Finding Freedom

Today’s Reflection is on Psalm 50:16bc-17

finding freedom

The final stanza of today’s psalm could be summed up by saying “Why are you a hypocrite?” If you’ve been Catholic for more than a minute, I’m sure you’ve heard someone say “everyone in the church is a hypocrite, I can’t join them.” What’s a hypocrite? Someone who says one thing, but does another. [That’s the basic, not Webster, definition in my mind.]

Do I say one thing and do another? Do I say I’m a Christian who loves others, wills the good of another, and wants to get to Heaven? Do I sin on a regular basis? Yes. Yes. And unfortunately Yes.

Does that mean I’m not a ‘good enough Christian’? That there’s no hope for my salvation? That I’m not worthy of being at Mass? No. No. And definitely No.

Just like St. Paul wrote in Romans 7:15ff “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” He ends this section with “I am a slave to sin.” I am not embracing the freedom that Christ died on the Cross to give to me. I’m embracing my will, my desires, and my slavery. I can’t say YES to God because I don’t want to say NO to the world.

I’m reminded of freedom because today is the day we celebrate our country’s freedom. Just a few weeks ago I visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for the first time. Two small islands outside of New York City that represent Freedom. Thousands of people came to our country throwing off the slavery of their government for the freedom of the United States. Seeing Lady Liberty gave them the courage to start a new life in a land where they were free to do good, to love, and to live.

As Christians the symbol of our freedom is Christ on the Cross. When we’ve forgotten our way, become slaves to sin, and said yes to the world, we just need to turn back to Christ on the Cross and find forgiveness in the freedom He offers. It’s free for the asking, we just need to ask.

No matter how many times we run back to Him, the Lord never tires of forgiving. As Pope Francis says, “The Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace not to tire of asking forgiveness, because he never tires of forgiving.” (This whole quote is quite beautiful and would make a great meditation for prayer.)

The Lord never tires of giving us our freedom back. He never tires of helping us drop the chains of slavery to sin. He never tires of loving us and helping us to love others. He never tires of us.

Today’s reflection first appeared on carpeverbum.org.

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What I Read … June 2018 Edition

what i read june edition

My June started off rough with my crazy tooth infection that led to a terrible cold (getting a cold on an antibiotic is only something that I can do). But I survived my root canal and feel (almost) ready to take on the world. I visited my brother and future sister-in-law in New York and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time! It was quite a delightful trip (even though all three of us were in the process of recovering from being sick). I also had tickets to the Downton Abbey Exhibition, which was super fun. We saw the Heavenly Bodies Exhibit in at the MET as well, which was beautiful and interesting. I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading and came home from the library with many different books! This has been a great reading month, even though I was sucked into watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman on Amazon. Give me a break, I was super sick! But I’m back on my “no tv at home alone” (except Sundays when I give myself a break, I mean, I’m almost done with the series, I can’t stop at the end of season 4 when there are more frontier adventures to be had!).

West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco, 1915 by Laura Ingalls Wilder: This book is a series of letters that Laura, who now goes by Bessie, wrote home to Almanzo while she went to visit her daughter in San Francisco for the World’s Fair. After reading this (and the next book) I got a clearer picture of Laura and her daughter Rose. They had quite the interesting relationship, not quite sure what to make of it to be honest. I feel like they were feminists before that was a thing. I’m hoping to go up to DeSmet next month when I’m in Sioux Falls for work to see their old homestead, I think I can make the trip work while I have the afternoon available.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder: I felt like this book was the summary of all of the Little House books together. I liked that there were tons of footnotes, but honestly, I skipped most of them. It felt like the adult version of her story – which was interesting. Some of the stories were right out of her life, but others were changed or embellished for book series. I don’t have an issue with that, although many, many people do. The Little House series is a work of fiction based on her life, not her memoir.

