Just Begin

Ok, it’s time. I have begun…again. My littlest one has just turned one and my body is my own for five minutes, which means exercise! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little tired of this routine: 10th baby, 10th attempt at getting back in shape. Sigh. It’s a struggle for me to keep this body in check, but we only get one and we have a duty to take care of it, so here I am again.

I now have two weeks under my belt and have been reminded that the pain does give way to strength, all the previous excuses and objections melt away, and as in all things that are challenging, there are great spiritual lessons to be learned.

For me, getting started is always the hardest part. I know very well why I need to do it and that there will be great rewards before too long, but I still wasted weeks making excuses. “I’m just pulled in too many directions already. I feel exhausted, drained, and like I have nothing left to give,” I said. Probably 10 out of 10 friends would agree that I actually did not have time to officially go exercise. Even a quick 30-minute workout routine takes quite a bit of preparation and planning. I needed to decide with intention that I was committed to making it happen. Once I made that critical decision, I made it a priority and found something manageable for my circumstances. Finally, I got started and did my best. My first weeks didn’t always go quite as I imagined. At one point, I was on the floor trying to work my abs with a puppy licking my face, a baby crawling on top of me, and a running commentary from the 11 year-old boy child who was less than impressed with my abilities. But, I persevered through those first painful days and little by little started feeling results. My energy has increased, I am stronger already, and my clothes fit just a little better. Now that I have a routine down and am feeling as good as I am, I don’t ever want to stop exercising again! Why did I wait so long to begin?

I’m feeling the exact same way about my prayer time. Here I am, early in the morning before my house is buzzing, enjoying the richness and beauty of the silence, wondering what took me so long to begin?! Nothing can get in the way of this precious time like having a newborn and a driving need for sleep and that’s exactly how it went for me this past year. Peace and prayer had been replaced by a frantic longing to find that space for myself. I know firsthand how wonderful life gets when I devote some time in prayer each day and yet it felt difficult and I made excuses left and right. I was justifying all the demands on my time instead of taking a hard look at what I was doing with it and considering where I could make some changes. I knew the only thing I needed to do was show up. When we bring our will, God makes the way. Despite knowing all that, I procrastinated. I’m not sure when I decided to begin, but thankfully I finally did! I reorganized my routine a bit, let my family know how important it was for me, and decided with intention to show up. Since I’m not the most patient person in the world, the Lord had to teach me again to be still in mind and body. At first, my prayer time felt a little harried since I spent some of the first weeks asking Him to show me the fruit of it rather than just shutting up and letting Him. He was tilling this soil before planting and watering. But, I kept showing up because I know how necessary it is for my soul and my life and before long seedlings emerged. I kept coming back to soak up the sun and in no time the Lord brought forth His fruit. Life is beautiful and wonderful once again. Some days I only find minutes, other days it’s more, but it always seems to be the exact right amount for Him to give me all that I need.

As predicted, I find myself wondering how I ever survived without this time in silence. I am once again filled with peace, greater Hope, a stronger sense of my purpose, a more firm resolve, motivation to accomplish my duties, and greater Joy in the everyday stuff. I love better and more readily, am frustrated less, forgive more easily, and hold my tongue more successfully. My relationships have all improved. My crosses no longer seem so heavy. I see more clearly, listen more readily, and hear more effectively. I have better self-control and more discipline, which helped me find time to start exercising! The world around me feels fresh and new, reminding me that, Syracuse weather notwithstanding, “It’s a beautiful day.” The more the Lord fills me up, the more I crave Him in every way. I am the handmaid of the Lord. My life is the same and yet everything about it is infinitely different. Seriously, if we could bottle this, people would be beating down the doors for it!

Why did I ever wait even one minute longer before making this time for the Lord?! It’s not a mere chore that I am duty bound to fulfill, but more like a budding romance full of newness and excitement. The light of Heaven colors my vision and, unlike exercise time, every moment in prayer feels like the greatest gift. The silence draws me as nothing else ever could because l have found my truest love and He awaits me there. For this love, were we all made.

Just begin!

Psalm 139
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
1
You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
4
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
5
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
6
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
7
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
13
For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17
How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.
19
If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

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Discipline

Are you more disciplined that a 1st grader?

As my 6-year old is discovering, first grade is a big year. He has new and increased responsibilities and expectations that are proving tough for a little boy with tons of energy!  He would much rather be dressing-up and playing superhero or playing Mario Bros on the Wii than practicing reading or spelling.  He would definitely rather play on the gameboy or the Ipad or go outside and shoot hoops than think about tomorrow for even a minute. We’ve been working on some strategies to help him get organized and stay focused but there is just so. much. distraction.  What I don’t understand is that he loves reading when I make him do it, yet it is never his first choice.  He loves being able to spell words and is proud of his ability to figure it out and understand. I can sense his feelings of accomplishment and empowerment and excitement and his smile speaks for itself.  The time we spend together is rewarding for both of us.  So why isn’t he looking to read with me from the moment he walks in the door?

