Faith…

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You Don’t Have to Do It Alone

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My sister posted this little gem on her facebook page recently. My brother saw it and shared it. It’s not the first time either of them have posted something along these lines. I desperately wanted to comment, but I knew it was futile. On the one hand, I’m glad they have some sense that God is ultimately in control. That’s a very good thing. Unfortunately, if you look at this little quip carefully, you’ll see the problem that plagues my entire family. One that I have broken free from on an intellectual level, but struggle to implement every day of my life. No, it’s not the misuse of the hyphen. Although, I have to say, hyphens and I do have a fairly touchy relationship.

The problem is a complete sense of self-reliance.

Let me explain. But, first, I’ll have to give a little background info.

The Bible does not  ever say that God will not give you anything you can’t handle. The closest is comes is 1 Corinthians 10:13. This verse says that God will not allow you to suffer a temptation that you cannot handle without providing a way for you to escape. Sort of the same thing. But not.

While difficult situations may be a temptation to sin, they aren’t necessarily. Maybe they just suck. Maybe they’re just a cause of great suffering. If that’s the case, the Bible never says that God won’t give you more suffering than you can take. After all, what’s the threshold on suffering? If it’s physical suffering, I guess death is more than we can take, but we were born to die, so that doesn’t really mean much. I don’t mean to sound flippant. I’m just trying to point out that suffering sucks and there doesn’t seem to be any real limit to how much of it we can take. Even if there were a limit, God never promises that he won’t allow us to suffer past a certain point.

(Can I just pause to say how merciful it is that God will never allow us to suffer a temptation that we can not conquer! That’s not the point of this post, but thank you God for your infinite mercy!)

So, are we just condemned to suffer at the hands of an uncaring God? Certainly not. The great apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering. In 2 Corinthians 12 he tells about a time he begged the Lord to remove his suffering, but God did not. God explained to Paul that His grace was enough to sustain Paul through anything. (2 Cor 12:9) And that’s the key.

All suffering can be endured, even great physical suffering that leads to death (i.e. the martyrs), with God’s grace.

Did you catch that last part?

The key is God’s grace.

God’s grace sustains us through whatever suffering we may endure, be it emotional, spiritual, or physical. We likely will encounter some suffering in our lives that we can’t endure. But, with God’s grace, suffering takes on new meaning.

Naturally, this leads to all kinds of other questions like why God allows suffering to exist and what the heck grace is anyway, both of which will have to wait until another time.

My point is, we’re not made to journey through this life alone. We’re going to face trials and obstacles and hardships. Some days we might be close to breaking. But if we’re surrounding ourselves with God’s grace, we won’t break. Quite the contrary. Paul goes on to tell us that it is through our weakness that we are made strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

My friend is a breast cancer survivor and she sums up her entire experience by saying that God had to knock her flat on her back (referring to the extensive time she spent in hospital beds) so that the only direction she could look was up (to God). Through her suffering, she came to understand the meaning of this verse.

So back to our family problem. We’re a “suck it up and deal with it” kind of people. We’re people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We’re definitely a family who believes in (although would never say so candidly) social darwinism. If we have problems, we work them out. On our own.

I can’t ever recall seeing my parents ask for help. Not the, “Hey, I’m really overwhelmed, could you watch the kids for me while I catch up on some housework?” kind of help and not the fall to your knees and put your problems in the hands of Jesus kind of help. We prayed together. And we prayed about problems. But the trust was missing. Praying about our problems didn’t change anything. It wasn’t a surrender. It was more like complaining.

We never learned the lesson that my friend learned. We kept trying to fix everything ourselves. Make it work out. Play the bad hand that we’d been dealt. We never leaned on God’s grace, placing full trust in his perfect plan, and allowed him to guide us through the turbulence of life.

As I said earlier, I understand the significance of this intellectually, and at times I succeed in letting God be God despite the suffering I may endure, but most the time I find myself standing alone in a puddle of tears before I have the sense to remember that this suffering, like all suffering, has a purpose, and that with God’s grace I can overcome it.

That’s the lesson I wanted to share with my siblings when I saw their silly little quote on Facebook. That’s a lesson that can give their lives new perspective and change their attitudes. They’re not suffering because God is mean or because he doesn’t fully understand what they can handle. He’s their creator; no one knows what they can handle better than he does. While they may indeed be suffering, God wants to help them get through it. They just need to ask him for his grace and trust in his perfect plan.

