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'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'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.

Friday, 10 February 2017

ACMOTP Book of the Month for February: The Power of a Praying Wife

Good morning lovelies!

I thought it would be a fun thing if I were to share what book I was reading each month to grow in my walk with God. Sometimes the books will be very Catholic, and sometimes they will be by Protestant authors but appropriate for all Christians. We can all learn from each other, after all!

I plan to write a book review after I complete each book, where I review several areas of each book, including how it applies for a Roman Catholic, how much "work" is necessary to put into the book or devotion, and what I took from it. Afterwards, I plan to give the book a rating out of five. 

This month, I am reading The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian (is that not the coolest name ever?!). I was told about this book from Molly Jean Shills over at Faithfullly Fit Momma and I read the first chapter yesterday. All I can say is, WOW! It really, really opened my eyes to some things that I needed to change as a wife. And that's just from Chapter 1!

I have a really, really good feeling about this book. I can't wait to share what I discover with you! And if you want to read along, please feel free! Let me know in the comment section of this post whether or not you've read this book, whether you're going to read along with me or whether you plan to read it someday.

Wishing all of you a grace-filled day full of joy!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Starting your morning off with God

I like sleep. No, no, I love sleep. When I was pregnant with my first child, I would go to bed around 9 p.m. and sleep until around 7:30 a.m. That's ten and a half hours of sleep! Sometimes I'd get even more than that, because pregnancy makes me a tired mama.

Now, I like to go to bed around 10 p.m. (and it usually takes me a half hour to get to sleep, because that's just how I am! Lots of thoughts in my head, and a toddler in the bed with me can make falling asleep quickly a challenge). On days when my daughter has Kindergarten, I get up at 7 a.m., and on days when she doesn't... well, we usually roll out of bed anytime between 8 and 9 a.m. So I get anywhere from eight and a half to ten and a half hours of sleep a night.

Buuuuut -- as any co-sleeping, breastfeeding-on-demand mama will tell you (or any mama really, am I right?) it's not like I'm getting a solid sleep. I wake up needing to pee (thank you, small bladder and habitually drinking red bush tea in the evening), my son wakes me to breastfeed, I wake him by moving around too much...the list goes on.

What does all this have to do with the title of this post, about starting your day off with God? Well, despite my love of sleep, there's something I love even more: getting up earlier than my children, and sitting down and spending time in God's Word. Then, I spend time in prayer and silence, listening to what God has to say to my heart.

When I've fallen out of this habit, it can be hard to start it up again. Who really wants to get out of their nice, warm bed any earlier than they have to? Especially when, as moms, any bit of sleep we get is so precious.

I'm taking part right now in a "5 Day Stay at Home Mom Christian Bootcamp" on Facebook via a group started by an incredible lady named Molly Jean Shills. She's behind Faithfully Fit Momma, where she focuses on faith, family, food, fitness and fun. You can also find her at her website. We're looking at five specific topics to grow as Christian stay at home moms, but the one that we focused on yesterday is how important it is to spend time each day with Jesus.

Molly really inspired me to get back into the habit of starting my mornings with God. This lady is amazing -- she gets up regularly at 5:30 a.m. every day (something I can't even imagine!) to spend time with God and in His Word. She trusts Him to ensure that she is rested and ready for her day, even if it means getting up that early! She's very inspiring, and I encourage you to check out her ministry.

So this morning, when my alarm went off at 7 a.m., I did linger in the warmth of my blankets for awhile... but then I decided that today is the day I start putting God first again. So, I grabbed my Bible, snuck out of the room where my son was still snoozing, and made my way downstairs. I opened with a prayer, and then I read through a chapter of Philippians (the book I'm reading through now) and highlighted what I felt God was saying to my heart. Then I prayed about it, and asked Him to guide and protect my loved ones and me today. After that, I sat in peaceful silence and just basked in His love.

Sometimes, when I sit in silence, I can really feel God telling me something. Other times, I just feel a nice sense of peace, like I did today. Other times still I can feel distracted but I keep on refocusing my mind on Christ.

I encourage everyone to start their day off like this. Sure, you could do it in the evening, but I think starting your day off in the Word and in prayer can really ground you and keep you focused on Christ as you live out your day. After all, as I read in the Bible just this morning, we are to shine like stars in the sky and witness to the world (Philippians 2:15). To do this, we need to ground ourselves on the solid rock of Christ. And then, even if we're tired, even if we need multiple cups of coffee (or English breakfast tea, if you're like me!), we are ready to take on the day, and give it to Christ.

I'll take that over an extra half hour of sleep any day.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

An undeniable voice: how and why I returned to the Catholic Church

If you're reading this blog, chances are you are probably three things: one, Catholic. Two, a mom. Three, someone who is looking for ways to grow in your faith. And I'm right there with you. 

I was born and raised as a Roman Catholic -- I was baptized, received first Communion and the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Confirmation. But I feel like my family was much more culturally Catholic than anything. I know my mother always had a very spiritual side ot her, and believed in God. My dad was proud of his past as an altar boy. But we didn't read the Bible together as a a family, we didn't have family prayer. We didn't pray the rosary together, except for when my Nanny came to visit us. 

Despite this, I was a very spiritually attuned child. I always felt a closeness to Jesus and Mary. But when you aren't surrounded by things to keep you strong in your faith, chances are you will fall away from it. I'm not saying it's a guarantee -- but when we don't incorporate our faith in our homes, when we just rely on taking our children to Mass each week but don't live it out within the four walls of our homes, our children can easily be led down paths that lead away from Rome.

