Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Challenges in the New Year

For me, every week is like a new year. I'm always thinking about how to improve myself and my home. It's honestly a bit of an obsession. Lately, I've been reading lots of "How to Get Organized" books. I take them with me to read while waiting for appointments and joke about how I keep reading these books, but I am still not organized. One piece of advice in the latest book was to stick with a project until its completion. As I look at my very-close-to-clean desk, I wonder why I quit before I finished. In five minutes, the job that has been looming for the past month could finally be crossed off the to-do list. Two more piles, and done, Instead, I have been reading blogs about New Year's challenges, and now I'm writing my own post.

Two challenges are on my radar: The Frual Fresh Start Challenge at SixFiguresUnder.com and the Clean Cuisine 8-Week Challenge. Financial and physical fitness are both very important to me.

All of the challenges have one theme in common, goal setting. I'm very good at dreaming up how I'd like things to look or feel or be. However, I am not quite as good at setting attainable goals with benchmarks to keep me on target for success.

I wrote some goals in a notebook today. The notebook has a page in it with my "five-year goals" from 2009. My goals were lofty and unattained--but inspiring all the same. This time, I'm starting with a six-month goal in response to Stephanie's suggestion for Day 1.  In terms of the financial goals, one is to save for a trip in June to visit my grandma. Another is to pay off a student loan this year. My fitness and health goals are to exercise a minimum of four times per week with a specific focus on strength training and flexibility to alleviate knee pain. Once I've met that goal, I can begin training for a spring or fall half marathon (a distance I claimed to be done running, but I think I need to do just one more!).

All of my current goals are realistic, attainable, and measurable, essential characteristics of worthwhile goals.

I need to start supper in about 10 minutes. That means I have plenty of time to finish cleaning my desk.

What are your goals for the New Year? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Regrouping on a Wednesday Morning

In the Veggie Tales "classic" Josh and the Big Wall,
the Israelites have come to claim the land of Jericho following the plan revealed to Joshua by an angel of the Lord. As the Israelites walk around the city, the People of Jericho mock them, their plan, and their God. Jimmy Gourd says that he and the other "Israelites" should "fall back and regroup" after the People of Jericho (i.e., the French Peas) throw slushies on their heads. Jimmy and Jerry Gourd then plan to develop a "better way" to knock the wall down--one that won't involve humiliation and obedience, a rocket called "The Wallminator 3000" which will blast through the wall. Joshua urges Jimmy and the other Israelites to continue day after day with the original plan, and eventually, the walls come crumbling down because they did it God's way.

I often feel like Jimmy Gourd--with a figurative slushy dripping on my face and my best plans falling apart in front of me. I keep thinking, if I develop the perfect plan, like the "Wallminator 3000," I will get all of my work done, do a great job homeschooling my children, have a beautiful, well-organized home, and complete the decorating and shopping all before December 24. Are these goals worthwhile? More importantly, are these plans how God wants me to spend my time?

I pray every day, but do I really listen? I praise, thank, and petition the Lord, but maybe I'm just a "clanging gong." What is God's plan for me? I read a blog this morning about the Blessed Mother's total surrender to the Lord. Mary stopped everything to listen to God's plan for her. Mary's fiat, her total, selfless "yes" to God, is the model of holiness. I realize that I can't say yes if I don't know what is being asked of me. Of course, I don't expect Gabriel to pop in and sit with me at the kitchen table to tell me over tea what the Lord is asking of me. So, how can I surrender to God's will?

Jimmy Gourd's idea to "fall back and regroup" isn't a bad plan. The problem is that he wanted a better plan than God's plan. Wednesdays tend to be a good time for me to regroup, to consider what is being asked of me and to move forward with focus and direction. How is the week going so far? Are we as a family on track with the things we hope to accomplish before the weekend? Most importantly, though, have I put God first in my plans?
Heavenly Father, 
You have given me so many gifts. For those I thank you and praise you.
Send your Holy Spirit to guide me.
Give me wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel to recognize your will.
Give me piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord that I may surrender to your will each day.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"O Mary Conceived without Sin, Pray for Us Who Have Recourse to Thee"

When I was in middle school, our church had a girl's sodality devoted to the Blessed Mother. New members were inducted on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and given a Miraculous Medal on a long powder blue cord. I must have been 11 or 12 years old. I remember we went to church on a cold December weekday at night, which was unusual. I was already thinking about Christmas. I didn't realize the significance of the Marian feast that day, but I held onto the medal. I kept it in a special place with things I'd received for my First Communion, but I didn't understand what the words meant or that I should actually wear the medal and not keep it tucked away!

