Sunday, 29 October 2017

Days 11-28

Okay, I'm calling a hiatus on this post a day thing. I am still resolved to write every day, but behind the scenes working on some better, publishable stuff actually worth reading, rather than rushing. I will come back shortly with a consistent, once-a-weeker.and possibly launching a new blog.

God love you, dear readers!

Day 10: baby steps

A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus.  “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?” 

Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” 

The man answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’”

 “You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)

I was pondering this passage earlier this week, trying to dive deeper into it. Because, you know, it sounds so lovely: loving God completely, loving your neighbour as yourself. Yes, so lovely, I tell myself nodding my head. I loved it so much I had it written on my classroom wall last year. But, if we want to move from the sentimental notion of how wonderful it is to love God and our neighbour, and actually buckle down and start acting with love towards God and our neighbour, all of a sudden I realize how sorely inadequate I am at actually loving Him.

If you're like me -- a head-dwelling thinker type -- you can easily start to believe that all your thinking about God and love is the same as actually loving God.  Thinking is important, of course! Diving deep into prayer and spending reflecting on Scripture and spiritual reading to discern what God is calling you to do in this day is so necessary.  But, again, if you're like me, you might be too inclined to rest in those thoughts and not actually make a resolution for action and put it into practice.  I know this and yet I fail to do this over and over again.

God asks us to love Him with everything, true, but He specifically says to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

So since I've been discerning so much about working my determination muscles, I asked myself, how can I practice determination in how I use that heart, soul, mind, and strength I've been given?  

I can't expect to receive the martyr's crown if I don't have the courage to speak up for God with my own loved ones.  Little acts of virtue beget the virtue itself.  Likewise, I can't reasonably expect to love God with ALL of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, if I can't do it in part.  

So, while I certainly don't consider my following suggestion as an end in itself, I do humbly offer it as a practical way to begin disciplining all of our self to His service.

Consider the heart. Is anger, irritability, impatience a far-too frequent part of my day? What parent hasn't confessed one or all of those things (like, every single time)? What is one concrete resolution I can make to curb that?  For example, if there is one particular trigger that sets you off, resolve to work on that one little thing.

Consider the mind.  You're a smarty pants. Are you using that brain for good? Are you wasting way too much time in that vortex called Facebook? (Guilty!) Could you be using that time to grow in more, ahem, important knowledge instead? Could you commit to spiritual reading or taking a course that will challenge you to think and express yourself more cogently?   Choose something and just do it.

Consider your soul. How's your prayer life going? Doesn't matter if you're enjoying it or not, but are you showing up? Are you praying every day no matter what? If you're struggling to be consistent, my confessor suggested a few things to make this a habit that sticks: pick a time and place (doesn't have to be a clock time; maybe as soon as the baby begins his nap is more realistic than 7:00 a.m. would be); choose something you can reasonably do in one place at one time.  Don't commit to a 20 decade rosary every day if you're only certain you can find fifteen minutes of silence to pray.  That doesn't mean you can't work up to that, but if you're struggling to establish a routine, start small, but do start!

Consider your body.  Does this need strengthening? Are you taking the best care of it that you can?  Are you eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising?  Are you indulging in too much caffeine, sugar, or alcohol and thus affecting how well your body can perform?  When you're feeling optimally, it's so much easier to work hard for others.  Are you doing the best you can to optimize the use of your body? What is one thing you can do right now?

Of course, take this to prayer. Let God help you see where to start, but if something is blinkingly obvious, you know, that's a good place to begin.  But, don't fall into the trap on inaction either. Waiting on the Lord is good, but sitting on the fence making excuses is not the same thing. Know which one you're doing.

Little by little, these resolutions will become habits, and these habits will become virtue.  By God's grace and our free-will decision to make an effort in these areas, we will come closer to the goal of fulfilling the great commandment.  "And [we] shall live."

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Day 9: My Review of the Catholic Children's Bible

Today's post is a link to another article I've had published.  Someone spotted my endorsement of this children's Bible in a Facebook group and asked me to consider submitting it as a full-length review. Here's the final product, and yes, it really is a great choice for a children's Bible!

I fondly recall my beautiful 1970s-era Golden Children’s Bible. As a child I was drawn to the gorgeous, life-like pictures and I devoured the stories. I can still vividly picture the giant hand, writing on the wall of a banquet room, and the terrified onlookers from the Book of Daniel. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize with disappointment that my Bible was incomplete. I graduated to more traditional Bibles: the little red Gideon’s and the Good News version of the Gospel of Matthew that were given out in school. I remember that I eagerly dove into both of these but as a youngster I found the font too small and the text difficult to read, so they remained permanently tucked into my bookshelf.
Fast forward a couple of decades: after a wedding, the birth of my first three children...

To continue reading, please go to the Aleteia website.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Day 8: Eight is Great!
This is the eighth day of my writing spree and frankly, I've got nothing to say. So,  I thought I'd talk about the number 8!