When I was a teenager, in high school, I became good friends with some girls who attended the local Mennonite Brethren church. It was officially Mennonite Brethren, but it definitely felt like a non-denominational Bible church. As a Catholic, it was completely new to me! I liked the upbeat songs, the fresh preaching. I liked how many young people there were there -- people who didn't just go through the motions, but who actually had a passion and love for the Lord. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I am in no way chastising or taking anything away from our Protestant brothers and sisters. They are our family in Christ. And we have heard much from Pope Francis lately about Christian unity. I heard a particularly moving homily at my parent's church the other day about this very topic -- about how we must not only feel connected to other Catholics, but to everyone who professes a belief in Christ. 

Still, there is no doubt that my interactions with this type of Protestantism -- going to youth retreats and worship concerts -- did lead me away from the Church of Rome. I was at an age where I was very open to new things, and passionate too. 

Sadly, this passion cooled when I started college. I stopped going to a church of any kind and I rarely read my Bible or prayed. I still considered myself a Christian, though. It was in college that I met my first proper boyfriend, J. He was attending a college two hours away from me. I was living at home and attending my local college, taking media production and journalism. We met through my best friend at the time, a girl he had dated for a short time in high school, but was never serious with.

I fell in love with J very quickly. He was, and is (spoiler alert: he's my husband!) the most caring, kind man I know. He is hard-working, tender, loving and really relaxed. He takes life as it comes and doesn't worry too much about anything -- he doesn't stress, he takes action. He's exactly the kind of man I needed then, and still do now. 

After our college programs were complete, we moved in together. Yes, we were living in sin, as the saying goes. I had been away from the Church for quite awhile, so this isn't surprising. But when we got engaged a year or so later, I decided it was really important for me to get married in the Catholic Church. This was the first of many calls home that I, sadly, didn't follow up on.

We started attending weekly Mass, and went through wedding prep courses. But then, we moved eight hours away and some family complications led us to having our wedding in a completely different location. To keep things simple, since we were planning it from a distance, we ended up getting married at a country club by a non-denominational Christian officiant. 

Shortly after getting married, we decided to try for a baby. My mom had always told me that women in our family are very fertile, and she was right. We got pregnant right away, and we couldn't have been happier. But I knew I wanted my baby to be raised in the Christian faith. But some things kept holding me back from the Catholic Church -- I'd been given a lot of anti-Catholic rhetoric by some of the less kindly people I had run into in the world of born-again Christians, and some of this stuck with me. And I felt uncomfortable with what I perceived at the time to be the Church's old-fashioned stance on the LGBT community.

I shopped around for a church when my daughter was very new, with my husband supporting me and coming along. He was baptized Anglican, but never attended any services as a child and didn't have any spirituality as part of his growing-up years. We tried the local Mennonite Brethren church, the Anglican, Lutheran and United. Finally, we tried the Presbyterian Church. It's funny, because looking back now, the things that drew me to it are the things that reminded me of the Catholic Church. I liked the more formal liturgy and traditional hymns. It all felt very home-like to me.

So, this is the church that we attended faithfully for about two or three years. We had a wonderful pastor, who helped me through some of my issues with post-partum anxiety and depression. But later on, he and his family moved to Southern Ontario where he became a pastor of a church there.

During this time, I kept on feeling urges to return to the Catholic Church. These are very hard to describe, but the best way I can think of to explain it is like there was a very insistent, inward tug at my soul. It was almost a physical thing. I started yearning for the Church of my childhood, for the faith of my family. Sure, my parents may not have been very fervent Catholics, but my grandparents had a true love and passion for the faith. 

For some reason, over and over, I kept rejecting this call. Sometimes it was because I'd get caught up in scrupulosity about the supposed "rules" I felt the Church imposed on people. At the time, I didn't understand the fact that these rules were not to make us live lives that were fearful and constricted, but to keep us living out Christ's teaching and anchoring us in Him and His love. Sometimes it was because I couldn't align myself with the Church's teaching on certain issues (and I'll post more about how I got over this later). 

But eventually, finally, I came home. Now, we attend Mass regularly. I am excited to put my daughter in catechism in the next few years (she needs to be in Grade 2 to start, and right now she's in Kindergarten). We had her baptized Presbyterian, but our parish priest told us she would become what is known as a "naturalized" Catholic, so long as we continue her on the path of the Sacraments. We had our son baptized shortly before his first birthday, and we had our marriage convalidated around that time, as well. 

At home, we typically (unless we sleep in) say Lauds (morning prayer) and Vespers (evening prayer). I strive each day to read my daughter her daily devotional and a book called "Tell Me About the Catholic Faith". I read the daily Mass readings and other Catholic material, and I try to spend time in silence each day, coming to the Lord. I attempt to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation each month (at least). I listen to The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM radio (I love the Jennifer Fulwiler show!).

And I pray. I pray that I can grow in faith, because the Lord knows I've got a LOT of growing to do. I pray for my husband. I thank God that he is so supportive of my faith, and willing to help me pass this faith on to our kids. I pray that his heart will turn towards God in love and that he will come to know Jesus as his Friend and Saviour. I pray that my children will have a lasting faith in God and His Church as they grow, a faith that will be with them their whole lives. I pray for my family and friends who do not believe, and I pray for the world, that seems so far from God at times.

I'm a work in progress. Pope Francis says that our journey of faith is a constant walk with Christ.  We should be always moving. I trust that God will continue to teach me and instruct me in the Way, and that, despite the many mistakes I'm bound to make, I can somehow make a difference in this world, even if it's just raising kids that love God, each other and the world around them. And I am infinitely grateful that I was born and raised Catholic, and that despite being away from the Church, God kept calling me home. He never gave up on me. He kept calling me until I returned to His loving arms. 

I hope my story helps you if you've ever felt far from the Church, or if you weren't ever part of it but have been curious about it. May God bless you on your walk. I'm praying for you.