Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression and the Average Christian

With the sad and tragic death of Robin Williams, there is now a lot of talk and speculation about depression and suicide. Suicide is always a tragedy. Ironically, a man who made the world laugh is now making people cry.

I do not agree with the people that are saying Robin Williams is free now and in a better place. Yes, we can entrust him to a loving and merciful God but I am not going to presume he is in a better place. It is so tragic that he felt there were no other options than to end his life. I do not know if he was a believer in God. It is almost understandable for someone to lose hope and become depressed if they are not a believer. I also do not know what was going on in his mind or if he was suffering from a mental illness. Even though I probably could talk about mental illness because I have a degree in Mental Health, I am not going to address that here. After all, I did not even agree with much of the stuff I was taught in my Psychology classes. I felt the perspectives were too much from a secular world view. 

What I would like to talk about here is the subject of depression for the average Christian without a mental illness. Personally, depression has been a temptation for me. Occasionally it knocks on my door. It usually starts with discouraging thoughts which stem from lack of hope and trust in God. There have been times I bought into these discouraging thoughts and gave into depression which I believe gave the enemy a foothold. The result of this was a spiraling downward of deep depression that was then hard to come out of. The Lord has warned me about giving into this. It is a sin and I have a choice. I can either choose to put my hope, trust and faith in the Lord even when life seems bleak or I can choose to have a pity party and give into depression.

That all being said, I would like to talk about grief and the difference between grief and depression. It is normal and human for us to grieve when tragedy strikes. Even Jesus grieved when his friend Lazarus died. You can grieve and still have hope and faith. When I had a miscarriage a couple years ago, I grieved but I did not give into depression. Instead I surrendered my grief over to the Lord and he turned it into something beautiful.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gearing Up!

I can't believe the summer is almost over. I have been gearing up for the new school year; trying to get organized, ordering curriculum and hoping this will be a better year than last year. Last school year felt like juggling most of the time except I did not feel I did a very good job at it. Homeschooling multiple age children, trying to keep up with the housework and also taking care of a baby or toddler requires being able to multi-task big time, which I am not very good at.

Recently I was praying about this and an image came to my mind of people that are able to jump rope over multiple ropes while also doing flips and turning around. The Lord encouraged and showed me that to be able to do that takes a lot of patience, perseverance, and practice. Then he compared it to me as a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom (guess I wasn't imagining when I thought my life felt like that). I believe he was telling me I shouldn't beat myself up if I am not in that place yet and I keep tripping over the ropes. If I keep persevering and keep leaning back and resting in his grace in everything I do, he will get me to the place where I am able to handle everything that comes up in a day with grace and ease.

A few months back, the Lord really impressed upon me that my most important goal everyday needs to be to encounter him and help my children encounter him. I am trying to plan my school year and curriculum accordingly. There are a lot of good curriculums out there and it would be easy to get bogged down, wanting to do multiple things but if I remember that our main goal is to encounter him, then I feel I need to keep it simple. I am mainly going to stick with CHC (Catholic Heritage Curricula). I love the way it weaves in the faith with the lessons. I also like that their lessons are not too rigorous. The only subjects that I am not going to use CHC for is Math. Clare will be in 3rd grade and uses a program called Making Math Meaningful which is working really well for her. Lily is more of a kinesthetic learner and I am going to try Life of Fred with her. She is very bright and has a very creative mind but she wasn't really ready to sit and do most Kindergarten work last year so we are going to try again this year. She missed the cutoff by one month for just entering into Kindergarten this year anyway so I think we are fine. Sarah who is four is going to be working on the same material as Lily so that should make things easy. Hopefully Isaac who is 18 months will be content to play with toys I have stashed away while his sisters do school. Here's hoping :)

We usually start each school day off with a decade of the rosary, focusing on the life of Jesus one mystery at a time. We then read from the bible, preferably the gospel for the day and then each of the kids takes about five minutes to go off on their own and seek Jesus. I then have them write or draw in their prayer journals. My eighteen year old daughter will not have school on Fridays this year so she has suggested that we go to mass every Friday. This might be a challenge getting the little ones out of the house and at church by 9am but we'll give it a try. Another way children can encounter the Lord is through fun activities and creating memories. So, we will again take one day a week to either celebrate a feast day with our friends from our Eucharistic Heart group, go on a field trip or work on enrichment activities and learning games.

