Friday, October 28, 2011

Seven Quick Takes Friday Vol. 7

I learned a few things about myself when I woke up on this morning after game 6 of the World Series.  I should wait to pour the martini until after the game.  I thought I could do it in the 8th inning, but no.  Exciting baseball games do not allow me to make good decisions about martini’s after the first one is poured.  After checking my facebook this morning, I have learned that I should not facebook while drinking a martini and watching the Rangers let game 6 and their World Series championship slip between their fingers.  Nope, that was not a wise decision either.
So, what do you think about the Church issuing the document “Towards a reform of international financial and monetary system in the prospect of a public authority with universal competence”?  I’m not sure I am smart enough to fully understand the technical causes of the crisis and the steps needed to improve the global economic climate.  However, I do understand my role as a Christian.  I must put the needs of others before myself.  I must work for the common good of the kingdom of God which will likely require sacrifice on my part.  I think these ideals have been lost in the recent Christian generations.  We have an underdeveloped sense of morality.  Our capitalistic society fuelled by birthright to the “American Dream” has clouded our morality and stolen our ability to see the common good before our own desires.  And if we continue on this path of greed and love of self over others, then we will destroy ourselves.  Kudos to the Church for not only standing up and saying something, but saying something intelligent lined with well thought out solutions.  I hope that the global community will listen and at least acknowledge that there is a problem.  But, I fear that there is little hope that solutions offered by the institutions profiting from this climate will have any impact on improving the situation.
So, a week ago, I got a Twitter account.  I know, I know.  I’m the last person on the planet to tweet.  You see, I have always facebooked.  I never had a desire to tweet mostly because I didn’t really understand how it worked.  But I was forced to get an account so that I may keep up with my son’s extracurricular activity.  So, I tweeted.  I do not have the hang of it yet.  I do not understand how people can follow me or even find me on twitter.  And the tweeting is a learning curve.  The tweets are filled with @ and # and crazy links.  I feel like I need a dictionary.  But, I do have to admit that it is fun to get on there.  I am following all my favorite bands.  They tweet more often than they facebook, especially Matt Maher (perhaps the greatest Catholic rock musician of our time).  I have REALLY enjoyed twitter stalking him.  So after a week of twitter, I think I understand it better.  Tweeting is like making an announcement over a PA system while facebook is like sitting at the lunch table with 300 of your closest friends.  There is more accessibility to get your ideas out there through Twitter, while facebook provides more of a conversational experience.  See, I’m not too old for all this.  I can tweet AND facebook.  HA!
For the past month, my youngest wanted to be a trash bag for Halloween.  I was horrified.  Why would he want be a trash bag?  In these four short years, have I already done collateral parenting damage? Should I go ahead a start him in therapy?   Naturally, I tried to talk him out of it.  But he was firm.  He was going to be a trash bag.  So, this past Sunday, I bought some trash bags.  I formulated a plan to make a trash bag costume so that looked like we at least tried and didn’t stick a trash bag on him at the last minute.  Then, on Monday, he changed his mind.  Now he wants to go to the costume store.  Now that all the costumes are picked over, he wants to go to the costume store.  I’m ready to talk him back into that trash bag.
I am going to the University of Dallas Ministry Conference tomorrow.  I am excited because I am finally going to meet Lisa Hendy, creator of and author of two great books, A Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.  I have been a contributor to for a couple years now, so I am excited to finally meet Lisa in person.  Since she has read my columns for all these years, I feel like she knows me better than most people and it’s quite silly that we have not actually met.
So, I am REALLY excited that the coffee creamer holiday flavors are finally hitting store shelves.  I love pumpkin spice latte and peppermint mocha.  I don’t understand why they only stock these during the holidays.  They really brighten my day.  Especially on the morning after the martinis, losing game 6 and unchecked facebooking.
I while ago, I mentioned that I was going to review The Third Testament by JohnEklund.  Well, I am happy to announce that in these 3 months since that post, I am over HALFWAY through the book.  I know.  It’s sad.  I usually read a book in a few days, but these last few months have been crazy.  I laid on the sofa the other night and started reading and my youngest walked by, stopped dead in his tracks, gave me the strangest look and said, “Mom!  WHAT are you DOING?”  He was completely taken aback that I wasn’t moving.  I guess I need to make more of an effort to have down time.  Hopefully, it won’t take me another 3 months to read the other half of the book.  And I should mention that it is good.  There is a lot of church history interwoven with the plot.  I’m curious to see how everything is going to conclude.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Raising Saints Instead of Bullies

