Friday, 28 April 2017

Learning through the Letters: Romans



We're continuing today with my feature "Learning through the Letters", and this time I'm sharing verses from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, which he wrote before a visit he hoped to make to the church at Rome. Bible scholars agree that this letter holds St. Paul's most complete message.

In Romans 1:16-17, we hear quite clearly how powerful and necessary the gospel is to our walk with Christ: I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God's power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles. For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the scripture says, "The person who is put right with God through faith shall live." This verse is a great motivation for me to spend time daily in the Word and to teach my children how important it is to make time to read the Bible every day. It also makes me happy that we are living in a post-Vatican II world, where the Church puts great emphasis on the Bible.

Do you, my friend, pass judgement on others? You have no excuse at all, whoever you are. For when you judge others and then do the same things which they do, you condemn yourself. Romans 2:1 This is a good reminder. Which one of us doesn't fall victim to the sin of pride, or thinking we are better than others? Who doesn't sometimes judge others, even in small ways? This is a great reminder that it's not our place to judge anyone -- especially since we all sin in our own way.

I love the following verses on how we are put right with God: God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence. But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. God offered him, so that by his blood he should become the means by which people's sins are forgiven through their faith in him... Romans 3:21-25 This reminds me that the distinction between denominations is not the biggest thing there is -- Jesus Christ is. And while I believe the Roman Catholic Church is the true church that Christ started, I don't doubt for a moment that our Protestant brothers and sisters are pleasing God when they honour and praise Jesus Christ.

Abraham believed and hoped, even when there was no reason for hoping, and so became "the father of many nations." Just as the scripture says, "Your descendants will be as many as the stars." Romans 4:18 Imagine what God could accomplish in our lives if we open ourselves up to that kind of hope! Again, a few verses later, we read: His faith did not leave him, and he did not doubt God's promise; his faith filled him with power, and he gave praise to God. He was absolutely sure that God would be able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21 

Because we all struggle with sin, I find these verses very encouraging and helpful in the battle with the enemy: Sin must no longer rule in your mortal bodies, so that you obey the desires of your natural self. Nor must you surrender any part of yourselves to sin to be used for wicked purposes. Instead, give yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes. Sin must not be your master; for you do not live under the law but under God's grace. Romans 6:12-14

When struggling with worry, anxiety and fear, I think this passage will be very helpful -- in fact, it is one of my favourites, another "life-verse": For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God's children and by the Spirit's power we cry out to God, "Father! my Father!" God's Spirit joins himself to our spirits to declare that we are God's children. Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; for if we share Christ's suffering, we will also share his glory. Romans 8:15-17 This is so wonderful -- to think, God joins his Spirit to our spirits! We are strong, not in and of ourselves, but of God! How's that for a reminder when your self-esteem is feeling taxed?

And for a supremely comforting verse, we read: We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 Not only is God working everything for our good, but He has an amazing purpose for each one of us! Again, I really feel like this verse would help a believer who struggles with low self-esteem, and which of us hasn't been there at one time or another?

Who, then, can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble do it, or hardship, or persecution or hunger or poverty or danger or death? As the scripture says, 'For your sake we are in danger of death at all times; we are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love; neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below -- there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 There is so much to unpack here! I really love these verses. I remember when I was around 17, and was really struggling with anxiety and panic, I posted the second part of this verse on  my wall. It really comforted me and helped me during that difficult time. These verses tell us that we have nothing to fear -- there is absolutely nothing in any shape or form that can take away God's love for us that Christ won. What amazing love!

So then, my friends, because of God's great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God -- what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 I find this really encouraging, because if we look at the world's standards of success and fulfillment, who could possibly measure up? On social media, on television, in magazines and all around us we are bombarded with images of people's "perfect" lives: and usually, they revolve around two things: sex and money. But that is not God's plan for us. And thank goodness -- because none of that can ever bring lasting peace or joy. Only God can do that.

Sometimes, I struggle with a low mood. It's not necessarily a sad feeling, just a blah feeling. It can be due to lack of sleep, my body's cycle, or stress. Sometimes, I can't find a reason for it. It can make it hard to be joyful in day to day living, but God always gets me through it. I find this verse particularly encouraging and uplifting in these times: Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. Romans 12:12 Again, this is a great reminder and a great antidote to what the media and society tells us -- that we must be strong and brilliant at all times, beautiful, witty, popular, successful and wealthy. That's not real life! We all have times of stress, times of sadness or anger. We all go through things that test us. And we must remember to actively seek out joy and seek out God, especially during times when joy is hard to feel! Praying at all times helps us to be patient, and gives us strength and comfort.

Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:18 I've been praying about this and trying to live it out lately -- and at first it can seem hard to try to make overtures of love and kindness to those who annoy us or who have even hurt us, but once you get into the swing of it, it really feels good -- regardless of how they react!

The night is nearly over, day is almost here. Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light. Romans 13:12 I love the vitality and hope that is so alive in this verse! We all struggle with sin, but every day we should strive to put it behind us and follow Christ.

So then, let us stop judging one another. Instead, you should decide never to do anything that would make others stumble or fall into sin. Romans 14:13 What a great reminder this is. My husband is always reminding me not to be judgmental of others, because he (rightly) believes that once I get into that habit of judging, I end up judging myself, and that never ends well. I also love how St. Paul tells us here that we need to be respectful of other believers and where they are at in their walk with Christ. Different people have different temptations, and different struggles with their faith. We should never challenge (in a negative way, or even in a positive way before they are ready) where they are at, but seek only to build them up.

So then, we must always aim at those things that bring peace and that help strengthen one another. Romans 14:19 This ties in well with Romans 14:13. We're human, so we can be contrary and irritable and argumentative. But God wants us to be more than that -- to be loving and kind and helpful with each other. Imagine if we all tried our very best to bring peace and strength to everyone we come into contact with each day. What would that look like? Maybe a smile, and a quick chat with the clerk at the grocery store or the teller at the bank? Maybe an extra cuddle with your child, and a heart to heart about just how special they are to you. Maybe it would mean doing something special and romantic for your spouse just out of sheer love for them. There are countless ways we can strive to build up the people in our lives.

We who are strong in the faith ought to help the weak carry their burdens. We should not please ourselves. Instead, we should all please other believers for their own good, in order to build them up in the faith. Romans 15:1-2 Again, St. Paul motivates his intended audience, and us too, to help those that are just starting out in the faith, or who are perhaps experiencing scrupulosity, doubt and fear. During one of the times I felt God calling me back to the Catholic church, I started out full of zeal and excitement, but I backed away fairly quickly because I was weak in my faith in God, and I got caught up in all the legality of religion. It ended up causing me a lot of anxiety and fear, and kept me from returning. Thankfully, God wrought peace in my heart and the next time he called me back, I listened and trusted, and my homecoming felt so right. I think if I had had a strong Catholic friend or mentor helping me, it wouldn't have taken me as long to get "home to Rome". So I hope that, one day, I can help other Catholics or lapsed Catholics or Christians who feel God's Holy Spirit calling them to the Church Christ established, and encourage them to embrace the fullness of it all.

May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 This is just so beautiful, and I want to write it out and put it somewhere I will see it often. God is our source of hope, and we need to open ourselves to His in-pouring of joy and peace in our lives by striving to be strong in our faith. And even when we don't feel strong in our faith, even when we experience doubts, we know that God is always working in us. We can offer up those doubts and negative feelings, fear and anxiety, or whatever it may be, and just tell God, "I trust You. I love You. Help me to love You and trust You more each day."

