Day 4: Beauty

40 day challenge 20thballroom image

As always, begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Ladies, when was the last time you unleashed your inner diva on your husband, for no reason other than to remind him of the girl he married? When was the last time he noticed the sparkle in your eye, the music in your laugh, the many evidences of care and hominess you put into your home, to make it a place you all want to be?

What’s that? Your inner diva got lost in the wash? Your Marie Kondo is a Kon-Don’t? It’s okay … Lent is a time for new beginnings. You can always start over!

Today’s theme is beauty. It’s one of the transcendent virtues that (along with truth and goodness) have whispered of the very nature of God since the beginning of time . . . and how we, as creatures made in God’s image, reveal a glimpse of God’s original design as well as our eternal destiny.

A few months back I felt as though we needed to add a bit of fun to our lives, and bought a couple of seats to our local “Wine and Paint” club. Neither of us is particularly handy with a paint brush, but it’s amazing what a bottle of wine and a plate of tapas will do for creative juices! See?

Date night

It can be easy to lose sight of beauty when both you and your husband lounge around the house for days at a time in your PJs (telecommuting does have its perks, but it’s important not to save the best of ourselves for the outside world!). So go ahead, surprise your husband with a special lunch. Invest in a pretty pajama set. Rock out the house with the classical arias or alternative rock albums that make his pulse flutter. Revel in YOUR kind of beauty.

One of the gifts of the vocation of marriage is that we become icons of beauty for our husbands, often in the most unexpected ways, as they see the light of love shining in our eyes. Something to think about.

And so, tonight after the kids are in bed, pour yourselves a glass of wine, linger over a lovely table, and together, thank God for the beauty of your marriage.

How are you celebrating  beauty today? Why not share with us on Facebook at “The 40 Day Challenge”?

Advertisements

Day 3: Acceptance

40 day challenge 20th

Welcome to the third day of the challenge!

Did you remember to start the day with the Prayer of Abandonment”? If not, go ahead . . . I’ll wait.

Starting today, we will take up the “heart” of the challenge by focusing each day on a quality or charism that is essential to a happy marriage. You’ll find that (more or less) I’ve arranged them in alphabetical order. (If you think I’ve missed any, go ahead and shout it out in the comments!)

Today’s theme is “acceptance.”  (We got a bit of a head start yesterday, but it’s such an important part of marriage I don’t think a little review will hurt!)

Watching my mother decline — particularly mentally, as her dementia intensifies — I’ve often made the mistake that many caregivers struggle with, arguing with her when her version of reality doesn’t align with mine. This is particularly hard when her version causes her great anguish or fear. But as I’ve turned to others who have been where we are now, they all say the same thing: When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This means being gentle and empathetic as you guide them to whatever it is you need them to do.

We all need to be understood, to feel as though someone really “gets” what we are going through. This, too, is a form of acceptance. Even when we hate the choices our loved one makes, and are forced to bear the consequences as well, being able to put ourselves in the shoes of that other person can make all the difference in our ability to love.

Think about your husband, and all he is and does for you. What can you do to practice the gift of acceptance?

Teresa-21

Are you enjoying this Lenten series? Please support the effort if possible by picking up a copy of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Thank you!

Day 2: The Silence of Scholastica

40 day challenge 20th

Today we begin by offering the Prayer of Abandonment. 

I’ve always had a special fondness for St. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict. St. Gregory the Great records what little we know of her life, including the story of the last time she saw her brother in their annual meeting place between their two cloisters. As the day drew to a close, she begged her brother to remain there and talk with her through the night — but he was eager to get back to the monastery. Seeing further entreaty was pointless, she simply asked God to keep him from going. And God sent a storm. After talking through the night, brother and sister parted ways, and shortly after that Benedict saw a dove ascend to heaven, and understood his sister had died.

scholastica2The silence of Scholastica is the theme of today’s “reflection for two.” How often do we find ourselves in a situation when the best and most uplifting thing we can do for our marriage is . . . to remain silent, and pray for God’s gentle action in our hearts?

Early in my marriage, I found it almost impossible to let a day go by without offering some kind of (unsolicited) wifely advice. (Most of it was ignored, but to his credit he never lost his temper!) As time went on, however, I realized that the constant criticism was eating away at his confidence, particularly where the kids were concerned. On the other hand, the more I affirmed my confidence in his ability to handle things, the more our family benefitted!

And so today, as you offer your “Prayer of Abandonment,” ask God to remind you (gently) the next time he wants you to follow the example of Scholastica, to say nothing at all and to ask him to reach your husband’s heart in a way you feel you cannot. God bless you!

Teresa-21

If you are enjoying this Lenten series, please support the effort if possible by picking up a copy of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Thank you!

