Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fear of Work (Insert whatever activity forces you to give up free time)

These questions have been popping into my mind as my Christmas break comes closer and closer to an end:

How will I stay this reflective?  How will I continue to pray like I have been?  How will I stay on top of keeping my house in order? How, when I feel like my life is spinning out of control, will I be able to pinpoint SO FAST the trigger? What's going to happen to me when I have to go back to being super busy all the time?

Then, as always God saves the day!  (In He comes, flying with a cape like a super hero) This line is what I read from my "Prayer for Beginners" book today: "God designed us to be animals (rational animals), not angels.  He put us into a material world, and he put into our nature the need for many kinds of material actions, such as eating, sleeping, begetting and working.  He could not possibly have designed these things to be distractions and obstacles to our santification, but only means to it, for he designed everything to be a means to that end.  Therefore, we can pray even in working (not just as we work); we can make our works prayers.  How do we make our works prayer? Not by changing our work (unless our work is sinful or shoddy or dishonest or lazy), but by changing our motive.  Instead of peeling potatoes because we want to taste them, we peel them because we love God and the God who wants us to peel potatoes right now."

So, for today, A DAY OFF, is not really a day off from loving God.  Now, instead of trying to preserve all my free time because I only have "so much" left. I go live!  In about an hour, I'll leave my house and not be back until midnight....because these things are what God is asking me to do today.  And these events will in fact lead me closer to becoming a saint if I let them!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

All I Want For Christmas

Let's get the popular ones out of the way...

From Christmas carols/movies:
1. Hippopotamus
2. You (whoever "you" might be that year)
3. My Two Front Teeth
4. A Red Rider Action Rifle

When somone asked me this week, "What do you want for Christmas, Erica?" I responded "a husband."  Which was a joke.  I think.  But, it got me thinking....what do I really want?  Now, the following list is somewhat silly and serious.  I hope you can tell the difference in the items I mention.  In making this list I also know and believe that there is a faithful God who knows WAY better than I do what's good for me.  And He gives me everything I need TODAY. 

But, just for funsies, here's my Christmas List for 2010:

In no particular order....

1. A husband...let's just say it.
2. My grandma's hamloaf
3. Snow
4. Midnight Mass Incense
5. An automatic starter for my car
6. Hearing Jess sing "Mary Did You Know?"
7. Mistletoe (wink wink)
8. Another trip to Haiti
9. Snow Boots
10. No more divorce... ESPECIALLY for the parents of my students!
11. Cable TV
12. That I could actually witness (without fear) how much Christ means for everyone's life.
13. Trip to San Diego in the middle of February
14. Massage
15. That family divisions could be healed.
16. An adventure in Rome
17. Kissing my niece's cheeks!
18. Losing ten pounds! (Gotta lay off the Christmas goodies for that to happen!)
19.  Higher salaries for hard working teachers....less for professional athletes.
20.  To know Christ more fully each and every day!

(Last time I made a wish list like this, things started happening!  We will see...)

May God bless you and the ones you love with more than you could EVER dream up or wish for!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Decorations Beyond the Tree....

So, it's December 23rd.  I have no Christmas decorations up in my house except the Christmas cards I've received and some ornaments my students made me.  But, yet, I feel more prepared for Christmas than ever before.  So, what happened?  How did I "decorate" or get ready for Christmas?

1. Attended an advent retreat and a few talks on prayer (for the Advent Season)
2. Went to confession at least twice....maybe more, I can't remember!
3. Started reading that book on prayer and learning more about how to pray...and then actually practicing.
4. DECKED OUT my classroom for the Advent Season....
5. Followed an advent calendar and Jesse Tree with my students
6. Lead the prayer services at school
7. Went to spiritual direction with Fr. Rick
8. Prayed the Christmas Novena (still working on it)
9. Daily reading of reflections in an Advent Guide

I am blessed.  Why?

1. Because I had so many opportunities to grow in these past four weeks, God gave me the time and I never made a plan.
2. Because my job encourages/requires me to do Advent activities with my students which in fact, leads to my own growth.
3. I have friends who do these things with me.
4. I have a priest who truly cares for me and will never let me stray!
5. Because despite whatever I can list of all the "spiritual activities" that I've done in the last four weeks...my heart grows so that I want MORE. 
6. This "wanting more" is going to continue to save me from myself (spending too much time on the internet, seeking unhealthy relationships,  not taking care of my body, etc.)
7. This "wanting more" has an answer and His name is Jesus Christ and his Church.  This is the ONLY place I've found satisfaction.

So, hopefully, when I'm with people this Christmas they will see the "decorated" me.  (Ha, I'm imagining myself with lights, tinsel, popcorn, the whole bit!)  My prayer is that they will see me for the light I carry within that's been ignited once again with Advent and its Christmas preparations.  And may my eyes be opened to the complexities and beautiful simplicities of those in front of me as well.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Friday, December 17, 2010

O Come Let Us Adore Him

My new book on prayer is really helping me!  (See Reading List) First off, it goes right into saying that simply reading ABOUT prayer isn't actually praying.  How simple of a statement, yet how often this is how I justify my prayer time.  What I love about this book is that the chapters are short, so you can practice what is talked about afterwards....

