Surrender

Sometimes, I am awful. There are days when I yell at my kids. Days when I snap at them for small mistakes. Days when I even make them cry.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how horrifying I find this. How much I hate this about myself. How hard it is to even type these words.

I was never an angry person before having kids. I almost never yelled. Which makes it all the more puzzling and frustrating to me that I do it now.

I understand some of the triggers for this anger and ugly behavior. Sleep deprivation. Hunger. Being hurried. I have made some progress and improvement by trying to manage these triggers. Getting more sleep (sometimes, though this is really, really hard for me), eating well, making sure that we have plenty of time to get ready to go somewhere, etc.

But still, I fail.

IMG_7760

So. At the beginning of this year, I decided to really focus on this as an area of improvement for myself. I wanted to do the “word of the year” thing, with this as my focus. I was trying my best to come up with a word that I could try to think about each day, especially in tense times, that would remind me to chill out, slow down, and not be a jerk. I thought of a few words that seemed promising, but noting that really seemed to be just right.

One morning during prayer time in early January I was wondering about why in the world I get so angry with my sweet kiddos, when I was never a person to get super fired up about stuff before having kids. I was praying that God would help me to have some insight on this. Then, literally the next day, I got an email that gave me what I asked for.

Haley Stewart is one of my favorite Catholic bloggers. She writes Carrots for Michaelmas and she is just a lovely person. I signed up for her blog newsletter some time ago (you can sign up for it here, or on the right sidebar of her blog, and I highly recommend that you do). In January, I received her newsletter email with the title “What My Priest Taught Me at Confession This Week.” I got the chills as I read Haley’s words about discussing the very same question with her priest that I had just discussed with God the previous morning in prayer. Why do I lose it with my kids??

Her priest gave her the most amazing answer (it’s moments like these that you just know these men are filled with the Holy Spirit). He told her that she gets angry because she is afraid, and that her fear comes from a lack of control (which can be terrifying for us moms). The idea of anger being the external manifestation of fear immediately rang a bell in the part of my brain that stores all the info I used to use when I was working as a professional psychologist (it’s a bit rusty these days).

“Of course!” I thought, mentally smacking my forehead. I realized in a rush that I definitely try way too hard to control all the things. That I stress out about my kids behavior because of fears of what might happen if I don’t make sure they learn everything perfectly now.

My subconscious thoughts most likely go something like this, “If my kids don’t have good manners now, they will turn out to be slovenly, ill-mannered adults!!” or “If my kids are disrespectful or break a rule today, they might end up being rebellious or even criminal someday!!” or “If they forget or don’t do a good job on chores as kids, they might grow up to be lazy and unable to take care of themselves!!!”

I don’t necessarily think these things consciously, and when I type them out here, of course they sound ridiculous, but at the same time, they resonate with fears that I hold deep down. They strike a chord in my mama heart where I just want everything to go right now, so they will be okay later.

Anyway, that was my first big realization after reading what Haley’s priest told her. Then I read on to what he told her to DO about this.

Pray for surrender.

He told her to stop struggling in all the situations where she cannot control everything and just surrender that control to God.

I’m pretty sure my jaw must have hit the floor at this point. Because all that control-freakishness up there? That is a lack of faith. And it was like God was speaking directly to me, giving me an answer to a question I had just asked Him, through Haley’s priest, through Haley, straight to my inbox. Whoa.

I had my word for the year. Surrender.

IMG_7786

Then, I began doing what the priest told Haley to do, asking God to help me surrender control. At first I was just praying that I would let go of the need to be so in control of all the things in my life, the stuff my kids do, the possible outcomes twenty years down the road of all the little things my kids do today, etcetera, etcetera.

But that wasn’t all. God gave me another insight into just how far my surrender needs to go. I had to surrender control of my own anger too.

I realized that I have tried many, many times to make myself stop being angry and stop losing my temper with my kids. I’ve prayed for God to help me do things differently. This time, through the act of sitting silently in prayer and asking God what I should do about this (instead of pleading with Him to do what I thought I needed to do), He let me know that I needed to give up my anger completely to Him. He helped me to see that controlling my anger, or changing any sinful behavior, is not fully within my power to do by myself. I need Him.

So, instead of praying, “God, help me to stop getting mad,” I now pray something more like, “God, please take this anger from my heart, and fill it with Your love and mercy. I surrender all of my anger to You, for without Your grace, I can do nothing.” It may seem like a subtle change, but it was huge for me, and the benefits of this have been many.

All of this occurred before Lent began, and I decided that my main resolution for Lent this year would be to give up all yelling at my kids. I was amazed at how the change in my prayer and thinking was helping me with this. I have certainly not been perfect (just a few days ago, I snapped at Sis about something), but I feel much more peaceful in general and have experienced great improvement.

IMG_7817

Amazingly, my insights with this issue did not stop there.

