An Empty House Invites Trouble.

Ever notice how the empty abandoned house invites crime?

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, `I will return to my house from which I came.’

And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order.

Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”

Luke 11:24-26

Part of today’s gospel reading really hit home.  So often in my life I have known what needed to go but not what to put in it’s place.  Removing an “unclean spirit” (vice, sin, bad habit, addiction, thought pattern) would often be an end in and of itself.  Unfortunately, what remains is a swept clean house left unguarded (spiritual, emotional, physical vacuum; stunted growth).
12stepThe space is fertile ground for more “unclean spirits” to move in because only on the surface was it removed.  The roots remained to grow and become more fully entrenched.  Any one familiar with twelve step programs knows removal of the “evil spirit” is only the beginning.  The “house” must be filled with a clean spirit (character growth, virtue, wisdom, good works).

Today I will continue to clean my house of my unclean spirits and invite the Holy Spirit in to help me redecorate.

🙂

Timing, Faithfulness, His Purpose: Why Today’s Mass Readings Rock!

With all these squirmy little girls, seldom do I hear a full Reading let alone all three Readings and the Responsorial Psalm. Today I heard all of them and my heart was filled with peace and joy. It was where I was being lead. God was holding my hand so that I could stand again after being knocked down by some really painful blows. He reminded me this is His timetable and that He will keep His promise for my life. He reminded me to not harden my heart because of circumstances but to rejoice in His goodness and faithfulness.

Reading 1     Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4

How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

Responsorial Psalm     Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

It was a reminder that my life is not about me and my desires it is about God and His desires. If God is calling me and willing something for my life, He will provide me the strength and courage. Serving God is not about getting or deserving something in return.  It is all for His glory. Even knowing this truth, He already wrote in my heart that when I stop trying to get what I want He will lead me where He wants me, and that will be so much more beautiful then anything I imagine.

Reading 2     2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14

Beloved:
I remind you, to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God.

Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me,
in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit
that dwells within us.

Gospel     Lk 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied,
“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
Would he not rather say to him,
‘Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

Knowing My Worth

Have you ever read the book or seen the movie, The Joy Luck Club? I have not read the book but I am going to make it required summer reading for myself.

I saw the movie in another life time, back when I was young, when I knew I wouldn’t be hurt because I had chosen someone who really loved me. Back when in innocence and arrogance I thought I was loved and treasured. I can relate to too many of the sufferings now. I understand the depth of the pain being told. The movie has always stayed in my head, parts of it playing in my memory through out different events in my life or those I love. One of my favorite quotes in the movie was spoken by An-Mei:

“I tell you the story because I was raised the Chinese way. I was taught to desire nothing, to swallow other people’s misery, and to eat my own bitterness. And even though I taught my daughter the opposite, still she came out the same way. Maybe it is because she was born to me and she was born a girl, and I was born to my mother and I was born a girl, all of us like stairs, one step after another, going up, going down, but always going the same way. No, this cannot be, this not knowing what you’re worth, this not begin with you. My mother not know her worth until too late – too late for her, but not for me. Now we will see if not too late for you, hmm?”

It is not to late for me, tonight I remembered my worth.

Go watch or read or both…

“The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives.”

2563 The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Our Faith Washing Machines

The unknown filter in my washer featured a couple of posts ago got me thinking about faith and the things that we try to wash through it.

Our faith washer is used to make sense of our lives, to straighten things out, make them clean and wearable. We bring to it our load smelly and stinky and let faith wash us clean rinsing away all the junk we accumulated living life and following our own will.
laundrywomanUnfortunately, we often throw things into the machine that really should be tossed out. Of course the obvious red crayon makes a mess, but we recognize that and learn our lesson right away. But what about the smaller things, less colorful and noticeable? We assume that since those things seem to have come out clean with our laundry or were rinsed away easily enough it is okay to keep them in our pockets. Since the machine seemed to handle it we become lax in our sorting and more and more junk is thrown in the load and yet we still expect our laundry to come out clean.