The Fisherman’s Tomb: The True Story of the Vatican’s Secret Search by John O’Neill: This is a true story that reads like a drama! I had no idea the series of events that led to discovering St. Peter under the Vatican. I appreciated the look into this secret project and the writing was great. Every time I stopped reading, I couldn’t wait to get back to Mass the next day to continue! [I used this as spiritual reading before daily Mass this month.}

Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt: I’ve been listening to Pod Save America for a few months now and heard about this there. I do love a political memoir. I also love hearing about the inside world of places. The White House is definitely one of those places. It’s so American to work there, yet we really don’t know much of the happenings of every day – and today it probably feels more like a soap opera than a job, but that’s another discussion for another day.

A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #7) by Louise Penny: I’m slowly working my way through this series. I like it, but cannot read them one after the other in quick succession. I need a bit of a break between. I think she has 11 or 13 now, so I’m getting there. I appreciate that this series is about more than just murder, so I’ll keep on reading. It almost makes me want to be Canadian!

Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber: I know, I know, a Christmas book in June! But it was taking up a valuable spot on my library hold list (you can only have 15!) and I was number 1 in line – so I figured, why not? It was a cute Christmas love story – completely predictable – but got me thinking about the possibilities of online dating again. I do really dislike it and so did both characters for the reasons I do. [Reason #1 being that scrolling through pictures feels as exciting as finding a kitchen utensil on amazon.] But I felt inspired that something could possibly come from it if I dive in head first. So keeping an open mind… but not too open!

Deadline (Virgil Flowers, #8) by John Sandford: Another great mystery series – I took a break for a bit, but have this one and #9 out from the library right now. I read #10 a few months ago as I put it on hold and it came much quicker than I thought it would. I really like Virgil Flowers, and appreciate this “no-fuss” murder story that John Sandford writes. I’m sure I’ll finish #9 later this month.

West Winging It: My Time in President Obama’s White House by Pat Cunnane: Of the couple of political memoirs from the Obama White House I’ve read, this one has been my favorite. Pat wasn’t there from the very beginning, but he did stay until the very end. I appreciated how he was ingrained into DC culture, understood that we didn’t get everything he was saying, and remained real. He was changed by the experience, and doesn’t consider himself “all that”… I like that in a memorist (is that a word?).

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: This was a recommendation from a podcast, What Should I Read Next with Anne Bogel, I think. I had it on my list for a while and it came through on my holds. For the first half of the book I had no idea where we were going – I’m still not sure where we ended up, but the journey was just delightful. Heartbreaking, real, amazing – stop everything and start reading!

The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity: How the Modern Culture Is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness by Matthew Kelly: I’ve read most of Matthew Kelly’s books, and I do like them. I realize that they are typically written for the person who isn’t “all in” yet. Even though I am, I still need a swift kick in the pants sometimes. He challenges us that we can all be holy, that all we need are Holy Moments, small ones built on top of one another. A good read of a book that comes out later this summer!

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld: This was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick in recent months. It’s a collection of short stories, which isn’t normally my thing. I did have a hard time moving from story to story remembering that one is not related to the next. They were really excellent – doing what the title states – writing down the things we are all thinking, but don’t want to say. A thought provoking read.

Escape Clause (Virgil Flowers, #9) by John Sandford: I do really like this mystery series by John Sandford. I think I’m all caught up though since I read #10 (Deep Freeze) a few months ago when it came through on my hold list. I like that these novels are really just about the mystery and not a lot else. Virgil definitely has a personal life, and it does come up – but it’s not the main point of the novel. There’s some swearing and some sex, but it’s not over the top. Definitely recommend!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: This is our July book club read, and it was really excellent. Almost too much in some places, but totally amazing and worth the read. I’ve been reading a lot of WWII fiction books recently, and I cannot decide if I like that or not. I have a few more on my hold list at the library though, so the theme continues. Also I can’t say much about this book’s plot, but go read it. It’s narrated by Death, and is there any more appropriate character to tell the story of the millions of men and women who were part of the horrific attacks of WWII?

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes: This was a cute collection of short stories recommended by my friend Beth. They were really sweet, and some of them, I really wanted them to be longer and go into more detail. I purchased this book in the Chicago airport on my way home from Iowa because I was about to get on a 2 hour flight without a book to read, which is a real tragedy! I finished it before getting in the car at the Charlotte airport to drive home!