Anyway, last night's reading really hit home for me.  It talked about WHAT to pray for or what to say.  It uses an acronym: RAPT (Repent, Adore, Petition, Thank...) and suggests that the crux of your prayer should be on adoring because this is something that is limitless--since God is limitless.  Right away, I thought to myself, "Adore God?  I don't even know what that means!"  So, obviously, I spend little to no time on this step.

So, after I was done reading the chapter, I started "trying" it out with adoring.  Okay, if I'm with someone I love, how do I "adore" them?  Compliments, staring lovingly, serving them, spending time with them, etc.  So, I started with the compliments part...because that's really all it took....giving God a compliment.

I started thinking about a moment in my day yesterday when my class and I were all singing at the top of our lungs during the spelling test.  (Yes, sometimes this happens because the only sentences I can think of for the specific spelling word are song lyrics.)   The time we spend singing together in my fourth grade room are numerous and beautiful.  I've never had a group of kids who love to sing and dance as much as these guys. 

So, back to my prayer...I thought to myself, "God, you are so awesome for giving me children with such enthusiasm for life...their smiles, their joy, their unique likes and dislikes...and for giving us the gift of music that makes us happy together..."  just daydreaming about how God creates us so pure and innocent and yet super complex and mysterious all at the same time.  And in this moment, sitting on my couch in my living room, I started to laugh!  Not bust-a-gut laugh, but giggle...like I was being tickled from the inside of my stomach.  It was weird, I'm not going to lie.  One of those freaky moments where you think to yourself, "What is going on here?"

I've read about this before where saints were given the gift of laughter, where they would be laughing uncontrollably in prayer...I'm not exactly saying that this is what that was...but I was definitely amused and there was NO ONE else in the room.  Well, God's Presence.

And whack! It hit me...Prayer is real.  Have I ever really known this before? It's not something I do to make myself feel better or apply to my life like medicine or a magic trick.  I need it...as tangibly as a drink of water, food or companionship.  And I can ADORE the Lord about ANYTHING..my adoration/wonder topics are endless: people, the path my life has taken and how God has rescued me in so many instances, the Mysteries of the Church, nature, etc.  All those wonderful things only He created that I could never be smart enough to dream up.

Thinking up all these topics got me fired up a little bit, because my prayer could be interesting, exciting---not just a chore like I always have treated it.  As time passes, I will be able to speak more on this, hopefully.  For now, I'm in wonder of my giggles during a "serious" time of a prayer and what that means for life!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Given Everything You Need....

Thursday night, after a significant amount of moaning, I had a friend remind me that "you have everything you need every day."

I used to know this fact.  I used to reflect on it all the time--ESPECIALLY when things in life were not going my way.  It was in that time about six months ago (when I was really desperate for love from God) that He would surprise me in incredible ways--things that took care of my heart that I couldn't have even fathomed for myself.  The blessings were showered and in abundance.

Fast forward to six months, where I'm more "stable" and life's circumstances have changed.  My job makes me tired and I have to work very hard in my first year in this new grade level.  I'm dating a guy who loves differently than me, and who has a completely different schedule than my own.  Unlike this summer, where I was able to spend a lot of time reflecting about myself and praying, I don't have that free time during the school year.  So, I don't pray because I'm talking myself out of it!

But, "I have everything I need right now."  What does that mean?  Again.  Even though I thought I already knew this.  What does it mean that I can be happy in my job that feels so demanding?  In front of this guy who it might not end up working out with? (whatever that means....because a lot of things work, even if the expected outcome doesn't happen) How do I have all the prayer time that I need when I feel so strapped for time?

Little by little, God is re-educating me through my circumstances about what this means.  First, He gave me a book from Fr. Rick called "Prayer for Beginners" by Peter Kreeft.  In the fifth chapter, it gives a method for prayer that is SO SIMPLE, you can do it any minute of the day.  You STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN to God in that present moment.  For a minute, thirty seconds, but you just rest in Him.  Inevitably for me, I usually remember what's at the heart of that situation when I stop, look and listen.  For example, on Friday, in the middle of a semi-stressful field trip with fourth graders, I stopped (right there in the middle of the statehouse!) and was practicing the presence of God.  Suddenly, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, I saw my students as these Infinite beings hungry for knowledge and love.  It made more sense to be attentive to their endless questions and excitement because through ME they will understand how God comes through reality. I just have to say "yes" to being present to my kiddos!

One of the most beautiful lines in that chapter by Peter Kreeft is, "A good way to act out our acceptance [of Christ dying for us] would be to stop reading this book and pray for at least one minute.  Will you give God one minute?...Are you finished?  Don't read another word until you are. Now, ask God to help you do that again and again for the rest of your life." pg. 36-37

I can't help but get chills thinking about all the times my personal relationship with God can grow in these little one minute "breaks." (which, by the way, are not breaks at all because it's the ONLY time I can truly see reality for what it is....)
I know this post is getting a little long, but I wanted to also share the Scripture for Mass on Friday as well---proving that God was really trying to push home this "you have everything you need" business on to me that day.  The first reading was from Isaiah 48: 17-19

"Thus says the Lord, your redeemer
the Holy One of Israel:
I, the Lord, your God,
teach you what is for your good,
and lead you on the way you should go.
If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea..."