What we don’t always understand is that there is a filter in the machine that is collecting the junk and after time those little things we assumed were washing away or coming out clean build up and our washers start to show evidence of the clogging effect even if we fail to recognize the association.

We notice the machine seems to be taking longer to give us what we want (clean soul laundry) and when the cycle completes the clothes just don’t look, feel, or smell as clean as we once remember. We become dissatisfied. We start to question the effectiveness of the machine in handling our load.

Eventually the machine finally can no longer function properly with all the junk we unknowingly built up in the internal filter. We now have several options.

1-   Trash it:  We can throw the machine out deciding it is pointless and we must have incorrectly remembered it as once working for us. We are then covered in our own filth but figure it is what life dealt us so we settle on a dirty life. At first we are even happy for it seems to lighten our load with nothing to have to wash anymore. We are indignant when it is suggested we may feel better if we tried using a machine again and accuse the washer user of unfairly judging us. After all we did give the washer a try it just didn’t work for us. Of course we need a new crowd to hang out with, other non washer users, this way we don’t have to notice how dirty we actually are becoming. This life wrought with disease eventually will destroy us.
washer_replacer-300x2612-  Replace it:  We can replace it. We seek out other washer replacers who support us as they too are wanting a new machine. We are thrilled with the capabilities of the new machine and convince ourselves our old one never worked this well. Since we don’t understand why the other machine stopped working and we still have the same laundry habits this new machine eventually doesn’t work for us either. From machine to machine we go never really understanding why none of them work well for us or last. We think we understand all about the machine for having tried it, but we really don’t know all the cool features or how the machine runs because we never open it up, we never studied it before moving on to the next one. We may even eventually opt for number one, trash it.

3-  Seek Solutions -Read the owner’s manual, research and/or call an expert:  The Bible manual may provide the answer as it explains about filters and what is acceptable to bring to the machine. Research may explain troubling aspects of the manual or give relatable examples of the problem to help us more clearly understand. If we struggle with the interpretation of the manual, and can’t seem to find clarity with research, we may call in help.
repairIf competant and if we give them full access to our machine and enough time the expert will point out the truth filter, explain its importance, and show us how to properly maintain the machine and clean the filter so that it continues to work well. We may even learn unrelated things like what detergent works best in our machine cleaning our laundry even better then before the filter clogged.

Caution:  Some self proclaimed experts may lead us astray and tell us it is a lost cause, replace it; or worse may have an agenda of their own and charge us more then we can afford for the repair. A second opinion won’t hurt unless we are really only searching for an excuse to do what we feel like trying; either option 1 or 2, so as to not have to put forth effort in the reading, research or maintenance work necessary in option 3.

Reminder: If our washer is slowing down, not cleaning as well as we would like, or has just quit working for us, we should look deep into the machine. We may find a filter of truth catching those little habits, thoughts, baggage, sins,… that just don’t wash and need to be cleaned out and diligently sorted out of our life permanently to keep our faith running smooth and our laundry clean.

Warranty:  A misinterpretation of the manual or an incompetent expert may cause further damage to the machine, if this happens it isn’t too late to call the ultimate repair man, the author of the manual, the creator of all machines to help us get things fixed and washing well. No job to big or small. All parts covered.

Guarantee: If we chose option one or two and regret it that same repair guy
Untitled-6 will deep clean us if needed, teach us how the machine is built and set us up with our original machine now restored. We may even become repairmen ourselves. No limitations and but the guarantee expires upon death.

Rebate: The analogy works for marriage too.

Wednesday Night Mass

candle-200x300Shortly after we moved here four years ago we began to attend Mass on Wednesday evenings. It was an incredible blessing. There was something so special about sitting in the church surrounded by many of the people that were essentially the core of the church ministries. It occurred to me one evening sitting there with my husband and children that we were part of the church’s future. We were going to be the next generation to help fill the positions in the ministries that serve the community. The idea scared and excited me all at the same time.

When chaos entered our lives and my husband left, Wednesday night Mass did too. It was too painful to sit and watch the older couples I once thought we would become hold hands and pray together. The reminder of the empty space in the pew and our family was too much for me.