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber: It was hot so I figured I’d pick up a book about Christmas at the library to feel cooler! I know that’s silly, but it’s the actual reason! This was sweet and Christmasy and able to be read in just one evening. Just what I was looking for!

Well, that’s 15 books this month and brings my 2018 total to 102. Catch up on previous editions of “what I read”: January, February, March, AprilMay,

My July has three beach vacations, so I foresee much reading in my summer future! I’ve got a list prepared for each trip about what books to bring for reading! I cannot wait to sit in my new beach chairs reading books and watching the waves!

Humane Vitae and Me

Well this is a fun day! My friend Laura over at A Drop in the Ocean is doing a month long series about the effects and influence of Humane Vitae for the 50th Anniversary this year. She asked for submissions months ago, and I thought I’d share a bit about my own life, being single, living out this area of the Church’s teaching.

So check it out over at her place!

And the testimonies before mine were all great so far, so I cannot wait to read the rest in the series!!

In Search of Home

In Search of Home

I’m a strong advocate of people staying at their local parish unless some seriously crazy things are happening. Our churches are made up of the people, not just the priest, the music, or other things. Mass isn’t about them. Mass isn’t even about me and ‘what I get out of it.’

However, I’ve recently gone in search of a new home. I’m still a daily Mass attendee at the parish close to my house mostly because it’s close to home and they have Mass at noontime, which is super convenient for my work day. On Sundays I’ve been going to another church for Mass. Just a few weeks in, I really appreciate it. Why?

Well, mostly because I’ve never worked there. I don’t know how things ‘ought to be done’ or ‘could be done’ or any behind the scenes things at all.

 

After a few weeks (about six or eight) of attending Mass at my potential new church home, I had a weekend where I wasn’t feeling well and just didn’t have the energy to drive all the way over there. So I went to Mass at the parish near me.

I was anxious about it for some reason, but a few observations. No one noticed that I hadn’t been around (maybe that’s because the people I saw were some of the same ones I see at Daily Mass). People actually said hello to me. At the new church no one knows me yet, so no one says hello. I don’t have any sense of community there like I do at the church near my house. I’ve been attending this other parish for over seven years now, having worked there for 4 of those years. I know a lot of people and a lot of people know me.

Mass was fine – I mean, nothing dramatic happened (although we are renovating our sanctuary so our church is about half the size it normally is until the renovation is done mid-July). Mass was Mass, just as it is at the other church. We do a few things I really like though that nowhere else does like sing the psalm as a call and response and we don’t say the hymn numbers since they are all in the worship aid. Two small things that make a big difference.

I was planning to go to the new place all summer before making a decision, but I don’t think I am now. I think I just needed a few weeks away and if I start to get restless again, maybe I’ll just need a few weeks away to re-calibrate myself. I’m learning that sometimes it’s good to step away. As much as I wanted this new church to become home, it just didn’t. Maybe I was looking for some magic pill. Maybe I didn’t put any effort into it becoming community. Maybe I just needed to step away from my home for a quick minute before coming back.

Daily Faith: Scripture

daily faith scripture

Later this month I’m going to do a youth ministry night for our teens on Having a Daily Faith. It’s going to be all about the habits we need to create related to our faith life, that holiness doesn’t happen by accident, and we need to be intentional about what we do. So I’m going to blog about some of the daily faith things I do to keep my faith the center of my life, instead of letting it hang out in the fringes of my week.

My intention of sharing is to show you how one person lives out this life and hopefully inspire you. It is not to boast, to say you have to do these things to be a good Catholic, or even to judge you for how you live. I hope you’ll enjoy walking on this journey with me.

For many years I’ve been doing the other things I’ve talked about here and known I should be reading the Scriptures more. So for Lent about 3 or 4 years ago I decided to start on a “Read the Bible in a Year” plan. I read every evening according to this plan from that Meg posted. It took me a little more than a year to complete with travel and forgetting my Bible at home but I did finish before the next year’s Easter. Then I promptly stopped reading the Scriptures. I didn’t even prepare for the upcoming Sunday Mass readings, not that I was doing that before I started the plan.

