Thursday, October 24, 2013

Small Success Thursday: Small Graces

This week I'm once again linking up with Catholic Mom to reflect & share three small successes from the past week.  Although this is only the second post of this series, I'm starting to realize that I don't spend enough time in reflection & thanking God for all of the small graces that occur in my everyday life.  I often find myself so bogged down by the hectic nature of my days that I don't fully appreciate all the beautiful little moments going on around me.  So, this week, my three small successes all center around small graces...

1) My religious ed students had to complete a worksheet about last Sunday's gospel, the parable of the judge & the widow.  At the bottom of the worksheet, they had a free space to write their own prayers to God.  One little boy wrote, "Dear God, I pray that my enemy will become my friend so that my life gets better."  Evidently my lesson seems to be sinking in.

2) I had the opportunity to attend a talk given by Fr. Thomas Rosica.  It was a blessing to be present & hear his message.  I will be posting more about this talk later, but one of the highlights was his recollection of World Youth Day 2002.  I was fortunate enough to be at the closing mass in Toronto with Blessed John Paul II.  It's been nice to think back on the beauty of that mass & remember the sending forth message given to all of us there.

3) I've decorated for fall...mostly...ok, so the fall decoration bin still hasn't been returned to the basement (does it still count, I think so!).  I did drag my feet on this one because I love summer so much & hate having to say goodbye for a long 8+ months.  I'm still not ready for the snow that is sure to come our way soon, but I will try to enjoy this fall season for what it is in & of itself.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Marriage: A Covenant

Today is my parents' 30th wedding anniversary.  I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today, reflecting on the example that my parents set for my brother & me, thinking about all the ups & downs they've experienced in thirty years together, wondering what the next thirty years will have in store.

When I look at a picture of my parents on their wedding day, I can see the youthful excitement in their eyes.  They were young, my mom was 20 & my dad was 26.  Although I'm sure they had some disagreements while dating & during their engagement, overall they felt nothing but bliss as they set out to begin their lives together.
My Parents on their Wedding Day
A few months after their seventh wedding anniversary, my dad became seriously ill.  Initially, doctors believed he had a severe case of the flu; but as the months of dehydration, nausea & fatigue continued, they began to believe it was something more serious.  Ultimately, he was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS).  My dad's illness became a catalyst of change for our family, especially for their marriage.  My mom, who had been our homemaker, went back to school & eventually earned two degrees.  My dad became "Mr. Mom," taking us to school, sports practices, appointments, etc.  The dynamic of their marriage took a sudden shift.  But they were still the same two people who stood at the altar that day & took a vow before God to honor & care for each other in sickness & in health.  Of course, when you say those words, you don't really know what types of challenges life has ahead for you.  But that is all part of taking the leap of faith & trusting that with God & your spouse, you will be able to accept whatever comes in your path.

Although I'm not thankful my dad got sick & I would give anything in the world for him to get better, I wouldn't trade the experiences we've had as a result of the illness.  My brother & I were never guarded from the fact that mom & dad sometimes disagreed or argued.  But what we learned by seeing those things was that despite the fact that they might not agree, they always loved each other.  I know for a fact that it was their vow, their covenant before God, that has kept them together for thirty years.

So now, when I look at my own wedding photo, I wonder, what sorts of challenges will life throw at us?  In six years of marriage, we've had our fair share of ups & downs.  There are times when we can't stand each other & I wonder what on earth did I get myself into, but in those moments, I find God pulling at my heart, causing me to take a long hard look at my actions & hopefully making better, faith-filled decisions.  Marriage is a journey of sacrifice, learning the ultimate love comes through giving unto others, especially your spouse.  The covenant Jesse & I made on our wedding day is our bond to each other & to God.  Although it has its difficult moments, I honor that covenant more & more as we continue on our path together.  Hopefully in 24 years, we'll be able to share a story of unending love through trials & tribulations, ups & downs, with our girls & those around us just as my parents are exemplifying to us today.
Jesse & I on our Wedding Day

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ripple Effect

I am a believer in the adage that "it takes a village" to minister to the youth.  Jesse has kids from all different walks of life going through all sorts of issues in their lives.  He also has a small group of adult volunteers that help out.  Some are former youth group kids & others are just adults that want to help out.  Regardless, it is obvious that the impact on our youth isn't just coming from the program director.  It's the youth mentoring each other, adults helping lead discussions & so many other countless moments of encouragement & prayer.