About two weeks ago, I listened to a podcast of a conversation between Elizabeth Foss and Sarah Mackenzie that is part of the Repent and Restore program for Lent that Elizabeth offers. It was the first podcast from the program that I listened to, and I chose it because I really like Sarah Mackenzie. The podcast turned out to be the perfect complement to what I had already been learning and practicing through the idea of surrender.

First of all, in the podcast, Sarah and Elizabeth talked about the idea of surrendering to God’s will (it’s probably not a coincidence that I chose this particular podcast to listen to!). As part of this conversation, Sarah revealed that she needed to learn about letting go of her carefully laid plans and schedules for everything and realizing that, if these perfect plans get interrupted by something during her day, that she needs to understand that the interruption is where God wants her to be. And as such, she needs to remember to just be in the moment, surrender to what He is asking of her right then, and make the best of it, instead of getting all upset that things didn’t go the way she planned them to.

I absolutely love (and very much need) this perspective. The day after I listened to the podcast, I took all the kids to Mass by myself. As I struggled to keep Bubba in the pew as he squiggled in my arms or tried to crawl under the pew and up the steps to the altar (we were sitting in the front row), I was feeling distracted and frazzled and struggling to feel connected to the beauty of the Mass. Then out of the blue, the words from the podcast came back to me, and I realized that I could be so perfectly connected to God if I just realized that the beauty of that moment, of having my four beautiful kids in Mass to worship Him, of managing my 10-month-old who has been such a precious gift in my life, THAT was what I was supposed to be doing. That was what God wanted me to embrace, to accept, and to offer up to Him. So I did, and I had one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced in a Mass.

All because I let myself be where He wanted me instead of lamenting the fact that I was not having a calm, reverent, peaceful worship experience (which I’m not likely to have very often for the next few years!).

IMG_7826

All of this, everything I have written about today, has come about, I believe, as the fruits of spending time a bit differently in prayer most mornings. I have been trying to spend at least a little bit of time just being silent and trying to listen to what God wants for and from me. Though I don’t always get an answer immediately, I do always get an answer. And the benefits of asking and listening have been incredible.

I am excited for Holy Week. This is the most intense and beautiful week of the year. Every year I learn and grow so much during this final week of Lent. I’m leaning into it with eager anticipation tonight and prayers for even greater union with my God. And I’m looking forward to continuing these practices and reaping the benefits long after the Easter celebrations.

Our Rainbow Baby

When I became pregnant with our baby boy, I decided that I would not allow myself to be fearful about my pregnancy or the possibility of loss. I told myself that I was going to be joyful and not hold back my excitement out of fear of another miscarriage.

In spite of this, I still had moments of anxiety and many fears crept in.

I first heard the term “Rainbow Baby,” when I joined a Facebook group for Catholic women who are pregnant after experiencing loss. I joined the group thinking it would help me in my efforts to defeat fear. I figured that being part of a group where people were posting about being pregnant after having had miscarriages would be a positive experience.

Instead, this group only sparked and fueled a great deal of anxiety. So much so that I hid the group from my newsfeed and never clicked on the items that frequently popped up in my “Notifications.” There were so many women in the group posting about their own fears and past experiences of losing babies at all different stages of pregnancy, and I just couldn’t hear those things. I felt kind of guilty about it, but I just couldn’t.

Unfortunately, this group and my own experiences with loss had increased my knowledge and awareness of all the potential things that could go wrong during 40 long weeks of pregnancy.

Anxious thoughts came to my mind in spite of my efforts to avoid them.

I was fearful of losing my baby in the first trimester.

I was afraid we would see something terrible during the 20-week ultrasound.

I was worried that any brief period of time during which I didn’t feel him moving meant something had happened to my baby (fortunately this was rare for him).

I was fearful of stillbirth, cord accident, some sort of trauma during delivery, etc., etc.

I repeated to myself over and over and over again my favorite prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Every time an anxious thought would come to mind, I would immediately pray this. And it always helped. Always.

And so did the idea of a “Rainbow Baby.” I just loved thinking of my son this way.

To me, a rainbow is a sign of God’s promise and of His immense, merciful love. It is a reminder to have faith and to know that He is with me in all things.

Almost two years ago, right after leaving the ultrasound appointment in which I had learned of my second miscarriage, a detour forced my route home past a Catholic church. I saw the sign and immediately pulled over to go inside and pray. I made it to a kneeler where I wasn’t able to do much more than look at the tabernacle and sob. I couldn’t get my words to form a coherent prayer, but my heart was reaching out and Jesus heard me in my brokenness and He answered. In that church, before Jesus in the tabernacle, I received an answer to my unformulated prayer. It was, “Don’t give up.” I heard these words spoken to my heart as clear as a bell.

That was in July of 2014, and I have never forgotten that moment. I reflected back on it during many of my fearful times during my pregnancy. It seemed to me like something of a promise.

