Monday, March 9, 2015

Building "Soul Muscles"

It's very good that I can't "fail" Lent. I heard someone say about Lent recently, "It's better to make a small promise you can keep then to struggle throughout and never succeed." I disagree entirely.

Consciousness is raised through struggle. "Do hard things," right? Our will, our stamina, our conscientiousness, our faith: these are the muscles of our soul. They are built through exercise and specifically through stress.

We know how muscles grow, right? When a muscle is required to produce force, it causes tension. The tension creates tiny tears in the tight bundle of fibers that makes up the muscle. When your muscles know they have been under tension, the send in the troops to rebuild those tears. As the tears heal, the muscle then grows in those spots. Over time, and with consistent commands to produce greater amounts of force, the muscle grows in measurable fashion.

Yet if you never require anything extra of your muscles, they won't grow. In fact, if you keep on slacking and not requiring more of them over time as you age, they will naturally atrophy! Yes, in choosing to do nothing of note, in not requiring of our bodies the extraordinary, we actually become weaker.

Which brings us back to Lent and how I am struggling. I am having my everyday problem: there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do along with everything I should do. I keep breaking my promises! Argggh. Then I recommit and put in renewed effort and then, magically, my "soul muscles" grow a bit.  

It's day by day around here. No, hour by hour. The key, I think, is to never give up. The key is to do the hard thing. Lift the weight, push the sled, sit up, "git" up, do anything rather than nothing. Keep the faith, literally. 

At every turn, we must choose again the best course. At the end of our Lenten journey, we will have built those big soul muscle and we will have the strength to face whatever is next. 


Friday, February 20, 2015

Scourging the Heart

On the first Friday of this new Lenten season, I am considering my fasts and sacrifices for the season. I am a person tempted to extremes; I tend to make hard plans. I then have to remind myself, frequently, that it is not possible to "fail" Lent. There were some words of wisdom in today's readings:

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
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

(Isaiah 58:6-8a)

On Ash Wednesday the notion that appeared over and over in my prayers was "a scourging of my heart." In all honesty, I wanted to push off this image at first; it sounds melodramatic, dire, extreme. Yet, it's entirely appropriate. It's one of those "be careful what you pray for" prayers. I was left then to consider what sacrifices will lead me there.

This year, I am fasting from criticism, "helpful" or not. I am so often convicted by my critical tongue. I will take care not to offer many (if any) opinions. I will practice, instead, letting the words pass unsaid. Yesterday, at work, I literally had to hold my lips together at one point! We live in a culture of opinions. I want to see what can come of me keeping mine to myself. I am going to consciously lessen my idle chatter as well. It's not enriching the world.

As a family, we are taking on a "fast food fast" and Food Stamps budget; these are hard on the children but less challenging for me. More challenging will be to journal my food intake for the day. These food related sacrifices are an opportunity to learn from the pain of self-discipline and to lean more heavily on the Holy Spirit.

This is born of the desire to create in me a clean heart. I do not know if it's the shortest path but it's the one I'm headed out on right now. I am seeking not only a scourging of the heart, but total restoration.

A clean heart create for me God;
Renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from your face
or take me from your Holy Spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
Uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51: 12-14

What are you seeking?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Mouthpiece of God

Robert Bellarmine has a publication entitled, The Mind's Ascent to God.  Step 14 of the ascent is "On the Consideration of God's Mercy."

Bellarmine talks about how created things can take away some of our miseries; drink can take away thirst, bread can take away hunger, and so forth. He then reminds us that some "miseries" are only curable by God, such as "the snares of the devils" including "error and blindness of mind and of warped conscience, which we do not notice in ourselves."

This is where "support" comes in. This is where I need to have a friend, family member or spiritual director who is willing to say to me, "that seems kind of rash" or "what about your calling?" With their boldness and insight, they hasten the "cure" of which Bellarmine speaks. Such loved ones, such ones who are brave enough to say what they see, are the mouthpiece of God.