These are just my thoughts and musings on these Bible verses. I don't claim to be a Bible scholar or a theologian. I'm just a Catholic woman, trying to learn more about my true love, Jesus Christ! I hope that you are encouraged to delve into your own Bible, and see what God is trying to teach you! It's very possible and most likely that you will read the same verse as I did, and take away something entirely different from it -- this is why it is called the living Word of God -- it's mysterious, and miraculous, and oh so beautiful.

photo credit: Brian Koprowski <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/8657772@N03/21515022565">Are You Not Entertained?</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">(license)</a>

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Learning through the Letters: Colossians

Ruins near the area of Colossae, in modern-day Turkey

This is my second blog post where I discuss the Bible verses that really spoke to me from one of the letters of the New Testament. My hope is that these verses might speak to someone else, and that I can encourage others to study the Word and pray over it, asking God to illuminate to them some truths that will help them grow in their walk in Christ. Keep in mind these are my own thoughts on the specific verses that jumped out at me -- I am in no way a Biblical scholar, and I am not trying to teach anybody -- just to encourage!

As Catholics, we sometimes don't pay as much attention to the Bible as our Protestant brothers and sisters, especially our evangelical family in Christ. Thankfully, many Catholics are now focusing on reading their Bible daily, and I am one of them! So without further ado, here is Learning through the Letters: Colossians.

St. Paul wrote this letter to the church located at Colossae, a town east of Ephesus in Asia minor. While he did not establish this church, St. Paul did send out workers to it, and so felt responsible for the believers there when he heard that false teachers had infiltrated their group. These false teachers were instructing the Christians at Colossae that to be fully saved they needed to worship spiritual rulers and authorities and had to observe strict rules about things like the food they ate.

The first verse that really spoke to me as I studied St. Paul's letter to the Colossians is Colossians 1:11-12: May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. 

There is so much in this verse to love! Where do we start? Let's work our way backwards this time. Isn't it wonderful to realize the truth that God has reserved our birthright that Christ guaranteed for us? That it is waiting for us in the "kingdom of light"? How encouraging and inspiring! Knowing that we have this amazing birthright waiting for us makes the trials of this world that much easier to bear.

Then, we see that St. Paul once again asks the believers to be joyful and thankful to the Father. Joy is such a huge part of the Christian life, but it can be hard to grab hold of in this day and age. We get busy, we get stressed, we get fearful and bitter. But if we can find ways to keep hold of the joy -- and, as St. Paul suggests, being grateful is a great way of doing this (by the way, therapists and psychologists will also attest to the power of gratitude to bring about happiness), we can truly live out the message of Christ.

And at the very start of the verse, St. Paul tells the believers to be strong -- but not with their own strength; with the strength that comes from the power of God, which will allow them to endure all things with patience. What are you going through right now? How is your patience being tested? When you remember that you, as a believer, have the strength of God on your side, you can let go and let God in trust and patience.

The next verse I really like serves as a reminder to those of us who have been on our walk with Christ for a long time. As a Catholic, I don't see myself as being "saved" or "born-again". I realize that with my baptism I was washed from original sin and incorporated into God's family, and that my salvation is an ongoing process, but all down to the grace of God. I feel like this verse backs that up: You must, of course, continue faithful on a firm and sure foundation, and must not allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel. Colossians 1:23

We all go through cycles in our life, and our faith life is no different. There are times when everyone feels like their spiritual life has become dry. But one person I once encountered on a Catholic forum online said that God values whatever fruit we offer up to Him -- even the fruit of spiritual dryness. Even if we feel like we're not in a place where we're making much progress in our walk with God, as long as we still have faith that He is on this walk with us -- as long as we don't remove ourselves from the path -- we can be confident that we are on our way to being ever closer to Him.

God's plan is to make known the secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. Colossians 1:27

Just pause and let that sink in for a bit. Read it again. Really savour it. Christ -- the Son of God, one part of the Holy Trinity, is in US! Just as we are -- despite our struggles and our sins. He is in our hearts...and we will all share in God's glory because of Him! How immense. What better motivation do we need to treat ourselves and each other with dignity, kindness and love?

Since you have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, live in union with him. Keep your roots deep in him, build your lives on him, and become stronger in your faith, as you were taught. And be filled with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:7

This is another life-verse for me. Just because, as a baptized Catholic, I've had my original sin washed away, that does not mean that I don't still struggle with sin itself. I've been praying that God would give me a true conviction in my heart for an aversion of anything I do that He does not approve of. In this way, I hope that I can live in true union with Christ and, as the beautiful imagery St. Paul uses in the above verse says, to keep my roots deep in Him, where they will be enriched and nourished by His love and sacrifice. How do I do this? Well, I go to Mass. I receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and I take part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I spend daily time in the Word and in prayer, and I ask the Blessed Mother and the saints to guide me along the way, and to pray that I am brought ever closer to Christ. And when we look at the richness of the Catholic faith -- of the many great examples that the saints and other believers have left us -- the guarantee that Christ would never leave our Church -- how can we not be filled with thanksgiving?

I was recently listening to some writings of Pope Francis in an audio book, and in it he talked about how we need to place lots of importance on remembering, honouring and living out our baptism. I think that the Holy Father's teachings fall exactly in line with this verse, Colossians 2:12: For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. But how can an infant who is baptized have faith, you may ask (if you are not Catholic, lol!). Faith is not of our own doing -- it is a gift from God, and He bestows it with love. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him.

There's a whole section in St. Paul's letters to the Colossians that deal with "the old life and the new". Here is what he has to say:

You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions, and greed (for greed is a form of idolatry). Because of such things God's anger will come upon those who do not obey them. Colossians 3:5. What more motivation do we need to put aside our old sinful natures? We will never achieve perfection, but that doesn't mean that we should tolerate sin in ourselves without constantly striving to be better.

Again, St. Paul writes, in Colossians 3:8-10: But now you must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings. No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self. This is the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself. I think it would really benefit me if I wrote this out and stuck it somewhere I often look -- near my calendar, or on my fridge, perhaps. If I read this daily, perhaps when my sinful nature takes over and I get frustrated, angry or bitter towards someone or something, I can guard myself against falling into such sinful patterns, and instead trust God to finish the good work He has started in me.

And, now that he's listed the things we should avoid, St. Paul goes on to describe the kind of attitude and behaviour we need to strive for in Colossians 3:12-14: You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So, then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity. This reads like a recipe, and perhaps it is: a recipe to encourage holiness in ourselves. This is how St. Paul wishes us to treat other believers, but what about non-believers? In Colossians 4:5-6: Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers, making good use of every opportunity you have. Your speech should always be pleasant and interesting, and you should know how to give the right answer to everyone.

St. Paul gives us a lot to think about, and a lot to strive for, in his letter to the Colossians. It can seem like a tall order at times, but not if we remember that God is always at work in us, to help us on our way.

photo credit: Panegyrics of Granovetter <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/37174512@N03/4791202166">5062</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Learning through the Letters: Philippians

Ruins in Macedonia, where the church of the Philippians originated

I've been making a point of trying to study the Word of God each day. I try to do it in the still, quiet of the morning before my kids wake up, but spring break and a bout of the stomach flu and a nasty chest cold hitting my kids hard has meant that this Lent, things have been kind of hectic. However, even if it can't be first thing in the morning, I still try to make time to study the Scripture daily.

I've been working my way through the letters of the New Testament. I read a chapter a day, and highlight or underline (if my son has stolen my highlighter again -- my fault for leaving it out, but he loves it!) verses that I feel I can learn a lot from. Eventually, I want to pick a few of these verses and memorize them, but I haven't gone that far yet. I will incorporate these verses into prayer, though.