I remembered this promise on the day I went for my second OB appointment. In spite of having seen the baby on ultrasound at my first appointment, those fears had crept in, and I was very nervous that something might have happened and there would be no heartbeat when I went to my second appointment (the month between appointments in the early weeks of pregnancy always seems so long!).

When I arrived at my appointment on that day, anxious and eager to hear my baby’s heartbeat again, I pulled into the parking lot at the hospital, and I saw this:

IMG_5358

I instantly felt less afraid. I knew it was a reminder for me to have faith. I went into my appointment, and rather than just hearing his heartbeat, I got to see my little guy again on the hand-held ultrasound. Such relief.

Last Wednesday, our Rainbow Baby arrived, happy, healthy, and perfect.

IMG_6093

The day after we brought him home from the hospital, this picture was taken from behind our house:

Resized_20160604_195841

When she saw it, my five-year-old said, “Mom, that’s just like the rainbow God showed Noah!”

God’s promise.

IMG_6098

Our little Rainbow Baby is here. He is a miracle. A precious gift from God.

I literally sit and stare at him for long stretches of time and marvel at his very existence. I realize that, on that day almost two years ago, when I was experiencing such deep grief and despair, God knew that this little boy was to be our baby that we would get to hold on earth. I didn’t know it, but He did.

Our son is a reminder for me that God can do anything. That His plan is always for good.

That fear is no match for faith.

The Fruits of Lent

I love Lent. I do. I am quite a novice Lenter, as this is only my third year observing the season, but I love how, so far, the 40 day period always seems to bear much, and different, fruit each year.

DSC_0173

The first year I observed Lent was when I was going through RCIA and looking forward to receiving the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion at the Easter Vigil. That year I was pretty overwhelmed. There was just so much to know and learn. So much to try to teach to my kids. I was reading like crazy and soaking up so much. It was a very emotional time for me, and I cried at the drop of a hat (during Mass, when a certain song would come on in my car, as I pulled up to the church on Holy Saturday morning for my RCIA retreat, etc.). I felt like I was on fire with my faith, and it seemed every bit of me was growing and expanding. It was a whirlwind, interspersed with moments of amazing grace and peace like nothing I had every experienced before. I decided Lent was awesome.

Last year was different. I felt less on fire and less emotional. But I was still learning and growing in my faith. I gave up a lot of things – spending money (other than on food and gas), Facebook, reading books that are not spiritually focused, ice cream… I started to have a little bit of an understanding of fasting and self-deprivation. I increased my prayer time and made a point to spend time in adoration. I tried to help my kids understand the importance of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. I struggled along with my kids as they had a hard time with the things they gave up for Lent (Miss in particular had a very hard time with giving up coloring). I decided to journal through Lent, and realized that keeping a daily journal is really not my thing (but I did it for the whole Lenten season anyway!).

My growth felt less intense, but perhaps more focused. I gained a little bit of a better understanding of the purpose of Lent. I loved seeing my kids’ growing appreciation as well, in their increased understanding of Jesus’s Passion, and the joy of the Resurrection. Last year’s Lent set the stage for some changes that we made as a family and have kept throughout the year, such as more frequent Confession and not eating meat on Fridays all year.

DSC_0174

This year feels different still. I decided not to give up so many different things, but to select one main thing to do from each of the three areas of focus for Lent, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

My fasting has consisted of giving up sweets, which has been even harder than I thought it would be. I mean, I like sweets, so I knew it would be a little hard, but I’m almost embarrassed by how hard it has been at some points. It’s amazing how many little opportunities there are for indulging in a treat, like going to visit family and having tons of homemade goodies on hand, giving up dessert at our parish’s fish fry each week, and even driving home and not stopping at the handy gas station where we often grab ice cream along the way. Being pregnant has made this even harder, Im sure.

BUT, this little sacrifice has borne great fruit. One thing I have gained this Lent is a greater ability to offer it up each time I resist the temptation to stuff my face with something sugary and delicious. “Offering it up” is a concept that is fairly new to me (as a new Catholic), and I have struggled with implementing it into the small moments of every day life. It just doesn’t usually occur to me. This Lent, I’m finally starting to get the hang of it, though. When I’m at a baby shower and the gorgeous little cupcakes seem to be just calling my name? Offer it up. When I’m walking down the aisle at the grocery store and feel a longing to stop and squirt a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup straight into my mouth from that end-cap display? Offer it up! When I remember that I can’t escape for a moment during our homeschool day to my pantry to shove a handful of chocolate chips in my mouth? Yeah. Offer. It. Up.

I am so happily surprised with how freeing it is to do this. It’s an immediate smack down on temptation, and it serves the even better purpose of offering my small suffering as a prayer for someone else. Double win. AND, I’m starting to remember to do this more in other situations too. Yay Lent!