It is my nature to be a quick actor, particularly in crisis, I tend to see clearly what I need to do and I set about getting it done. I have good instincts, and usually it pays to follow them, but not all my decisions are sound ones or the best thought out. That's where deconstructing it with someone I trust can be so helpful. They can see the impulsivity, the rashness, or any hardness of heart, that is hidden to me. Likewise, at a time of weakness or faltering, such ones are the ones to give a word of encouragement or offer a prayer. Sometimes that word is enough to help me stand tall.

I am so grateful to be surrounded by those who are willing both to lift me up and to set me straight. It takes courage and an open heart to be the mouthpiece of God. May I also be so for others.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

What Manner of Love?

"See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed* we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure."
1 John 3:1-3

It was unbridled joy for me to open my Bible and encounter this reading today. It comes to my mind as an old Sunday School song, "Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us; behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us.  That . .. .we. . . should be called the Sons of God."

"What manner of love," indeed.  How can it be that He has chosen me?  How unworthy I am and yet how filled with unquenchable joy! How undeserving and yet, how it makes me stand erect, how this knowledge fills me with pride! 

What manner of love, indeed, has so lifted and elevated me? What manner of King exalts his servants so? What manner of Savior is also brother and guide and counselor? 

It is indeed only by the fullest description of love that such gifts, such grace is possible. It is the greatest gift of grace and is made even fuller in the promise of the next verse: "What we shall be has not yet been revealed . . we shall be like him."  

Dear Savior Jesus, make it so. Help your humble servant.  This day, this hour, though undeserving, may I be like you. May I strive to be in the present moment in my words and acts. May I stand tall in the knowledge of your grace and love and be equal to the tasks you have set before me.  Help me to know you and to see you in the hands and words and hearts of all I encounter.  May I be in some small part worthy of the name, "Beloved."  In the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Some Gave All - My Part Looks Different

Growing up, I thought I'd be a missionary. Well, actually, at first I thought I'd be a singing nun and a missionary (think Julie Andrews) but my mom discouraged it on the basis that I wasn't Catholic. So I revised my vision to that of a married Protestant missionary.

I combed religious periodicals at the library and wrote down the names of missionary training schools. I schemed ways to raise money. I spoke to every missionary who visited our small church and saved my pennies for missionary causes. I could see myself with my wild-haired, bare-footed children in the wilds of Borneo or Honduras, translating the Bible into indigenous languages. I imagined my bed draped with mosquito netting as I patiently combed the knots out of my daughter's wild mane with a primitive looking comb. I saw myself washing clothes in a river on rocks alongside the locals, my baby tied securely to my back with piece of woven cloth.  I imagined visits home as my children, unused to civilization and with unfamiliar shoes strangling their feet, clung to me with uncertainty in the airports as my family ecstatically embraced my tan, fit self. This, I was certain, was my future.

Instead, I went to a nearby university, dropped out after only a year, earned my "M.R.S. degree" instead and began adult life in the concrete jungle in Houston, Texas. It took me years to stop accusing myself of selling out. I thought the only way I could share my faith was, in short, to sacrifice myself to it.

In truth, there was a lot I did not know about my mission. Throughout my life I have gotten glimpses of my calling, sometimes in crystal clear blasts and sometimes, "as through a glass, darkly." In 1984, I got such a blast and for the first time articulated my calling "to be an advocate for children." In the 30 years since, that calling has woven through my life, manifesting in myriad ways creative enough  to be the handiwork of only the Great Artist. Right now, it is manifest not only in the raising of my beautiful family but in my work with Special Ed kids in a Functional Communication Classroom.

But I digress. On Sunday, all of this came tumbling back to me as Father Uche reminded us that we know not what the future holds, but each of us has a mission and it is ours -- and ours alone -- to say YES to. For some that looks like being an alter server, for some it is a lean-to in the wilds of Borneo. I think about soldiers, giving all. I think about doctors fighting Ebola at the cost of their lives. I think (and think and think) about martyrs and saints and Mother Teresa and oh yes, I do wish I was more like her!

For some, it is dramatic and public and heroic. For me, it seems to be less so.  I don't know if I will be called on to give my life for my faith and ideals;  I like to think I would in fact do so willingly and joyfully, but honestly, I don't know. I do know that for now, my call is to  live out the gospel --in a way that is hopefully both evoking and inviting --while advocating for children. It's certainly not easy, but it's not complicated either.  It living life purposefully day by day, moment by moment, all the while praying that the "good" is outweighing the "bad" often enough to make a difference.