This is my plan. We'll see how it goes. If we all stay healthy (unlike last year as we caught EVERY illness that was going around) it could be a productive year. If it doe not go as I plan, I need to remember that God's grace is sufficient! He has always been faithful to make up for where I am lacking. Just like the boy who gave his little lunch of a few loaves of bread and fish and had it multiplied, I need to remember that if I give Jesus what little I have, he will multiply it as well.

* I am not being paid to advertise the curriculum I recommended.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How much is enough?

Once I was at a meeting with a group of church leaders. One woman there was the mother of a teenage daughter. She was lamenting how some of her daughter's friends had gone astray and she was wondering how we could keep our own children from going astray. One of the men spoke up and said, "We just need to pray continuously for them!". This didn't sit well with me. Afterall, how much prayer would be enough? Also, that seems to put it all on us. It also makes God out to be an ogre who witholds his mercy and grace from his children.

The truth is, God never withholds his mercy and grace.  
Luke 11:11-13 - What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;  or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  
We just need to tap into and get in touch with God's heart and his grace. When I pray for my children and others, I try to join my heart with God's heart for them and get in touch with what he already wants to do. I then place them in God's hand and entrust them to him without taking them back. Then I stand back and watch in amazement as God works and makes up for where I am lacking. This also helps make intercession a form of contemplation where I am able to encounter him.

I am also a homeschooling mom. Some days can get a little overwhelming. There is always more that you feel like you could be teaching your children and there is always more housework and laundry that could be done.

The Lord has really impressed on my heart that my main goal everyday needs to be to encounter him and help my children encounter him. Encountering him does not mean we say some prayers and memorize some scripture verses. Encountering him means we seek his face, meditate on his love and place ourselves in his presence. Instead of having my children memorize scripture I teach them the stories of Jesus' life so they get to know him and love him.

As a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom, I do not always get through every subject. My house is often messy and I do not always get through all the laundry, but I can have peace at the end of the day knowing I did the most important thing...I encountered Christ and helped my children encounter him as well.

Friday, July 4, 2014

"Being Religious"

This might be a touchy subject but it comes up quite a bit so I thought I would address it. I know some Protestant, non-denominational, evangelicals who pride themselves on not "being religious". "It's about a relationship not religion" they will say. I know where they are going with this and to an extent, I would agree but I'm not sure they really know what "being religious" means. They are usually too polite to tell me to my face but sometimes they will imply that I am involved with a 'religious institution', as if it were a bad thing and say it is not for them. 

First of all, religion does not have to be and should not be anti-relationship with God. I agree that we are called to have a relationship with God. Through Jesus' death and resurrection, he made a way for that to happen. We are called to "rend our hearts, not our garments." (Joel 2:3).  And we are called to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul. He does not want just lip service, he wants heart service. In effect, he wants his law to be written on our hearts.

I know people that think that striving to be obedient to the Lord is "being religious". I don't get that! Didn't Jesus even say, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."(John 14:15)? I would like to propose that if you are not walking in obedience to the Lord but go to church every week and say that you love him, you are "being religious". If you are lukewarm in your faith, but still go through the motions, you are "being religious". I also had someone tell me once, "Shoulds are bad and if you tell yourself, 'I should do this and I shouldn't do that', then you are being religious." Isn't that statement in itself being legalistic and putting God in a box?

There are also those that say that 'guilt' is a bad thing as if ALL guilt was bad. Paul however in his letter to the Corinthians distinguishes and talks about a guilt that is a good thing. 

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)

So, it sounds to me like there is a 'Godly guilt' that is a good thing because it can lead to someone leaving sin behind and changing their ways.

Some Protestants also think it is religious that Catholics have a liturgy (a collection of formularies for public worship). I hate to break it to my fellow Christians, but if you belong to a church, you probably have a liturgy. It may be a shallow liturgy, but it is still a liturgy. If you gather, sing a few songs, have a message and a time of prayer every week, that is a liturgy. If you are doing this every week but not inviting God to be in your midst, that is "being religious". If you are going through the motions but your heart is distant, not surrendered to the Lord and your thoughts are elsewhere, that is "being religious". In any given denomination you have those who just go through the motions but are not sold out for the Lord. It is not the religious institution or denomination that is the culprit, but the callousness of our own hearts. I think most of us have been "religious" at one point or another.

Now, I will give "non-religious people" this, "religious people" might be more prevalent in a denomination where there are many born into it instead of choosing it. That is not as much the fault of the church as it is those in charge of teaching and catechizing (which should primarily be the parents). In the Catholic Church there also might be more to ensnare someone who is prone to scrupulosity and someone who has not yet had a personal encounter with the Lord. However, for someone who has had that personal encounter, there is so much richness and beauty that can aid to help one grow deeper in the faith and love of the Lord.  Knowing what is there, why we do what we do and out of love for the Lord, putting our hearts into our Faith is not "being religious".