Last summer the kids and I went to daily Mass while a visiting priest was here and able to offer the opportunity. The effect of those Masses profoundly changed me. In many ways it was a peak of spiritual battle for my family and I already see just how important it was for the children and I to take part in the blessing. Even though daily Mass was positively changing my family I still couldn’t bare the idea of going to Wednesday night Mass without my husband. Until Father Arnaldo returns this spring we won’t have daily Mass and I have become more and more aware that I need more time in His presence then just Sundays.

Last Wednesday with what I can only assume was the Holy Spirit’s prompting I decided to symbolically reclaim my family’s role in the future of the church and take back a bit of my life that satan tried to destroy. We went to Wednesday night Mass. It was wonderful even if the babies made it exhausting.  It was a very real way to tell evil it wasn’t going to take the faith of myself or of my children in its attempt to destroy our family. Later that night I told a friend my thoughts about the Mass situation and the wanting to still have my kids know they were the next generation the church was depending on.

On Saturday the babies were very fussy and a couple of the kids were complaining of stomach aches. I told the children we were not going to be able to make it to Mass on Sunday. They were disappointed and Paul told me he had been asked to light a candle during Mass (he couldn’t remember why and I didn’t even know he had been asked). I felt bad, it seemed important to him and he has been especially struggling lately with feelings of loss. While I would miss it, I was determined to somehow get him there. My wonderful older children came to the rescue of their brother. Lucas and Amelia both said they had no problem being dropped off at church so I could stay home with the wee ones and Paul could still light his candle.

Sunday morning I woke up to a lot of laughing and running around.  If the kids felt well enough for all that raucous then they were well enough to attend Mass. So off we all went. Woohoo! Turns out that Sunday was the ministry fair. During Mass a candle was lit for the past members who served in church ministries by one of the original members of the parish. A second candle was let by a current ministry member for those serving now. Then, by name, my son Paul was called to the alter to light the candle representing the “next generation” to serve in the ministries.

Of course I cried.

God is good!

The Father, the Prodigal, and the Second Son

-This interpretation is brought to you today by the pot of coffee foolishly consumed after the kids went to bed.

Often in marriage restoration ministries the term prodigal is applied to the spouse that wants out of, has left, or refuses to continue to work on the marriage. I have been thinking about the analogy lately and the role of the father and his two sons. I think many times the waiting spouse views themselves as the father. Letting “their prodigal” go until they finally “wake up” someplace they never thought they would be and more clearly see the goodness of home. It is a mistake to see it that way!

The waiting spouse is not the father. The father is God. God gives us everything. God let’s us choose what to do with it. When we wonder away God waits for us patiently to see how much He loves us. When we are repentant and ready to come home, He is waiting there with open arms and a robe to cover us in our vulnerable broken state while He restores us to His family.  If, as a spouse waiting and praying for the restoration of your marriage, you feel like the father you are not in the right place. You are not the most important person your spouse is off in the “far country” missing. You are not what your spouse needs or is longing for. You can not “restore” your spouse to their place within the family. You are not the person your spouse needs to first acknowledge their “baggage”, “weaknesses”, and/or “sins” to. It is erroneous even arrogant to think this way. That role belongs to God.

There is a third character, the brother in this story (and a fourth I will blog about someday too). Many people in the “left behind” spouse position can relate to the brother and the “he doesn’t deserve” attitude. It is the mentality of this brother that leads to “I could never forgive, trust, whatever again…”, or “I deserve someone better”, or “It’s too late” type thinking.  The return or the first coming of your spouse to God the Father should always be celebrated no matter the state of your relationship to your spouse. But it was fit that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found. Luke 15:32 The brother was so focused on the perceived inequity of the situation and his own goodness (victimhood, martyrdom, loyalty, perfection,etc.), he lost sight on what really matters:  The relationship of every soul to their Creator and greatest Lover.

In addition to impeding forgiveness, the “I am the good one” attitude kills personal growth and responsibility. Are you saying, “But you don’t know what they did!”?  Even if (this is a big if) your marital challenges are 99.9% your spouse’s issue, you are still 100% responsible for your .1%. If you only spend time focusing on your spouse’s issues and how they wronged you then you may some day find that God helped your spouse deal with there 99.9% and your .1% is suddenly 100% of your relationship’s challenges.