Day 1: Let’s Get Started!

40 day challenge 20th

Happy Ash Wednesday! Welcome to this new edition of the 40 Day Challenge: 20th Anniversary Edition. You don’t have to be married 20 years to do the challenge — this is something you can do at any stage of your marriage! But I wanted to dedicate this year’s challenge to those whose marriage has been through all kinds of seasons, and invite you to share your wisdom here as you are able. (You can always PM me if you don’t want to go public!)

On this first day of Lent, perhaps you made a visit to the church to get your annual “love smudge,” to declare to all the world your “yes” to God. Yes, you want to follow Jesus even when it means taking up those little crosses (and sometimes some big ones).

What are the crosses you’ve faced this year? For me, it was starting a second year of taking care of my elderly mother in our home. I can’t think of a richer, more meaningful expression of love than when my husband agreed to take Mom in to live with us. It represented a huge change to our family, but he wanted to be sure that when I looked back after Mom is gone, I had no regrets. Even if it meant I can’t work full-time. Even if it means he has to pick up the slack around the house, and watch for the signs that I am burning out (again).

What are your signs? Do you get short with your husband and kids? (I do!) Do you seek comfort in junk food or mindless television? (Yep!) Do you find yourself complaining to whomever will listen about your lot in life? (Guilty.)

So what if, for this Lent, we tried to be more intentional about choosing the good, the beautiful, and the true? Affirming the generous impulses in those we love. Seeing the beauty all around us, and sharing it with others? Pushing aside the temptation to gripe, and finding the little truths that are hidden in the crevices of daily life?

What is the truth God is whispering to your heart today? What is he asking you to take up for these next forty days? Don’t be afraid! We can do this together!

As with the other years, this Challenge is centered around the “Prayer of Abandonment” by Charles de Foucauld. The first time I heard this prayer, it terrified me. Especially since the priest who gave it to us said that not only should we pray this prayer every day to God, but that we should consider reciting it to our spouses as well, if we wanted to really rejuvenate our relationship.

“Yeah, right,” was my immediate response.  It was one thing to offer this prayer of surrender to the Almighty, perfect in every way. Quite another thing to say it to … well, almost anyone else. Including the man I love. That’s a lot of power to give someone.

But as we start this 40 Day Challenge, let us begin this day and every day with this prayer in our hearts.  Let’s trust God to work a miracle in our hearts, to help us to surrender even the hard stuff with love and trust.

For the next 40 days, we will begin with this prayer. You may want to write it down and tape it to your bathroom mirror or over the sink, as a reminder of your intention.

Father,

I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you:

I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.

I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;

I offer it to you

with all the love of my heart,

for I love you, Lord,

and so need to give myself,

to surrender myself into your hands,

without reserve,

and with boundless confidence,

for you are my Father.

Teresa-21

Are you enjoying this Lenten series? Please support the effort if possible by picking up a copy of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta. If you would like an autographed copy, send me a check for $15 and I’ll send one to you. My address: 10350 Royal Oak Ct., Osceola IN 46561. Thank you!

Mortality Road

What is it like, to watch a parent die from dementia? It varies so much from person to person, of course … I can only share what it is like, watching my own mother: It is a roller coaster called Mortality Road; no one ever wants to get onboard, and once you are on, you are helpless to escape.

This roller coaster called dementia has reached a new low point for us this week. I look at my mother, curled in a ball on her bed, her eyes vacant. She does not eat, drink, or speak. And I feel as helpless as I did as a child, when her rages would drive me to my room, rooting around for a safe space. But now the only rages are taking place inside her head, where I cannot hear them — and cannot contradict.

There’s no running now. I’m in charge. Or so it says on paper. In reality, it’s her mental demons that are calling all the shots. Sometimes the voice sounds like my father, other times it’s this ever-present asshole my mother calls “The Judge,” telling her she is going to be executed for her many failings.

The chaplain at her daycare has given her a “Certificate of Innocence.” Her doctors have repeatedly told her she needs to take care of herself by eating and drinking. I have done everything I can think of, tempting her with all the things that used to make her eyes twinkle.

And here it is, 2:00 in the afternoon, and her breakfast tray remains untouched. I have to step away for a moment, just to take a deep breath and remind myself that it is the disease, and not my mother, who is at the root of the problem. She is not fighting for control. She has already been beaten by these unseen powers.

We are walking Mortality Road. And ever step gets steeper and harder.

We are facing the fact that, in the end, this disease is going to kill her.

And the only satisfaction I can take from it all.

The only thing that keeps me from feeling like a total failure.

Is knowing that we persevered, together, no matter what.