Last year, one of our adult helpers was diagnosed with terminal cancer & given months to live.  It was an incredibly difficult time for everyone.  She was a young, vibrant woman & it seemed unbelievable that she would be taken from all of us so suddenly.  She was known as "Momma Vicki" since she took on a motherly role with lots of our youth.  They went to her with their issues & she gave advice, supported them, baked them goodies & even doled out some tough love as needed.

The day before she passed, Jesse & I took a small group of those closest to her over to her house to see Vicki & pray with her.  I was so proud of our youth.  I could tell they were obviously uncomfortable being so close to the death process, hearing her moan in pain, yet they held her hands, told her they loved her & held hands around her as we prayed a rosary.  It was a beautiful experience & at that moment, I was reminded of the beauty of ministry.  Without the ministry work, Vicki would not have been surrounded by all our love & prayers as she departed this world for next.  Without the ministry work, these kids wouldn't have been impacted by Vicki's loving care & constant encouragement to better themselves while always giving back in some way.

The youth group meeting held after her passing was incredibly difficult.  Her absence, both in our hearts & in the room, were glaringly obvious.  I saw kids that haven't been to youth group in a long time & others who have drifted away show up out of support for her.  It was a beautiful tribute to a beautiful spirit.  The kids got up & told stories about Vicki, some caused laughter & others tears, but they were all poignant.

I spoke to the group as well.  I reminded them that from the day I met her, Vicki had always wanted to be a mother.  Although it wasn't God's plan for her to have biological children, she fulfilled that role with each & every one of our youth that she encountered.  She was a mother to all of them & as her "children" it was now their responsibility to carry on her legacy & not forget the lessons she taught them.  I think they all took that to heart & realized they need to go make a difference in the lives of others in the way she influenced them.  I hear them mention her name, saying "You know what Vicki would say..." when they think of the advice she would give them.

Though Vicki isn't with us here, her presence is carried on by the kids who are her legacy.  Even if each of us does one thing to continue her memory or treat someone kindly in the way she treated them, then she will continue to live on in our hearts.

Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord & let perpetual light shine upon her.  May she rest in peace.  Amen

Friday, October 18, 2013

Praying for our Enemies

I'm teaching third grade religious education this year.  Last year, I taught kindergarten, so having older elementary students, plus the preparations for First Communion, makes it a wonderful challenge.  Although I prepare for the day's class topic as best I can, I usually find some other topics coming up that I feel are important enough to dedicate an entire class session to.  One such topic came up two weeks ago...
We were discussing prayer, not just the various forms of prayer, but also the people we pray for.  I started asking, "How many of you pray for your parents?"  All hands went in the air.  "How many of you pray for your brothers & sisters?"  A few hands less than the first time, apparently sibling dislike seems to be in full-swing for these third graders!  After a few more questions, I decided to ask a more challenging one, "How many of you pray for people you don't like?"  ("People you don't like" seemed a bit too generic, so one boy with a love of all things superhero volunteered the word "enemies.")  With this question, almost no one raised their hand.  So, I asked them the logical next question, "Why not?"
Naturally, they had all the usual reasons: "They're mean."  "I don't like them."  "They don't like me."  I explained that although these things may be true, that was still no excuse not to pray for their enemies. After all, doesn't God love us all just the same?
I could tell this had gotten their attention, so I decided to explore the issue in further detail with them following week.  I started the next class by reviewing the subject & asking them if anyone had prayed for their enemies (only a few hands went up).  Then, I read them the story of Sidney & Norman.  It's the tale of two pigs who each get an invitation to visit God. Norman, the prideful pig, learns that God loves him (and not because of his goodness), but is sad that he judges other pigs. Sidney, the troublesome pig, learns that God loves him, even with all his imperfections.  At the end, the two pigs learn that God's love comes without any reservations.
The point for my third graders, and really for all of us, is that we should focus less on our supposed goodness or troubles & more on the infinite power of God's love. When we do that, we can see everyone as equally created in His loving & divine image.  Only then can we love, pray for & take care of each other in the way we are called to as disciples of Christ.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Small Success Thursday: 1st Edition

I'm linking up with Catholic Mom this week to participate in their "Small Success Thursday" event.  I've had a particularly challenging week & today was one of those days that was just a struggle to get through.  So, while trying to unwind tonight, I perused my usual blog sites for inspiration.  I came across the Small Success post & thought it would be worth a shot.  Perhaps thinking through my blessings will help me feel more inspired.  Here goes nothing...