How can you help your brother return to the Father from the far country? Since you are not responsible for your brother’s/spouse’s hypothetical 99.9% you also have no power to fix it. This is a very hard lesson for us fix it types to accept. We believe if only they just “read this”, or “talked to so and so”, or “heard that” our spouse would suddenly “see the light”.  We are sure if we just word things the right way or do just the right thing, or manipulate the situation for a specific outcome our spouses will finally “see it”.  If you are trying to “fix it” your way you will lose perspective on your handling of your own “portion” of His “substance” and be frustrated with the desire to remain in the far country. We are powerless and from our human perspective limited on just how much of the bigger picture we ourselves can not see.  However, as the other half of a “one flesh” union, thru prayer, fasting,  and perhaps with God’s grace even example by taking on our own issues, we can “stand the gap” Ezechiel 22:30 for our marriages maybe even be a hopeful light for our spouses.

We can not force, speed up, manipulate, or argue them home. After all, the prodigal’s father did not send his brother after him. He knew his second son was needed at home to tend to his portion of the Father’s “substance” Luke 15:12.  We must learn to care for our portion so that when our spouse returns and his portion restored our Father can teach us to work together for the betterment of His no longer divided substance. [For you analogy perfectionists: The Father is God (otherwise known as the Creator of all from nothing) so He can and will create, in order to restore, the “wasted” Luke 15:13 substance of the prodigal for His Glory!]

Two more thoughts: The point of marriage is to enable us to better know, love and serve God. Even if our spouses never “see the light” or choose to heal their percent, God will still use our faithfulness to our vows to enflame our hearts with His love and bring us peace, but only if we deal with our hypothetical .1%*.

There are three in marriages: husband, wife and God. If your spouse leaves, there are still two there to care for the garden where love (His substance) grows in the fertile soil of His Sacrament. He is the original Gardner. He doesn’t need you to keep pointing out your spouse’s weeds. Only He knows the best way for your spouse to remove them. He does need you to keep your weeds from killing the seeds He is planting in both your spouse’s heart and yours. Weed out your portion!

*Why “.1” you ask? For all those who’s pain or indignation has hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes, perhaps they may listen and be open to a larger percent if we let them believe it is such a small number for now. 🙂

Fall Days, Shooting Stars, and Talking With God

Yesterday I could not get enough of the outdoors. It was beautiful. The kids are sick including the baby so we couldn’t really go anywhere to enjoy the weather and nature, but God is so good, we live on our own sugar sand hill of beauty. Through out the day I kept going out to enjoy the fall transformation felt in the air and seen in the plant life surrounding us. Being surrounded by nature and quiet easily sends thoughts heavenward.

I have been struggling with letting go of some fears. It is difficult to explain the state of my heart. God has written a promise on it, but not how He plans on accomplishing it. Being still, trusting, and waiting on the Lord are the only instructions that have been clearly heard. Not knowing the “how” for a person who thrives in structure and is much more comfortable having solidified plans this opens a door to some very ingrained insecurities. Trusting without seeing the plan is a hard lesson for me. Then there is the issue of when a situation arises that requires a decision I don’t really know which way to go and find that I have to spend a lot more time praying then I use to. Maybe that is one of the many lessons that God has wanted me to learn: To pray more about the choices I make, turning to Him instead of just relying on my own thought process.

With God all things are possible yet I often find myself listening to the father of lies. Perhaps I am insane, but while I am confident in God’s promise to me I also hear the nagging little voice whispering doubt: “Why would He do this for you?” or “It is just your own desire; God didn’t really promise anything to you.” Not having any progress with shutting the lying voice out, I took it to God. Another perk to living out here in the middle of no where is you can talk to God out loud and no one hears you. 🙂 “Okay God how is it I can feel so certain and confident of Your promise and yet so weak that I keep allowing the voice to cause panic, pain, and fear in my heart.” What does our all merciful God answer? ”So you learn how to fight it.” I am certain I rolled my eyes. I know the face I must have given God because my kids give it to me all the time. I don’t want to have to work at this I wanted God to just zap the doubt away. The evil little voice giggled. I told it to shut up and went inside again.