The first letter I read through was St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, written to the first church that he established in Europe, in the Roman province of Macedonia. St. Paul wrote the letter while he was still in prison, and was at the time facing opposition of other Christians towards himself and also dealing with false teaching in the church at Philippi.

St. Paul wrote the letter to thank the Christians in Philippi for a gift they had sent him, and also included reassurance and encouragement for them. He encouraged them to have a humble, Christ-like attitude and spoke of how their salvation was a gift of God's grace received through faith and not the Jewish law.

Here are the verses that I felt spoke to me -- verses I felt moved by, or encouraged by or even challenged by. I'll include my thoughts, and how I incorporated them into my prayers.

I pray that your love will keep on growing more and more, together with true knowledge and perfect judgement, so that you will be able to choose what is best. Philippians 1:9-10 I really love this one, because who among us doesn't need more growth, more love and more perfect knowledge and judgement? I use this verse to pray that God will enable me to grow in the faith, and learn more about my faith, so that every decision and choice I make in this life will be rooted in the love and wisdom of God.

Don't be afraid of your enemies; always be courageous, and this will prove to them that they will lose and that you will win, because it is God who gives you the victory. Philippians 1:28 I've been struggling with some things, and yes, some people lately. And I also struggle with fear. I love this verse because it encourages me to be brave, and it gives me a reason to do so: I will win, because I have God on my side!

Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. Philippians 2:1. This is just the first half of verse one, but I really like it. No, I love it. When you're a person who struggles with fear and anxiety, this is truly encouraging. I may not be strong on my own, but I am strong in Christ. I need to remind myself of this. Also, how often do we look for comfort in places that we are not guaranteed to get it? But in Christ there is all the comfort we need, and we need to run to Him first above all others.

Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation, because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose. Philippians 2:12-13. This verse jumped out at me because it backs up the Catholic view of salvation -- not "once saved, always saved", but a process -- a lifelong journey. And God will never give up on us while we make that journey. Isn't that wonderful? I pray that God will keep working in me and that I can be willing and able to obey Him.

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God's perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life. Philippians 2:14-16. This was a very good reminder for me. I think I can often fall into an ungrateful rut, where everyday things annoy me. "First world problems", if you will. And I definitely get down when I think about the world we live in today and what our current generation is like. I myself have personal dealings with people that could not be more different from me in a spiritual way, people who can make life complicated. This reminds me that I'm not to argue with them or even complain about them, but instead must focus on my walk with God, so that I can be an example of Christ's love to them. Isn't it amazing that God trusts us with this responsibility? It's like a parent trusting their child with a responsibility that will help them grow.

This isn't an entire verse, but at the beginning of chapter 3, St. Paul tells the Christians at Philippi to "be joyful in your union with the Lord." Lately, when I go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest has reminded me of the importance of being joyful in my faith. This has been a theme that has been echoed to me -- in devotionals, in scripture verses, in books and elsewhere -- since Advent. I think that God is trying to tell me something -- and I'm listening! St. Paul repeats this again in Philippians 4:4, one of my favourite Bible verses ever: May you be joyful with your union in the Lord. I say it again: rejoice!

In the second part of Philippians 3:13, St. Paul says "the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead." This is so, so apt. All of us have things in our past that can drag us down, that the enemy can use against us to make us feel guilt or shame or fear or worry. St. Paul tells us not to take part in any of that, but to focus on the future -- to focus on Christ.

As a mother, I want to instill a gentle, loving attitude in my children, and I want to share this abundantly; I want them to share it with the world they live in, with animals and nature, with themselves, with their peers and friends and family and with strangers. So I try to heed St. Paul's advice when he says, in Philippians 4:5, Show a gentle attitude toward everyone.

I've said it before -- I'm a worrier. So I love the following verse: Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7. This is a life-verse for me: what I mean by that is, this is a verse that I absolutely need in my life. It hangs on a wall in my kitchen in the form of a decorative plaque I picked up at a second hand store. This verse breathes life and courage into me, because it is a promise from God to keep my heart and mind safe and to grant me peace. What an amazing Father!

Another life-verse (wow, the study of this chapter has been very fruitful for me!) follows shortly after: In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. Philippians 4:8. Do I ever relate to this one -- I sometimes let my thoughts run away with me, and when people who have a tendency to worry do that, it can get us into trouble. This verse reminds me that it's okay to filter what I allow in -- whether it be from the media or even from my own thoughts. I'd like some wall decor with this verse featured, as well!

The last two verses from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians that I highlighted are as follows: I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. Philippians 4:11. This is a great reminder that we don't need to keep striving for more success, more money and more...things. We can be happy with what we have, because when we have Christ, we have everything! I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me. Philippians 4:13. It's true -- in Christ we can face whatever happens! May He grant us the courage to realize that.

photo credit: Troels Myrup <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/12245994@N00/30364929663">Philippi</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">(license)</a>

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Praying with the Pope: April Intentions


Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

It's a new month -- April, the month of spring showers that will rinse away the dust and dirt and grime of the world and bring forth things that are green, growing and alive. It's a time the world seems young again, as new buds lay with their promise of beautiful greenery on the branches of the trees, as shoots of green grass spring up from the ground. We've seen plenty of robins in our yard, happy little fellows with beautiful red breasts hopping around looking for a snack. And the geese are back -- we've seen them flying in their V formation, back from warmer climes to enjoy their spring and summer here.

With all this new growth and promise, it seems completely appropriate that Pope Francis' prayer intentions for this month focus on young people. To be specific, the Apostleship of Prayer website notes the Holy Father's prayer intentions for April as follows:

That young people may respond generously to their vocations and seriously consider offering themselves to God in the priesthood or consecrated life.

I'm 30 now, so I don't think that counts as a youth anymore. I still feel pretty young -- and I guess I could still be considered a young-ish adult, but I'm certainly not a youth. In my mind, a youth is anyone from around the teenage years to around 25. And I think it's absolutely essential in the world we live in today that we pray for the people of this age group -- especially young Catholic men and women.

The world is an ever-changing place, and sometimes it can be frustrating seeing how far things are going, in the Western world at least, in the name of "progress" and political correctness. We are seeing huge changes in morality and what is acceptable and unacceptable as far as society's values go. It must be confusing, discouraging and scary for young people today.

But in the midst of all of the world's shifting fads and fashions and virtues, the word of God stands as truth. We need to cover all young people in prayer so that they can rise up as a generation blessed by the Lord. And we need to especially pray that young Catholic men and women can hearken to God's voice and clearly hear what He wants for them -- whether it is to enter the priesthood or consecrated life, whether it is a vocation to marriage and a family, or whatever path that God has chosen for them.

In a world that places less and less value on faith, where going to Mass is less a weekly event and more something that is done a few times a year, where praying the rosary is practically unheard of in anyone under the age of 60, we need to ensure we pass down the beauty and truth of our faith to the younger generations as much as we can. It's best to start young, when your children are small, but it's never to late to have an impact on the faith of the youth of today. And that starts with prayer.

I pray that young people the world over will experience a renewal of faith, a shifting of morality back to the Bible's teachings, and that the world will become a better place for it, where Christ is preached as the Saviour of the world, and where His Church is revived, renewed and refreshed. I pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to these young people and show them the path they are to follow. In Jesus' name.

photo credit: d_t_vos <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/27586438@N04/28966896463">On Request</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Book Review: The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian

So I finally finished what was supposed to be my February book of the month! Life got really busy, but I am so excited to write this book review!