I grew up in the Catholic Church, and growing up I did not know that we could have a relationship with Christ. I thought he created us, left us on this earth to fend for ourselves and watched from a distance like that 1980's song "From a Distance". However, that couldn't be further from the truth and when I was 19, my spiritual eyes were opened (through the breaking of the bread) at a Mass. I then discovered that God was very much in our midst, walking among us and imparting his grace through the Sacraments of the Church. I also was involved in non-denominational churches for ten years and knew people who went to church every Sunday but were not surrendered to Christ or living for him during the week.

I propose that we as Catholics and Protestants who love the Lord, work together to help those around us encounter Christ. I say we stop judging, labeling and start loving one another, recognizing all we have in common instead of what is different. It is then and only then that Christ will be revealed in and through us! 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dealing with Strongholds

Eventually if we live in this world long enough we will experience hurt and disappointment. The hurts we experience in life can create unhealthy patterns and wrong ways of thinking that influences the way we act. In turn we could end up hurting others, push people away or cause unhealthy co-dependent relationships.

Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

These unhealthy patterns in our life are called strongholds. They need to be pulled up by the root and replaced with truth.

So, the question is, how does this happen and how do we do this? 

It really isn't about anything we do as it is about surrendering to the work that God wants to do in us. As we meditate on God, bask in his presence, and encounter him, we learn to lean back and rest in his perfect love for us. Hebrews 12:29 describes God as an all consuming fire. As we encounter the fire of his love, just like gold when refined in the fire, the dross or impurities in our heart are brought to the surface and need to be skimmed off. 

This can be an uncomfortable process and there can be a temptation to run in the other direction. However, if we will surrender and cooperate with the hand of God, we will be transformed from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

When hurtful memories from my past come to the surface, I first reflect on whether I have any unforgiveness toward the person who hurt me and whether I need to forgive them. Sometimes this is hard to figure out so I think about how I would feel if I saw them in person. I then think about what I would want to do to that person and what I think they deserve for their actions. I then picture Jesus on the cross, taking on that punishment I think that person deserves. This usually makes me feel pretty sad to think about and makes it easier for me to forgive that person. I then repent for having ill feelings toward the person. I know I have been able to forgive that person when I can then think of them and feel no animosity and even joy at the thought of being in their presence.

Once that stronghold is uprooted through forgiveness it then needs to be replaced with truth otherwise there will still be a vulnerable hole. What I do is try to picture Jesus in that memory and ask him to show me what he was doing or saying in the situation.

I personally like when the Lord brings things into the light in my own life. First of all it means God has his eyes on me and second I get excited because I know that as I allow the Holy Spirit to do a work in me, I will be able to draw closer to him and will better be able to love other people.

Here are some  examples of some strongholds the Lord has brought to the surface recently in my own life:

When I was a kid, I got asked the same question many kids get, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" However, I never knew how to answer that question. Finally one day when I was 11 or 12  I was watching a documentary about a missionary. It was like a light bulb went on in my head and I realized that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was so excited and ran to tell my mom. When I told her, she said, "No you don't! They get killed!" I walked away from her feeling crushed and really discouraged, dismissing that dream.

The way this experience created a stronghold in my life and set up an unhealthy pattern is by causing me to value the opinions of others over my own even if they were not true. I  also would have the tendency to base my actions on the opinions of other instead of my own, especially those closest to me. If those closest to me would disagree with a dream and a desire I had then I would dismiss it and let go of it, figuring it wasn't from the Lord after all.

Once I realized this, I invited the Lord into that memory and asked him to show me the truth. I then saw him kneel down to my level, hold my hands and tell me he was proud of me that I was in tuned to him and listening and he did have plans to use me.

Another example had to do with an authority figure. I have had a tendency to be intimidated by authority figures and fearful of being misunderstood by them. The Lord showed me a memory that helped cause this. It had to do with a meeting I had with a priest to help me deal with a certain crisis in my life. Instead he misunderstood and rebuked me. I thought about how I would feel if I saw him and realized I would probably want to give him a dirty look. I then thought about Jesus on the cross and taking on that dirty look. This made me sad and I was able to forgive that priest. I was also able to see that when this crisis was resolved soon after, it was sovereignly by the hand of God.