Bullying was the topic at our middle school youth night this past week.  If you follow the news or have a kid in middle school, you know that the bully factor is an important issue.  Middle school students are more likely than elementary or high school students to engage in bullying and to be bullied.  At this age, they are growing fast.  Their brains are developing the ability to think abstractly.  Their bodies are maturing.  They are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into this constantly changing world.  All of these factors combine to create these tough middle years in their young lives.  And unfortunately, the bully factor makes these turbulent waters even tougher to navigate.

Low self-esteem is a big issue for these young people.  They are constantly comparing themselves to others and finding flaws with their appearance, social abilities, academic abilities, athletic abilities, etc…  They want to stand out from the crowd yet blend in at the same time.  They want to be someone who is admired, accepted and loved and many times they think that someone is someone different than who they really are.  These feelings of inadequacy lead to bully behavior.  When some young people have low self-esteem, they may pick on others to make themselves feel better.  When the victims are picked on, all their fears about their inadequacies are confirmed.  This obviously has a big impact on how they choose to interact with their peers and perhaps even become bullies themselves.  It is a nasty cycle that can leave lasting scars on these young people, especially in this age of texting, twitter and facebook.

As Catholic parents, teachers and youth leaders, it is imperative that we teach our children about the dignity of the human person.  And that starts by teaching them about how much God loves them- just the way they are.  These young people need affirmation.  They need to feel loved.  They need to know that they are fine in their own skin.  In fact, they are wonderful in their own skin.  While they see all their flaws, we need to point out all their strengths.  While they measure themselves against the world, we need to show them how lovely they look in God’s eyes.  And most importantly, we need to love them how God loves them.  When they find value in themselves, then they are able to see value in other people.  They are more likely to develop the ability to have empathy if they see themselves in a positive light.  Dignity of the human person cannot be taught from a text book.  This concept can only be grasped if they find dignity in themselves.  And that is where the adults in their lives need to work.  We need to be God’s instrument in their search for their own dignity.

I challenge parents to affirm your kids.  Every day, tell them you love them.  Every day, tell them how blessed you are to be their parents.  Tell them all the things you admire about them.  Tell them all the things that make them cool and awesome.  I admit that I can get too critical of my children.  I want so hard for them to succeed that I spend too much time telling them how they can do things differently.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Criticism isn’t a bad thing.  But, if we don’t balance criticism with affirmation, then our kids conclude that they are failures.  It may be obvious to us that our kids are wonderful, talented and awesome, but it is not obvious to them.  They need to hear it.  So, tell them.  Make it a daily habit.  Help them find their own dignity and then they will see dignity in others.

During our youth night, we talked about the Greatest Commandment: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)  We talked about what it meant to love your neighbor as yourself.  We talked about how God has given each person dignity and how we need to honor that dignity with love.  We discussed that because God lives in each one of us, the way we treat others directly reflects on how much we love God.  In order to hammer this point home, I wrote the following piece and read it at the conclusion of our night.  I think it is worth sharing:

I know a man who was bullied.  I know a man who was bullied by an entire community.  He was spit on, yelled at, beaten and humiliated.  His community hated him because he was different.  You see, this man loved God more than anything.  And he obeyed everything God told him to do.  He healed people. He taught about God’s love.  He provided food and nourishment to thousands.  He even washed their feet.  But that didn’t seem to matter.  The community hated him.  And even though he kept loving them, they continued to bully him.  One day, his community decided they had enough of him.  They put him on trial and declared him guilty of a crime he didn’t commit.  At this point, his few friends deserted him.  He was alone.  When they took him from the court room, the bullies stripped him of his clothes and whipped him.   They whipped him until he was almost dead.  But this wasn’t enough.  The bullies decided to make fun of him.  They put a purple robe on him and a crown of thorns.  The robe stuck to his open wounds and the thorns dug into his head.  They laughed at him and called him names.  The bullies pushed him around and spit on him.  But this wasn’t enough.  The bullies decided that this man needed to die.  They took him out in the streets and made him carry a heavy cross.  Some of the bullies were in the crowd.  They yelled at him, spit on him and kicked him when he fell down.  Some people in the crowd did nothing.  They watched him struggle and felt sorry for him, but they didn’t try to stop it.  Some people in the crowd cried and prayed.  They wiped his face when he struggled to move on.  One even helped him when the weight of the cross became too much for him to carry.  But no one stopped the bullies.  No one kept the bullies from yelling at him or spitting on him.  No one called for the torture to end.  The bullies marched him up a mountain where he collapsed in exhaustion.  They stripped off his robe and tore open all the wounds from his earlier brutal beating.  He felt like he was on fire.  They laid his bleeding body on the cross.  New waves of pain exploded in his body as the bullies hammered nails into his hands and feet.  They hoisted up the cross.  Then, they gambled for his clothes as he started the slow process of suffocation.  His mother and best friend stood by and watched him struggle for every breath.  They watched an innocent man bear the weight of a sin he did not commit- the sin of all mankind.  When the weight of that sin had taken its toll, Jesus looked up to heaven and gave up his life. 

