Day 7: Diversions

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment. (Have you memorized it yet?)

Today’s theme is “diversions.” A bit of an overlap from yesterday . . . but whereas we “dream” together, a good marriage includes a variety of physically and spiritually healthy diversions, both together and independently.

One Christmas I splurged and got Craig a camera he’d had his eye on for some time now. It was more money than I’d ever spent on a Christmas present. But watching his eyes light up, and seeing him play with the lenses and filters with all the excitement of a kid with a toy train, I knew I was investing in our family’s future memory bank.

From that moment, the pace of our family outings slowed. “Hold on, Heidi! Let me get this shot!” he’d call to me on one of our family walks, fiddling with the lenses again as Sarah and I struck a pose and Chris pulled up the hood on his jacket. Maddy was the only one who seemed to enjoy it . . . other than Craig, who reveled in getting the perfect shot. DSCF0569

It can be a real temptation for any couple, as their family grows, to get so caught up in the merry-go-round of sleep-eat-work-eat-sleep that we forget what it is to live. What diversions do you most enjoy, that have gone by the wayside? How can you strengthen your relationship just a bit more today, by taking it up again?

While healthy diversions can do a great deal to strengthen a good marriage, toxic diversions (explicit movies or books, excessive drinking, or becoming overly invested in work or volunteer commitments) can wreak havoc on our relationships. Is there an area of concern here? If you’ve raised the issue before and have been unable to settle it, consider making an appointment with your pastor or a marriage counselor to discuss it.

“A clean heart can see God, can speak to God, and can see the love of God in others,” writes Mother Teresa. “When you have a clean heart it means you are open and honest with God, you are not hiding anything from him, and this lets him take what he wants from you.” (p.27, “Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.”)

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Day 3: Acceptance

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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?

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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!

Give Your Love Life a “Faith Lift”

Teresa-21Try saying THAT ten times fast!

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive to be thinking of marriage enrichment during Lent — a season that, for most Catholics, is associated with scarcity and self-denial. You also might be wondering what this dear “saint of the slums” — a celibate religious — has to say about married life.

But if you are looking for a way to build up love in your life, or believe (like Mother Teresa often said) that “The best way to change the world is to go home and love your family,” I hope you’ll join me on this journey over the next forty days!

At this time of year, many people think about what to “give up” for Lent. For some it’s chocolate or alcohol – for others it means stepping up your spiritual reading. (If you’re looking for a gentle way to ease yourself into daily spiritual reading, pick up a copy of my new book Lent with Teresa of Calcutta).

A few years ago, I read a book by Archbishop Fulton Sheen that inspired a different approach. I decided to give my marriage a “love lift” with the 40 Day Challenge.

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In Love, Marriage and Children, Archbishop Sheen describes the three “moments” of marriage that each of us must encounter: ecstasy, crisis, and renewal.

The first moment is characterized by the sheer joy and ecstatic happiness of early marriage. This idyllic time of mutual joy, however, is often short-lived. Invariably reality sets in, which Sheen describes as the second moment,  “crisis.” Although it may indeed take the form of a sudden trauma or challenge – a lost job, an illness or moral failure – it may simply come in a series of gradual realizations that your partner is not the man (or woman) of your dreams, after all. “Suddenly there is an awakening that the marriage is something like luggage; one finds in it only what was packed. … During this hour of crisis many marriages collapse because the partners do not know the law of life and do not stay together long enough to know one another…. Sometimes the partners begin to live apart or else are alone together: ‘I take my solitude with me; you take your solitude with you.’”

Ironically, it is this “wake-up call” that, according to Sheen, is the gateway to lasting marital happiness. “If one but dies to egotism and selfishness. The aridity that one feels is not the defeat of love, but a challenge. … The hour is struck when the couple must realize that the taking of love’s stronghold is dependent on the siege of self; too often it is at this moment that the cowards leave and sink back into mediocrity.”