Eight fun facts for you:

1) Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture because it has a pronunciation similar to that of the term for making a fortune.  The first time I heard about this was from my best friend in high school whose parents had been born in China.   Her phone number had a lot of 8's in it and she was telling me how lucky her parents thought that was.  She also told me about the number four being dreaded.  It sounds like the word for death.  In the same way that many buildings don't have thirteenth floors, in China and other cities with a large Chinese population, like my hometown Toronto, there are some condos that skip all the floors that have a number four in them... and apparently eighth floor apartments sell at a premium too.

Only related by a thread, but this reminds me of an incident with hurtful homophones that happened when I was teaching French class to the grade twos and threes.  One of the students (my son) was named Sean.  I was teaching them the name of various articles of clothing and the word for sweater is "chandail". In New Brunswick French, "chandail" is often used for any shirt that's not a tee.  For example, the golf shirts the kids wore as part of the uniform. We must have used the word "chandail" a hundred times.  At one point one of the kids gasped: "Are you telling SEAN to DIE?" Sean got so upset with ME for saying "chandail" and half the kids would toss him a wide-eyed sympathy glance every time the word was used. Oh, brother.  Suffice to say, I see now how uncomfortable you  could be with a totally innocuous word if it reminds you of something like death.  So, no more talk of "chandails" for Sean, no fourth floor for those who think it sounds like death floor.

2) In the Bible, the number eight represents resurrection and new beginning.

3) Jesus rose on the eighth day after His entry into Jerusalem.

4) The Bible accounts for Jesus appearing eight times after the resurrection; there are eight beatitudes.

5) Jesus, as was Jewish tradition, would have been circumcised at eight days of age.

6) The Lord's day is considered the eighth day, which is why most baptismal fonts -- if they're not round -- are octagonal.

7) Eight is a cubic number (2x2x2=8) and a Fibonacci number. It's the only cubic number in the Fibonacci sequence other than the number one.  It's also the first non-prime number in the Fibonacci sequence (again, other than one which is considered to be not a prime, but is not considered a compound number either; actually zero isn't a prime number either as all prime numbers must be whole numbers and zero is not part of the set of whole numbers, which start at one).  The Fibonacci sequence is: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21.36...  you get the next number by adding the previous two numbers. The Fibonacci sequence, along with the similar Lucas sequence) actually appears over and over again in nature wherever you see spirals and whorls, such as the curvature of a snail shell or the branching pattern of plants, or the budding pattern of petals and leaves.  So amazing!

8)  In nature, many creatures have sets of eight parts:
- All arachnids have eight legs.
- Cctopuses and some other cepaholopods (which means legs n' brains) have eight arms
- When Ascomycete fungi sporulate, the ascus (which is basically a narrow sack of a stack of spores) contains eight ascospores.  By popping those asci (plural or ascus) open, geneticists would carefully separate the spores, keeping them in the order in which they formed and by looking at which traits appeared in which spores, they were able to learn a lot about fungal genetics and even the relative positioning of genes on the chromosomes for various traits. So fun!
- Adult humans have eight teeth in four quadrants (think upper and lower, left and right sides), of which the eighth tooth in each quadrant is the wisdom tooth
- We have eight cervical nerves on each side of our brain. So do most mammals.

Well, there you go. Eight is great! And I suddenly miss being a mycologist.


Thursday, 26 October 2017

Day 7: On Determination

First of all, a huge thank you to all of you who have been faithfully checking in to read my blog as I crank out all kinds of crazy in my quest to publish daily for four weeks.  After today, week one is in the bag... only 3 weeks to go! I promised today will be better... I cried writing it, so those ones are always fun to read, right?

A bit of background
Yesterday I began my thoughts on "determination"... something I'd never had much of.

I wrote:
"I am an expert excuse maker. I was a bright kid and many things came easily to me. I was lauded and I loved it. Impressing and pleasing people in the hopes they would like me was critically important to me.  And I could not tolerate the embarrassment of failure, of putting in hard work and coming up short.  I was very good at just not trying at all if I thought I would fail.  I considered myself a perfectionist, prided myself on it! I have since learned that perfectionism is anything but perfect, is actually fear-based inaction.  Funny how I convinced myself that failing to act at all was somehow nobler than try, try, trying again."

At the same time, all my life I had been somebody who, if she got really excited about something, especially if I had some intitial success, would embrace it wholeheartedly... until doing so got hard or I had a set back or I got bored or someone mocked me about my enthusiasm (which hurts the worst).  Then I'd wind up crumpled and feeling so defeated and often humiliated (whether that was real or just perceived) and I wouldn't know what to do next. 

After my faith-awakening it was really hard for me to not be bothered by the fact that people close to me treated me like this was just another one of my fads that would soon pass. I would be lying if I said it didn't hurt me that they wouldn't take me seriously; at first it really did; but moreso I felt like a failure to God... like I was the worst possible evangelist because no one was ever going to take me seriously, believe that I had really changed, that a life transformed by grace was not in the least akin to a life motivated by any transient interest. 