Listening for God’s Voice

This brief little conversation over dinner absolutely melted my heart. I am so thrilled to know that my sweet little ones are already seeking God’s plan for their lives.

Me: Hey, Jack, Andy thinks Ben would like to be a priest. Do you think Ben will be a priest?

Jack: Umm..no…probably not.

Me: Would you like to be a priest?

Jack: Well…I don’t know what God wants me to be because I can’t exactly hear his voice. It’s too quite. I think because Heaven is so far away…you know God is so way up high…I can’t exactly hear Him when I’m outside playing or in the house.

Me: That is wonderful that you’re listening for God’s voice. If you keep listening, you will hear what He wants you to be.

Andy: And, “alsoly”, Jack, Fr. Hart said that if you go in your room in the quiet without the tv or radio on, you will be able to hear God’s voice.

Me: That is exactly right! Fr. Hart did say that. (High five Andy)

Just a note: It’s was months ago when (now) Msgr. Hart gave that homily on vocations and being open to God’s plan for your life. I didn’t even realize that Andy was listening, let alone that Msgr’s words were still with him! It’s amazing what little ones pick up on!

Thank you, God, that my children are open to and seeking your will for their lives. Please grant that their hearts remain open as they grow, and that their wills will be perfectly conformed to yours. In Jesus name, Amen.   

What Ever Happened to Truth?

Being that I’m hopelessly entangled in an on-again/off-again affair with procrastination, which, sadly, is much more often on-again than off-again, I have ample time to stumble across articles such as this: What Should Atheist Parents Tell their Kids about Religion? Rest assured, I am not here to argue the existence of God or the importance of religion. I just want to know what happened to truth and conviction.

The theme of the above mentioned article is one I come across constantly in parenting columns and blogs. The basic premise is, “I wholeheartedly believe x, but I’m going to make sure I expose my kids to the whole alphabet, so they can choose for themselves which letter they believe in.” This simply blows my mind. Regardless of what your beliefs are, if you believe them to be true, why would you not want to ensure that truth is communicated to your children?

For the Christian parents, if you believe that there is life after death, and that such life consists of eternal bliss or eternal suffering, why would you not do everything in your power to ensure your child obtains the former rather than the later? For the atheists, if you believe that religious beliefs are a waste of time and limit your child’s potential to ever become fully educated or enlightened or will lead them down the path of bigotry and hate, why would you encourage your child to start down a path that would lead to such a fate?

If you take out the polarizing topic of religious beliefs or other ideologies, it becomes apparent that truth really does exist, and that parents generally do their best to protect their children from the consequences of ignoring truth. Good parents wouldn’t tell little Johnny that stoves are hot, but leave it up to little Johnny to decide whether or not he wants to touch the stove. Or suppose little Johnny had CIPA, the genetic disorder which would prevent him from feeling pain. If his mom walked into the kitchen and saw Johnny with his hand on the burner, would she say, “Oh, that’s nice Johnny. I’m glad you’re happy with your hand there. Never mind that the flesh is melting off your bones.” Of course not! She would scoop her baby up, regardless of his age, and protect him.

So what does all of this mean? I figure it leads to one of two conclusions. Either, parents are not actually as convicted about their beliefs as they pretend to be, or they don’t really mean that their child can choose to believe something different. I find the first rather frightening, and the second rather pathetic.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not talking about things that are a matter of opinion or preference. Regarding the country in which your child may one day reside, favorite colors, potential professions, of course I believe children should be exposed to a wide variety of possibilities. But when it comes to the things that matter most, the beliefs that are the basis for one’s entire world view and ethical code, shouldn’t a good parent be a little more protective and proactive? If the parent believes there is fundamental truth to their beliefs, why would they provide their child with the opportunity to choose a life path that would rob them of the beauty that comes from truth?

Is it that, deep down, parents don’t actually believe the “truths” they profess? If there is no truth, if everything really is relative, if Sheryl Crow was right and whatever makes you happy can’t be bad, why do parents waste their time believing, or not believing, as the case may be? If everything is relative and Johnny can be happy and fulfilled and safe on any path of ideology he chooses, why waste your time with an ideology to begin with? Why bother having an opinion about the existence (or lack thereof) of a higher power if it doesn’t actually matter either way? It seems that extending this train of thought can lead to some pretty scary implications, but I’ll save that for another day.