Today I'm reviewing The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian. My general take on the book is that this is an amazing journey of prayer that can only bring growth to your marriage and your walk with God. I'm blessed to have a great marriage, but I still found that I had plenty to learn about how to truly be a good wife to my husband and an obedient daughter to God. This book taught me so much about prayer and about how important it should be in our lives. It was encouraging, uplifting, energizing and calming. I honestly feel like every wife -- whether she's been married two weeks, two years or two decades -- should read this book.

So, from a Catholic perspective, how do I find this book? Well, this is not a theological book. It's about how to pray for your husband. There are a few elements in it that are not aligned with Catholic teaching but run more parallel with the born-again Protestant sect of Christianity, but like I said, this book doesn't focus on theology, it focuses on prayer and being a godly wife. So, I don't see a problem with Catholic wives reading this book. Stormie makes it clear that divorce is not what God wants, but she also talks about how in some rare situations, it is may be an option. As a Catholic, I take that with a grain of salt and a viewpoint of love -- like I said, I have a great relationship, and I don't know what I'd do in someone else's shoes. Certainly, I believe marriage is for life and forever. I just don't want to judge others. But this book has so many good qualities that these tiny instances of shaky theology are worth overlooking. And trust me -- I don't say this lightly. I've given up on books by Christian authors before when their theology hasn't lined up with Church teaching.

How much work is required for this book? Well, it's not just a book to pick up and read at will. I personally took notes with each chapter about my own prayer strategy for my husband, and afterwards created a big "master prayer" for him out of my notes. At the end of every chapter is a prayer, as well, and these prayers are wonderful -- they cover all aspects of your husband's life and quote scripture as well. If you want, you could read through it and just say the suggested prayer at the end of each chapter. But I personally wanted to grab hold of all this insight this book gave me and use it to be a prayer warrior for my husband, so that's what I did. But this isn't an in-depth Bible study with homework to do, by any means.

In the end, I give The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian a 4.5/5. I am very happy with this book, and I've been raving about it to family and friends.

My book of the month for April is... The Power of a Praying Parent by Stormie Omartian. I'm only on the third chapter, and already I feel like I am learning so much. I can't wait to review this one for you when I'm done!

God bless you!

Monday, 6 March 2017

Mass Musings: Lenten Inspiration


So, how is your Lent going so far? Has it been a joy, or a struggle, or somewhere in between? Have you taken the time to go deeper into your faith?

Going into Lent, I kind of overloaded myself. I wanted to do all these things to become a better Catholic, and a better person. But one day, as I was driving to pick my daughter up from school, I was listening to The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM (Channel 129. I'm a big fan of Jennifer Fullwiler, Lino Rulli and Father Dave Dwyer!). I can't really remember which program I was listening to (I'm thinking maybe Gus Lloyd?) and the speaker was talking about how we don't do the three tenets of Lent -- fasting, prayer and almsgiving -- to make ourselves better, or to somehow make God love us more. God can't possibly love us any more than He already does! His love is so infinite, so unfathomably deep, that it's hard to understand. But the wonderful thing about His love is that it is a free gift -- we can't do anything to earn it.

No, Lent is not a time to polish ourselves and become all-star Catholics. It's a time to take a step back from the world, and a step into God. It's a time to prepare ourselves for the feast of remembrance of Christ's resurrection. It's a time to go deeper into the faith, and to take quiet time to really take stock of where we're at in our walk with God. By denying ourselves the luxuries of our cushy lives, even if it's just by giving up snacks or candy, and by extra prayer, perhaps even extra acts of mercy, we can put our priorities back in the order that God wants them to be in. What better way to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus than to strive to live lives that showcase his love to all?

I have a renewed love for the times of Lent and Advent. Both are quiet, introspective times where we can really be honest with ourselves, and honest with God, about what we need from Him. And He will always come to us when we first open ourselves to Him.

So what does all this have to do with the Mass readings from yesterday? Well, as much as we all know that Lent is an important time, it can be hard to really live it out. In the first reading, taken from Genesis 2 and 3, we see the story of how sin entered into the world, and entered into ourselves in the form of Adam and Eve's original sin. It's a sad story -- Adam and Eve were living in Paradise, but Satan tricked them into entering into temptation, and they had to leave the presence of God.

And yet, in the second reading, taken from Romans 5, we hear a hopeful message: But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And again: Just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all people, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all people.

That's some pretty inspiring stuff! What is inspiring, as well, is the story of Christ's temptation by Satan at the end of his forty days in the desert. Matthew 4:1-11 tell us how Satan tempted Jesus with food, with testing God and with power. What did Jesus say? He was hungry after not eating for forty days, he was thirsty beyond imagining, and so tired. But what did he say? "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" Then the devil left him, and suddenly Angels came and waited on him.

There have been many times in my life -- not just during Lent -- that I should have followed Jesus' example, and in the face of temptation, said, "Away with you, Satan!" There are times I wish I was more grounded in the Scripture, so that I, like Jesus, could refer to it when faced with my own struggles. I'm going to focus not so much on what I'm giving up this Lent, or what I feel like I should be doing, and focus more on grounding myself in the faith, so that I too can resist temptation and stand strong in God.

I hope you learn and grow a lot this Lent. Don't worry if you stumble and fall -- God sees your effort, and He loves you. Nothing you do can make Him love you any more or any less. In the middle of a season that can be quite sombre, that's something to celebrate.

photo credit: timbu <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/43238820@N00/32858151410">Sun & Sand</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>

Friday, 3 March 2017

Dealing with Overwhelm


Motherhood is an amazing journey -- it has its highs and its lows, its moments of pure joy and, on the other hand, pure frustration. One of the most difficult things you can experience as a mother is overwhelm.

What is overwhelm? Well, in my own personal history with it, it's when things in your life get so busy and crazy, and you've put so many expectations on yourself and your children, that you end up feeling like it's all just too much.

I recently went through a spell of overwhelm. My twenty-month-old is getting his two-year molars in, so he's not feeling the best. He's keeping me up a lot of the night to nurse, and he's going through a super clingy stage where even when I go upstairs for a few minutes, and he's safe with his dad and sister, he screams like I'm abandoning him for life! And my daughter is going through some issues of her own -- the normal five-year-old things that come up, like copping a bit of attitude and testing boundaries by arguing.

I'd taken the kids to visit my parents for two days, since my sister and her husband had also come in, and we hadn't seen them since before Christmas. The first day there, my sister, mom and I took my son for a shopping day at the mall. We left my daughter with her grandfather, who always does a great job of looking after her.

Needless to say, my son's teething and separation anxiety made the whole trip to the mall hurried, unpleasant and extremely frustrating. I couldn't even go into the change room, and leave him for a few seconds (just a few feet away) with my mom and sister, without him having a screaming fit. Shopping is usually so fun and relaxing for me, but not this time! My mom and sister did what they could to help with him, but I think we were all thankful when we were back at Grandma and Grandpa's.

The following day was more of the same. I was having issues with my daughter, in that she really wanted to go to McDonald's for lunch, whereas we all wanted to go somewhere we could sit down and relax and eat real food. Thank goodness that Lent is here, and we've given up sugar and fast food, because I really feel like I was starting to give in too much to childish whims and catering far too much to exactly what my daughter wanted instead of exercising my parental autonomy over her.

The next day, I took the kids to Mass for Ash Wednesday before heading home. All I can say is thank goodness that the church in my parent's town has a separate place for parents to take their children when they're feeling rambunctious, because it was not a very relaxing time.

By the time I got back home, I was feeling so overwhelmed. I was snapping at the kids and I, myself, was copping an extremely bad attitude (which in no way helped my daughter to have a good attitude of her own -- she learns from me, after all!). I was even grumpy with my husband, when all he was trying to do was help me get to a better place.