That in itself has really improved my praying-throughout-the-day experience this Lent, but I also have added in a commitment to a daily rosary and Examen prayer. For the last six months or so I have done a pretty good job of praying the rosary almost every day anyway, but I often squeeze it it when I’m doing something else, typically driving somewhere. This is fine, but I find it harder to really focus on the meditations of the rosary when I’m driving. So during this Lent, I have made a point to try to set aside quiet time every day to do nothing but pray the rosary. Usually this happens first thing in the morning, and I’ve found it to be a wonderful way to start my day. And a peaceful end my days this Lent has been the Examen, which also helps keep me focused on noticing God throughout my day.

We have also started doing a family rosary during this Lenten season. We haven’t done it every week, but it seems to be shaping up to be a new family tradition on Sundays, and I have been loving it. Last night we prayed a family rosary and then had game night. The perfect way to wrap up a Sunday.

DSC_0176

For almsgiving, this year I decided to put less focus on financial giving and donating of “stuff” (like to St. Vincent’s, for example), and more on giving of myself. In particular, I am working on being more giving to my family, my kids especially. I’m trying to be more generous with my time and attention. Saying “yes” more often, making a point to spend more one on one time with them, playing with them more, and so forth. As a homeschooling mom, I spend tons of time with my kids, but I don’t spend it doing things that they want to do nearly as often as I should, so I am really trying to do better about this for these forty days (and hopefully beyond), as well as just being less grouchy and making a point to give them my best in other ways. I’m experiencing so much peace through these efforts. And we’re still taking plenty of stuff to St. Vincent’s, too.

DSC_0172

So, again, this year Lent is different, but still wonderfully fruitful. I feel like I’m a little more mindful of my Lenten commitments throughout each day, and being mindful of these helps keep me focused on Jesus more, which of course, is the whole point of all of it. I’m looking forward to Holy Week and the culmination of the season, with Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, and of course, Easter!

I hope Lent has been fruitful for you, too.

My Favorite Catholic Books – From Conversion and Beyond

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. It keeps expanding, and I keep putting it off. Recently, Kelly has published some posts on this subject (part 1 and part 2), and the other day a friend texted me asking for recommendations on this very topic. Plus, Lent starts next week, which means I’m especially thinking about and wanting to talk about great, spiritually-stimulating reading. So I think this is just the right time to finally put my thoughts together and write a post about my favorite Catholic books.

I love books. I love Catholicism. I especially love books that help me understand and/or practice Catholicism better. I’m sharing some of my favorites here.

These first four are the books that I found especially helpful at the very beginning of my conversion process:

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis – This isn’t a specifically Catholic book, but it was the very first Christian book I read when I first started thinking that maybe I wasn’t an atheist. When I began reading it, I thought God was probably real, but didn’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God. This book helped me see otherwise.

The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom – Again, not a specifically Catholic book, and not necessarily written as a spiritual book either, but the simple and profound faith of the people in this book was so inspiring and powerful, I couldn’t help but be moved toward belief.

Rome Sweet Home, by Scott and Kimberly Hahn – Scott Hahn was an anti-Catholic, Presbyterian minister, his wife Kimberly is a Protestant minister’s daughter. This book lays out all the reasons they both eventually came to see the truth and beauty of Catholicism and to convert. Once I started to believe in the basic tenets of Christianity in general, this book helped me to understand the Catholic faith in particular and to realize that I wanted to become Catholic.

150 Bible Verses Every Catholic Should Know, by Patrick Madrid – It seems like a common criticism of Catholicism is that it isn’t very Biblically based. This book shows that in fact it is, pointing out specific scripture passages to support things like the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and the Catholic emphasis on faith and works as the means to salvation, not just faith alone.

DSC_0233

After I got the basics of Christianity and Catholicism, I started really delving into understanding the Faith more and deepening my spiritual life. More favorites from the past (almost) three years:

A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do In the Liturgy by Edward Sri – This book is fantastic. I learned so much about the Biblical basis of everything we do during the Mass, what everything means and why we do it. For anyone who ever feels lost or unsure what the point is, or even just wants to feel more connected to what is happening during Mass, it’s a must read.

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir, by Colleen Carroll Campbell – This book helped me learn about how the saint are present and active in our lives and can lead and inspire us. I’ve read this book twice and gotten so much out of it both times.

Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, by Therese de Lisieux – A beautiful story of an imperfect soul striving for sainthood and finding it with her “little way.” I love the stories of her struggles to be unselfish and to show her love of God by doing little things every day.

33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration, by Fr. Michael Gaitley – This is a guided retreat book. It has short readings for each of 33 days, focused on consecrating oneself to Jesus through His Blessed Mother. It is so rich in insights about Mary’s role in leading us closer to her Son. I have read this book three times and gotten more out of it each time. The first time, I read the book. The second time, I read the book and completed the retreat companion workbook that goes with it. The third time, just recently, I got together a group of people at my parish and led a group in doing the retreat together, with the book, workbook, and DVD series by Fr. Gaitley. Each time, it was an enlightening experience.

Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, by Jason Evert – Looking at the life and teachings of Saint John Paul the Great by examining the things he loved the most: young people, human love, the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary, and the Cross, is a profound way to understand him and his amazing life and mission, as well as these beautiful elements of our Faith. This book moved me in so many ways, and made me really wish that I had been Catholic when he was the pope.

The Real Story: Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible, by Edward Sri and Curtis Martin – These authors bring the Bible together in such a way that it becomes one startlingly clear, cohesive story of God’s perfect plan for salvation. It’s a short and very easy-to-read book that left me feeling like so much I had read and thought I understood suddenly made so much more sense.

The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today, by Timothy M. Gallagher – I had heard of the examen prayer a few times, and really wanted to learn how to do it. My parish offered a few opportunities to learn about it through classes, but I wasn’t able to attend them. I asked my husband to get this book for me for Christmas, and I am so happy I did. I love this method of prayer and have been practicing it daily since completing the book. The book clearly teaches how to do it and why this powerful prayer is beneficial. It is a wonderful way to turn ones focus toward recognizing God’s will and trying to pay attention to and follow the stirrings in our heart that are God’s promptings throughout each day.

I’m always looking for new books to read to help me grow my Catholic knowledge and faith. If you have any must-reads in this area, please share them in the comments! AND, Kelly is hosting a link up with lots of others’ favorites as well, so check out those posts for even more wonderful books, just in time for some Lenten reading.

Working on Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about anger and forgiveness, love and selfishness, holding grudges and letting go. For several years, but in the past several months in particular, I have been trying to figure out how to deal with it when some people are doing wrong toward others that I love (and to a lesser degree toward me). I’ve tried to be the peacemaker, I’ve tried to talk sense and reason,  I’ve tried to simply be kind and hope that things will get better. Lately I’ve been feeling like it has all been for nothing.

And I’ve been pissed. Oh man, I’ve had some serious righteous anger going on over here. Roiling, gut-wrenching, at-times-preventing-me-from-sleep anger. I loathe the feeling of impotent rage – when someone is doing something so obviously, hurtfully, terribly wrong, and there’s nothing I can do about it. And I’m not going to go into detail in this post about what the others’ hurtful behaviors have been, because this post isn’t really about them. It’s about me and how I am trying to figure out how to respond to it.

So here I sit. Struggling with my own glaring imperfections that make it difficult for me to let go of anger, and I think about how I want to be. A few years ago, I probably would have just let myself stew in this sense of righteousness. I probably would have been mad and stayed mad and liked it, in a miserable sort of way.

But now I know that I don’t want to be that way. I don’t want it for myself, and I don’t want to set a bad example for my kids.

IMG_5671

So every time I get to thinking angry thoughts about being hurt and having my loved ones hurt, I try to turn my thoughts toward forgiveness and love. Usually I fail pretty miserably, but I keep trying. And here’s why:

When I’m focused on being angry at someone else for being selfish and mean and unforgiving and hurtful, I’m not remembering the grace and mercy of God. Instead, I need to focus on what Jesus taught us about how to treat others. He said to forgive “seventy times seven times,” to “turn the other cheek,” to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

He also said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” This is one of my crosses to bear. And as such, if I let it be, it’s a way for me to grow, and become more faithful, more loving, more forgiving.

And really, part of the reason I’m writing this is to remind myself of these things. Because it’s so easy to forget, and to go right back to relishing that angry voice in my head, to thinking, “how dare they?” and rehearsing would-be conversations in my head in which I really tell them off.

So I’m trying. At least a few times a day I’m reminding myself to be forgiving, to work on feeling love toward others, even when they have hurt me. I’m offering up my frustration and sorrow. I’m going to confession and admitting my anger. I’m praying for those who are doing wrong, who are hurting me and my loved ones, and for all of us to find it in our hearts to be forgiving.

And I’m doing all of this very, very imperfectly and with a lot of struggle. I wish it was easy for me. But then it wouldn’t be such an opportunity for change and growth.

Families – Holy and Otherwise

I have had family on my mind a lot lately. Family relationships, family blessings, family conflicts…

I have been thinking about how truly blessed I am to have been given this amazing little family I get to share life with every day.

Smith 2015-123

And I’m so thankful for the many people I get to count as members of my family.

IMG_5588

^Miss drew these pictures, wrapped them, and gave them to me on Christmas. The top one is our family, the bottom one is my family of origin, my Mom, Dad, brother, and me.

At the same time, I’ve been thinking about how family ties can be strained, stressed, or broken. I’ve had these damaged relationships on my mind a lot lately. I have been praying for those dealing with difficult family relationships, particularly at Christmas, a special family time of year. It breaks my heart to know people who struggle in this way.

Bringing these thoughts and prayers even more into focus, today the Catholic Church observed the feast of the Holy Family — the perfect example of family life. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph provide for us the quintessential model of how we should try to be in our own families. They were kind, loving, charitable, and always focused on how God wanted them to live, rather than on their own plans or selfish desires.

