Do you avoid confession?

confessionIf you don’t mind, I’d like to take a bit of a break from #40DayChallenge to share a special announcement.

Today over at “Reconciled to You” Allison Gingras is hosting the monthly BLOG HOP.

If you have ever dreaded heading into the sacrament, you might join the hop and meet some kindred souls.

At Extraordinary Moms Network, I recall my first experience with confession in which I argue with the priest.

At her blog “Single Mom Smiling,” Strahlen says:

I may never be as pure as Saint Faustina, as sacrificing as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, as selfless as Saint Maximilian Kolbe, as strong as Saint Joseph, or as unstained as Mary, but that’s not who I am called to be. I am called to be me … but closer to God than I thought I could be.

Meanwhile, at “Reconciled to You,” Allison posted this lighthearted moment at “Confession of a Confession Chicken.” She writes:

I blessed myself and jumped right in. “Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been about 6 months since my last confession and here are my sins.”  Only a few into my list when the priest interjected, “excuse me are you the woman who has come to start the new youth group.”   Um, crap. I was. Now what?

I felt like I had 2 options –YES options. One, I could lie. Then start back my confession with, “I lied one time just now to you,” or I could go the more sensible route, own up to the fact I have a very recognizable voice (I refuse to believe those screens don’t actually hide my identity), and get on with it.

That one made me chuckle … and was pretty consoling. No matter how bad my “laundry list,” I have yet to have a priest call me out by name!

Do you have a favorite confession story? Share it here!

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Rest in God

sleeping-dogsYesterday the W.I.N.E. blog posted a short article called “Shepherd of My Heart,” about the need every soul has to rest in the mercy of God. (It’s a short, easy read – a slice of life from the Saxton household featuring Maddie, our Aussie shepherd.)

Like any good parent, God is relentless in his love and care for us — perhaps especially when we are struggling. Today’s first reading reminds us of another side of God, the disciplinarian who loves us too much to let us remain ensnared by sin.

Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin.

Say not: “Great is his mercy;…

My many sins he will forgive.”

For mercy and anger alike are with him;

Upon the wicked alights his wrath.

Delay not your conversion to the LORD,

Put it not off from day to day.

Sirach 5:1-8

None of us knows for sure how much time she has on the  hourglass of life. Life is fleeting and fragile, and eternity is forever. The good news is that God has provided a way for us to rid ourselves of the toxic habits and unwanted burdens we carry, cleansing us in the sacrament of reconciliation and strengthening us in the Eucharist. Those who are sick and suffering can also avail themselves of the graces of the sacrament of anointing, to give them strength for the journey.

We need not fear death. Something greater is in store for each of us if we spend our lifetime following Christ. So rest in God . . . and keep short accounts.

God bless you! Pray for me as I head to Minneapolis for the W.I.N.E. conference on Saturday!

Blessed Imperfection

confirmationTonight we celebrated our daughter’s confirmation — an event that, until fairly recently, I wasn’t sure would take place. The small details — who would be the sponsor, when we didn’t know many people at this parish was near the top of the list — were overwhelming, not to mention the thought that the bishop would actually be looking at her. It was all too much.

But we found the perfect dress, and we pierced her ears, and we worked on her workbook, and her brother agreed to be her sponsor … and somehow, miracle of miracles, it all came together. She chose Mary, wanting the Blessed Mother herself to be her friend for life. What’s not to love about that?

There were still a few blips. At the last minute her best friend couldn’t come, and her favorite sitter didn’t remember, and all our family lives far away. And so it was just me and Craig sitting in the pew, beaming proudly as our kids walked up the aisle. And just as we got to the front of the line where we were going to have our picture taken with the bishop, we were told that he had taken his last family picture – only confirmandi and sponsors. I’ll admit, it stung a little. But as we watched the picture snap, and Sarah’s eyes lit up, I realized these little bits of imperfection really don’t matter that much. The point is, those confirmation graces could start flowing in earnest.

A bit later, a friend of mine and I were talking about our “bucket list,” and when I said I always wanted to walk the Camino, she heartily agreed. That is, until I told her that I’d do it on a moped, if necessary. “Oh, no!” she was horrified. “Do it right, or not at all!”

I had to chuckle. If I’ve learned nothing else as a parent, it’s that life is filled with blessed imperfections. That if you wait for everything to be perfect, you miss it. Sometimes, in fact, the blessedness is IN the tiny, little flaws that wear away the patina of perfection. It’s what we remember, what we celebrate.

Because in our hearts, we know we are imperfect, too.

Happy Confirmation, dear Mary. We love you!

 

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 30: Zebra Girl!

az_zebrasWhen I think of zebras, I immediately think “black-and-white.” Black-and-white thinking can be extremely stress-inducing. (Unless we’re talking about cookies, fresh from the Reading Terminal Market or Zabars Bakery. Those are stress-lifting, served with a proper cup of tea to cut the sweetness.)

But on zebras, those black-and-white stripes serve a purpose that is most fully realized when the zebras stick together. While no two sets of stripes are exactly alike (stripes on zebras are a bit like fingerprints on humans), when a herd of zebras stand close together, their stripes camouflage the individuals, making it harder for predators to attack.

What’s more, when predators do attack, the injured zebra is surrounded by the others, who band together to drive off the predator. For that reason, zebras do not sleep away from the herd; they depend on the safety of the group.

Are we really so different? When God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” he was pointing to the simple truth that one of the ways we reflect his image and likeness is that we are intrinsically social, designed to be in community with others. For women, it’s especially important to find the society of other women.