So, I took some time to myself. I read a post on a mommy blog that dealt with the feelings of overwhelm, and I realized it was all completely normal (which I knew deep down, but sometimes it's really helpful to hear it from someone else who has been there). And I prayed, and started to feel better.

Now that we're back home and back to a normal routine, I feel much better. I also feel better because every morning I am spending time with God in prayer. I really feel like this strengthens me for whatever challenges I may face at any time during my day and my parenting journey. And I feel really good that I took the time to apologize to my husband and my daughter. I explained to them that I was feeling overwhelmed, but that it wasn't right for me to take a bad attitude with them, and I promised to work hard to keep a kind and loving attitude even when frustrated.

My kids are still going through things -- as I am. My baby boy is still teething and waking up at all hours. Boo is still working on having a better attitude. But I am now in a much better place. I can now model a positive, kind attitude. My biggest takeaway from this is that I need to let go and let God. I can't do it all. When my kids are going through things, I need to take some other things off the table and be there for them -- they are my priority! If it means spending less time on my writing, or on keeping the house looking perfect, so be it. There will be plenty of time for that later.

Embrace the chaos, don't fight it. Nothing lasts forever -- not difficult stages kids go through, and not this blessed time being the mother of two little ones. They'll grow up before I know it, and I'll miss the chaos. So I'll embrace it now.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Praying with the Pope: March Intentions


It's that time again! A new month, a new chance to add our prayers to those of Pope Francis as he gives us one special intention to really focus on this month.

This March, the Holy Father will be praying especially for evangelization: specifically for persecuted Christians, that they "may be supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church." (taken from the Living with Christ Sunday Missal)

I ponder from time to time, not often enough, though, just how lucky I am to live where I do. My great-grandparents chose to emigrate from many places (Croatia, Germany, Scotland, Ireland) to Ontario, Canada. They could have chosen anywhere -- the United States, other parts of the Commonwealth, or other parts of North America. But they didn't -- they all chose Canada. I am so thankful for this -- thankful that I live in a country where I can go to Mass every Sunday and holy day, and openly practice my faith without fear of persecution or danger. I can pass the faith on to my children without worrying about whether they'll face dangerous repercussions for believing in the name of Christ.

But it's not so for every Christian. Sadly, in many places of the world, Christians are persecuted, suppressed, and put in grave danger just for their beliefs. It's mind-boggling to think that this still happens, in the year 2017! But as dangerous extremist groups like ISIS use their terrorizing, bullying tactics to push forward their toxic agenda, or groups like Boko Haram victimize the most innocent people, Christian persecution flourishes and continues in many parts of our world.

This month, let's unite with Pope Francis in prayer for these brave Christian men, women and children who put their faith before all else. Could we do the same? Let's also be generous in our giving -- to the Church, to charities that will help these people -- and let's be thankful that we are able to live out our faith without ramifications.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Mass Musings: Dealing with Worry

Worry got you down?
I went to Mass today praying that God would give me the strength and tenacity to be patient with my children during the service. My husband works every second Sunday, and so when he is with us, he is able to take our son if he's not sitting still, but when it's just me, it's a little harder.

My daughter is really good at sitting still, listening to the homily and different parts of the Mass, and participating. When she gets a little bored, she colours quietly. She's five and a half, after all, and quite mature for her age.

My sweet little son, on the other hand, reminds me of a tornado: he seems to be everywhere at once, and for such a little thing, he can be pretty forceful! He's 20 months old now, and that means he's got an insatiable appetite for exploring and a curiosity that just doesn't stop. Most times, I'm happy that he's such an adventurous, courageous little chap. But there are sometimes, like when we're at the doctor's office, or in the library, or, like today, at Mass, that I'd like him to tone it down just a little.

So, I had that worry on my mind going into Mass. I also carried all the other worries that most people get weighed down with on a daily basis, and that we, as women and moms especially, can get caught up in: should I have let the kids watch a My Little Pony episode this morning at breakfast? How much more screen time am I going to give them today? What am I going to make for supper? Am I going to be able to get through that pile of laundry today? Will my son go down for his nap without a fight?

These are day to day worries, the normal type of life stress that everyone encounters, in some form or another. But if you let them build up -- if you don't have an outlet for this type of stress -- it can become a problem.

I'm also familiar with the far more unpleasant cousin of worry: anxiety. I think, partially, I was wired for it from birth: it was just in my genes. Also, different circumstances in my young life helped to bring some of that natural tendency to anxiety out. I think I've had anxiety pretty well my whole life, but it never really became a problem for me until I was about sixteen or seventeen years old.

At that time, I started having daily panic attacks, on top of ongoing anxiety. After enough of these, which were terrifying, I started to feel pretty down, even depressed. Thankfully, I was able to come out of that. I was hit again with anxiety when my husband had to shut down his business and we had to move eight hours from where we had been living. This was about eight or nine years ago now. I also struggled with post-partum anxiety in the weeks following the birth of my children.

I've been through a lot to treat my anxiety, including medication, counselling, behavioural cognitive therapy and more. And while -- I thank the Lord -- my anxiety is no longer such a huge force in my life, I definitely do still have stress, and my anxiety can still creep up on me if I'm going through a more turbulent time in my life, or of I've been neglecting taking care of myself.

So what does all this have to do with today's Mass? Well, the readings for today really send home Jesus' message that we are not to let worry overcome us -- that we are to give our fears to God, and trust in Him.

From the very start of the Mass, at the entrance antiphon, we are comforted by Psalm 17:19-20: The Lord became my protector. He brought me out to a place of freedom; he saved me because he delighted in me.

Our first reading, Isaiah 49:14-15, talks about how God will never, ever forget about us or fail us, even though the closest of human relationships can: Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me." Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

In today's gospel reading, from Matthew 6:24-34, we heard Jesus first explaining to his disciples that they cannot serve two masters. Then, he says: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?...Therefore do not worry, saying 'What will we eat?' or 'What will be drink?' or 'What will we wear?'...indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things...So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

We all have our worries -- Jesus understands this, which is why He spoke about it to His disciples. But when our worries get out of control, and turn into anxiety, which can in turn become a crippling, debilitating force in our lives, then we do indeed serve another master than God -- we serve fear.

So, how can we keep worry and fear and anxiety from taking over our lives? Well, I'm not a psychologist. I don't have any background in mental health education. All I know is what works for me, and I'd like to share that with you, in case these strategies can help you too. Here are my ten strategies for coping with anxiety.