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?  I bet you never thought of Jesus being bullied.  The truth is he was bullied- to death.  Put yourself in the crowd.  Who would you be?  Would you be praying?  Would you be weeping?  Would you be trying to comfort Jesus?  Or would you be spitting on him?  Would you be hammering the nails or pressing that crown of thorns on his head?  Would you be standing by and saying nothing?  The choices we make today determine who we are in that crowd.  The way we treat others determines who we are in that crowd.  Who have you been?  Who are you going to be?

Jesus bore the weight of all that sin out of love for you and me.  He took the punishment that we were supposed to endure so that he may spend eternity with us.  He showed us what it means to love another totally and completely by giving us his very life as payment for our sin.  And what does he ask from us in return?  To love him back.  And to love others like He loves us.

If you have been bullied, then you are in good company.  Jesus understands your struggle.  He doesn’t want you to suffer like he suffered.  Ask him to give you the strength and courage to seek help from an adult.  Jesus desires you to have the freedom he won for you on the cross- not fear.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Seven Quick Takes Friday Vol. 6

Ahhh… It’s nice to feel somewhat normal again. These last three weeks have been CRAZY. The event that really put it over the top was our middle school youth retreat. It was a great weekend full of fun activities, cool entertainment, engaging teachings and intense worship. And man, planning and carrying out something like that was amazing, exhausting and draining- especially when the other youth minister went down for the count with a migraine and that left me…. in charge. Gasp! But, it went great. The Holy Spirit was really the one in charge. I’m just really good a following directions. Although this was the first time I was in charge of a retreat, it wasn’t my first rodeo. So, I was prepared for the physical exhaustion. The mental and emotional exhaustion was another story. It took me a whole week to be able to think and reason and carry on intelligent conversation again. Whoa.

 So, many of my friends are having babies. I think that normally this would make me want to have more babies. But no. I sometimes wonder if God has me doing this home day care so that I will get all this mothering of babies desire out of my system. I have to say that being held hostage by 5 small children in my home 10 hours a day has worked. The thought of carrying the baby to term (which is a challenge for my body in itself), having the baby, paying the hospital bill, waking up in the middle of night to feed the baby, pumping every three hours, dealing with teething, ear infections, and middle of the night vomiting episodes just doesn’t get my mothering hormones pumping. I know that sounds selfish. There was a time when all of that didn’t matter. I would do anything to have that cute little baby in my arms. But those times seem to be over. If the Lord does bless us with another life, then I hope he also blesses me with this desire. But right now, in all of my selfish humanity, I just hope he continues to bless us with our ability to successfully practice NFP. The two boys we have make us feel rather complete.

Like I said, my friends are having babies- including my best friend. After waiting what seemed like FOREVER, she finally got pregnant again. We are ecstatic. And guess what? I get to be her Godmother! Did you see the “her”? Yes, the baby is a GIRL and I get to be her Godmother! I am sooooo excited! This is the first time I am Godmother to a Catholic child. My nephew is my Godchild, but I don’t think I have a formal role since they are Methodist. Now that I have a Catholic Godchild, I feel like I need to read a God-parenting book or something. But first things first. I must buy all the pink baby clothes I can find.