Or is it that parents don’t really mean that Johnny can choose whatever letter he wants? Maybe parents just say this to be trendy. Or maybe they are using it as a twisted test of good parenting or as a means to validate whatever it is they believe. Do they just want to be able to look back and say, “Look at what I good example I was for Johnny. I exposed him to every possible belief system under the sun, yet he still chose to believe the same thing I believe. I am such a good parent, and, obviously he recognizes truth when he sees it.” But what happens if he doesn’t choose the same?

Obviously, there’s no cut and dry response to the questions I’m posing. But I just don’t understand why people don’t stand behind what they believe in, especially when it comes to passing on beliefs to their children. If something is true, why would you risk depriving your child of the benefits that come from living a life lit by that truth?

“Babe, we need to have a talk…of the morbid variety.”

I’m sure my husband was thrilled to hear that just after I walked in the door last night after spending the last 10 hours up at church. Nothing says “I’m ready to relax and unwind with you” like a comment like that, right? But it had to be done. I’m getting on a plane on Thursday and spending 4 whole days of my life away from my family and then getting on another plane to come home. And I know, I know. Josh is very quick to remind me that I’m more likely to be killed on the way to work than in a plane crash, but I’m a mom. I need to know there’s a plan in place for my babies. And my hubby too.

The truth is we’re really bad at this kind of planning. Neither of us are insured to the level I want us to be, and we don’t have a will. It’s not that I’m worried about distribution of assets…we don’t really have any of those. :0) But my babies…I just don’t know where I’d send my babies. I want a will so I know they will be provided for and raised the way we would raise them. I want adequate life insurance so whoever is entrusted with such a huge task will be able to do so without a huge financial burden. But I just don’t know who that who would be. How do you make that kind of decision?

Josh and I have had variations of this conversation many times over the years, but we’ve never come to an answer we’re happy with. That’s why we don’t have a will. Does that make us the most irresponsible parents in the world? It sure feels like it right now. In this instance, I’m not quite as worried because, if something did happen to me, Josh is still here, and, thankfully, we are on the same page when it comes to parenting. But any time we walk out that door together without the kiddos, it really bothers me. I guess that’s one reason to be grateful that we don’t go out alone very often. In fact, Saturday night we went out without any of the kids for the first time since January. And it was the first time we went out alone since…I don’t even know…I think August of 2009? But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, we are not properly prepared.

If something were to happen to us, I know both sets of our parents would think they have rights to the kids. And, yes, of course we want our parents to be very much involved in our kids lives, but we don’t want them raising them. Neither set agrees with our parenting philosophies and that’s fine; they don’t have to. But if we were gone, we’d want someone raising our kids who does agree with our philosophies and priorities. But can you really sign a legal document that declares that your kids shouldn’t be raised by family, rather friends?

Obviously, you can, but that just makes me feel so guilty. I don’t know why. I know what’s important to me. But I think the difficulty arises because family is also hugely important to me. It just seems so insulting not to trust family with raising my kids. But the fact is, I don’t. Well, trust is too strong a word. Of course, I would trust them to provide for them and love them, but I don’t think they would give them the same priorities and values that we are working so hard to instill in our kids.

These are the moments that it’s really difficult to be a parent. It’s not the endless supply of dirty diapers and 3 different kids getting up 3 different times in the night. Those moments are trying and exhausting, but not frightening. The fear that comes with parenting can be almost debilitating if you sit around and marinate in it too long.

Interestingly, as I wrote that last line, I had the epiphany that, like so many other causes of stress in my life, it all comes back to fear. You would think I would have realized that before just now, but I hadn’t. The Lord really seems to be trying to teach me not to fear. To have faith. To trust. Those are such difficult lessons for me. I am a control freak, in part, because I know if I’m in control things will go as I see fit. No need for faith. No need for trust. No room for fear. I just make sure things happens exactly as I plan for them to happen. But, lately, I’ve been realizing that’s not good enough for the Lord.