Once the kids were in bed I snuck out again …okay I am lying, I told the kids to go to sleep and then quickly ran outside leaving Jason to handle bedtime. The air had a chill and without a moon, the stars were shining in abundance. I stared up in awe of God’s heavenly creation, watched a falling star and started to sing with joy and talk to God. “So I have to keep trying to tune out the voice till I learn what works for me, got it. I know that even though I shouldn’t doubt you and I need to learn to more fully trust you without signs you have given them anyway. I do thank you for all the blessings and reminders of Your promise you have undeservedly sent me. I am sorry that so soon after they are delivered I doubt again.” God let me know He made me and understands and just wants my thanks for the blessings and for me to continue to learn to trust.

“Now for issue two, God. What about the decision I need to make? I think I know what I should do, but I don’t want to. The “think things through plan and prepare” part of me says wait, but my heart says trust and jump!” God got really quiet. I got really desperate. One shooting star… “I want to sail threw the sky like the star!” Then in the dark of a star lit night the light of opportunity begins to glow. More talking to God. “Speak already!” Not really a respectful way to talk to God I know. A second shooting star… “Are you talking to me?” Okay one more and I jump! I start franticly searching the heavens. Nothing. More frantic searching. Nothing. Sadness begins to grow because I really want to jump, so I look once more. Odds favored another falling star would be seen, so to be honest I still don’t know if I just silenced God and followed my own will. Third star… Jumped! Okay I am in now. Evil whispering starts to murmur. My reply to it, “Thought I told you to shut up!” Fourth shooting star… woohoo, I love a bonus.

*disclaimer: Relying on shooting stars is NOT a way to make decisions. While I want to believe my emotional jump timing was right it is one of those things only time will tell. Most things that I have done this past year have been clearer. The correctness of them was soon felt deep in my heart and usually followed with an unquestionable blessing. When wrong God’s gentle discipline could be felt and a lesson was learned and appreciated.

…I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief.
Mark 9:23

Searching for “Self” Gives No Glory to God

We have become obsessed with finding ourselves and are bombarded with feel good empty messages like, “You deserve better”, “Do something for yourself”, “To be whole you need to find yourself”. We spend years searching for and catering to this mystery person that we do not know and must somehow discover in order to reach some pinnacle of self actualization and fulfillment. We have become dogs chasing our own tails.

It is when we stop turning toward self enlightenment and instead seek God’s enlightenment by being honest about our faults and ask Him to help us change not necessarily what we want, but what He wants us to change, that the real journey to depth, wisdom, and the ability for God to use us for His glory begins. It isn’t from some convoluted search for how we can make ourselves feel whole or discovering what we think will make us happy that leads to any Truth or depth of character. Quite to the contrary when we rely on ourselves instead of God to answer the questions of “why do I exist”, “what do I do to grow” and “what should I do with my life” we end up making selfish unfulfilling choices and eventually end up the slave to a master who literally is hell bent on our destruction.

How do we know ourselves, understand what God wants from us and make the choices in life that serve and give Glory to God? Continual repentance and obedience! Not the self deprecating beliefs found in abused souls convinced they are worthless but the honest acknowledgement that we time and time again give into our fallen nature. Not the blind obedience of a slave but the trusting obedience of child to a loving parent who knows what is best for us.

It is a contradiction of words but a reality of Truth that abandoning oneself to God leads to real freedom to be who we were created to be and will give Glory to God who is all deserving of nothing less.

…………………………………

Only obeying God’s Will and repenting because of what we get out of it instead of a desire for God to use us for His Glory leads away from the narrow path and onto the wide path to exactly what we thought we were avoiding: darkness, confusion, emptiness and loneliness.

Mark Shea’s short article on catholic exchange simply explains the difference between turning our faults over to God and trying to understand and fix them ourselves.