IMG_5585

I try my hardest to be this way with all those I love, and I mess it up in various ways every single day. But today’s focus on the Holy Family reminded me that I have help with my efforts. It’s not just me, all on my own, trying to figure this out. I have a model. And I have the ability to pray for the intercession of the Holy Family and for the grace of God to help me live up to this example in my own life.

I also have Mass, and the sacraments, and the Bible.

And the Mass readings for today were especially moving and relevant to my reflections on family relationships of late. The second reading in particular (which in its entirety was Colossians 3:12-21) was beautiful and just perfect for a day focused on family. Here’s the first part of it:

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.

This. Right here is what family life is all about. I want this in myself and in my family. I want this for all families. For all relationships. For all human interactions.

I feel like I might need to print this out and carry it around in my pocket. Maybe we all do.

I know not all family conflicts can be fixed simply by remembering that God has called us to be kind and humble, to forgive and love each other. But it sure is a place to start.

I pray daily for my family. I’ll be praying for yours too.

My Kids Went to Vacation Bible School, and It Made Me Cry

Last week was VBS at our parish. I have wanted to send Miss to it for the past two summers, but it always coincided with a week that we were out of town. This year, we decided to stay home, and Lass was old enough to go too, so both of my older girls attended.

IMG_4720

Our parish really goes all out and does a wonderful job with the program. The kids made crafts and played games, all while learning Bible verses and stories, and about the love of God. My girls just loved it, and I was so happy they got to attend.

Each day when I dropped them off, and again when I picked them up, the whole group of kids and volunteers sang a song together in the church. The message of the song: “My God is powerful. He stands invincible. I will hold on to Him. Through God I will overcome. He’s the rock that will never move.”

IMG_4740

Most days at drop off and pick up I got to see the kids do the song together (complete with arm motions throughout), and I was surprised to find that I couldn’t help but get choked up as I watched them sing. Every time, my eyes welled with tears, and I just stood there feeling all the feels and hoping that the tears wouldn’t spill over and make me look really foolish.

It seems like kind of a weird thing to get all emotional over, right? But as I watched all the kids get so excited over this song and it’s message, I felt this overwhelming joy that my children have this community and this Faith to grow up with.

Sometimes it’s still hard for  to believe that we even go to church, that we are even Catholic at all. I think back to where I was three years ago, on my unbelief and scorn for all things Christian, and I marvel at where we are now. I get overwhelmed with gratitude for what we have that we almost didn’t: Faith. Prayer. Community. Church.

And it’s in small moments, like those in the back of the church at the start and end of each VBS day, that I realize how powerful God really is. That He could take someone like me, a diehard atheist, and transform me into a true believer, a weekly-Mass-attending, pope-loving, confession-going, Jesus-freak Catholic, is nothing short of a miracle.

IMG_4752

The kids performed the song in the front of the church at the end of Mass yesterday. I got all teary-eyed again, and then nearly dissolved into full-on sobs when the recessional hymn was “As For Me and My House, We Will Serve the Lord.”

Yes we will. And I am so incredibly grateful for it.

Edel – The Message for Me

It’s now more than a week since I’ve been home from the Edel Conference. I’ve read many of the blog posts written by other ladies who were there, and I have found it interesting that each of us, though we attended the same event, came away with slightly different messages, that spoke to each of us individually with just what we needed.

Here’s my take-home:

On Friday after the cocktail party, Super Friend and I had a wonderful chat, late into the night. At one point in our conversation, she shared with me her love of the Divine Mercy devotion, and the prayer that is associated with the Divine Mercy image — “Jesus, I trust in you.” I got so excited that she had brought this up, and shared with her that that simple prayer has been my mantra during all of my struggles with secondary infertility and miscarriage. Every month, during the waiting phase, when I start to get anxious and/or hopeful and/or discouraged, I say that prayer. Every time I get a negative on the pregnancy test, I say that prayer. Every time I start to feel despair that I will never have another baby, I say that prayer.

Divine Mercy and “Jesus I trust in you” have been my secret weapons against the anxiety and desolation that come with repeatedly trying and failing to get and stay pregnant.

Later in this same conversation, Super Friend made reference to a Bible passage that was meaningful to her. She couldn’t remember quite how it went right away, but the way she described it made me think of one that I know.

I got all excited and exclaimed, “Oh! Oh! Isn’t that from Corinthians, or maybe it’s Galations. . . Oh, I don’t know where it’s from, but do you mean the story about when Paul gets a thorn in his side and he asks God to remove it and God tells him something like, ‘My grace is sufficient for you. My power is perfect in weakness’?  I don’t remember exactly how it goes, but it’s something like that, right? That is one of my favorite verses!