I’ve been on a journey of learning to “let go and let God” since October 2008. Yet, he continually he peals back another layer, phrases the lesson a slightly different way, or illustrates his point anew, just hoping I’ll finally get his message. I’m trying. I really am. But this is such a hard lesson for me. Surrendering all to another is so difficult, but it seems especially difficult for me. Did you know that the Lord tells us not to fear 365 times in the Bible? He left us a message for every day of the year to let go of fear and trust him. Isn’t that awesome? I know I’ve strayed entirely off point, but the Lord continually amazes me and I am truly baffled by his constant, patient, and unfailing love for me.  All I can say to that is thank you, thank you, thank you Lord! You are so good to me!

But, wrapping up the initial point of this entry, because I wouldn’t feel satisfied if I didn’t, we are truly unprepared should something unthinkable happen. Now, however, I am much more peaceful about it than when I first started writing. I know that our parenting is in line with the will of God and he will protect that. If he sees fit to bring us home early, he will ensure that my kids are provided for just as he provides for us. That’s not to say that we don’t need to make the appropriate provisions too, just that, as always, God will provide.

Ch-ch-changes

After Ben cam home, and even in the hospital, Josh and I kept commenting about how quickly I seemed to be recovering. For the first time, I spent most of my last day in the hospital on my feet or in the rocking chair instead of in bed. We even had an out-of-town house guest before Ben was three weeks old. Of course I was exhausted, but not in pain or even in poor spirits. In fact, from the minute he arrived, after the most painful, yet quickest, delivery I’ve ever experienced, I was in a state of absolute bliss. I was happy to meet all my boys, but this was different.  I attributed all of this to my new doctor. I thought for sure she must have done something differently. It didn’t take long for me to discover that, although I love my doctor, it wasn’t anything she did; it was just God’s plan. He had a project lined up for me, and my normal, slow recovery would have prevented me from getting on board.

On August 13, I accepted a job that I interviewed for on the 9th and applied for on the 6th. From the time I first saw the posting through the conversation when I heard myself accepting the position, I was in my own personal (yet obviously less significant) Garden of Gethsemane. I didn’t want to go to work. I feel sorry for moms who think they have to work outside the home. I had my whole family-raising plan mapped out in a beautiful mural in my mind. But we all know what they say about God laughing while we make plans….

I knew from the moment I read the posting that God was calling me to apply. I kept trying to forget about it, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. And, as Josh so astutely pointed out, I’ve seen many job postings over the years that I’m well qualified for, but none have haunted me the way this one did. I spent a lot of time in prayer, mostly telling God I didn’t want it. I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself and my husband of all the millions of reasons why we couldn’t justify my leaving the home. I didn’t know what to do, so I applied for the position. I told myself that I would interview and not get the position. Then, I would know wholeheartedly that I had misunderstood what the Lord was saying to me. I reasoned that doing so would keep me from feeling guilty, since at this point I had convinced myself that there was no way God would ask me to work outside of our home.

As I spent more time in prayer, my prayers changed from “I don’t want it. Don’t ask me to do it.” to “I don’t want it. Don’t ask me to do it. But, Lord, I want to do your Will.” Funny how God works on our hearts like that… I just kept repeating Jeremiah 29:11 to myself, trying to remind myself that God’s Will for me was best, despite what it may look like to me. Meditating on that verse, Jesus’ passion, and Mary’s “yes” to the God through the angel Gabriel were all that kept me going. I was so stressed out. I did not want to leave my boys. I did not want to leave them in the care of someone else. I did not want any more responsibilities than those I already had.

But as I’ve already given away, the position was offered to me and I said yes. I know I’m perfect for this job. I never once questioned my qualifications and abilities. My whole life, educationally, professionally and personally, has prepared me for this position. I know if I interviewed me, I would have hired me too. I don’t say this to toot my own horn, but I am truly an asset to our parish. I am so humbled by and grateful for the opportunity that lays before me. It’s a huge responsibility, but I’m happy to take it on, challenges and all.

Josh and I are doing our best to adjust at home. Luckily, my hours are flexible, and we belong to a church that values life, so the kids aren’t so much of a problem. They’ve been up at my office many times when I’m supposed to be working. Right now, we don’t have a weekend, or even a single day off, together. If I’m at work, Josh is at home and vice versa. The exception is Wednesdays when we both go to work. We just hired an amazing babysitter and the boys love her. Leaving them with her was a little tough for me, but knowing how happy they were about playing with her made it so much easier.