The concepts of discipline and obedience are challenging for most adults so it’s not surprising that they are difficult for a 6-year old.  He is being given clear and true expectations and goals and knows exactly what the consequences will be should he choose not to obey.  I think this is where we, as a society, struggle. Who or what should we be obedient to and why?   What consequences might we face?  We live in a world that preaches relativist attitudes and absolute Truths are easily hidden.  We are taught to think of ourselves as our own sole authority.   As obscure as the idea might seem today, there is a more supreme authority than this trinity of self (me, myself and I).  Even if our consciences are formed enough to recognize God and his laws as supreme and absolute, discipline and obedience are essential to living that faith.

English: child Jesus with the virgin Mary, wit...

English: child Jesus with the virgin Mary, with the Holy Spirit (represented as a dove) and God the Father, with child john the Baptist and saint Elizabeth on the right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is far too easy to let the busy schedules and demands of day-to-day life keep us from doing what is essential for our souls.  Furthermore, the essential is so obscured that a soul no longer even knows what it is longing and striving for.  We seek and work for worldly ideals that can never satisfy, all the while avoiding or ignoring the nourishment we really need.

And it is only by filling ourselves with God that we can navigate all of it in the first place.

Think of all the ways you nurture a relationship with your spouse, or child or parent or friend.  God deserves the same care times 10!  That relationship is the only way we can successfully battle the storms of the day.  It doesn’t always have to be a big effort either.  Sometimes it is momentary silence in His presence, adoring Him, other times it is the simple honest communication of our moments.  Or how often do we call a friend with our need to ‘vent’ instead of ‘venting’ to God? He should be the go-to shoulder we cry on since He’s the one with all the answers anyway.  At times you may have a few quiet minutes that can be put to good use.  The other morning I had about 5 minutes until wake-up call and wanted to ‘hurry up’ and get my prayer time in.  I spent about 3 minutes trying to empty my brain of the considerable to-do list ahead, 1 minute ordering God to please hurry and just give me a little something to bless my day and finally for my last minute I shut-up and got out of my own way long enough to open my Magnificat to the morning readings.  As I read those few words of scripture I swear I heard a choir of angels sings as I slowly felt my whole being come alive.  The living word spoke to me in the exact way I needed that morning and I was renewed and ready to slay dragons for the Lord ( in my kitchen and laundry room at least!)  God worked a little miracle in my soul in under 1 minute despite my somewhat rude behavior.  Imagine saying to a husband or friend, “hurry, you have exactly one minute to be with me so make it good”.  But He did and managed to put a smile on my face for the whole day.

Luckily for Andrew it is my job to help him stay on track and meet his responsibilities until he is mature enough to be self-disciplined.  It is for his good that I turn off the television, and the wii and take away the Ipad.  Left to his own devices he might never choose to do actual work.  Then he would never become a good reader, and consequently wouldn’t learn all that he needs to learn.

The church acts in this same capacity for all of us on behalf of Jesus.  It is her job as ‘parent’ to lay out the absolute truths we are to live by and uphold the authority Jesus gave her so we can know exactly who and what to be obedient to and consequently what disciplines to practice.  By trusting in her almighty wisdom and being obedient to her prescriptions for our spiritual life we have a better chance at staying on the narrow road.  At a minimum we are obligated to go to mass on Sundays and holy days and meet Jesus in the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession.  We can further meet Jesus through spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  We can call upon our Lady who leads us to her Son through the meditations of the Rosary.  The lives and writings of thousands of martyrs and saints have so much to teach us.  Prayer groups, praise and worship service, adoration chapels, along with countless ministry and outreach programs are active in churches everywhere and are a great way to feed a hungry soul and serve the Lord.  All of these things take discipline however.  We are busy and surrounded by so much noise all the time.  The demands of keeping up are high.  Choosing an hour in adoration or a half hour meditation on the sorrowful mysteries is not always as easy and glamorous as chatting on the phone or watching something great on TV, but God never disappoints and our efforts for Him will be met with reward.  I can tell you that when I choose God over some other enjoyment or pleasure, I am NEVER disappointed.  I NEVER feel as though I have missed out on anything.  I NEVER feel empty and unfulfilled.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jer 29:13