She said that yes, that was what she meant, and I then proceeded to tell her that I had first heard the verse (it’s actually 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10) when listening to a Lighthouse Catholic Media talk several months ago, and that it has become very meaningful to me since then. It seems like I keep hearing it and reading it all over the place, and every time I do, it hits me so hard that it’s just what I need. It was even the Sunday Mass reading for the weekend before Edel! I shared with Super Friend that the verse (in addition to the Divine Mercy prayer) has been really special to me as a way of helping me to deal with my fertility struggles.

As we sat there and continued to talk, I was feeling absolutely amazed that Super Friend brought up the two big messages that I have kept in my heart for months. It felt like the Holy Spirit was speaking right to me through my friend. It was a conversation I will never forget.

IMG_4362

But wait. It gets even better.

The next day, it got to be the time for the late afternoon speaker, so we were in the big conference room, and Kelly Mantoan was giving her talk. She was talking about the struggles of being a mom, and trying to find joy in our vocations, and I honestly don’t remember the exact context of the moment in her talk, but at one point she said, “Jesus, I trust in You.” I couldn’t believe it. I shot a quick glance at Super Friend and almost burst into tears.

“That’s my prayer!” I thought. “God keeps sending it to me.”

And THEN, Saturday night the keynote speaker during dinner was Audrey Assad. Guess what she opened her talk with? Mm-hmm.

The above-referenced 2 Corinthians passage! 

I heard her start reading the part about the thorn in Paul’s side, and I think my jaw just dropped, or maybe my eyes got teary, or maybe (probably) both of these things happened. Again, I felt the presence of God, speaking straight to my heart, through the lovely women of the Edel Conference.

There were so many wonderful take-home messages from the Edel Gathering. Each conversation and each speaker added a little something that I will hold in my heart.

But these moments that I’m writing about here, they were so powerful.

Jesus I trust in You.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

I came home knowing that these two things that I have been holding on to for months are exactly what I need to keep holding on to. God was telling me that I need to trust Him. That my struggles are what are bringing me closer to Him. That His grace is enough to carry me through anything. That whether or not I ever have another baby, it will be okay.

IMG_4364

I got exactly what I needed out of the Edel Gathering. What was your take-home message?

“Evangelize” is Not a Four-Letter Word

All my life, even before I was an atheist, I felt uncomfortable with the way many Christian people try to share their faith with others.  I found the door-to-door peddling of Christian leaflets to be obnoxious, and kind of insulting. I ridiculed people who would say things like, “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” When I first moved from Detroit to small-town Kentucky with my parents in 1997, I thought it was weird and kind of hilarious that some (very nice) people came to our door to tell us about their church’s “tent revival.” They had heard we were new in town and just wanted to extend an invitation, but I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.

I had a few not-so-nice names for people who tried to spread the word about Jesus, like “Bible Thumper,” and in some cases, “Jesus Freak.”

To be perfectly honest, one of the things I first liked about Catholicism was that it didn’t seem too heavy on the push to evangelize people. I knew that no one was going to ask me to go door to door handing out rosaries or anything. People didn’t call out “Praise Jesus!” or “Amen!” during Mass, so certainly no one was expected or encouraged to walk around saying these things to others outside the church.

However. . .

I was kind of wrong about two things.

First of all, obviously I was being a big jerk about judging people who try to spread their love of their faith to others.

And second, I was mistaken to think that Catholics don’t or aren’t called to share our faith.

I mean, Jesus told His apostles to do it, so yeah, probably I should too.

But how? I’m not ever going to be that person who goes door to door. I will never go up to a stranger and invite her to pray with me. Geez, I’m getting kind of clammy just thinking about it.

I’ve thought and prayed a lot about this, because I think it’s important, but I cannot be an “in-your-face evangelizer.” My introverted heart just couldn’t take that. Happily, my Church does not demand that of me.

So what’s a girl to do? I try to show my Faith by living it in my daily life. I go to Mass every Sunday and on holy days of obligation, whether I’m at home or traveling. I talk to my children a lot about our Faith, and then, as every good parent does, I let them do some of the work for me when they proudly and sweetly say things like, “I want to be a nun when I grow up!” or “Who’s your saint?” to people whom often have no idea what they’re talking about (Kidding!). I try to live my Catholic Faith confidently, but not in a pushy way, and to teach my children to do the same.

DSC_0023

And then there’s this here blog.

I write about faith and the Faith here a lot. But it is not easy for me. Every single time a thought comes to my mind for a post that has something to do with Christianity or Catholicism, I get nervous. Every. Single. Time.

I put it off. I resist. I fear that people might think things like, “Wow, she’s ‘found Jesus’ and now she won’t shut up about it,” or “Here’s she goes pushing that Catholic stuff on us again,” or “Man, I really miss the days when all she used to write about was potty training and trying to get her kids to nap and other everyday-motherhood stuff.”