A few things happened in the past year. A friend told me about a ministry she and a few other youth ministers started called Carpe Verbum that I subscribed to and started reading. Each day there’s a Lectio Divina reflection on the readings of the day. You may have noticed that I write for them too and post it on my blog that same day, just the reflection portion. I have also recently taken on a larger role in the ministry by preparing one of the posts each week. This along with the daily Blessed is She email and reflection have become part of my morning routine. Although I don’t read the readings, I do reflect before I go to Mass and hear them [still not scripture reading, I know].

For Lent I decided my “prayer” thing would be 15 minutes of Scripture reading and silent prayer before bed. This is when I really got started. When I was trying to determine what to read, I pulled out my new Catholic Journaling Bible and just started with the chapter and verse that they have popped out and written very beautifully (like in the image at the header of this post). I would read that, reflect, and have silent time.

I didn’t think this would be a game changer or anything dramatic for my prayer life. It really has though. It’s given me 15 minutes of time to set aside in prayer that’s not scripted or wrote every evening. The words haven’t been formed by someone else (not that those are bad prayers, I do them all of the time!), but it’s just me, the Lord, and His Word. One week I reflected on the same psalm every evening, trying to bring it into the reality of my heart. On Easter I began the Gospel of Luke and then Acts of the Apostles as my reading. After the Ascension I started the book of Ephesians.

I find that one chapter, or one book, is better for me though. So I reflect and pray, rather than read it like a novel or a book. Reading 5 chapters of the Gospel isn’t really what I’m looking to do each evening. More like reading a passage, reflecting on it, and praying through it to apply it to my daily life. It’s not easy to do – and even a few months in I have to confess I set a timer. Otherwise I’d pray for like 4 minutes and call it done but I want to be committed to more time.

Last Week’s Daily Faith Topic: Spiritual Reading

Daily Faith: Spiritual Reading

daily faith spiritual reading

Later this month I’m going to do a youth ministry night for our teens on Having a Daily Faith. It’s going to be all about the habits we need to create related to our faith life, that holiness doesn’t happen by accident, and we need to be intentional about what we do. So I’m going to blog about some of the daily faith things I do to keep my faith the center of my life, instead of letting it hang out in the fringes of my week.

My intention of sharing is to show you how one person lives out this life and hopefully inspire you. It is not to boast, to say you have to do these things to be a good Catholic, or even to judge you for how you live. I hope you’ll enjoy walking on this journey with me.

After many years of doing just those basics: Mass, Morning & Evening Prayer Time, and the Rosary – I decided I needed something more. Okay, that’s not exactly true. A priest I went to for Confession decided I needed something more. He told me I needed 15 minutes of extra prayer time each day, something I could do by going to Mass early. He probably intended that to be silent prayer – but that’s not really how I interpreted it and made it part of my life.

I decided to do some spiritual reading, and in the 15 minutes before daily Mass. I’d leave my house at about 5 to 12 instead of 12:10 so I’d have time. I started with The Noon-Day Devil, a book I’d purchased about 5 minutes after leaving that confession experience when he told me I should try to battle the bad habit of acedia. What is acedia, you ask? Well, it’s commonly known now as sloth, but really a terrible vice where we allow the devil to let us think we’re doing enough, we aren’t ever going to be enough, and that God isn’t enough for us. Sounds like the little issue I have with the word enough already.

Basically sitting in complacency and even worse, not desiring good and holy things any longer. It’s one of the reasons I started this whole year and quest to become perfectly myself. Setting myself on track with good, holy habits rather than mind-sucking terrible habits (ie: laziness and binge watching tv). So spiritual reading it was. Filling my mind with good and holy things. After that book I read Little Sins Mean a LotJesus: The Story You Thought You KnewThe Extraordinary Parents of St. ThereseHow God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming into the Catholic ChurchYou Can Share the FaithAll the Pope’s SaintsTuned InStrange GodsGod ListensA Second Look, and The Miracle and the Message. These all have super long subtitles, FYI when you look them up to read. Also most of them are published by my employer. I get them all in the mail for free every month! Right now I’m reading Stunned by Scripture.