1.) Give yourself a break! Worry and anxiety are a part of life. Don't be so hard on yourself. If your anxiety has gotten out of hand, it doesn't mean you are weak or crazy. It means you've been trying to be strong for a long time, but you need to take the next step to help yourself.
2.) Ask for help. If your anxiety has gotten to a point where it interferes with how you live your life, it's time to ask for some help. Talk about it to someone you trust, and take the first steps towards bringing the subject up with your doctor. Take it one day at a time, and trust that God has got this.
3.) Find someone to be your recovery partner. For me, it was my husband. Though he is a very mellow dude, and has never struggled with anxiety himself, he has been my rock and has gotten me through some very tough times, and it has only made us stronger. Choose someone who you can trust, who will support you no matter what. Choose someone balanced, and thoughtful and sensitive. Share your struggles, thoughts and progress with them.
4.) Read, read, read! There are so many books out there that deal with helping people with anxiety. One of my absolute favourites is From Panic to Power by Lucinda Basset. In fact, it was her fifteen-week program that stopped my anxiety in its tracks in my teen years. It really works!
5.) Meditate. Don't worry, I'm not telling you to become an expert yogi or a Buddhist monk (that would be kind of counterintuitive for a Catholic blog!). Just read up on some simple relaxation or meditation techniques. There are plenty out there that aren't religious -- I really recommend Chel Hamilton's Meditation Minis podcast (you can get it for free on any podcast app) and the Headspace program. I personally try to meditate once a day for full benefits.
6.) Write. Express yourself through the written word. Get a nice journal, and start recording your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Every day when you wake up, write what you are thankful for. Before bed, write about your day, and three reasons you're proud of yourself. End with another three things you're thankful for. It's helpful, for me, to look back on my journaling when I'm in a period of anxiety: it helps me to see that I've been there before and it will pass soon.
7.) Exercise and eat better. What we put in our bodies has a huge impact on how we feel emotionally. Cut back (and eventually cut out!) sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Start doing a bit of cardio exercise every day. Get outside once a day and enjoy the world God created!
8.) Talk to others. Sharing what you are going through with others can really help. Maybe there is a support group you can join. Or maybe, if a friend brings up the subject of stress, you can share your story with them. You'd be surprised how many people struggle with anxiety and don't talk about it. You're definitely not alone.
9.) Focus on the precious present moment. When you have anxiety, thinking about the future can be both scary and sad at the same time, because sometimes you just can't picture yourself being confident and happy again. But this is not reality -- it's just your anxiety. So stop thinking about the future. Stop ruminating over the past. Try to be present in the moment that you are in right now, and try to appreciate it.
10.) Let go and let God. I don't mean to sound cheesy, but this is really important. God will always keep you strong, no matter what struggle you face. Time and time again I have been able to look back and see God at work in my darkest moments. He will never abandon us. So pray like you've never prayed before -- start praying the rosary, and maybe look into some Novenas (St. Dymphna is a good saint to have in your corner when you have anxiety). Attend Mass as often as you can. Read the Word, especially parts of it that are comforting and assuring. And above all, don't give up hope! If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it!

I hope these ten tips can help you if you've felt like anxiety is taking over your life. Those of us who deal with anxiety are some of the most caring, creative, amazing people God has placed on this earth. When we really take Jesus' words to heart and set aside our worry, we can do amazing things!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Praying with the Pope: February Intentions


February may be almost over, but it's not too late, during these last few days leading into Lent, to add the Holy Father's prayer intentions to your own.

Starting this year, Pope Francis has presented a prepared prayer intention each month. I thought it would be a cool thing, and a way to spread awareness of what the Pope wants us to pray for, if I blogged about his intentions each month.

For February, Pope Francis asks that the faithful pray for the afflicted -- "that all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized, may find welcome and comfort in our communities."

I feel like the Holy Father shared this intention with us at a very apt time. While politicians speak of building walls and take drastic action to keep people out -- marginalized, poor people who, often, live lives of danger and suffering -- we as Catholics, and all Christians in general, are called to be Jesus' hands in a hurting world.

It amazes me how quickly Christians can jump on board with some of U.S. President Donald Trump's more controversial decisions. I totally get why many faithful voted for Trump, and I'm not arguing that they did wrong (nor am I revealing which way I would have voted -- I'm Canadian, so it's a moot point), but it's one thing to vote for someone because they are the lesser of two bad choices -- it's wholly another to accept his decisions as good and true and anything even remotely resembling the way Jesus would want us to live our lives.

Here are a few Bible verses that remind us just how important it is not just to treat fellow believers with dignity and love, but to extend that to everybody in the world:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? ... James 2:1-13

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” ... Hebrews 13:1-25

And being even more specific, while we remember Pope Francis' monthly intention, let's take a look at these verses:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Leviticus 19:33-34

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. Exodus 23:9

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:25-36
The Bible makes it pretty clear: as Christians, our job is not to build walls and keep out foreigners and refugees. Our job is to welcome them with open arms, with love and brotherhood and respect and dignity, and in doing so, sharing with them the light and love of Christ.

The world we live in can be a really frustrating place, especially for those of us who live simple lives, who have our own worries and duties and things that keep us busy every day. But one of the most powerful things we can do is pray! I pray, along with Pope Francis, that everyone in the world -- especially those who hold powerful political positions -- will come to know and act upon God's word.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

My breastfeeding journey

Motherhood -- it's a journey that helps us to grow, that forces us to take responsibility and that brings us a treasure trove of tender, unforgettable, life-affirming moments. Through the struggles and the exhaustion and the fear, we fight our way to peace, joy and unfathomable love.

Motherhood changes us, and the person we are after we have our children is not the person we were before. It often changes us for the better, in so many ways -- caring for a vulnerable little one means we put another human being before ourselves and our own wants and desires. It makes us really take stock of our lives and focus on becoming, every day, the person we want our children to look up to and feel safe and loved with.

But I feel like motherhood should also come with a disclaimer: guilt and worry. From the very moment a woman announces her pregnancy, she is often hit with questions that can leave her feeling out of her depth and overwhelmed. Is she going to give birth naturally? Will she choose a midwife or a doctor? Who is going to be allowed in the delivery room? Will she circumcise her baby, if she has a boy? Will she cloth diaper, use disposables or practice elimination communication? What style of parenting will she and her husband use? Will she breastfeed, pump and feed from a bottle, or opt to go with formula?

It goes on, and on and on. And as your child gets older, the questions don't stop -- they just change. How much screen time should will you give your child? How much outside time? Will you go back to work, and put them in day care? Or have a grandparent look after them? What about preschool? Are you going to homeschool, enroll them in Catholic school, or public? And what about activities? Are they going to be in soccer, in baseball, in gymnastics...it's really never ending.

I've learned, in my almost six years of motherhood, to listen to my instincts, and those of my husband. If something feels off, like overscheduling our five-year-old, we'll tune into that and let her choose one activity she really enjoys, per season, to take part formally in. If we feel our 20-month-old isn't quite ready for potty training, as much as we'd love him to be, we wait for him. If our daughter wants to put bubble-gum pink streaks in her hair, and other people are telling us we shouldn't but we don't seem to see a problem with it, we'll go for it.

But I can remember just how overwhelmed I felt when I first had my daughter, even though I was the type of mom who totally went overboard in preparation. I'm a planner, an organizer. When I'm faced with something life changing and stressful, I dive headfirst into a pile of books. I even brought a parenting book with me to the hospital, and was reading it after I'd given birth. The nurses got a kick out of that!

One of my biggest dreams was to have a natural, medication-free birth. Okay, okay, if the pain got too bad, I'd probably give in and let them dose me. I mean, who am I kidding? I don't have a high pain threshold. But all my life, people have told me that I'm a "sturdy girl" with "child-bearing hips". Lovely! So, when I ended up having a caesarean-section with my eldest child, I felt pretty disappointed. When I learned I'd need one, I burst into tears, and felt that somehow I was already failing this whole motherhood thing.

Thankfully, shortly after I'd had my baby I got over my disappointment in not delivering her the "natural" way. And when I got pregnant with my son three years later, I really pushed for a vaginal birth, but when it turned out I couldn't have one, I didn't feel nearly as let-down as I had when Boo was born.