If you feel that way, I’m sorry. But probably not really. Because I love the Catholic Faith and Jesus, and it is part of my everyday stuff now. I misunderstood it and ridiculed it and scorned it for so long. Now I can share with others the beauty and mysteries of the Church, and that’s something I feel is right for me to do. Even though it makes me nervous.

Credo 300_zpsuk8tac7y

 

Coincidentally, during the weeks that I’ve mulled this post over, a new thing came up that I wanted to share. You might have noticed that I have a new image/button on my sidebar. I chose to put it there as part of The Credo Project, put together by Molly, and Kendra, and Bonnie. From Molly’s post:

This is “The Credo Project”. We are a group of bloggers who love the richness and fullness of our Catholic Faith. We want to help our readers grow in their own walk with God and share our own journeys and experiences.

If you click on the image, it will take you to the website Catholics Come Home, which has lots of information for people who are interested in becoming Catholic or in returning to the Church.

Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 10 – The Real Presence

Very early in my process of conversion to Catholicism, I wrote a post about a sort of, epiphany, if you will, that I had in coming to understand the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. In the post, I described what happened when I was in my first meeting of my first ever Bible study, and we were watching a video with Edward Sri in it, and suddenly something about the Eucharist really being the body of Jesus just made sense. I had already believed in the Real Presence, but in that moment I gained a new understanding of it. I felt compelled to share my revelation in the group, much to my chagrin, since I made a complete idiot of myself in doing so.

Anyway, you can read all about my first attempt trying to explain the Catholic belief about transubstantiation and the Real Presence in the Eucharist here if you want to.

Today, I’m going to try to do a little bit of a better job than I did then, because I know that the Catholic doctrine that, during the consecration at Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus and are not just symbolic of it, is a hard one to believe for lots of people who aren’t Catholic. So, today’s Baby Catholic question is this:

Why do Catholics believe that the bread and wine contain the Real Presence of Jesus, rather than just symbolizing Him?

Rosary

Surprisingly, coming to believe that the bread and wine offered at communion actually become the body and blood of Jesus during the consecration by the priest at Mass was one of the easier things for me to accept in my conversion. Perhaps this is because I read the book “Rome Sweet Home,” in which Scott Hahn, once a very anti-Catholic Presbyterian minister, describes his discovery of the Real Presence and quotes several sources to support it. Or perhaps it’s because, after a few months of attending Mass regularly, I began to have the experience of intense longing to receive Communion, which suggested to me that it was much more than just a wafer and a sip of wine.

Smith Vows-194

Probably both of those things contributed to my fairly easy acceptance that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist. Honestly, once I got past my initial doubting of all things religious and was able to accept that there is a God and that Jesus is His Son, transubstantiation wan’t too hard for me. It’s all a matter of having faith.

The Catechism of the Cathoic Church says this about the Eucharist:

In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC 1374, the quote within the quote comes from the Council of Trent)

And:

It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion (CCC 1375)

Smith Vows-190

We can also see that the early Church fathers believed in the Real Presence. St. Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch, succeeding St. Evodius, who was the direct successor of St. Peter. He wrote in his letter to the Romans (c. 80-110 A.D.):

I have no taste for the food that perishes, nor for the pleasures of this life. I want the Bread of God, which is the Flesh of Christ, who was the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood, which is love that cannot be destroyed.

But where does this idea come from in the first place, that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist?

The Bible, of course.

While they were eating, he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” (Mark 14: 22-24)

The gospel of Luke says almost the exact same thing (Luke 22:19-20), and these are also the words that the priest says to consecrate the bread and wine during the Mass. It comes straight from the Bible. Jesus does not say, “Take this bread as a symbol of my body.” He does not say, “This is like my body.”

This is my body.

Further, in the gospel according to John:

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)

Jesus was not telling us to symbolically take Him in, as in welcoming His Spirit into our hearts or something, because the verb used here for “eat” is more like the word “gnaw” rather than “consume.”

“My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

He gave it to us on Calvary, and continues to give it to us every time the Mass is celebrated.

In addition to the Biblical basis of the Real Presence, I can attest to my own experience of receiving Jesus during communion and being with Him in Adoration. It’s difficult to explain, but I can feel that He is there. When I receive Communion, I can feel myself being filled by the most incredible sensation and presence. It’s not just eating a cracker.

Smith Vows-191

As I’m typing this, I can’t help but think that this is sounding hokey. Corny. Crazy, maybe. To someone who hasn’t experienced it, it probably does sound that way.

Someone who does not believe might attribute my experience to some sort of placebo affect. As in – I believe Jesus is present in the Eucharist, therefore I feel something when I receive Him. I probably would have explained it that way before I experienced it myself. But that’s not a sufficient explanation. I felt a strong pull to receive communion before I believed in the Real Presence. Before I even really knew what that meant. That’s the first and most basic reason that I became Catholic.

Because when you realize that you are in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and that you can receive Him during Communion, why in the world wouldn’t you want that?

The Eucharist, the Real Presence, is Jesus’ incredible gift to us.