May God give me the grace to do just that.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Formula One and Giving

Dear Friends:

Here is a chance for you to "give back." If you volunteer, you will doubtless run into my dear hubby.

The Knights of Columbus Chapter in the Diocese of Austin has an excellent opportunity to raise funds

for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin Office of Pro-Life Activities and Chaste Living. They need your


Sodexo, the food Vendor for the Circuit Of the Americas (COTA), has generously offered the chance to

staff some of their concession stands for the Formula One Race. In return they will be making a lot of

money for Pro Life. If we do a good job, more opportunities with them will come our way.

We need contact information for 450 volunteers by 8/29/2014

These funds are being donated to our Diocese Office of Pro Life and Chaste Living. This office supports a

myriad of ministries in the Austin Diocese; Project Rachael, Sidewalk Ministries, Gabriel Project, Pro-Life

Helpline, Natural Family Planning, Catechesis on Human Love Certification the UT. Party for Life, Texas

Catholic Pro Life Day, the Coordination of Parish Pro-Life Committees, Culture of Life Speakers Bureau,

and much more.

Could you please send your contact information to, or call/text (512) 387-

0337 right away. Please let us know which of the 3 days you can work. If you can work all three, that

would be great!!

The Formula One race is in October 31st, November 1st & 2nd. You can work any or all of the 3 days.

Our shift will start around 4:00 am, with most going home at 7 pm, though some of us will be going

home around 8 Pm. All are encouraged to obtain their TABC License. This can be received online for

$12.00. It takes approximately 2 hours online. See link.

There is also a Mandatory Food Certification Required.

Volunteers must be at least 15 years old. You must be at least 18 years old to sell alcohol (with a TABC

license, of course).

Most will work in the food stands, which also sells alcohol. A few will work in the beverage stands.

Parking, breakfast & lunch will be provided. There will also be breaks during the day. Of course, there

will be no entry charge.

God Bless You and Yours,

Knights of Columbus

Monday, May 12, 2014

For Anyone Struggling as I Am . . .

I have been quiet here of late, a sign that I have been struggling, faith-wise. I have one child who was just confirmed and is for the first time truly developing her life of faith, and another who has turned away from her faith.

This has left me wavering in the gap. My hubby is often resistant to going to church, it's a pain with the little ones and we are way, way too busy with ball. Ball is coming to an end this week for all but Sunshine, so that will help. Really, though, what is needed is my own resolve. I am being tested on many fronts and frankly, failing.

I've often wondered how I would have stacked up to the early Christians, who were tested at every turn and under constant threat of torture and death for living their faith. I am grateful for the privileges I have as an American; I am free to worship as I choose. 

Nonetheless, I totally forgot Mass yesterday. No, I'm not kidding. Our routine was weird because Dear Hubby was out of town (a very rare occurrence) and Pepper was cooking me Mother's Day breakfast. On Saturday, I'd gone to bed with a vague thought of going to 9:30 or 11:30, depending on breakfast timing. On Sunday, my mind was a blank. I remembered around 5:00 when I was helping Pepper get dinner started and it was almost time for my MIL to come over and also too late for Sunday evening Mass.

I therefore woke up today accusing myself of being a failure. I am so disappointed in  myself in this fourth week of Easter. Yet as I sat here, reading the readings and listening to my Mother's Day gift of Angels and Saints at Ephesus, I had to take heart. I remembered one of my memory verses from long ago, this from Second Timothy, 2:11-13:

This saying is trustworthy:
If we have died with him
we shall also live with him;

if we perservere
we shall also reign with him;
But if we deny him
he will deny us.

If we are unfaithful
He remains faithful,
For he cannot deny himself.

If you are likewise struggling, dear friends, take heart. We stand at the crossroads of Grace and Mercy. The only wrong turn now is to leave the road.

God is not dead. He has risen as He said and remains faithful. The Good Shepherd longs for us to return and reside in his heart of hearts. May God bless us all in this Fourth Week of Easter and may the angels and saints indeed intercede on our behalf to hasten our return to his good and loving arms.