As my faith grew in my early adulthood, I learned more about the Miraculous Medal and began to wear mine regularly. All of my children teethed on the medal. The cord split. Since the cord was so long, I was able to knot it and still get it easily over my head to continue wearing it. 

This Monday is a Holy Day of Obligation, the Immaculate ConceptionThe words on the Miraculous Medal capture the essence of the Holy Day, "O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." Many people misunderstand the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The most common misconception is that the Immaculate Conception is the Annunciation (which is celebrated March 25) and the Virgin Birth. However, on December 8, we celebrate the conception of Mary in her mother Anne’s womb nine months before we celebrate the birth of Mary on September 8. Because she would bear the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord preserved her from the stain of Original Sin from the moment of her Conception. This Holy Vessel, this Living Tabernacle who would carry her Lord within her own human body must not be stained with sin. Mary, most holy and pure—Full of Grace, as the Angel Gabriel greeted her in Luke 1:28—God’s own mother must be Immaculate from the moment of her conception. And so, on December 8, we celebrate the tiny baby, Mary, in her mother’s womb who would later say “Yes” to God, no matter the cost. 

The Church invites us to know Mary, to love and honor her as our own mother. Mary suffered deeply. Her betrothed initially thought she was an adulterer and planned to divorce her (of course, in a dream the Angel helped Joseph recognize he could trust his wife). She birthed her baby in a dirty stable. She had to flee with a newborn to Egypt so he wouldn’t be slaughtered. At the Presentation, Simeon told her that her heart would be pierced with a sword. She was at the foot of the Cross when God’s own son paid for our guilt. 

When the pains you endure in this daily life are too much to bear, know that our Mother Mary intimately understands our human sufferings. She will console you.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, 
and Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, 
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Suffering and Redemption in the Season of Comfort and Joy

On this December Saturday morning, I woke to a quiet house at 5 a.m. No alarm. Nowhere to be. Just wide awake. It's like this most Saturdays. Some people might desire to sleep in, but not me. I love my quiet Saturday mornings. I have time to reflect on my devotional readings, prepare for the Sunday liturgy, and to contemplate what the Lord is asking of me in the coming week.

Each day, I pray for the souls in Purgatory and then read a magazine called Magnificat. If you are looking to grow in your faith, Magnificat is a great place to start! Magnificat features the daily Mass readings, morning and evening prayer, and some fantastic reflections each day. Today, I read a reflection by Heather King about Venerable Elisabeth Leseur (Leseur's writing is also often featured in Magnificat). Leseur's husband became an avowed atheist "shortly before their 1889 wedding." She had been a "conventional" Catholic up until then, but she was strengthened in her faith as a result of the mocking of her faith from her "husband, whom she deeply loved," and his friends. She quietly suffered this "hidden form of mortification," being charitable, friendly, and loving to those who persecuted her faith. She died in her forties of breast cancer. Her husband discovered her writings and journals upon her death and recognized the redemption in her suffering. Felix Leseur not only converted, but became a Dominican priest—something she had prayed would happen for him upon her passing.

Why did Elisabeth Leseur have to die young and suffer physically from cancer? Why did she have to suffer emotionally and spiritually in a marriage to a man who had turned completely away from God? Some may see her life as tragic. I see it as heroic and grace-filled. She did not wallow in self-pity. She used her suffering for redemption. Her cause for canonization is moving forward, and her words draw others to Christ a century after her death.

Why must human beings suffer? The somewhat unsatisfying answer is Original Sin. Which leads to a big question: Why did Jesus have to die? 