 I am wondering if we are going to survive the 6th grade. I don’t remember praying for patience, but since middle school started, the Lord seems to be blessing me with abundant lessons in this skill. And they are rather dangerous lessons for my son because if I fail, he is in the direct line of fire of my fury. So far, he is still alive. But we are only 6 weeks into the school year. I have discovered that middle school is not only a learning curve for him, but also for us. Which is CRAZY because I used to teach middle school!!! I miss the days of him having one teacher, one personality, one person to know all his little eccentricities, one person to identify his potential and help him succeed. Now, I have 7 of these people. And these 7 people don’t have 25 students, but rather 125 students. It is a big learning curve. I am trying unsuccessfully not to helicopter.

This past month has been a big affirmation on why I am NOT a homeschooling mom. Since I hang around a lot of Catholic moms in person and online, I feel sort of in the minority because I don’t homeschool and worse yet, I send my kids to public school. As public school teachers, my husband and I are big proponents of sending our kids to school rather than homeschool. And, as public school teachers (one of whom is retired to stay home with the kids) we cannot afford to send the darlings to Catholic school. So, off to public school they go. And since we work there, it feels okay to do it. Now, over the past year, I have been doing preschool at home and I have been wondering if I should look at the homeschooling thing. However, we went ahead and enrolled our youngest in preschool this year. It was the best decision we could have made. He LOVES it. And he is thriving and growing in ways he could not grow here. Last year, I couldn’t even get him to color. After one month in preschool, he is writing his name. I could not have gotten him to do that. Yes, home schooling is not for us. I am not called to it. My kids are not made for it. And I admire those that are called and whose kids are made for homeschooling. That is a big undertaking that brings unique stressors to the family dynamic. It takes a special family to make it work. I am sure if I worked to make the square peg fit in the round hole, there would not be enough money to pay for all the therapy the children would need- or the liquor bill.

My Dad cracks me up. He recently retired from his second career and landed his “dream job.” Now, let me give you some background. He spent over 20 years in the Navy. He was a hospital administrator in the Medical Corps. He worked his way up through the ranks and even spent part of his duty working for NATO. He retired a Captain. He accumulated two master’s degrees during his navel career- one of those being at the War College. Once he retired from the Navy, he took a job at the Red Cross. He managed one of two national call centers who assisted military personnel and their families with communication during crisis situations like combat. He recently retired from that career as well. And now, he is most excited to land a job as the greeter at the Walters, Oklahoma visitor’s center. He was hoping to be a Wal-Mart greeter one day but never dreamed he would land a job as greeter at the visitor’s center. He feels he has reached the pinnacle of his professional career. HA! Sometimes I wonder if I should be living closer to my parents.

Well, here I am publishing this on Friday night instead of Friday morning. In my defense, I started this on Friday morning. But small children require my attention. All. The. Time. These days, between my day care and the church, I am busier than I ever imagined I would be. So busy that I forget to check my clothes before I race out the door to pick up my child from somewhere. The people at Wal-Mart must think I don’t do laundry since I always seem to be covered in spit-up and ketchup. Maybe I should take Jennifer’s advice and wear an apron. Of course, that is going to make for more laundry. Sigh…

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Laying it Down

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”- Matthew 10:39

I realize that it has been a while.  To say that I have been busy would be the understatement of the century.  These past two months, I have been losing myself.  I’ve given away my time.  I’ve given away my talents.  I’ve sacrificed my sleep, meals and moments with my family.  As I type here, I am beyond exhausted.  But I have never been more satisfied.  I have never been more sure of my path in life.  I have never been more complete.

Two months ago, I accepted a youth ministry position in my parish community.  I coordinate all the middle school youth events.  And yes, I realize that this confirms that I am actually crazy- special kind of crazy.  These kids are growing fast.  They want to find their place in the world at any cost.  They are questioning all the truths they have ever been taught.  And they are doing it in a rapidly changing and somewhat confusing world.  These young people seem lost, afraid, and unsure of themselves.  Yet, they are excited to be at the beginning of this great adventure.  And the Holy Spirit has called me to show them just how much God wants to be on that adventure with them.

The Lord has always spoken to me in grand ways through the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary.  Through Mary’s eyes, I have seen the passion of the Lord.  I have seen the pain and suffering He endured for our sake and the love that drove Him to it.  That experience has taken me to a deeper understanding of that incredible infinite love the Lord possesses for us.  Now, once again, the Lord is using these mysteries to speak to me- to teach me about discipleship.  He is showing me what it is really like to give away one’s life and to lay it all down at the foot of the cross.