We are Zebra Girls: Individually, our stripes make us beautiful … yet we are strongest with the support of those whose stripes are like our own.

Recently I received a note from an old friend, whose absence from my life has been particularly difficult this past year. I had tried to reach out, tried to reconnect, but something had come between us. In time, I realized I needed to let go — I had to focus my energies on more immediate needs. But seeing her familiar handwriting in the mail, the pang hit again, and I realized just how much I had missed her.

Not every friendship is meant to last a lifetime. Some friends pass through our lives like gentle breezes, momentary gifts from the hand of God to fill a pressing need. What my friend taught me, though, is that even lifelong friendships have chapters. Sometimes the zebra steps away — or gets separated — from the herd. But our strength is in our stripes. And our stripes work best when we travel together.

Who do you need to call this week, Zebra Girl?

Photo Credit: “One Kind” webpage on the Zebra

“Karma” for Catholics?

what dreams may comeToday on Facebook I vented a teeny bit — as obliquely as possible — about  someone who has been an unspeakable thorn in my side.

“What is the Catholic equivalent of karma?” I asked, tongue in cheek. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to ask, “… the English equivalent of schadenfreude,” but then my grasp of German is another sore subject.

In reality, I realize there is no such thing as karma. Divine intervention, absolutely. Natural consequences, sure. Grace beyond imagining, no question. The whole Julian of Norwich school of “And all will be well, and all will be well, and all will be most well.”

Sometimes, though, taking the high road requires superhuman virtue; staying on that road requires an actual infusion of grace. For example, several months  ago someone I thought of as a friend inexplicably betrayed me. We happen to run in similar social circles, and so putting her entirely out of mind (which is typically how I handle this kind of thing) wasn’t an option. My attempt to reconcile (by letter) was ignored. She went her way, I went mine, and each time her name came up, my stomach would tighten.

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It doesn’t always feel good, at least not right away. Sometimes it can feel like the other person “wins” unjustly. It can be hard to let go, yet the person who said, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” did have a point.

And so, I did the only thing I knew how to do: Took the high road, in baby steps. Unclenched my grasp, finger by finger, and tried to move on. “Bless her, Lord. Or at least, make me willing to bless her. Or at least, make me willing to be willing to forgive.”

Do I wish the whole thing would come to light, once and for all? There was a time when I did. But today a wise person reminded me: We can’t really know the full implications of our actions (or anyone else’s) in this life, and we won’t fully “get it” until we get to see the whole story from God’s point of view. Like in the movie What Dreams May Come (one of my favorite films), even the worst moments of our lives can turn out to be … something beautiful.

The things that are most painful, here and now, will likely look very different in heavenly light. And that is the ultimate grace, knowing that each day is one step closer to home … and lasting peace.

Bless them, God. Bless them all.

 

 

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 25: Understand Your Limitations

time suitcaseAre you a “drama junkie”?

When I was a kid, my Sunday school teachers taught me that “joy” was about “Putting Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.”

What they didn’t say is that is also the recipe for resentment, when the balance gets out of whack.

I’ve had to learn the hard way, for example, that holding down a full-time job and full-time family means that there is only so much I can do for someone in crisis. Pray. Call. Take a meal or send a comfort box. Perhaps work out a short visit. But I cannot in most cases make the problem go away — and if I spend too much time helping my neighbor tend his garden, the weeds begin to take over my own.

It often doesn’t feel like enough. Selfish, even. But is it selfish to recognize that I have limited resources (time, energy, money) and need to prioritize giving my family what they need?

Sometimes, my “drama junkie” tendencies win, and I rush headlong toward a crisis, trying to eradicate any trace of the problem — there’s a rewarding kind of emotional rush that goes with it. It took me a long time to realize this, but this is a very real form of selfishness, abdicating the responsibilities of my own vocation in order to over-extend myself in someone else’s garden.

The last time I did that — taking over the care of three boys whose mother was fighting leukemia — put my own children at risk (something we discovered, and paid for dearly, a year later). Sure, my friend needed help — but my children needed protecting even more. That experience taught me the importance of understanding my own limitations, and of not letting the “drama junkie” win.

Do you have to fight your inner “drama junkie”? Is there any area of your life where you are over-extending yourself, and need to acknowledge your limitations?

 

 

 

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 19: Orient Toward Beauty

The other day I came across David Clayton’s “The Way of Beauty” series at Catholic.TV. An iconographer and artist-in-residence at St. Thomas More College in New Hampshire, Clayton explores the art and architecture of various time periods, to show how the transcendent was communicated even to the illiterate . . . through beauty.

mary icon The highly stylized beauty of icons is something that can be appreciated on many levels; learning how to interpret the artist’s intention can greatly increase one’s appreciation for the image.

What is true for icons is also true for us as women: The more we know about the intention of God, the Creator, the better we are able to recognize our own “way of beauty,” and see it in the world around us.

And let not your adornment be merely external– braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 1 Peter 3:3

This verse can be something of a relief for those of us who spend most of our days working at home with nothing but a thin layer of face cream to accentuate our beauty. (Wait. And CLOTHES, of course. Though none of my “work out  home” outfits would be seen within a mile of any catwalk.)

So, today’s de-stresser? Orient yourself toward beauty in order to feed that “hidden person of the heart.” Like Julie Cameron in The Artist’s Way recommends, make an “artist’s date” with yourself to experience the world with all your senses, and drink in the beauty. Thank God for it, and use that  moment of thankfulness to begin a dialogue. For all that is most beautiful, ultimately points to the Artist.