For these books I keep them in my purse and always take my purse into Mass with me. This way if I have time to read, great – if not, no big deal. I then always have a book with me to read and never say “man, I forgot it.” I also do not read these via Kindle or some other app. Reading or praying (even spiritual things) on my phone is not healthy for me at Mass. I get easily distracted. I just turn my phone on Do Not Disturb or silent during Mass and leave it in my bag. [I’d leave it in the car, but here in the south your car is more of a sauna than safe place for keeping electronics for more months than it isn’t.]

Keeping the stories of the saints, wisdom from holy people, and just great spiritual things in my mind each day has really helped me stay closer to the Lord. We all need spiritual reading of some sort because we need great holy wisdom in our lives. The stories of someone who’s lived through it and is here to tell the story. It helps when we can learn from other people, take those things that worked for them, and apply it to our lives. We cannot live the life of a Christian alone, we were never meant to do so. We were meant to go out together, learn from one another, and lean upon one another.

A few weeks ago a few friends and I went to hear Jennifer Fulwiler speak when she was in Charlotte. She was talking about what we need to pursue our dreams, and one of those things was a “village.” We were not designed to be alone in this world, and we need to build out our villages. One of the ways I do this is through spiritual reading. My “village” is made up of these spiritual powerhouses who keep me grounded, inspired, and on the right path.

Last Week’s Daily Faith Topic: Rosary

Next Week’s Daily Faith Topic: Scripture

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

things arent always what they seem.png

Right before Memorial Day weekend I started having some pain in my neck. I thought it was from doing planks wrong, as I’ve had pain like this before and I attributed it to the same issue. [Side Note: I have this goal to try to be able to do a 5 minute plank by my next birthday. Why? Well, just to say I can – and hopefully be super strong. I’m not sure I’m going to make it though because now I need to start over – taking a week-long break.] But anyway, back to the pain in my neck.

A nurse friend helped to massage it out, I used my “back buddy“, and applied some heat. I thought it might even be a pinched nerve because I was getting some throbbing in my jaw. The same friend was sending me texts of muscle names, nervous system diagrams, and more to help me try to get through it better. I was alternating between Advil and Tylenol, taking as much as I medically could. Nothing was touching it.

I woke up Monday morning after a fitful night of sleep nauseous from the pain with tears in my eyes. The throbbing in my jaw wouldn’t cease, and I felt like I couldn’t move my neck or walk without being in pain. I called another nurse friend who lives close by. She dropped everything and came over with a gel ice pack (these things are amazing, I need one of my own), Deep Blue, Biofreeze, and an offer to stay as long as I needed. Some of that helped, the company most especially. It’s hard to be alone when you’re in serious pain. And I was in serious pain. She asked if I wanted to go to Urgent Care, and I felt like the only way to get some relief was with meds stronger than the OTC stuff.

We trucked off to Urgent Care, got some stronger pain meds and a muscle relaxor with a confirmation diagnosis of what I had originally thought. Strained Muscle in my neck accompanied by a potential pinched nerve. The swelling needed to go down and then the nerve would be released and I’d be good to go. The rest of the day was filled with ice, meds, rest, and crying because the pain was so bad.

The next day I got an appointment at the chiropractor who I thought would be able to release the nerve and provide almost instant relief. Found another friend to take me there and received about ten seconds of relief when he fixed a small misalignment in my upper neck. Went home to do all the same things (meds, rest, ice, crying), all while trying to work!

After having no relief for a few hours, I wrote my doctor a super long email and asked “when should I come see you?” and “how many pain meds can I take at one time without overdosing?” (well it was a little less dramatic than that, but you get the point).