God has a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Like my first grader’s desire to play, people often relate the sentiment that they want to enjoy their life, not worry about spiritual ‘work’. Certainly God wants us to enjoy our life!  He filled the world with goodness and beauty and light precisely for our enjoyment.  It is a simple matter of priority and recognizing that there is a time for all things.  There is time to spend with the Lord and time to spend in the world and time to spend with the Lord in the world.  Our relationship with Him will lead to the ultimate enjoyment but it takes discipline to choose, again and again, to drown out the noise of the world and seek Him.  It takes discipline to be obedient to the Supreme authority that has ordained this same discipline for our good and ultimately for our enjoyment.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:11)

*As the election approaches may God Bless our Country and may we all vote in obedience to God for the good of all mankind.*

I Work Out

“I’m sexy and I know it. I work out!” These lyrics by the oh-so-appropriately named (even if a little inappropriate) LMFAO are rolling around in my head. I got myself back to the gym this week, after a little workout sabbatical (read: been waaaay too busy for that)  so I think that now qualifies me as “working out”.  The’ sexy and I know it’ part- well -I’m laughing something off!  So that little voice in my head and the screaming button on my jeans guilted me into finding time for the gym.  And for the record I would just like to say that I have not missed going to the gym at all.  Really.  Not at all.  I don’t enjoy exercising in a forced and contrived environment, though I’ve done it out of necessity for years.

I went back full steam and did a class and some cardio and some weight training.  It was difficult because the whole time my mind was whirling with the lists and responsibilities just waiting….lurking in my mind.   But as I said, necessity drove me and I moved from machine to machine working each muscle group thoroughly. Despite the weight of duty calling and a slight boredom, I persevered knowing that I would be thankful later that I accomplished a worthy and healthy thing for myself.

Two days later I realized some of the fruit of that worthy and healthy thing…. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) to be precise.  Apparently it does require muscle use to move fingers on a keyboard.  Still I was proud of myself and willing to endure a little pain for the sake of the greater good.  Until the third day when I moved from tight and sore into full-out robot maneuvers because it just plain hurt too much to bend. Anything.  I vaguely remember crying out to the universe, “I take it back! I un-workout!”  There just isn’t enough healthy and good, and definitely not enough sexy, that could or should justify that pain and suffering!

The crosses we bear in our lives often feel similar, whether of our own making or not.  They are sometimes painful and heavy, sometimes tedious and aggravating and often we can’t really see the point even if we have a vague sense that somehow they are for our good.   How often do we cry out in distress to make it stop or change or go away or improve?  How often do we seem to get no response and see no change?  Or how often do we come through hardship the better and stronger for it?  In every case, God asks us to persevere and trust in Him because He knows exactly what the point is.

Simon de Vos - The Israelites after Crossing t...

Simon de Vos – The Israelites after Crossing the Red Sea – WGA25334 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We can look at the example of the Israelites coming out of slavery.  They were in the desert waiting on the Lord for 40 years! They cried out and prayed and begged, and in spite of manna raining down from heaven to feed them daily, they ultimately failed to trust.  Moses went up Mt Sinai for 40 days and by the time he came back down God’s chosen people were worshipping idols. (Ex. 32) These were a people that had walked through the Red Sea on dry ground! They experienced miracles directly from God but how easily they gave up when the waiting didn’t seem to make sense.

We can ask, about the Israelites, and about our own lives, what is the point of the suffering God allows?   I certainly can’t pretend to have the answer to that profound question; who can know the mind of God after all?   But it is not difficult to look back at the Israelites on their way to Canaan and see where they might have gone wrong.  They certainly lost patience, and failed to obey and trust in God’s promise to lead them to the promised land. They questioned and tested God when they were hungry and thirsty (Ex 16-17).  The minute the going got tough they decided they had a better way.

What they missed was the point that our sufferings are an opportunity for purification.   They provide an opportunity to rely totally on our sovereign God and believe wholeheartedly that there is a point and a plan and that He is providing all the grace we need to be victorious for eternal rewards.

When we look at our crosses from this perspective they become easier to bear.  When we open our hearts to God in total trust and abandonment, He fills them with Grace to bear up in our circumstances.   He teaches not only the bearer of the cross but sometimes those who come into contact with another’s cross, how to trust and rely on Him in all circumstances.  He fills our hearts with Himself, thereby assuring us of victory.

My muscles are no longer screaming at me in killing pain.  I’m not even sure what was accomplished by those few little workouts, but somehow I know it was good and I’m glad that I have the first and most difficult week under my belt. Even if it’s on a very small scale, I am stronger and better off and more prepared to take on bigger and better workout challenges that will lead to a healthier and happier physical me!  Most importantly I’ve opened up an opportunity for myself to grow and to change.

If those Israelites had known then what we know now, if they had the knowledge of hindsight, imagine how obedient and full of Love for self and neighbor and how faithful in trusting and worshiping the one true God they would have been.

Wouldn’t they?

After all the land of milk and honey awaits.