Thursday, January 13, 2022

It's OK to say "no" to a good thing (even when it's about the spiritual life)

There comes a time in everyone's life when he or she will have to pick between a few options that all seem good. In fact, many of us are fortunate to face this dilemma several times throughout life; instead of having to pick between a good thing and a bad thing, we have to pick between a number of wonderful options. This can be a difficult process (you can't rule anything out immediately-they're all so good!), but we usually simplify it by deciding what aligns with our priorities and/or what seems to be the greatest good for us. We make a choice, commit, and go on with life. As we go through this process repeatedly, it becomes easier, especially when an overthinker like me realizes that not every single decision is worth deliberating over endlessly. 

However, we can seriously struggle when it comes to practices and programs that pertain to the spiritual life. After all, this is about one's soul, so everything--from the smallest Lenten penance to the biggest prayer program--suddenly grows larger and larger, and we begin to fear that we can't say "no" to anything. It's about God, so naturally, we say yes. We also may be afraid that we'll look like a "bad Catholic" if we don't do every single devotion that "all the Catholics" are doing. 

So, we decide to Do All the Things. 

Sometimes, a devotion or practice we've picked up unenthusiastically (believing that "everyone online is doing it, so we will too") unexpectedly grabs hold of us and we discover new and beautiful ways in which God is helping us grow. 

Yet, other times, we look around and wonder why we are so busy, so stressed, and so overwhelmed when we're doing countless holy practices to grow closer to God. Confused, we may decide to add a novena to our whole list of things as we beg God to give us some small amount of peace. 

We may have heard the term "discernment" before, in relation to praying about what vocation God is calling each of us to, but we've also decided that we don't want to become "over-discerners" who endlessly discern and never seem to commit to a decision. Plus, we're afraid of what will happen if we "discern incorrectly" and wind up choosing a prayer practice that doesn't really touch the needs of our souls. Better play it safe and Do All the Things, we figure. 

But, my friends, there is value in a level of discernment when it comes to the spiritual life. We don't have to sit and discern every single prayer and devotion we do, but when it comes to certain prayer regimes or programs, there can be enormous benefit in praying about whether or not we should commit to something. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

An Open Book: December 2021 Reads

Happy New Year! With the new month, it's time to link up with Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book to chat about the books that carried me through the end of the year 2021. Let's dive in! 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Dandelions in December

We were walking down the sidewalk just a few days ago, and I happened to look down. In the small patch of hard earth next to the cement stood bright yellow dandelions. Beautiful dandelions, shining forth in all of their unexpected beauty. Dandelions are a "flower" near and dear to my heart, and the sight of them on a December brought the same awe of surprise and delight as the first bright daffodils that peek through the ground each spring. There is much goodness in those unexpected gifts that fall in our path. 

"Encountering the unexpected" could perhaps be a good theme for this month; in ways large and small, I've come across many things I hadn't expected. Some sorrowful, some stressful, some gloriously wonderful, and some just plain weird. Like the Santa who drove a sedan. 

'tis the season for oversized ornaments! Not my favorite outdoor
decoration, to be honest, but they are attention-grabbing for sure!

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Holding onto hope & choosing to rejoice

Lully, lulla, lully, lulla

By by, lully lullay

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child

By by, lully lullay

The strains of this haunting carol filled the house as we ate breakfast and began dressing for Mass. The irony of it hit me: Here we were on Gaudete Sunday, donning our joyous pink clothing as we listened to a song about Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents. My thoughts flew back to the Christmas Eve Mass when we heard this song for the first time; as we celebrated the joy of Christ’s birth, we listened to this solemn reminder of death.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

An Open Book: November 2021 Reads

Happy Advent! Another month is here, so it's time to join An Open Book to chat literature! I wound up reading three books last month (one of them took quite a while as I slowly munched on it), and they were all incredibly interesting in different ways-a novel, a spiritual reading classic, and a non-fiction book about education. Let's dive in! 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Raining Donuts

I tip-toed into the dark bedroom and gently shook my sleeping children. "It's time to wake up for Mass," I whispered. "And then donuts." One child sat straight up and immediately began talking about donuts. Ah, the plan worked, I thought to myself. Waking my children in the very early morning, to attend early morning Mass on a weekday, went so much smoother with the promise of donuts. 

Before we knew it, the children and I were dressed and zooming across the city in the minivan. We scampered into the daily Mass chapel and prayed peacefully throughout Mass. Since we've had some rough daily-Mass-going experiences lately, I was pleasantly surprised by my childrens' calm. After Mass, they excitedly told the priest about how we would go eat donuts, and soon we were zooming back across the city to a donut shop. 

Unfortunately, our favorite donut shop was closed, so I had to find a different one (with good ratings). We parked, the kids dashed into the store, and I was greeted with a lovely sign that said only cash would be accepted for orders below $5.  I don't carry cash with me, so it was back to the car to scrounge up any and all loose change. We re-entered the donut shop, and while my children excitedly stood in front of the case and tried to decide what they wanted, I scattered a variety of pennies, dimes, and nickels across the table to try and count how much money I had...and then try to figure out if it would be enough to cover the particular donuts that my children requested. After counting and re-counting and re-counting (along with my children changing their minds a couple of times), I finally decided that we'd just buy more donuts than we "actually needed" so that I could pay with my card. Moments later, happily filled with donuts (and with some donuty goodness left over to snack on throughout the day), we went home to change into our "day clothes" before going to a story time at the park. 