On the other hand, those who persevere in love find that their love enters a third “moment,” with renew life.  “A new kind of beauty comes in this third moment. One of the elements of beauty is surprise, and with the unfolding of the years there comes the new surprises through the deepening of the mind and heart, for it is love that makes anything beautiful.”

Would you like to experience renewed beauty and love in your home? Do you believe God wants that for you and your spouse?  Consider joining me on a “40 Day Challenge.” Let’s pray together, asking God to bless our marriages and our families as we seek to live out more faithfully our own vocations.

For forty days, how many ways can we say “no” to self, and “yes” to our life’s partner – without pious subtext or martyred airs? In how many ways can we, joyfully and prayerfully, offer our love back to God, that He might infuse it with the newfound hope of resurrected love?

For the forty days of Lent (which begin this Wednesday), I will be posting here and linking to this “40 Day Challenge” Facebook Page.  Feel free to chime in as you are inspired, with your intentions or thoughts of your own on that day’s topic. If you’d like to have me post your thoughts anonymously, drop me a line at Heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com, with “40 Day Challenge” in the subject line.)

Let’s pray for one another!

 

Prioritize Ruthlessly

Teresa-21For those who are unemployed or self-employed, figuring out how to spend time wisely can be a real challenge. There is always more to do than time to do it. And so, last week when my friend Jennifer Fulwiler had an online “web event” to launch the paperback edition of her memoir  “Something Other Than God, I logged on and asked Jen how she manages to do everything she does: She homeschools her kids, hosts her own radio show, writes books and keynotes at practically every major Catholic gathering across the country.

Her two-word response was deceptively simple: prioritize ruthlessly. “When I wanted to write a book, I had to set aside everything else except my family. I couldn’t attend every church function or do the other things I wanted to do, because there wasn’t time. I had to prioritize ruthlessly to get it done.”

I knew she was right. Door-testing takes time. Once people heard I was looking for work, I suddenly had a L-O-N-G list of invitations of (unpaid) things well worth doing (and likely couldn’t have done had I still been employed). This weekend, for instance, I helped to host the Franciscan profession of the Immaculate Conception Fraternity here in Mishawaka, whipping up large pans of my signature chicken and rice dish to feed nearly 200 people. I also baked enough gingerbread to make 10 houses with the YDisciple group at church. It was fun, and it got me out of the house. On the other hand, if I got in the habit of doing these kinds of grand-scale projects, what would it do to the job hunt?

This morning I was on Relevant Radio, talking with Kyle Heimann about my new book  Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  Servant’s publicity team, Kennedy-Brownrigg, has done a great job of lining up interviews for the book, and so I am talking about Mother Teresa a lot these days. This morning, I got to thinking about how she had to prioritize ruthlessly as well. With thousands of lepers lining the streets of Calcutta, how did she know which ones to help? How did she find the strength to EXPAND her work to other countries, given the level of need right where she was?

I found a nugget of insight in her book One Heart Full of Love, in which she describes what it was like to accept an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Cambridge. At first she protested. “You know full well that I have not studied theology. I just simply try always to live it out.” And yet, ultimately she accepted the honor. Why?

In reality, the event was a gift from God. And it was not just for me personally but for you, for the sisters, and for our poor. We must appreciate and accept it with all humility of heart, so that we can offer it to Jesus. After all, it belongs to him. All glory and honor are his. We must let Jesus use us as he sees fit. In that way, every aspect of our life of prayer, of fundraising, and of feeding and clothing the poor complement each other. They cannot be separated. One cannot be done without the other. None of them can be done without prayer. Your generosity and your sacrifices must be the fruit of your prayer life. (p.67-68).

In good times and bad, the measure of what is to be done is the same: all is the fruit of prayer, done for love of Jesus. The harder tasks keep us humble and trusting. And the “fun” things need not be written off as distractions, so long as we can offer them to God (that keeps the true distractions at bay, such as the big-screen time-suck in the living room). It becomes easier to prioritize when I ask myself not, “What do I want to do today?” but “God, what do YOU want me to do today?”

Excuse me, now. A little angel is calling me to go clean the carpets, a little prelude to the Thanksgiving celebration ahead.