If I still wasn't listening, here was the Psalm response:

"Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life." (Psalm One)

The Lord teaches me the ways that are good and leads me on the way I should go.  I truly do have everything I need THIS day and always.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My First Post of December!

Okay, so I haven't made an original post in awhile...meaning something that isn't a link or what I copied off the internet.

Truth be told, I've been kind of "blah" about life lately.  I'm simply existing.  I'm managing my life fairly well (or so I think) and have actually managed to "plan" everything out.  I became what happens in the utopia in my favorite book, The Giver.  I created my own world where I felt no pain, loneliness or sadness.  On the flip side, you also lose the happiness, joy, excitement in life too because suffering and joy go hand in hand.

Thankfully, God's always looking out for you.  He created me with a heart that LONGS for Him and so I can't stay in this place of consistency for very long.  Throughout the last week, I've had several "wake-up" calls as I'd say it from reality begging me to let go of my plans and live life with my eyes wide open.

First and foremost, it is the beautiful season of Advent in my Church tradition.  Advent is four weeks of preparation before Christmas designed to be a time of prayer and service as a way to purify your heart for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.  My classroom is DECKED OUT this year for the celebration of Advent--there's no way my students could say they don't know what time of year it is or what Advent means for our lives at school.

However, it's amazing to me that those things don't always necessarily carry over into my personal life.  I found myself in the last month getting kind of lazy and not taking great care of myself.  I'm gaining weight, not going to bed on time, complaining about my job more, not making prayer a priority, etc.  I can't really find the cause, other than it was something very subtle because I didn't even see a problem with the way I was living until a week ago!

Well, a few events pulled me out of this crap I was "satisfied" with and made life a little harder.  But with these hardships, as Fr. Rick has said to me, can come great fruit.  And it's ringing true again.

The first BIGGIE "change your ways event" was something I can't really talk about on a blog!  Argh.  But, I will say this: I let a friend down in a HUGE way.  Huge to the point that it even amazed myself that I could act the way I did.  Has this ever happened to anyone else where in the moment you see yourself doing something and inside you're screaming....NOOOO, STOP!...but for some reason, (usually a selfish one) you don't??

Something like this happened in the past week to me to the point that I really had to stop and evaluate (again) what exactly I'm doing with my life.  How am I using the gifts God has given me?  How am I treating God's creatures and the people He puts in my life?  Would I be having such a hard time if I prayed once in awhile?  Why have I not felt sadness in three weeks?  Why have I not been giddy with excitement in two?  What's going on?

Since I started asking those questions (to myself, my friends and most importantly, God) amazing opportunities have been given to me to get to work on this conversion that I just realized I desire. 

1. Advent things EVERYWHERE: Prayer services, special talks, discussion groups, personal devotions, etc.  Having prayer time with my class at school, learning about the Old Testament with them, etc.  Being responsible for the prayer services my school is putting on (which, after complaining about it, am realizing that it's just what God uses to save me...not burden me.)

2. School of Community with CL.  OF COURSE these weeks would be filled with discussions on the meaning of suffering and sacrifice and OF COURSE there would be readings on my vocation as a child of God.  No coincidences in life, my friends.

3. The witness of a friend: I saw a friend this past weekend who lost 50 pounds just by paying attention to what he was eating and exercising 30 min a day.  It seemed simple enough, yet, for me, taking care of my body has really fallen to the waste side.  So, I'm on it!  I'm counting calories, I'm trying to find time to exercise and just, in general, I'm finding motivation to praise God with the body He's given me by not treating it like crap.

4. Friends.  If you don't have friends that you can talk about life seriously with (to the point that they tell you things you may not want to hear about yourself) you are missing out!   God has blessed me with some of the best friends, not because they do everything right all the time, but because deep down , they want to never stop desiring the best that life has to offer in the TRUEST way.  The best is watching (and living with them) as they deal with the dramas of life to see how they react.  I have friends who drive their patients home after work and friends who drive across the country to move someone out of their house.  Friends who say, "I'm not doing this for you because you have to learn it yourself." Friends who make dinner for each other every week.  Friends who live their hardships with bosses, coworkers, family members, or even personal health saying, "Christ, come to me in this place.  Show me your face."  For this "safety net" of support, I am truly grateful.  Because I can't imagine slipping through the cracks with these friendships that God makes possible for me.

In ALL of this.....God is the reason.  He orchestrates all of these things to show me the beauty of the life I have and challenges me to really live---not just micro-manage so nothing hurts.  In this past week I've seen myself asking more questions of my vocation, being more patient with my students' infinite questions, and trying to look at those I interact daily with a newness and freshness...because like I've been made new in seven days...It's possible they have been too!