Less than three hours later, found another friend who could take me into the doctor the next day and made an appointment (before the doctor could even read my email). As I went to bed, sleeping fitfully – better than the previous evenings, but not well at all – so mad at myself for “planking too hard” that I messed up my neck, maybe for good. I even swore off planks forever! I prayed that whatever was wrong would be very clear to the doctor in the morning. I needed a diagnosis from a doctor who could prescribe the best meds for the job. I needed the throbbing in my jaw to stop and my neck to heal.

When I got to the doctor she took a few looks around, said “you’re in a lot of pain, aren’t you?” I replied, “Yes, the worst pain of my entire life, to be honest.” (and I wasn’t exaggerating!) I told her my plank theory and she said, “you may have a sore neck muscle, but I think this is a tooth infection.” [Two issues simultaneously, but probably a bad tooth infection that is causing the sore neck since they are so close together.]

A Tooth Infection?! WHAT?

Oh I didn’t mention that when I woke up Wednesday morning the entire left side of my lower jaw was swollen – like an inch or two larger than normal. Definitely an obvious sign of an infection.

She gave me some meds, an antibiotic, stronger pain meds, and steroid to reduce the swelling – and told me to follow up with my dentist. As I walked out waiting for my friend to come pick me up, I called the dentist (just 5 minutes from my doctor’s office) and said, “can someone see me right now, my doctor thinks I have a tooth infection and I’d like someone to look at it and get a baseline and a next step.” [I had called them in a panic the night before and they recommended “moist heat” – which probably drew the infection up, make the swelling increase, and led to this diagnosis faster.]

They got me in right then, called me back within minutes of me arriving, and the dentist walks in and says with a smile “well, we’ve got ourselves a tooth infection here.” [SMILING!! Why are all dentists so happy when they see things like this?] They took some x-rays to confirm the tooth (which I could tell them which one based on the throbbing) and said “Come back in 10 days.”

I said, “and then what will we do?”

Dentist (with a SMILE, of course), “Oh, a Root Canal.”

Oh, great … he said it’s the only way to fix it. “See all of that infection (pointing to the x-ray), the drugs will clear it up, but it will come back, so we need to take care of it. We’ll get you scheduled for 10 days from now and it’ll be fine. The procedure shouldn’t be too bad, some people even sleep through it!” SLEEP through a root canal? Seems unlikely, but he’s a good dentist, so we shall see.

My friend reminded me that I’ve had issues with this tooth before – and after she said it, I remembered things for the past two years that have been issues. Soreness, sensitivity, my last ‘plank issue,’ and even more. It all makes sense now, but just a week ago, it was a mystery.

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem, that’s for sure. So many times we take the surface knowledge of a situation and think “we know everything about what’s happening here.” We make judgments and inferences about behaviors or situations and make them gospel truth. This is what the gospels are talking about when they say “don’t judge.” We should know ALL of the facts, the entire situation, root of the event (ie: intentions) before making a judgement on the situation.

We can definitely judge our own behaviors and actions, but again – let’s figure out the root of the issue. If I’m always irritable with others, why? What’s going on at the heart of the matter? A priest spiritual director once told me that when people confess “road rage” he always says it’s more. There’s nothing really that people do on the road that would bother us if something else, something deeper, wasn’t going on in our lives. The anger we feel there doesn’t start there, it starts somewhere else. The irritability has begun with some other restlessness in our hearts.

The root of the problem is different – and if we can fix that, all of the other issues will follow in succession. Let’s remember to look deeper next time something is annoying us. Remember that things aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes a neck issue is a tooth ache. Sometimes road rage is a deeper hardness of heart.

So I’m off to fix the literal root of this neck issue. As soon as these meds take away the infection (which is happening slowly, but it’s happening), I’m scheduled for a root canal. And I never thought I’d say this, but I cannot wait – I want the relief. It’s on the 11th, so prayers would be appreciated. I’m offering up the suffering for all those in need, especially those in the world who do not have access to good dental care. My dentist is amazing, and I’m grateful he’s taken me on as a patient. [If you’re in Charlotte and want a referral, just let me know.]