But God is good and He has humbled me a lot through this experience and this has only strengthened my assurance in His steadfast, persevering goodness.  Many times, if it weren't for His grace, I would have caved and given into my desire to be admired and approved of instead of clinging to my faith.  That kind of resolve simply does not come from someone like me.  I feel like this has only thrown me deeper into His arms.  So grateful. I was also grateful that he gave me beautiful Christian sisters and brothers in my small group (or home church as we called it) who stood in the gap for a person who felt so overwhelmingly alone and sad inside.I don't know if they realize how much they kept me going through at that time. CQ: I know you read this blog, and I will thank God forever for how much you loved me!!  Long story, but  I then moved to another church that was also lovely but so much smaller.  They welcomed me and my family immediately. 

The seemingly random events that began to nudge me into considering, and eventually bowled me over into returning Catholicism is hard to chronicle.  But, when I finally became convinced that this was what God was calling me to it meant I had to walk away from my beloved church family in which everyone was known and loved and people were so enthusiastic about Jesus and how they could serve Him better. 

I was so happy there, but I knew God had an even greater happiness in store in the Catholic Church because of the Eucharist.    Because I believed in its authority I concurred that it had the fullness of truth.  So I left.  And I thought it would kill me.  I felt awful about it in a way that still churns my stomach.

But again, I hung in there, and again, I know that has only been possible because of God's grace.  Just a few months after my return to the Catholic Church we moved across the country. This had not been on the radar at the time; I would have been saying goodbye to my old church community anyway but minus all the uncomfortable feelings.   I see now that God used that discomfort to strengthen my faith, my trust, and to weaken my desperate attachment to approval from others. 

But is it determination or grace?

Let's recap: I was never much for following through on what I started until I surrendered myself to God.  After that, any success in perseverance was something I completely attributed to grace, considering myself completely lacking in determination and (I see now) believing (the lie) that I couldn't grow in determination, nor did I need to.  Furthermore, just like before, when the passion I had for any project eventually fizzled out, I assumed it was "meant to be" or it was proof that I was too attached to this project, placing too much importance on it, and that God was helping me to become detached -- saving me from myself --  by extinguishing the flame of excitement.  I don't know. Maybe in some cases He was, but probably not always, probably not even usually. Now, I wasn't this way about everything in life. If I was sick in bed, I was still determined that my children somehow get fed.  If we had a foot of snow overnight I was still determined to get the driveway cleaned out so that we would get to Church or school in the morning, but again, I saw that God gave me the grace to muster what had to be done. 

No, specifically, this repulsion towards determination was always about the things I was passionate about.  I had a lot of hurt feelings and fears about being rejected for doing the things that captivate me and fill me with joy. I was embarrassed that I was a passionate person. I had a lot of doubts about my own ability to discern whether something was good or not. Join all those factors with a lack of practice in the fine art of perseverance, and I was too quick to abandon these things.

I was very passive in the face of a challenge and felt very safe in that rut I was creating. I realize now that I was always fearful that I was fighting God's grace if I were to keep trying, rather than accepting my initial setbacks as an indicator of His will.  

I realize that I was pitting determination (my efforts) against God's grace.

My priest often says "grace builds on nature" in encouraging me to use routines and to make healthy choices to make it easier for me to make a life that keeps me from the near-occasions of sin (think, freaking out and sreaming at everyone because I'm frustrated that I can't find anything in the mess that I neglected to clean up).  Meanwhile I have a dear, wise, friend who often says "May God help you to discover the person He made you to be."  My response to him is usually, "Okay" but in my head I'm flummoxed.  This is who I am, I think.  There's nothing more than this. What does this even mean?    

 A case study

Then, a couple things happened that really called into question my understanding of how my determination actually works together with God's grace.  I still don't know the answer, and I'm not entirely comfortable picking this apart here, but here goes.

In the last year or so I gained quite a bit of weight for me, really ever since turning forty I began to put weight on-- at the beginning of the summer I was weighing as much as I did when I was 9 months pregnant 13 years ago. I've never really been one to struggle with weight even though I ate junk all the time, but I have always had a hard time with that junk: I was so sensitive to sugar, my heart would race, I would crash, I was constantly hungry and eating all day, feeling like that wasn't enough...since i was a kid! I would get headaches so often from different foods, My skin was always inflamed and prone to infections that would always be worse as my sugar consumption went up.  Many family members have been diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes and I was always worried I would be next.   My eyes had big black rings under them, almost every meal made me want to take a nap. I kept getting cysts and was having to have surgery. I could barely muster the motivation to walk a block. Sweets would wreck me, and In the last year it seemed like every meal was becoming a sugar crash even if it wasn't sugary per se. My mood was awful. I thought I was having a mid-life crisis, that I was burnt out for some reason.  Meanwhile I had been developing cysts that required surgery and I just wasn't feeling great.   Also my joints were very sore, my hip and knee on one leg were causing me a lot of pain and I was noticing that my motion was getting somewhat limited.   

Everything I read linked all these symptoms to either inflammation or insulin resistance, both caused by too much sugar and refined starches.  I had tried every wacky eating out there over the years in the hopes of finding food that didn't make me feel awful.  I tried a low-carb, high-fat diet a couple years ago; twice in fact. I didn't embrace it enthusiastically, and before long, though it made me feel better at the time, I just gave up.  Finally this summer, I decided to look into this again and gave it a week.