My garden was the chapel.  It was two in the morning.  It was just me and Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  In that moment He told me what He wanted me to do.  He wanted me to be a core member on the middle school youth ministry team.  I tried to talk Him out of it.  I tried to tell Him that a girl with such a negative experience in her own high school youth group did not need to be involved.  I was damaged goods.  And the fact that I wasn’t raised Catholic made me all the more unfit for the job.  But He said, no.  He wanted me to do it.  So I did.  And while I was that volunteer, he kept bringing me back to the garden.  He kept showing me where I really fit.  He kept working through me in ways I never dreamed possible.  And then He asked if I would do this for real- if I would be a youth minister.  I balked.  I didn’t have the education or qualifications.  All I had was a music education degree.  He said that didn’t matter.  A position for middle school youth ministry became available in my community.  So I applied.  I was really doing it.

As disciples, we are called to teach as Jesus taught.  We are called to share our lives just as He shared His.  And in order to truly do that, we must come to terms with our own failings.  We must admit where we fail, work through that failure and allow God to have it and use it for His glory.  We must embrace humility and accept our crown of thorns.  Yesterday, I wore mine in front of 50 middle school kids.  I told them a story of how I deeply hurt a friend when I was their age.  I allowed God to use my unflattering story to speak to their hearts.  It was not easy.  It was not fun.  But I happily wear that painful crown for His glory.

Life in ministry is not easy.  I got a taste of its demands as a volunteer.  But, in the last two months, I have experienced how great those demands can be.  It is time consuming.  It takes a lot of planning, prayer, and love.  It takes sacrifice.  I will not get rich in this line of work.  In fact, I can't even give up my day job for it.  Time has become a precious commodity.  Have you heard of the I am Second campaign?  Well, I’m not second.  I am third- God, others, me.  And between this ministry, my family and my day job, the others usually get the time.  Which leaves me a sleep deprived, financially challenged, and well drained shadow of a person.  But that is my cross.  It is the cross He asks me to take up and carry.  And He fills me with such joy, peace and love that I can carry it.  I can do the impossible.  And I do it for His glory.

I am a performer and I am addicted to the stage.  The attention the stage brings is intoxicating.  The natural high of a great performance is what I live for.  And I have discovered that it is what I have to die to.  It is not about me.  It is not about my message.  It is not about my agenda.  It is about His.  I have to put myself aside and speak the words He wants me to speak.  I have to seek Him out and listen to Him in the voices of others.  I have to be open to changing the plan as the Holy Spirit desires.  I have to get off the stage and let Him be the star of the show.  Last night, I got off the stage.  I adored the Blessed Sacrament alongside 50 middle school kids.  And all I had to do was worship.  He moved in that room- in those hearts in ways my words cannot.  All I had to do was be in the back of the room and worship with all my being.  My humanity wants that stage, but I must die to the stage so that He may be glorified.

Now, my more astute readers may have noticed I skipped the scourging at the pillar.  Although, I can find the garden, the crown of thorns, the cross and the crucifixion in my ministry experience, I can never step into the scourging.  I have always viewed the scourging as the undue torture of my Lord because of my sin.  I know that the entire passion experience was how he defeated our sin and won our salvation, but the scourging was hardest to watch.  My Lord was transformed from a strong, healthy man to weakened, bloody mess.  His pain in that moment was more than a normal human could bear. I think He has given me an understanding of His pain so that I may have a glimpse of His love.  And that awesome love is what keeps me going.  The love that drove him to accept that pain and become a bloody mess is what I pray he fills me with in abundance.  So much so that it may overflow from my life and touch the hearts of others- all for His glory.

My biggest role in this ministry is to live this life- not just teach about it.  It’s like swimming.  You can’t teach a person to swim through lecture and study.  You have to get in the water and swim with them.  And you can’t do that if you don’t know how to swim yourself.  We have to have a relationship with the living God if we want to pass along our faith to others.  We have to live the life and then share that life.  In doing so, we are greatly blessed.  The peace, love and joy that flows from sharing in the life of Christ is an intoxicating experience.  And that is the payoff to living a life of discipleship in ministry and giving up your life for His glory.

Glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.