And that when it is over, the clouds will clear,

And she will know with the blessed assurance of eternity

Just how much she was loved all along.

“A Walk in the Woods” with Mom

Every night before she goes to sleep, I read to Mom. Sometimes it’s a devotional like Jesus Calling or a chapter from her Bible. Sometimes I give her a “sneak preview” of one of the books I’m editing. (She particularly liked Forgiveness Makes You Free, by Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga.

If you liked the movie, read the book … Heck, even if you DIDN’T, read it anyway!

This weeks’ book du jour is from my favorites shelf, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. For those who haven’t yet stumbled on this one (and who missed the movie), it’s a delightful romp about two middle-aged men who set put one spring to walk the two-thousand something miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Now, my mother and I have some history with this particular trail. When I was a Junior in Girl Scouts, and my mom was the troop leader, she and her friend decided to take a group of us to High Point State Park to practice our trail marking skills. She divided us into three groups: The first group was to mark the trail, second to follow the marks, and the third (also presumably following) would clean up as they went. We would all meet back at the car for Smores before heading back to the school parking lot to our parents.

Our third group fared best. When the second group managed to erase the trail marks in their eagerness to read the signs, the third group merely followed the path back to the car. An hour later, when the other two groups didn’t show up, the leader decided to take her group back to the school so their parents wouldn’t worry. Meanwhile, the first group had missed the park’s markings, and took a “shortcut” that put us on the Appalachian Trail. Two hours later, my mother was standing on the side of the road with eight middle-schoolers (group two had caught up with her), miles away from where we should have been.

This was long before cell phones (or Amber Alerts). As dusk fell, we emerged from the woods and found ourselves on the side of a (relatively) busy highway. And so, when a bearded gentlemen in a Volkswagen bus pulled up and offered us a lift back to the park … I guess some angels do wear flannel.

I don’t remember what happened after that, other than (a) we arrived back in the school parking lot three hours after we said we’d be there and (b) it was the last troop outing I remember my mother leading. Apart from missing the smores (the greedy guts in the first group ate them all), we were none the worse for wear. It had been an adventure, and one of the few clear memories I still have of my scouting experiences. Not all bad, right?

So … this week as Mom and I read this Appalachian Trail adventure,  and laugh over the antics of Bill and Katz, I’m happy to find that Mom is alert and seems to be enjoying it more than some of the other books I’ve tried. “I just love the Appalachian Trail,” she murmurs.

So do I, Mom. So do I.

Labor Pains in the Church

This morning the top story on my Facebook newsfeed was a post about the sudden resignation of one of my former profs at Sacred Heart Major Seminary — one of the few female professors, who had taught there for decades. God alone knows the full story, and the point of sharing even this much is to acknowledge my own grief and dismay over just how broken the Body of Christ has become. Color me naïve, but never in a million years would I have suspected just how widespread this sickness had grown.

go bravelyThen, mercifully, a bit of light came in the form of another post, this one by Ave author Emily Wilson. Like me, she has grown weary of the brokenness that has surfaced in the Church. In her post, “Labor, Delivery, and Our Sick and Sorry Church” she compares what is going on in the Church today with the painful realities of childbirth, particularly C-section:

There are evil men in my Church who have abused their power at the expense of thousands of innocent people whose lives are forever altered by such abuse, and  … spineless cowards … who have covered for these monsters and done absolutely nothing to protect the vulnerable except turn a blind eye and pretend to be exhibiting “leadership.” Any person with a brain would wonder why anyone would stay when the continued cover-ups of abuse and corruption go so deep and wide it is unfathomable.

But on that Sunday in the hospital, as I sat on my bed with my baby in a clear box on wheels next to me, and this woman held up the Eucharist, I received “His body, given up” for me. Those words I had spoken to my baby so many times the day before this Eucharist…they are the reason I stay.  

To be Catholic is to understand that pain and suffering is not without purpose when it becomes a purifying force, joined to the sufferings of Christ. In his March 2002 homily that was later picked up by the Los Angeles Times,  my friend Monsignor Clem Connelly observed, “What’s happening is good for the church,” he told parishioners. “Bad for its image, maybe, but good for the church. In some miraculous way . . . through the growing of the Holy Spirit in the church, we will find our way to a new day in which there is more honesty, courage, faith and accountability.”

That was more than fifteen years ago. So much has happened since that time, and yet his words continue to hold true. The pain and suffering of the faithful — innocent laity and clergy alike — are like the labor pains of the mother whose body has betrayed her, and must be splayed open in order to give that child life. “This is my body, given up for you.”

Give us strength, dear Jesus, not to waiver. And give us sustaining faith that we might never turn away from the scalpel of the Great Physician.