This week, I feel most blessed to have:

1) Taken Monday night to have a true-blue, honest-to-goodness family night.  After I got home from work, Jesse & I prepared dinner together, the girls set the table & we all sat around talking & laughing.  The tv stayed off & we went upstairs together with our girls.  Jesse & I took turns reading story after story.  It was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

2) Been able to share a hug with a dear friend & fellow mom.  She's having some frustrating times with her little boy.  As she told me about these issues, I could see her hurting, so I just reached out & gave her a hug.  She's always been supportive of me & I'm so glad I can return the favor.

3) Started cleaning off my hutch, which has accumulated an embarrassing amount of school papers, religious education papers, mail, bills, magazines, etc.  It's the first thing you see when you walk in my house (which only makes the problem worse).  Although it's not complete yet, I feel encouraged by the inroad I made the other night.  Now if I can only keep focused to complete the project & tackle the papers.

Well, I suppose I am feeling a bit better after having reviewed some of the highlights of my week.  I'm looking forward to linking up to this event in the future.  Hopefully this reflection will ease my anxieties about all the things I feel I can't accomplish due to a lack of time, money, effort, etc.  Have you been able to reflect on your blessings this week?  Please share below.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Comfort Zone

"What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" ~ Unknown

For those who know me, they will understand that I'm not the type who really likes to step outside my comfort zone.  As much as I love being a youth minister's wife, sometimes there's nothing more uncomfortable for me than having to mingle with a room full of strangers, most of whom usually start conversations with, "Oh, so you're Mr. Jesse's wife!" followed by one of my well-versed quips in response.  Then the typical small talk about ministry work, which segways into discussing the challenges of raising three small children & spending most of my time with them on my own, which is usually followed by the awkward silence as conversation runs dry.  I have been trying to make more of an effort to keep conversations from getting to the awkward phase, with some success.

As a child, I wasn't shy by any means.  I was a cheerleader, participated in band & choir, theater shows & many other things, but I wasn't particularly outgoing when it came to meeting or talking to new people.  Ironically, as salutatorian of my graduating class, I read the following poem during my commencement speech:

My Comfort Zone
I used to have a comfort zone where I knew I wouldn’t fail.
The same four walls and busywork were really more like jail.
I longed so much to do the things I’d never done before,
But stayed inside my comfort zone and paced the same old floor.
I said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing much.
I said I didn’t care for things like commission checks and such.
I claimed to be so busy with the things inside the zone,
But deep inside I longed for something special of my own.
I couldn’t let my life go by just watching others win.
I held my breath; I stepped outside and let the change begin.
I took a step and with new strength I’d never felt before,
I kissed my comfort zone goodbye and closed and locked the door.
If you’re in a comfort zone, afraid to venture out,
Remember that all winners were at one time filled with doubt.
A step or two and words of praise can make your dreams come true.
Reach for your future with a smile; success is there for you!
–author unknown

Rereading this poem reminds me of how I felt when I was graduating high school: excited, anxious for life to begin, feeling that the possibilities were endless.  Sometimes, amidst the chaos of marriage, raising three children, work, & ministry, this time feels like it was ages ago.  But, if I really contemplate the meaning of this poem, it holds lessons that are still relevant (perhaps even more so given the often repetative & mundane nature of some of my daily tasks).  So, the next time I'm confronted by intimidating life choices, I'm going to try my best to take a breath, step outside & let the change begin!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My First Youth Group Field Trip!

A couple weekends ago, Jesse & I took 13 youth group kids to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio for the PointFest concert.  Bands included Building 429, Tenth Avenue North & Third Day.  But the headliner was TobyMac!  He has been one of my favorite Christian artists going back to the days when Jesse & I met.  We had an amazing time strolling through the park & relaxing on the beach before seeing TobyMac.  All of this might sound like a great trip, no big deal, until you consider...

1) I have three children ages 5 & under, one of whom is still breastfeeding & needs me every 4-6 hours or so for a quick snack.  This is both a blessing & a curse.  I would NEVER change the fact that I breastfeed, but it makes it difficult to leave her for longer than a few hours.  It required a bit of planning, pumping & two babysitters who weren't afraid to do meal times, play & bedtime with all three girls.  Start to finish, I was away from the kids for a total of 18 hours.

2) My last attempt at going with the youth group to a concert was disastrous (more to post about this later).  Needless to say, we never actually saw/heard any of the concert.

I'm incredibly thankful that I had the opportunity to go on this trip.  Although we got home in the wee hours of the morning & it took me a few days to recover, it was well worth it.  Not only did I get to see TobyMac, but I was able to spend some quality time with my lovely hubby, sans children.  Plus, when I did get home, I was able to appreciate my little ones all the more.

Our group upon arrival at the park.

We had a great view of the concert.

Love this man so much!