This time, I was ruthless about cutting out anything and everything sweet or made mostly of carbohydrates.  It was amazing beyond amazing.  My cravings for junk food disappeared in days.   For the first time in ages I could eat a meal without feeling like I needed to nap, I didn't feel panicky from hunger between meals anymore and to my surprise I had so much energy I was crawling the walls looking for a way to burn it off. So that is why I started running. I don't have to force myself to run, I am longing to run now. This is completely foreign to me! 

As I wrote earlier this week, running has become such a source of joy for me, and I've been able to progress from mostly walking to running straight through.   

What I didn't write about was how many setbacks I had in running and how surprised I am that I managed to stick to it.  In fact, I was so grateful for the setbacks because being able to get back on track felt so satisfying -- and again, so foreign to me! 

But here is the part that really threw me for a loop: I expected it would take superhuman determination or a miracle for me to get into great health -- but it was actually surprisingly easy, and I don't think this passes the miracle sniff test by a long shot. 

So why was I able to succeed at this? Where did my determination suddenly come from?

Back to grace perfecting nature. 

I have been constantly astounded by how strongly this way of eating and understanding the role of insulin sensitivity has altered my previous understanding -- which matches the dominant cultural understanding-- of why we gain weight, why so many of us feel listless, moody, helpless, and like moral failures when we can't take back control of our health despite grand, and exhausting efforts. When I got off carbs and onto this diet I suddenly realized: this is not about willpower! This is not about weakness! This is about relief from the chronic stress I've been putting on my body all my life. One of my first reactions was to be angry at the purveyors of the mainstream dietary advice which has duped us and, in my opinion, has damaged many people emotionally, especially those who have been treated as less than equal, or morally deficient because of their obesity.

Suddenly, I have just a lot more energy to get through the day, which makes a huge difference, and in that case, it feels so much less monumental to stay determined.  Also, I've read a lot about the effect of blood sugar on moods and depression. Maybe my determination is easier to muster in a brain that's swimming in happy juices? 

From day one, I've always used my running time to pray, and one day I was astounded to find myself crying out in prayer, awakening that dormant cryptic message from my friend, "God who am I?'  Sudden awareness that He has more planned for me than just getting by. That it's not impossible for me to follow my passions, that setbacks are just that, not dead-ends.  That my determination isn't competing with God but necessary for His will to be fulfilled, but that He still supplies so much grace to see me through.  

More proof that He has given us the dignity to be c0-labourers with Him.

I'm still working this one out, folks. I really still feel like such an immature person, and I would really, truly appreciate any insight you could give.  Feel free to comment below, or email me using the link at the right.  

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Day 6: laundry list of thoughts

I said I'd publish something each day. I'm writing as I fold laundry on my bed using my phone. Ughhhhhhhhhhh... Which brings me to the quote I've had on my mind:

"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other thing." Abraham Lincoln

I have two competing short term resolutions for this evening: to get the loads of laundry folded and put away before my husband gets home so he can flop down in our bed, and to get today's post written.

News flash: he's home early.
News flash two: laundry completed!

Now back to writing...

I am an expert excuse maker. I was a bright kids and many things came easily to me. I was lauded and I loved it. Impressing and pleasing people in the hopes they would like me was critically important to me.  And I could not tolerate the embraced of failure, of putting in hard work and coming up short.  I was very good at just not trying at all if I thought I would fail.  I considered myself a perfectionist, prided myself on it! I have since learned that perfectionism is anything but perfect, is actually fear-based inaction.  Funny how I convinced myself that failing to act at all was somehow nobler than try, try, trying again.

A couple things come to mind:
Jesus carrying his Cross and falling and getting back up repeatedly

Perfect love casts out fear

Fear of damaging my pride and vanity were stopping me from acting on good things. 

Today's first reading from Mass says:

Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies
so that you obey their desires.  


So many thoughts on determination and how we persevere, thoughts on self-discipline and motivation, thoughts on grace, thoughts on gifts, thoughts on virtue. How much is God's role and how much is mine? Can you be a little soul and also magnanimous?.

This is going to have to be a two-parter because

News flash #3: I found another load of laundry, and
News flash #4: I just remembered a coffee date I have to leave for in ten minutes. Ulp!!

Okay, last thought, and I'll delve into tying this altogether tomorrow: my priest often says: "grace builds on nature"... I will leave it there!

PS be sure to subscribe by email if you want to read the second half of this post...I promise, where I'm going with this is gonna be good!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Day 5: Glorious Autumn

 Really rushing to get a post out today... my apologies in advance for the lack of editing!

To borrow the words of literature's most famous Maritimer, Anne Shirley,

 “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."

"Gonna rain starting Wednesday," my husband advised me late Monday night.

"That'll be the end of the leaves, " I lamented. Both September and October have been particularly warm this year.   We traveled south for nearly two weeks this month, and upon our return we were greeted with a chill in the air. It comes fast, that switch from the beauty of autumn to its dreary drizzle. 