Youth at our parish discussed this big question at a recent confirmation class. The short answer is that Jesus died because we need a redeemer. We cannot save ourselves, but we must be saved by one like us in all ways but sin. We wonder, though, if Jesus already died for us, why do we still have to suffer in this life on earth? I don't claim to be a mystical theologian with the insight to answer these questions satisfactorily, but I will share what I understand through faith.

We all bear many different crosses in this life. Sometimes life does not seem fair, like when a child dies, when someone gets a terrible disease, or when innocent victims suffer at the hands of criminals or unjust governments. God wills only good things. But free will and temptations mean that sin happens. Our fallen humanity is subject to disease and pain.Through these trials, we must remember, God’s ways are not our ways—we have no idea the joy the Lord has in store for us if we are faithful to him. Our human minds cannot comprehend the depth of his love. God understands the deepest suffering--what it is to lose a child. He, too, lost a son—a son who was without sin, yet he suffered for the sins of all the world. The short film Most (The Bridge) (See a portion of the film here), based on a true story, captures the idea in a way that my simple words cannot do justice. A father must make a decision that means either the life of his son or the lives of hundreds of passengers on a train. 

God's son, Jesus, died for all humanity. His suffering was so intense that his sweat was drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemanie as he prayed to God, knowing the weight of the sins of humanity from all time, preparing to carry those sins under the weight of the Cross. Jesus did not will evil, but he accepted the suffering which results from the evil in the world so he could wash the world clean and give us a chance at eternity with God.

During this second week of Advent, our minds may be seeking "tidings of comfort and joy" rather than the Lenten call to repentance. Without repentance, though, we cannot experience true comfort and joy, as we see in this Sunday's readings. Isaiah 40 begins: "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God." The Psalm 85 response implores: "Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your slavation." Peter 3 reminds us, "The Lord does not delay his promise as some regard "delay," but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." And finally, the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark begins with John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord, "proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."

As Christmas draws near, we must recall that the Passion and the Resurrection are the reason for Jesus' birth. 

During this Second Week of Advent, as we "Prepare the Way of the Lord," we might reflect on this verse from "What Child Is This?" 

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Monday, December 1, 2014

31 Days to Improve My Domestic Church

I predicted (self-fulfilling negative prophecy?) on November 1 that in spite of my desire to write a novel in November that it would probably not happen.

I did write for a few days. I'm actually kind of excited about the story. Somehow, though November wouldn't let me win.

I'm not discouraged. I discovered other things during November. I read a book about laziness being a myth which highlighted methods for helping different types of learners. I'm homeschooling my two youngest sons, and their learning styles are extremely different from one another. Likewise, I have my own struggles with staying on task and finishing projects (as noted above!). This book helped me understand us all a little better. I need to find ways to capitalize on our strengths and use different tools to keep us on task than I needed for my older children.

In November, I also came to terms with other things about my work and my home management. I cannot do everything, but with a change in my approach and attitude, I can accomplish much more than I have recently.

What does December hold for us? With the beginning of Advent, we are shifting gears to "Prepare the Way of the Lord." We are at the beginning of a new liturgical year. I plan to make my New Year's Resolutions now instead of in January.

In what became my planning month of November, I researched blogs and books about organization and time management. I often think, "If only I can get things in order, everything else will be easier. Living Well Spending Less features a "31 Days" category for a month of changes--reducing clutter, stress, and spending. Since December has 31 days, it seems like an invitation to reduce stress and make things less scattered in my domestic church.

Today, December 1, I inventoried my pantry/freezer inventory and prepared a two-week menu plan with what's on-hand. I won't need much from the grocery store to get us through the next two weeks. Just about every organizing blog will tell you that if you know what's for dinner, everything else about the day is easier. In the past, I've planned a month at a time. Grocery shopping and meal prep were never a problem. Somehow, though, I got out of the habit, and things fell apart over the past year.

With meal-planning under control, I can focus on other things, like teaching, grading papers, and most importantly, celebrating Advent in a peaceful, prayerful manner.

Tomorrow will be Day 2. The focus will be time management, making intentional decisions about how to spend the minutes and hours God grants us, rather than floating aimlessly through the day. I'm guessing the task will be a challenge that won't be accomplished on the first try, particularly with my A.D.D. personality.