One thing that I think really helped me feel better about not being able to deliver my babies vaginally was the fact that I was able to breastfeed both of them. But it wasn't easy at first. My daughter and I were separated for almost an hour after she was born -- even though we were both doing fine and she was a strong, healthy 10 lb. baby, the hospital I'd had her in six years ago didn't really do family-friendly C-sections. They whisked her away after giving me a quick peek at her lovely, squishy, red face, and I didn't see her again until after I had been cleaned up, and my husband, mother and sister all got to hold Boo before I did. When Bubs was born, the C-section was much more personal. As soon as he came out, they made sure he was alright and then bundled him up tightly. I remember the primal surge of joy I felt at hearing his cries, and I will never forget how he immediately stopped crying when they laid him on my chest, his gorgeous little face mere inches from mine. I was able to nurse him in the recovery room, which was wonderful.

Boo, asleep after a nursing session (that's my arm, not my boob!)

With Boo, my milk took six days to come in. I was a nervous first-time mother, but I was determined to breastfeed, so I made sure no one supplemented her with formula or gave her a pacifier. Back when she was born the hospital policy was not to let husbands or partners sleep over, so we C-section moms didn't have any help. They kept our babies in the nursery overnight for the first night and took them to us for a feeding. With Bubs, the hospital was much more baby-friendly, and my husband was able to stay the night with us and help me when I needed it. I also kept him nestled firmly at my side -- sleeping and awake. We'd finally ended up co-sleeping with our daughter after weeks of not getting any sleep at all, and it had turned out so well that I was determined to do the same with our son from the start.

That, in addition to the fact that my body had already done this once before, meant that my milk came in on about day two or three with our son, whereas it took six days to come in with our daughter. I remember how worried I was! She was gaining weight and no one suggested I supplement, so she must have been getting enough colostrum, but I will always remember the night that I just couldn't take the worry anymore -- I called up a La Leche League hotline and cried while telling them that I was worried I was starving my baby! The very next morning, I woke up and my milk had come in with a vengeance.

I ended up nursing Boo until she was about three-and-a-half years old. I never intended to go that long. I thought I'd for sure nurse her until she was one, and I can remember making a feeble attempt to wean her at that time, but it just didn't feel right. So again, I listened to my instincts. Nursing was just such a great way to be close to her, to bond with her, to calm her and best of all, to put her to sleep! I really think it helped us to develop the amazing bond that we still have today. There was something about seeing her as a chubby six-month-old and thinking, wow, that's all me -- my milk has made her so strong and healthy! When I was pregnant with her brother, my milk ended up drying up, and I knew I had to stop soon or she'd want to tandem nurse (and nursing an almost four-year-old and a newborn was not something I was keen on!), so we ended up slowly, gradually ending our nursing relationship.

When our son came along, nursing was a lot easier -- in some ways. It didn't hurt as much at first, but he did have pretty bad reflux, and my powerful milk ejection reflex meant he was often choking at the breast, which made him very angry and he would cry a lot. But after a few months we really got into the swing of things. He's now almost 20 months old, and he is still nursing.
Bubs, in a milk-induced sleep

So why am I writing this now? I think it's because I know my nursing journey is coming to an end. Recently, Bubs started wanting to nurse like a newborn again -- four or five times a night, and plenty throughout the day. Sometimes, it's really frustrating. But then I heard about a mom who went through the same thing when her little guy was 20 months old, and then at 25 months, he was hardly nursing at all anymore.

While sometimes I daydream about a time our kids can spend a night, or even a weekend (I dare to dream!) at their grandparents' house, or when I can go all night without being woken up for "boo-boos", I know that when I am truly done nursing I will miss it. I will miss gazing into my baby's eyes as he seeks comfort from my breast, and I will miss his little hand playing with my fingers. I'll miss tickling him and watching him giggle and try to drink milk at the same time. So I'm trying to savour all these nursing sessions, because I don't know how long they will last. Will I nurse him as long as I did my daughter? Probably not. Let's face it, after around five years of combined breastfeeding, I'm needing a long break. But who knows? Maybe it's something he won't want to let go of for awhile.

Breastfeeding is a controversial topic, but this post isn't about the controversy. It's not about whether breast is best, or whether we should cover up when we nurse in public. It's just about my personal journey. Breastfeeding is one of the things I've had to work the hardest at, and it's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It's one of the things that make me proudest to be who I am. And it's a gift that I have give/am giving to my children that will always live on -- in my memories, as well as in their health and wellbeing.

But I encourage all parents, regardless of how they feed their children or the other parenting choices they make, to just enjoy every single blessed, golden moment. They won't be little forever. Time is speeding by, and when all is said and done and they're full-grown adults living under a different roof than ours, we will have our cherished memories. So let's make a lot of them, and let's enjoy them. Let's look up from our phones and into their eyes. Let's press pause on social media and on life and tarry awhile in the childhood of our little ones. They'll never forget it, and we'll always remember.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

God, our teacher


God teaches us in many ways. Through His Word, we are able to glean wisdom and insight when we take the time to read it in a contemplative, meditative way. When we go to Mass, we are able to invite the Holy Spirit in when we take in the Sacraments and listen to the readings and the homily. In prayer, God shares many things with us, and reading about the lives of the saints is a great way to learn and grow in our faith.

Sometimes, God can be a subtle teacher -- maybe a verse will jump out at you during your Bible study session, or maybe the pastor's homily at Mass will really strike a chord with you. And then there are times when God speaks to you loudly and clearly.

I recently experienced the latter of the two learning styles earlier this week. It's funny, because the verses I read in the Bible, both in the Mass readings from last Sunday, and in the books of the New Testament I was working my way through, all had to do with the same thing: loving our enemies and the people that hurt us, and being forgiving as our Father in heaven forgives us.

It's much easier to hear about love and forgiveness to those that hurt us than to actually live it out, as I learned the very next day. You see, God put an opportunity in my path yesterday, but I didn't see it as such. I won't go into detail, but I regret to say that my habit of reacting in hurt and anger, unfortunately, put spiritual "blinders" on me so that I could not see the big picture -- I could not realize that God was using this trial to help me grow in my faith and to encourage me to form my responses and reactions to be more like Christ.

Thankfully, before things got too out of control, I was able to take some time to reflect, and to look back. And as I did, I realized, "Hey, this situation that I'm in...it's like God looked at what I was reading and studying in the Bible and thought, okay, you're doing great, but you need a little more practice. Here you go!"

I'm not saying that God orchestrated the event that upset me. Considering it involved someone close to me being pretty offensive about my faith, that's obvious. But what He did do, I'm sure of it, is use it as an opportunity to test me, and to teach me.

And what did I learn? Well, first and foremost, I learned that I still have a long way to go to become more Christ-like. Which is totally normal, by the way. This is a lifelong process that we are taking part of. But I also learned that reacting in anger, and having a spirit of anger and resentment, rarely if ever does anything to the object of our bitterness. Instead, it hurts our own selves, and those we love. It's so much better to follow the example of Christ, to turn the other cheek and to keep on forgiving.

I hope, and pray, that God will continue to guide me as I grow in my faith. Whatever His ways of teaching, I pray that I can accept them with joy, and know that he is using it all for my good. After all, as Philippians 1:6 says, And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

What is love?


Love changes everything. It suffuses our lives with joy and tenderness, with hope and happiness. Just look at the joy in the eyes of any bride and groom on their wedding day, or at the tender way a new parent holds his or her baby. In Ed Sheeran's beautiful song "Photograph", he sings: "Loving can heal, loving can mend your soul..." and later, "It's the only thing we take with us when we die."

I love this song, and the message Sheeran shares with us. It's so very true -- love can heal, love can mend, and we do take love with us when we die -- the love of our family, our friends, and most of all the love of our God, who is the source of all love in the world.

Today's Mass readings tell us exactly how we should think about love. They challenge us to move beyond our selfishly human way of loving and into something that reflects God's own grace and love. The first reading, from Leviticus 19, says: 'You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself...'

