His last words to me in real life were “have a good time.” I knew this meant that he knew he was dying. He wanted to let me know that now it’s time to live my life. Since I was a teenager (he had his first stroke when I was 13), I put my life on hold to take care of him. Now, at 23, it was time to live the life I was meant to live.

“Hold His hand and test the waters” I’m sure refers to the time when Jesus told Peter to come to him, but in order to do so Peter had to walk on water. As long as Peter kept his focus on Jesus he was able to do the seemingly impossible. As soon as Peter got frightened and turned his focus away from Jesus, he began to drown.

 

When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.

— Sir Winston Churchill

By letting my anxiety take over and not trusting in God, I’m betraying what was essentially the last words my father spoke to me — the last wish my father had for me, and what God, the Father, wants for me. Letting my anxiety take over and not trusting in God prevents me from being the person God intended me to be and in all likelihood prevents me from fulfilling whatever purpose God intended for my life. And, as Matthew Kelly says, it also prevents me from feeling the joy that God intended.

So, how would I answer the question posed earlier: “So what stops me from closing the gap and dancing for joy?” I’d say my anxiety. But how do I let go and let God? So far, the only answer I get is “Just do it.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple when dealing with chronic anxiety. Logically I know that I shouldn’t feel anxious when I do, but logic doesn’t make my anxiety go away. I need some other method of dealing with it.

I always say that books are put into our lives at just the right time. When I was pondering the questions above, I couldn’t find anything specific in the Rediscover Jesus book to help, but a non-Catholic book that I read before Lent did resonate with me. I highlighted several passages in Harnessing Your Emotions by Andrew Wommack. Perhaps I will review those again. Taken as a whole, perhaps both of these books along with prayer and scripture reading, talking to God, and listening in the quiet moments will help.

For months before my jaw surgery several years ago I would have panic attacks, then a day before the surgery, without me doing anything differently, a great peace came over me. I just knew everything was going to be OK. I’ve never forgotten that feeling. I want to feel that peace again in all that I do. I pray that God shows me the way if it is His will.

 

Where will your adventure take you and how will you go forth? Will you be like Peter, hedging your bet and looking at the storm-tossed waves? Or will you choose to see only the outstretched hand of Jesus?

–Kelly, Matthew. Rediscover Jesus [Kindle edition], Locations 1994-97

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This Lent I’m doing something a bit different than in the past. I used to get the Little Black Book that our church offered and spent a few minutes of the day reading the daily bit of trivia about saints and Catholic practices, the Bible verse, and the reflection. I’ve done this for many years but as I reflected more on this practice, I realized that it seemed like it was doing me no good. All the practices during Lent (fasting, abstinence from meat, almsgiving, giving up some bad habit or something you like, spiritual practices) are supposed to move one closer to God.

This year I’ve been feeling differently about Lent and the practices that are mandated. Do they really bring me closer to God?

On Ash Wednesday our heat went out. On top of that work and other aspects of my life had me stressed out. Needless to say my mind was not on Lenten practice for the day. By 3:30 in the afternoon it was getting unbearably cold to work (I work from home). Just as I was ready to quit early for the day (putting me even further behind in my work) and go downstairs where I have a space heater, the furnace repairman called to say that he was on his way. Thank God!

By the time the furnace was fixed, there was no time to get to Mass that evening. So, being that it was an atypical Ash Wednesday and I had had other things on my mind the entire day, I forgot to adhere to the Church-mandated Ash Wednesday fast. As I was lying in bed that night, I realized what I had done. How was I going to rectify that? I thought of several things, but ultimately it led me to reflect on these Lenten practices and to ask myself if these practices lead me closer to God. I’m told that they should, but personally they don’t. I wanted (needed) something more.

Recently, as I was looking at the St. Thomas Aquinas Church bulletin, I came across something that said “Don’t give up chocolate this Lent.” That led me to the Dynamic Catholic website and this:

What Should I Give Up for Lent?

Lent is the perfect time to form new life-giving habits and abandon old self-destructive habits. But most of us just give up chocolate. Then, when Easter arrives, we realize we really haven’t grown spiritually since the beginning of Lent.

Lent is not just about giving things up, like chocolate. Lent is about doing something—something bold to become a better husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, friend, neighbor, etc.

This intrigued me because I had just been thinking about the fact that giving up things for Lent was useless to me. It’s something I’m supposed to do, but it never changed me, my attitude, as it’s supposed to. If this offered an alternative, I was ready to look into it. I bought the Kindle version of the book Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly and I signed up for the “Best Lent Ever” email series.

To get the most out of it, I intend to do the exercises at the end of the chapters. Reflect and write. Something I vowed to do, in general, once my term on our subdivision’s Board was complete. Interestingly enough, my term on the Board ended a day before Ash Wednesday.

I’m a bit behind on the reflections since I didn’t come upon “Best Lent Ever” until 3 days into Lent, but these questions seem to be some of the things that I should ponder not only during Lent but all year long. My pondering tends to take longer than a few minutes so I may end up thinking about the daily reflection on a daily basis and then go back and reflect and write at my own pace. I’m hoping this more reflective practice will indeed have me rediscovering Jesus and growing closer to God.

The first question for reflection: In what area of your life is God inviting you to experience a new beginning?

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