Heavenly Father, 
You have given us the gift of time. I struggle to make good use of that gift each day. Help me this Advent Season to more fully appreciate the minutes and hours you have given me, and to use my time to better serve you.
Your Son, Jesus Christ, came as a little child to be the Savior of the World. Help me to also see Jesus in the children you have entrusted to my care. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Once Upon a Time, A Writer Tried Again and Again, but Got Distracted

Today is November 1, 2014. For some, it's the day after Halloween--a time for sugar overload. For others, it's All Saints' Day--a time to remember the saints who've gone to their eternal reward. They lived their lives in service of the Lord, and they get to spend eternity with Him. Tomorrow, November 2, is All Souls' Day. On this day, we remember all the faithful who have died (especially in the past 12 months), but who may be spending some time in Purgatory to be made pure before entering into the presence of the Almighty God.  Finally, on a heavier, lighter note, it's the beginning of another National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Heavier and lighter? Yes. "Winning" NaNoWriMo has been a goal of mine for about 7 years now. However, I've never stuck with it for the whole month of November (heavy: I failed). I've never "won" the challenge of writing 50,000 words over the course of the month of November. NaNoWriMo should be fun (light: do something for the fun and challenge of it), and if I don't win, it's not of much consequence to my time in eternity. What will this November hold for me?

During my prayers this morning, I reflected on the past month. October was a little bumpy for me this year. Car and appliance repairs, school work not getting done, a mini bout with depression, three family medical emergencies in one week (none life-threatening), and other little stressors. I'm happy for a new month, even though November generally brings its own yuck with the time change and sundown coming before the evening rush hour (sunset tomorrow is 4:42, and it's going to get earlier and earlier until the Winter Solstice). For anyone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, this month can be challenging, to put it gently.

November. Why should November be any different than October was? Why would this November be any different. I want to tell you, but if I give my idea today and don't follow through, I'll feel the fool, again. And it's likely that I won't follow through. But, some things are different this year. I didn't decide whether or not to compete in NaNoWriMo this year until this morning. Other years, I planned on it throughout October. And I'm not going to follow the NaNoWriMo advice to tell everyone I'm writing a novel until I make it through November 12. Okay, so I just lied there since I told anyone who's reading this post. But I'm not telling you the genre or the focus. Let's just say, I think it could be fun, and it might just help with my A.D.D., A.D.H.D, or whatever it is.

The first reading this morning for All Saints' Day was from Revelation. The selection concluded with these words:
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, "Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from? I said to him, "My lord, you are the one who knows." He said to me, "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb." Rev: 7:13-14
The words "survived the time of great distress" spoke to my heart. Like Martha, "I'm worried and anxious over many things." I want to fix things. I want to help people. However, some days, I can't even clear out the junk e-mail from my inbox. I read lots of self-help books and blogs. I know what I need to do, but for some reason I just cannot execute those tasks. Why? I have blamed A.D.D., and clearly I'm not alone because the blog post where I questioned my own self-diagnosis gets the most hits on this blog. Every new week, month, season, year, I get excited and hopeful for a significant change where I follow the health, finance, and career advice that will make me successful. Alas, my enthusiasm dims by Thursday, by the 8th of the month, or by February. I realize that if I am to do anything worthwhile, I must wash my robes in the Blood of the Lamb. Christ must be at the center.

Heavenly Father,

Help me to do your will this day. Lead me, through your Holy Word, and help me follow your plan for me. Keep me safe from all distress. Guide me so that I may help guide those entrusted to my care. 


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Paper Clutter, Projects, and the Darkness of October

You may find that this post rambles a bit. If so, I apologize. However, it's October, which means the darkness and cold are settling in, so I'm beginning to struggle a bit with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). My concentration is meh. I'm sleepy. I don't feel like exercising or dancing (very weird for me!). Reading books knocks me out. Things that ordinarily wouldn't bother me much have become exceedingly annoying lately. I clearly need to make some changes now so I don't slip into full-blown depression by Thanksgiving.