In today's gospel reading, from Matthew 5, we are instructed by Jesus as to how we should treat people who wish us harm: "But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them also the second mile." Later in the same reading He says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven..."

Following Jesus' command to love everyone -- no matter who they are, no matter if they have hurt us and will probably continue to hurt us in the future -- is not easy. Sure, we love our kids, and our spouses, our family and our friends. Most of us probably feel a love for our fellow man. But I think it's not a generalization to say that everyone probably has at least one person in their life that they find hard, maybe impossible, to love. Perhaps it is a cruel spouse, or an unloving parent. Maybe it's a boss or co-worker that doesn't ever have anything positive to say to or about you. Maybe it's that bully at school, or that teacher who is always in a bad mood. Maybe it's much deeper and darker than that.

Whatever our circumstances, God calls us all to love the way He loves. In Psalm 103 we hear just how powerful His love for us is: "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us."

Yes, it is God's very love for us that allowed Him to send His only Son into the world to die for us. It's what made Jesus, part of the Holy Trinity that makes up who God is, assume the form of a vulnerable infant and grow up in a dangerous world, in a treacherous time, and to eventually die a cruel death on the cross. It was all for us, to reconcile us to God. Christ did this for us not because we deserved it -- certainly, we did not. Romans 5:8 sums it up exactly: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

If God can love us that much, and if we really take time to meditate on this amazing love, it's hard not to want to respond to Him with love. And if what He asks for us is to love all people, no matter who they are, where they come from, what they look like or what they've done to us, we as His people should respond with a resounding "Yes!" It may be hard at times, but we are not alone. We gather on Sunday and other holy days to have fellowship, to hear God's Word, and to take part in the Eucharist, which strengthens us by bringing Christ's very body and blood into ourselves. We have a powerful tool in the Holy rosary to pray for ourselves and for others. And we have the Word of God, that we can study frequently -- daily -- to inspire us to keep imitating Christ, in His perfect love. And that in itself -- that striving to please God -- is it not an act of love in and of itself? One thing is for sure: it's a good place to start.


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Thoughts on thirty


Well, I've been 30 years old for almost three months now. My birthday was back in the early days of December, and as I approached the big milestone, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I wasn't super freaked out about turning 30 -- not like all the people in movies and tv shows seem to be. At the same time, though, I realized that I could no longer be considered a "young woman". Nope, I was soon approaching full-time regular womanhood.

And then, the big day came, and surprise: I felt no different than I had the day before, on the last day of being 29. If I'm completely, totally honest with you, inside I still feel like I'm 23. Maybe this is because 23 is the age I was when I got married and became pregnant (so became a mom). But when I think, "Wow, I'm 30," I know that logically I am, but inside I still feel like a 23 year old!

The biggest thing I've noticed, though, is the fact that at 30, I am much more content with my life -- and myself -- than I was at 20. At 20, I was much more introverted than I am now. I worried about what people thought of me, and I was painfully afraid of rejection -- even meeting my then-boyfriend (now husband!)'s friends and family caused me a lot of anxiety. I spent time on making sure my hair was perfect, my makeup was perfect and my clothes looked great. Now, I rarely wear makeup. I find it much better for my skin to just take care of it with proper washing and moisturizing. When I do want to look put together, I usually just put on some BB cream, mascara and lip gloss.

More than that, though, I find that I am not afraid of people not liking me anymore. I put myself out there -- and I think becoming a mom really helped me with this (enough time cooped up with a toddler and you can't help but become more social and try to make more grown-up friends!) -- and I don't worry if people don't like me or not. For the most part, anyway! I am who I am, and I certainly am flawed, but I also have the confidence to know that I bring a lot to the table -- as a wife, a mother and a friend. I wish I had this kind of confidence in my early twenties, but growing up from that time is exactly why I have it today. You can't put the horse before the cart.

So all in all, I'm very happy to be 30. However, I'm approaching the time of life when a lot of women feel they need to grasp at their youth that they feel is slipping away, even though if you ask anyone who is over 40, they will laugh when a 30-year-old says they feel old!

I think, however, that as women in Western society we have so much to live up to. The media portrays the perfect woman as beautiful, sexy, thin-but-curvy, polished and, of course, youthful. Ad campaigns are full of models who are probably a lot younger than they look, and Hollywood is constantly pairing young, fresh-faced women with older, distinguished-looking men. So it's no wonder that women feel self-conscious about aging. Men, in general, tend to be told they look "distinguished" as they age. Women, on the other hand, are faced with a barrage of advertisements on how to stop the aging process in its tracks.

But what does God say about aging? In particular, what is the example He gives us of a godly woman's attitude towards growing older?

Proverbs 31 contains a portrait of a "wife of noble character" -- given to King Lemuel by his mother (wow, even Biblical kings listened to their mamas! I mean, this should come as no surprise, given that Jesus performed His first miracle at His Mother's request!).

Proverbs 31:25 says: She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. In other translations, I've heard this as "she is not afraid of aging".

The chapter goes on to say that a godly woman does not worry so much about charm and beauty, but knows that the most attractive quality she can have is fear of the Lord. I can only hope that I can show all the virtues of a Proverbs 31 woman in my life, so that my daughter can grow into a confident, faith-filled young woman who is more focused on what is on the inside rather than what is on the outside.

In a world focused on wrinkle creams, Botox injections and fad diets, the Bible's take on womahood is so refreshing. If we trust God, we can take a step back from worrying about grey hair and wrinkles and focus, instead, on keeping our souls young. Matthew 18:3 says: And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Still, if you struggle with the idea of aging and society's unreachable standards of beauty, why not talk to a close female friend or relative about it? Or, check out a devotional that will show you your true worth in Christ. And don't neglect to take your troubles to Our Lady and ask her to intercede for you. She is your Mother -- and she is a woman -- she will understand.

Friday, 17 February 2017

A decade a day: my Lenten plan


Where does the time go? I feel like we were just celebrating the birth of Christ, and now it seems like Easter is just around the corner. But before Easter comes Lent. This has been a very spiritually-focused year for me, and I really want to take this year's Lent seriously.

Ash Wednesday is on the first day of March this year, and Lent starts on Sunday, March 5. Do you have any plans for Lent? Are you going to abstain from anything, or are you going to add to your spiritual life for these forty days? Let me know in the comments!

Right away, I knew that for Lent I wanted to give up sugar. Okay, not all sugar -- if I'm using honey in a sweet-and-sour stir-fry recipe, that's fine. And I don't want to drink my tea without a smidgen of honey or maple syrup. But that's it! I've noticed that since Christmas there has been a lot of sugar in my house, and since we struggle with our daughter's dental health (poor Boo has had a lot of teeth issues despite us, normally, being pretty strict with sugar -- we don't even have juice in the fridge) and sugar in general doesn't help with my anxiety, I am ready to be done with it!

But I don't just want to give something up for Lent. I want to add something to my life, to bring me closer to God. This year, I plan on saying a decade of the rosary every day during Lent. I hope that, once it becomes habit, I can carry on praying a decade a day in every season, and perhaps even move up to praying an entire rosary once a week.

There's no doubt to the benefit of praying the rosary -- our Mother Mary is a loving intercessor for us, and the contemplative, meditative aspect of this beautiful prayer brings so much peace into our very busy lives. And, contrary to what many non-Catholics believe, the rosary is very Biblical, in that with every decade we pray, we focus on a part of the Bible!

Please pray for me as I try to make this happen in my life! I pray that you all experience a deepening of your faith and love this Lent, and that Easter will bring us all great joy.