Late autumn in New Brunswick is not only the cold rain that strips the trees of their leaves, but also the rapid shortening of days.  I've been struggling finding times to go out for a run this last week, because I only do so when my husband is home and this time of year, he leaves before the sun rises and is not home until after it sets.  

Running has become such a welcome and peaceful part of my life.  I began running regularly in the summer and from day one I committed to praying the Rosary as I went. At first it was walking the Hail Marys and only running the Our Fathers, but lo and behold one day I found myself running straight through and then some. It has truly become a mini-retreat for me to pray and be silent and push myself to persevere. Not being able to run as frequently any more combined with anticipating the winter snow and ice have had me looking into home treadmills and gym memberships.  

So, when I woke up in the dark this morning  I was already bracing for the changing weather, scrambling to find extra layers to put on before going downstairs.  But when I opened the kitchen door to let our puppy out to the yard I was pleasantly surprised to find it was as warm outside as it was indoors.  Perhaps warmer!

I loaded up the van with kids, a puppy, water bottles, and plastic bags and we headed to a beach not too far from home which I knew featured a great playground plus enough pavement and trails to let me run.

My heart began to soar just driving through red-gold-green woods to arrive at the park and when we pulled into the driveway and caught sight of the river it took my breath away. 

Glory to Thee, O Lord in all Thy creative splendor!

Today felt like such a perfect gift from my beloved Father who knew exactly what would bring my heart joy.  The warmth of the air made for a cozy blanket, the forests ablaze in glorious colour delighted my eyes.  The laughs ringing out as my kids piling up a massive leaf pile and jumped in it filled my soul with joy.

Pure grace! 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Day 4: Why all the Mud?

My blog was originally named "Letters from the Mud" and I changed it to "Ordinary Time" a while later.  Blog subscribers will know that already because the posts always have that original title in the subject.  Inside knowledge like that is just one of the benefits of being a subscriber by email -- you can sign up too, over on the right if you're on a desktop, or at the bottom is you're on a mobile device. Go ahead, I'll just wait for you...

I've never written about my blog's title, but the story behind it holds a lot of significance.  It's because I feel this story is so dear to me that I've hesitated to share it publicly before.  It stemmed from a dream unlike any dream I'd ever had before or since.   I'm not into dream interpretation and I don't tend to give dreams much credence, even though I love trying to recall the ones I am able to remember -- who doesn't? But, this one, well, it was different.

Frankly,  I have always considered this dream to be an important message for me.  I don't say that lightly, in fact I say it quite squirmingly, knowing how flaky it may sound. I certainly don't want to just share this for the sake of getting attention for myself.  I did share it with a few trusted others at the time,  hoping for insight and guidance, but mostly I've kept it guarded in my own heart.  

One of the things about writing somewhat publicly like this (especially after Brandon Vogt created a 300-fold increase in my blog traffic by sharing my review of his book -- thanks Brandon), is that you have to be really cautious about sharing consolations -- or perceived consolations -- you've experienced.  I think the standard sage advice is that any consolation (along with any gift at all) you've received is always meant for the good, the love of others, however that doesn't always mean you explicitly share what happened, even though the fruits that are borne of the insights gained and the virtues deepened are definitely for God to use for the good of others.  

As for dreams... well, yes, the Bible shows that God most certainly has been known to send messengers via dreams from time to time.  So, was this dream a message from God? Honestly, I feel it is -- though that sounds so alarmingly haughty- but I don't trust myself to say that with authority.  In any case, for whatever reason, I had an astounding dream that definitely impacted me and which I've found to be an ongoing source of wisdom and insight.  By contrast, most of my dreams are just wonky, oddball things, involving lost shoes and sitting the wrong exam and trying to answer a ringing payphone when it's actually the alarm clock sounding.   Do I dare call my dream a message from God? A consolation received? I'm still undecided about that, but yes, it was something radically different.  In any case, I do know with certainty that God can use anything and everything for our good, so my odd dream must at least fall into that category, if nothing else.

I've had two dear friends both implore me recently, in almost identical words -- of which this will be a terrible paraphrase -- to share the light of Christ through my writing and both alluded to my own messiness as hope for others.  As I read their beautiful letters, especially the second one I received which reiterated so much that the first one had said, my mind immediately went to that old dream and I felt yeah, I think it's time to write about it.

So after the longest preamble ever, here's the dream!

I was standing at the foot of the cross, on dusty ground.
My eyes were at the height of Christ's chest.  
I couldn't see his face, but I could see his torso, his arms, and his legs.  I was close enough to touch Him.
I stood there begging for forgiveness and mercy and the water from His side began to gush forth, showering me with a torrent.
I remember feeling so joyful, so hopeful, thinking how clean, how white as snow I'd surely become washed in this font.
But I looked down, and to my chagrin, I realized that somehow the dust from the ground was mixing with the flood of water and instead of being washed clean I was being completely splattered, no, utterly covered in grey-brown mud. 
And I wanted it to stop! 
"No, Jesus! Please," I was begging him, "clean me!" 
Why is this happening? I don't want to be muddy! Wash away my sins, don't make them more obvious!
The water is supposed to wash my white as snow! Why is it making me dirtier?
And it was as if I was made to understand that the path by which I would work out my salvation, the one ordained for me, was going to involve being brutally real about the mess I am, about the mess I've been, that wretch. 
I always cringe at my own failure, my swollen, battered pride always urges me to move on and cut ties after I've screwed up. I want to start again; make some good first impressions, leave behind those who know me at my worst.  
I long to put on a shiny new garment over the old, dirty rag and hope no one notices it peeking out from under the hem.  
But Scripture reminds us that, "...there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light." (Luke 8:17)  which has helped me to more willingly try to discard the masks and cover ups now while I still have the chance