I try to avoid using the word "busy" to describe my days. It seems like a cop-out word. Everyone in modern American society seems to be busy. I don't believe I'm as busy as I seem to be. I think I just need to better manage my time. I often replay my days and weeks in my head, wondering what I do with all of the hours. I don't know what makes everyone else so busy, but for me it seems to be projects. Particularly troublesome are the projects that fail to come to a satisfying conclusion. The projects I begin seem to have a way of developing into unfinished symphonies (or novels, as the case may be).

My family did a little "move" in August when my eldest was preparing to leave for college. The other three children switched bedrooms and my office was bumped to the basement. It has been almost two months since we moved everyone, but things are still not organized the way I'd like.

The timing was fairly horrible for a room shift--it was the week before school started. I teach an online freshman composition class at a community college and homeschool my two youngest children. We totally switched our curriculum for our homeschool this year, so we are still getting used to things. In addition to the regular things, we've had extra projects and mini emergencies. My husband spent a couple weekends repairing cracks and cleaning the driveway to seal it before winter. My car broke down twice, requiring extra trips to the shop and a complete upheaval of my schedule for those days. I acquired a large load of wood chips which are being distributed throughout my garden beds--and it's taking a lot longer than I had anticipated to tackle the pile (which is sitting in my front yard). Our washing machine also needed repairing, but the repairman said it would cost as much as a new machine--so we repaired the four-year-old large-capacity, high-efficiancy machine ourselves for $200. Now the washing machine is working like it did when it was new--nice and quiet! In any case, time has been at a premium, and certain things have gotten pushed aside, like finishing the paper decluttering that should have happened before the rooms were swtiched two months ago.

I actually started to write this post back in September, before the car broke down the first time, just as school was starting. At that time, I was thinking "I still owe you an overview of the garage project." I laughed when I saw the draft of my blog post that said, "Next weekend, we hope to hang the shovels and do some finishing touches, and then I'll recap the adventure." Hmmm. Maybe we'll get to the shovels and finishing touches after Halloween....

For now, though, I would like to wrap up the untimely move. I said yes to the idea early last summer, but I went into a panic thinking about actually executing the shift which involved moving large furniture (dressers, beds, desks, a bookshelf, and a china cabinet). We rearranged furniture between three bedrooms, the mudroom, and the kitchen. Basically, it was like "moving" but staying in the same house since everyone except my husband and I would be sleeping in a new space. In some ways it was more difficult than an actual moving day because we weren't moving into an empty house. Every space was already full in our fairly small house, so choreographing the adventure wasn't as peaceful and smooth as I would have liked.

Nobody slept well the first night in the new rooms, including me! However, now that the new rooms are set up, the move seems to have been an excellent idea. All of the children are comfortable and happy in their new spaces.

Besides the physical moving of furniture, the "room move" renewed my focus to declutter, particularly kid stuff and paperwork. The "kid stuff" is under control, except the constant outgrowing of clothes for the boys. The bigger issue, of course, is paper clutter. The file cabinet that had been in the former office space was the final piece of furniture to move downstairs. Since it was full and heavy, it sat in the kitchen for almost two months.

I have been intending to purge the files for about a year now, but it's an easy project to put off in favor of other things, like baking cookies or picking tomatoes. I know in my mind that if I would simply do a few file folders each day, the job would be done rather quickly. For some reason, though, the thought of the task overwhelms me. I sometimes don't know what to save and what to shred. In this digital age where more and more bills are delivered online, how many past copies of bills do we really need to maintain on hand? USA.gov has a useful webpage for Managing Household Records that I'm planning to use to get things in order this month!

The FlyLady's October mission is to reduce paper clutter. In order to move the file cabinet, I took out all of the folders. In order to give my daughter an empty closet, I also had to take out a number of folders. These folders are stacked in my living room and my new office area. I hope to be writing by next week with my progress--not in December with the realization that two more months have gone by without success. I believe that reducing the paper clutter which is now taking over the living room and the office will help with my S.A.D.

Heavenly Father,

I know that you are all good. I know you have given me many good gifts. Help me to eliminate the clutter in my life and to be a better steward of my possessions and especially of my time. Please bless and guard those who suffer from depression, particularly as the darkness of fall and winter sets in. Thank you for all of the readers of this blog. Bless them and draw them close to your Sacred Heart.