I have no idea where this path will lead. And it’s definitely put a big hole in my mural. But as God keeps reminding me, He’s in charge. Not such an easy lesson for this control freak to swallow.

Finding Time to Love

While reading an article about the actor who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, I came across the most simple and profound quote. Jim Caviezel, the actor, quoting Ivan Dragicevic, stated

“Man always finds time for what he loves. If somebody who doesn’t have any time finds a girlfriend and falls in love with her, he will always find time for her. People don’t have time for God because they do not love Him.”

I love it when something so simple rings so clear and true. Even though I didn’t come up with this on my own, these are my favorite kind of epiphanies. Furthermore, this is such a fitting statement to summarize some of my Lenten experiences.

As you may recall, one of my Lenten epiphanies was about being called to tithe our time. Most days during Lent, I probably did a decent job of doing this simply because of what I chose to do for Lent in terms of prayer. Added on to my regular daily prayer time, by the end of the day most days, I’d probably shared about 10% of my awake time with God. But what about now that Lent is over? And what about the fact that it was kind of happening by default, not because I had a burning desire to spend as much time as possible with the Lord in prayer?

I think Ivan’s statement sums it up perfectly. Even though I’ve grown SO much spiritually, I still have such a long way to go. Yes, I love the Lord. But do I love Him with the same passion that I love my husband? Or greater for that matter? I’m always a little emotionally high maintenance, and during my pregnancies it can amount to downright neediness. Recently, I’ve found myself almost daily begging Josh not to go to work or to come home early or whatever else will get me a few more minutes with him. Where is that same passion for more time with the Lord?

One thing I’ve been praying for a lot lately is for our marital love to become the love that Christ intended for it to be. In Ephesians Chapter 5 we’re told that wives should submit to their husbands as the Church does to the Lord and that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. That’s pretty powerful stuff. It really moves me and its something I greatly desire for our marriage. (Although I’ll be quick to tell you, I hope Josh never has to hand himself over for me in the manner in which Christ did for his bride, the Church.)

What I find so funny is that I’ve been asking to grow in this kind of marital love without really understanding what it even means. My actions show very clearly that I have more passion for my husband than I do for the Lord. That being the case, I think it’s laughable that I pray for Christ to teach us to love each other as He loves His Church and vice versa. Thankfully, God loves me just the way I am, despite my many imperfections and ignorances. I’m confidant that through continued prayer I will grown in both martial love as God designed it and love for God himself. I have no doubt that He can work on more than one part of me at a time.

On a less serious note, this quote also called to mind my Lenten Facebook experience, or, more accurately, experiencing life without Facebook during Lent. There are several people I keep up with on Facebook. There are many more that I am “friends” with, read their status updates, look at their pictures, but never actually communicate with. Regarding the later, I’d say I am not actually friends with those people, regardless of what I’d like to think. All relationships take effort to sustain and reading about someone’s life on Facebook doesn’t count. As for the former…well that’s the question that really got me thinking.

Previously, I would have told you that I rely on Facebook so much for communication because I’m too busy for other forms of communication such as lunch dates or even phone calls. Taking into account Ivan’s statement, which I wholeheartedly agree with, if I am too busy for time with these people, am I even really friends with them?

Being out-of-state from many of my closest friends, the ease and convenience of Facebook for feeling involved in each other’s lives is unparalleled. I don’t dispute that. But what if its come to the point where Facebook is all you have left? With few exceptions, I didn’t talk to or communicate with the people who I keep up with most on Facebook at all during Lent. I’m actually not even sure if I knew I missed some of them until I “saw” them again on Facebook. I was really excited to “see” them, but it never even occurred to me to get in touch with them without using Facebook. That may just mean I’m selfish. But if the same is true for them, are we really even friends to begin with?

I don’t have an answer to that question.

My point is that love is a verb. For those of you struggling to remember, verbs are words that show action. If we can’t take even the smallest, simplest action, whether it be for our spouses, our friends, or the Lord, how much do we really love them? Let’s be honest with ourselves. Ivan is exactly right. When we love something, we make time for it. It’s not uncommon for Americans to move their whole schedule around to ensure they don’t miss some particular hour of TV. If we can do that for a show that we “love,” why is it so hard for us to make a little time for the people we love and for our God? After all, people and most definitely God have so much more value than anything you could possibly find on TV.