I understood that my mud would somehow, amazingly to me, be light in the darkness to others, that through my humiliating messiness others, who saw themselves being just as muddy, would find great hope in Christ.  
I understood that humiliation, weakness, embarrassment would be planks in the cross I was being asked to carry.
Over time I've come to discover with joy some other things this dream means:
I understand now that God doesn't just forget our repented sins, but in His merciful love He truly uses them to weave them into a tale even more beautiful, glorious.
I understand now that salvation is never a solitary manner, we are saved for others, and others for us. God will use all we offer Him for the good of others, for their salvation.
I understand that what's impressive and useful to me is not what counts to God, what is externally impressive to me is not what He sees. holiness doesn't look like you've got it all together, it looks like you've given it all to Him.
But most of all, I understood that I was not alone in this mud, I only needed to look up to see Him right there in front of me, with me in every moment, carrying me.

So why am I sharing this?
Well, maybe you're thinking you're way too far gone.
Maybe you're thinking Christ isn't for you, but for those normal looking people over there.
Maybe you can't see a way out of the mess you're in.
Maybe you think you can't approach Him until you're finally good enough.

Well, you're not too far gone as long as you have air in those lungs.
He is for you, completely.
Christ can see the way, because He is the Way.
And no. You'll never be good enough. No one will ever be good enough...not even those beautiful, normal, successful people over there. But He is good, and that is enough.

Don't be afraid to surrender, He loves you and wants to scoop you up from the ditch and carry you. No matter how crusty and gross your mud is, no matter how convoluted and twisted and wretched your story is, your mess,  He loves you, he wants to liberate you from all those ties that bind you and bring you into His radiant, glorious, beautiful, liberating life.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Working out my salvation one gloppy mess at a time

This is an article developed from one I originally wrote a couple of years ago. I'm delighted that it was recently published by!

For a long time after reverting to Catholicism I would trip up over the idea of “duty”. Over and over again I’d read about discerning the will of God, and I’d consider that whatever God’s will for one’s life, it always included a sense of vocational duty.
But I had a stubborn resistance to being told what to do. In my mind I associated duty with oppression, or at least with unfortunate, toilsome obligation. Wasn’t this what the Protestants were always charging Catholics with: thinking we had to work for our salvation?
I came to realize that I had been thinking of my duty – within my vocation as a mother, for instance — as what I begrudgingly needed do in order to repay God for ....  
To read the rest of the article, please follow the link to the Aleteia website.

Why You Should Read "Why I Am Catholic (and you should be too)" by Brandon Vogt

I was given the chance to receive a complimentary copy of Brandon Vogt's new book "Why I am Catholic (and you should be too)" in exchange for an honest review.  So, thank you, Ave Maria Press for that opportunity.

Brandon Vogt has written a great summary of the basic arguments for Catholicism, and that in itself comprises an exhaustive list.  His work, while concise, covers so much ground. It truly is impressive and would stand out among other introductory apologetic works for that reason alone.   This is clearly a well-planned, and deliberately executed book.  I get the sense no detail was left to chance.  

I know Brandon has done extensive research into the 'none' phenomena and has written about and developed evangelical tools to that end previously. Brandon is an expert apologist and evangelist, no doubt.  However, the rigidity of the structure kind of got to me: Twice in the book he states something akin to wishing he had more space to elaborate.  Personally, that irks me.  "It's YOUR book!" I feel like shouting at the page, "Who's stopping you from writing what you want to write if it's that important to you?"  At points like that I feel like I can see a bit too much of the behind-the-scenes, planning and that is a bit off-putting, but really, this is the only criticism I have of this entire book.  

But, since it's so well-structured, let's look at that, because really, I think it was brilliant and was what really made this such a great book, that exceeded my expectations.  The book begins and ends with a provocative appeal to the 'nones' to seriously consider Catholicism as the last true rebellion.  Sandwiched between the introduction and conclusion, Brandon categorizes his arguments.  Each chapter is entitled with a direct and concise answer to the question "Why I Am Catholic". These chapters are organized under what he calls the three Transcendentals: truth, goodness, and beauty, and herein the book soars.  More about that in a minute.

As someone who is already Catholic, I think this book, thanks in large part to its clear and thoughtful organization, makes for a great reference book to have on hand for me to "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Peter 3:15).  

But this book isn't really written for Catholics. Brandon has written this book for "nones" -- those who have either never experienced religion, or who effectively rejected the religious tradition of their parents by the time they reached young adulthood.  This is the group of people who claim no religious affiliation.  This is not exactly the same as atheism or agnosticism, as many 'nones' have not necessarily ever pursued that line of thought -- rather it seems that many have either just passively arrived at adulthood with no religious conviction, or having rejected some element of their childhood faith tradition, left it and never filled that void, at least not with God.