This process has helped me step into greater freedom and joy. That is ultimately what the Lord wants for his people. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." - Galatians 5:1. Jesus desires for us to have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10)! It is the interior freedom that comes from the process of allowing Christ to do a work in us that gives us this life full of joy!


Friday, June 20, 2014

Thoughts on Hiddenness

Last week I was watching a documentary put on by the Imagine Sisters giving us a glimpse into the lives of several religious sisters from different orders. One of the sisters talked about working in a thrift store. While there she would ask customers if there was anything she could pray about for them. One woman she encountered and asked this question to said no because she was an athiest. This caused great sadness with the sister. She realized that if the woman didn't believe in God then the woman had no hope. She then heard God's still small voice telling her to meet the woman where she was at. The sister remembered that when the woman first came into the thrift store she saw a bird house she really liked but didn't have enough money for it. The sister then went over to the bird house and gave it to the woman as a gesture of God's love for her.

How often does God meet us where we are at too?! He could Lord his authority over us, reveal his glory and demand submission but he doesn't.  He knows all our flaws and imperfections and ways we are not able to receive his love but he is so patient and only brings things up when he knows we are ready. He remains hidden until our hearts are open to receive.

There are times we may beg for him to speak and reveal himself to us regarding a certain situation. We do not always understand when we do not receive an answer right away. Oftentimes it is out of his great mercy if we do not hear from him right away or see what he is doing because he knows we are not ready to receive and obey. If we hear from him and we don't act on it we will be held more accountable. He never witholds from us for his own benefit but out of mercy and compassion for us. "Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe!" - John 20:29

Maybe the reason Jesus hides himself under the appearance of bread and wine in the Eucharist is so more people will receive him. If our eyes were truly open to the reality of the magnitude of his presence in the Eucharist, would we run in the other direction and proclaim that we are not worthy or would we still be able to humbly receive his love in that way and be willing to approach his throne of grace? This way he is able to work his grace in hidden and mysterious ways.

The Lord also often hides us, his people. There are some reading this that may feel unnoticed and almost hidden to the world. There are things you desire to do but almost feel invisible at times. That is because you are like a lucky penny that someone finds on the street and puts in their pocket but went unnoticed by many other people before. Like the person that notices a lucky penny, the Lord notices you and hides you in the palm of his hand. He desires to do a work in you and transform you into his image. He reveals himself to you in secret and desires you to grow in intimacy with him.. You may feel hidden and ordinary to the world but the Lord calls you his beloved. The only thing you are required to do during this process is surrender and receive his love. Often times we can grow impatient and question why it is taking him so long and why is he doing it this way?!

 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" - Romans 9:20.


Let's not forget that he came to us as a little baby and remained hidden for 30 years. He does not have a problem with hiddenness if it will help us and bring God more glory in the end. So, let us surrender to the process, be content with hiddenness and at the proper time, the Lord will pull us out and display his glory through us.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Upping the Ante

I believe God's greatest plan for us is to perfect us in love. We are called to love God and love others with Christlike sacrifice and abandon. In order to get to this place we need to be able to abide in God's love (John 15:1-9). The way we abide in God's love is through contemplation which should be the ultimate goal of all prayer. Contemplation is a state of beholding God and union with him. Through contemplation we encounter God. It is ultimately a gift but we can place ourselves in a state that is best able to receive this gift and then it is ultimately a work that God does in us as we surrender to him more completely. As we behold Christ frequently we come to know just how dependent we are on him. We recognize our spiritual poverty. Like St. Catherine of Sienna's revelation, we become aware that we are the ones who are not and  God is the one who is. As we surrender to this knowledge, he strips away the layers that keep us at arms length from him. He often uses circumstances in our life to open our eyes to our own weakness and dependence on him. It should be our goal to walk in a state of contemplative prayer, leaning back in Christ in everything we do; learning to live and move and have our being in Christ (Acts 17:28), making the prayer of St. Patrick a reality.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

How do we know when we have come to this place? We will know when even in the midst of the storms of life, we have a peace and calm in our soul, trusting in God with our whole being in reckless abandon. We may even think we have arrived at this place; after all we have overcome some incredible obstacles, keeping our eyes fixed on Christ, surrendering and trusting in him through the hardships in life. Then it seems the ante is raised, our faith is shaken or the circumstances in our life once again causes us to be distracted. Where it was becoming easy to lean back in Christ, contemplating on him all day long, making our life a prayer, suddenly a distraction is thrown into the mix and we come to an even deeper understanding of our reliance on him and that we can do nothing apart from him. Once again we are called to surrender, trust, and lean back in Christ, letting him more fully take the reins.