Attendance at story time was low; it included our family, a woman with her granddaughter, and the librarian in charge. Then, another family showed up: a young mom corralling her five children (all under the age of six) and carrying two dozen donuts. 

It was raining donuts that morning, and I'm not necessarily complaining. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

With Thanks

For my husband and sons who play soccer under a sliver of moon as I hold the baby and rub my toes in the dirt, content to be together as a family on this beautiful evening walk...

For the sight of tiny fingers clenching fistfuls of red, orange, and brown leaves before scattering them to the wind...

For wrapping up in blankets and strolling through the cemetery as we utter prayers for those who have died...

For drinking mugfuls of warm apple cider "to make our tummies feel cozy" as we read Paddington  together...

For kneading freshly-ground wheat into loaves of honey-touched bread...

For hearing Scripture verses about death and the Second Coming when we attend Mass...

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

An Open Book: October 2021 Reads

It's hard to believe, but we're already in November! In some ways, it felt like October flew by, and also lasted forever. It had a lot of ups and downs for me over here, and I was pretty mentally exhausted for some of the time, so it was a slower reading month for me-but I read some very thought-provoking books. It's time to link up with Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book to chat about literature! 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Choosing a different path: Alessandro Serenelli and the dignity of life

Several years ago, I breathed in the sea-air of Nettuno, Italy. I shared an enormous pizza with my fiancĂ©, looked for seashells, and frolicked in the breeze. I also knelt in prayer in front of the relics of St. Maria Goretti, a saint beloved by many. As a young girl in Italy, she strove for virtue and holiness. One day, a neighbor, the nineteen-year-old Alessandro Serenelli, threatened and attempted to rape her, and stabbed her over a dozen times before she died. As she died in the hospital, she uttered her final words: “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli…and I want him with me in heaven forever.” This happened in 1902, in Italy.

Alessandro was filled with anger and hatred and began his lengthy prison sentence. During his time in prison, St. Maria Goretti appeared to him and offered him her forgiveness. After this, Alessandro sought God’s forgiveness and mercy, steeping himself in prayer. After his release from jail, he reconciled with Maria Goretti’s mother, and became a lay brother for a community of Franciscans—an order which focuses intensely on repentance and the love and mercy of Christ. 

His life was filled with joy, peace, and quiet service. In 1950, Alessandro was able to attend the Mass for the canonization of St. Maria Goretti, and after his death in 1970, a letter he had written—a spiritual testament—was discovered, in which Alessandro reflects that “Now I look serenely to the time in which I will be admitted to the vision of God, to embrace my dear ones once again, and to be close to my guardian angel, Maria Goretti, and her dear mother, Assunta.” The witness and legacy of St. Maria Goretti and Alessandro Serenelli is a powerful glimpse of what God’s mercy and love, working in our lives, can look like.

If Alessandro lived in modern-day Oklahoma, he would probably be on Death Row. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

That they may be one

The table was laden with bean salad and brownies. Ever-present mugs of coffee were prepared, lifted, sipped. My elderly neighbors and I sat together, and my toddler scrambled from lap to lap and across the rug. As we talked and laughed together, I realized what day it was: October 31st, 2017. Across the world on that day, people were celebrating the five hundred-year-anniversary of the Protestant Reformation; a movement which, ultimately, furthered division within Christianity. And on this day, this anniversary of an attempted-reform-turned-revolt, we gathered at table together: individuals from the Assembly of God, Disciples of Christ, Salvation Army, and Catholic church. Together, we shared in the joy of God’s blessings as we cemented bonds of community and love. We enjoyed the food and drink that we each offered freely.

 A simple afternoon spent with friends; a small step towards greater unity within the Body of Christ.

“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” (Jn 17: 20-23)

 That they may all be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me...

Thursday, October 21, 2021

A Homeschooling Snapshot: Fall 2021

I spent the first several years of my life as a homeschooled student, and I know that a typical "homeschooling day" can look completely different from family to family. At one point when I was young, there was a family in our homeschool group who exhibited a fairly unstructured "unschooling" lifestyle, and another family in that same group who opted for a highly structured approach. However, no matter what a family's particular approach to homeschooling is, the flow of the day commonly is different than that of a full-day brick-and-mortar school. 

Watching a demonstration by a Mounted Color Guard. 
It was very cool when they began hacking the balloons with their swords!

Many times, I've thought about doing a "day in the life" post, but since that would involve taking pictures and making notes from a particular day, I decided that I would put together a general overview of what our weekdays typically look like. Even with unpredictable events and a couple of regular activities, we somehow manage to keep a fairly consistent schedule for Monday-Friday. Perhaps, when my kids are older and life gets busier, I can look back on this post to remember the gloriously peaceful days of our "quiet growing time." 

As of now, in Fall 2021, my kids are ages 5, 3, and 1. In Oklahoma, school is required for five-year-old children (and full-day kindergarten here is the norm), but there are no requirements for homeschooling. So, we really have the ability to pick and choose whatever we want to do right now. My approach to homeschooling is currently very laid-back, and I draw some of my inspiration from the Montessori, Reggio-Emilia, unschooling, and Charlotte Mason educational movements and philosophies. With all that in mind, here's a snapshot of our daily life!