I was baptized as a ten-day old and raised by my Catholic mom and my 'none' dad. I went to Catholic school, was quite involved in my parish, and considered Catholicism to be an important part of my identity.  However, as a sinful young person, my desire to justify my appetite for sinful behaviour led me down the road of twisting the truth, picking and choosing Church teachings, embracing subjective truth, and basically fabricating a set of beliefs that I wrongly felt suited my (stunted) self. Before long, and without noticing, the deity I worshiped was replaced by the god of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  I no longer knew or believed in God the Creator; God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Word made flesh who dwelt among us.    Having married a 'none' myself, being only nominally concerned with my faith at that time, I slowly began to tire of coming up with convoluted, wishy-washy answers to my husband's questions about Catholic teaching that allowed me to have my cake and eat it too.  Finally, I rejected this god I had constructed as weak, distant, and unconcerned with life on Earth, and I embraced the 'none' label myself.  Looking back I see this as a very good thing, as I wasn't rejecting God, but an idol, and He would use that void to draw me back to Himself.  But at that time, I would have none of it and I sought to reconstruct my understanding of the world and actively undo all the silly, quaint, beliefs of my youth.

Now back to the Transcendentals.

Brandon has organized his arguments into three categories: evidence that speaks to truth; evidence that speaks to goodness; and evidence that speaks to beauty.  Each of these three transcendentals have the ability to lead us to that point where all of our natural, empirical explanations hit a wall, but with enough force, these transcendentals carry us through that wall, as though it were the back side of the Narnian wardrobe, and we find ourselves bewildered, lost in wonderment, and often falling to our knees in the sudden, staggering awareness that life and has just exploded out of the tidy, natural confines of the physical box we believed to contain the totality of the universe.  In a moment you believe there is something so much more than this paltry, earthly, physical existence.  You can sense the supernatural layer that infuses every aspect of reality, coating the world as with a blanket of love.   For the first time in your life, you have truly tasted reality and you can never go back.

This transcendence isn't analogous to anything material I can think of to use as a worthwhile example.   Suffice to say, if you aren't sure you've experienced it, you probably haven't.  

It is the Holy Spirit, God Himself, who alone is capable of converting people.  But I believe that the witnesses of the faithful, mounting piles of evidence, thoughtful reasoning, heroic demonstrations of goodness and charity, and breathtaking beauty are all tools He uses; His cooperation with His creation, to rouse and prompt the soul to conversion.

I think that what Brandon rightly intuits is that when faced with an avalanche of truth, goodness, or beauty, we will ultimately be carried on a wave through that back wardrobe wall.  For myself, it was the truth that first got me. One evening I started googling for evidence to either support or reject a claim that a Christian friend had presented me with.  By the end of that night, the truth I found had surmounted to slay all my resistance in a single moment. In a heartbeat I knew. God was real. More real to me than my own hand.  He was the Creator of all things. And He was the Trinitarian God of the Bible.   As Brandon says in his book, citing Socrates, just because something is true, doesn't make it comfortable, but we need to follow it wherever it leads, despite the discomfort or unpopularity. In that instant I knew I was a lost sinner, I knew I needed to repent, and I knew I needed to cling to God.  
Sure, I had a lot to learn and a long way to go, but something had changed, my path was set, there could be no turning back.
For others, I know that it has been goodness or beauty that caused them to recognize God and upend their lives for love of Him.  In Les Misérables, it is an incredible encounter with a merciful priest that radically transformed the escaped, hardened convict Jean Valjean into a heroic, model of charity.  In a word, he was confronted and overwhelmed by goodness.  For Dorothy Day, I would say it was beauty that caught her: in her memoir The Long Loneliness, Day writes of the indescribable gratitude for her newborn daughter and the longing to give thanks, and the realization that there must be something greater, beyond the simply natural world, to whom she owes this thanks.  The beauty of new life turned her mind to thoughts beyond this plain.  

For most armchair theologian-Catholics, many of the arguments that Brandon presents will be familiar ones, but he still manages to give them an air of freshness and he is always very clear.  But some of the arguments were ones I don't remember explicitly coming across previously and I was truly impressed. His chapters, "Because it Offers Forgiveness" and "Because of Heroic Charity" both made my heart surge with love.  "Because it Lifts us Up" is a remarkable discussion of the teleology of life in Christ that you don't often encounter in the Western Church.  Finally, "Because We Need Religion" is a convincing response to the spiritual-but-not-religious mantra of the current age.

Brandon has commendably provided ample materials for the avalanche. But will the 'nones' respond to this book? 

Here is the really exciting part that all you Catholics reading this, thinking about your lost loved ones really want to hear:  is there any chance this book will actually touch the heart and mind of your beloved unbeliever?  This is where I am thrilled to offer up the following test case: my husband.  My husband was never baptized, never raised in any kind of faith tradition.  Although we've known each other for over nineteen years, God, Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular are still foreign and weird to him.  And this is a guy who goes to Mass every Sunday for love of his family.  Still, to him, Mass might as well be a standing date with any club. To this day, he has always claimed unbelief.

So, knowing I had to write this review I asked if he would at least read the introduction to give me his thoughts. As I said above, the introduction really provokes the 'none' to stick with the rest of the book.  My husband is not a man who reads for fun.  But he obliged me.  And here is what he said of the introduction:
"It's intriguing. I definitely felt compelled to read more. It's better than any of the other books like this that you've given me. It's smarter."  That was promising!
So today he made some time to read the first chapter: "Because God Exists".   His thoughts:
"I'm really impressed with the Kalam argument; I had never heard that."
"Hey," I interjected, my pride bruised, "I've said that to you before and all those other books did too!"
"Well, how it's written is really clear and makes a lot of sense."

He came back to me a bit later and said, "That book! It's really good. It's really making me think. It's poking holes in all my arguments."  And he's only on the first chapter!

I can't give a better testimony to the quality of the book than that!

Friday, 20 October 2017

What's in a word: comfort edition

Four Weeks in the Mud

Friends, I have set myself the goal of publishing something -- anything -- daily for the next four weeks.  I need to not just think about writing more, but actually sitting down and doing it. I need to make it a routine if I want to get anywhere with this, so please, bear with me! 

The overarching goal of the blog is to praise God for His ever-present care and love for us, and to point out a few of the gifts He has given me that I have delighted to stumble upon in my ordinary life.  I am planning to rotate through some sub-themes to give me something to write about each day. 

One of these themes will be entymology, or the study of word origins and they way their meanings have changed over time.   Language, and our capacity for it, is an incredible, intimate gift from our God, who spoke the universe into being and is the Word made flesh.  

 As always, I love feedback -- even just knowing that someone is reading, so please leave me a comment or send me an email.

Word of the week: comfort

I love words!  I love understanding the meanings of the roots of words and seeing them pop up in all kinds of unexpected places across languages.

I especially love "faux amis" as they are called in French, or false cognates. This refers to words that seem very similar in two languages, but that are not actually equivalent to each other.  There are three categories of faux amis: the first refers to words that appear to have similar roots, but actually don't; the second category is words that do have a shared root but have different meanings in the two modern languages; the third category is words that have a shared root and an overlapping but not identical meaning in the two languages.  

The reason I love them is that they beckon you to go digging into the root words. Often times you can track back to see that even if the words seem wildly divergent today they do have a similar source and this often adds nuance, layers of meaning, and power to the everyday, ho-hum words we use.  These often help us to understand the culture of the language speakers. And since I'm all about looking out for the treasures hidden in ordinary life crossed with my love for communication, uncovering word treasures is especially delightful.

Let's talk about comfort.

I asked my daughter what she thinks of when she hears that word.  She gave two answers:
1) Sitting on the couch, by the fireplace, petting my cat
2) Hot chocolate and warm beds.

In modern-day North America I think we tend to equate comfort, and its related adjective 'comfortable', with coziness, warmth, security, satiety, safety, and being protected from the environmental extremes; the "creature comforts".   There's a nuance of laziness in this understanding of comfort.

When we think of 'comfort' as a verb, we think in terms of consoling or cheering up someone who is suffering or sad.  Perhaps that is to return the person to a state of comfort -- as described above -- or maybe it's to encourage them to carry on despite their discomfort (ah, that word again).

But when we look at the Latin meaning of the word, we discover that comfort comes from 'confortare' having the roots 'com' (which is a prefix indicating intensity) + 'fortis' which means 'strong'.  It literally means to strengthen much.   A far cry from lounging on the couch!

What does this tell us about ourselves and who we are called to be?  I think it says we are called, in our nature, to be strong, that this should be our neutral state.  Certainly, christianity isn't for wimps!  Ask the martyrs, ask the persecuted Church today.  We, the Church militant are always in battle against sin and the devil.   Even though it is in our weakness that God makes us strong and that we can only do all things through Christ who strengthens us, we are definitely called to strength.  And so we are called to strengthen, to comfort one another, for this battle for good: not so we feel good and have an easy life -- what our culture would tell us is our goal.  As Saint John Paul the Great wrote: "The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness."

Interestingly, and something I hope to write about more at a later date is that Latin is the language of the Roman Empire -- the language of conquering soldiers and cool, calculating, strategizing emporers, but it became the language of the Church.  I think it's beautiful how Christianity subverted this language of war into the language of love.

Be strong!

comfort (n.)

c. 1200, "feeling of relief" (as still in to take comfort in something); also "source of alleviation or relief;" from Old French confort (see comfort (v.)). Replaced Old English froforComforts (as opposed to necessities and luxuries) is from 1650s.

comfort (v.)

late 13c., conforten "to cheer up, console," from Old French conforter "to comfort, to solace; to help, strengthen," from Late Latin confortare "to strengthen much" (used in Vulgate), from Latin com-, intensive prefix (see com-), + fortis "strong" (see fort). Change of -n- to -m- began in English 14c. Related: Comfortedcomforting.


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