Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Be a Living Rosary!

Drawing by Anna Ponchak
I believe God calls us to the vocation that is going to best help us encounter him and help us grow in holiness. The more we encounter him and grow in holiness, the more joy we will have. For me, that vocation is Motherhood. 

My children have definitely helped me in my quest for holiness and have helped me grow closer to Christ. Through my first two, the Lord started teaching me about resting in him and receiving his grace. The next two helped teach me perseverance. Number six, our boy taught me that God is faithful to his promises. Through my fifth child however, I feel like I have grown the most. You see, she was miserable from day one and continued to be that way until she turned four. She cried all the time, even when I would hold her. She also would not go to anyone else but me and she constantly wanted to be held and nursed so I never got a break. 

One day I was sitting in the rocking chair, that she dictated I sit in, and nursed her while also reading a book a friend gave me. The book was Interior Freedom, by Fr. Jacques Philippe. I read stories about people that had been prisoners in concentration camps but still had joy and peace because they had found an interior freedom that came from knowing Christ. I cried as I read this book because like them, I also felt like a prisoner, just to a lesser degree. Before my fifth daughter was born, I kind of had it all together, or at least I thought I did. Everything was somewhat under control. I was usually able to complete my "to-do-list" every day. After Sarah showed up however, my world seemed to fall apart. That book helped me to see that there was a lot of work that the Holy Spirit still needed to do in my heart. I realized he was calling me to a higher level of surrender.

I began to realize that my main goal everyday was to complete my mental "to-do-list". I even had prayer on that list. If anything stood in the way of me getting my list completed, I would lose my peace and my joy and my family suffered. After two years of struggling to row upstream and cry out to the Lord, "WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?!", he finally showed me my problem. He impressed on me that my main goal every day needed to be to encounter him and help my children encounter him. I then realized, that even though I was making it a priority to pray everyday, I wasn't necessarily taking the time to encounter him. By just trying to complete my "to-do-list" everyday, I had become like a hamster on a hamster wheel and life lost it's joy and felt like drudgery.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis said, "The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all those who encounter Christ."

When our main goal is to encounter Christ, well, we can do that no matter what is going on in our lives. We can encounter Jesus in the joys of life. We can encounter him in the sorrows and the cross. We can encounter him on the mountaintop or the valley. We can find him in the mundane and the thrilling. Most everything we experience, Jesus experienced. He was and is a person. These are also the things we meditate on when we pray a rosary. For my Protestant friends who may think the rosary is all about Mary, it really is not. Through the rosary, we meditate on the Gospel, the life of Jesus. Yes, there are also Marian prayers. Through these we ask Mary for her intercession and to bring us into a deeper relationship with her son. There are also a few things we experience, especially those of us who are mother's, that Mary instead of Jesus experienced. She experienced the joy and sorrow of being a mother. It is okay to meditate on these things (Philippians 4:8). Jesus gave her as a gift to us (John 19:27) and we can find comfort in her story because it is our story too. Unlike Jesus who was also fully God, Mary was fully human and yet she was highly favored and full of grace (Luke 1:28). This should encourage us of how much we also are loved and the level that God desires to elevate us and how we, like Mary are also called to magnify him (Luke 1:46). This is also what we as Catholics meditate on when we pray a rosary. Mainly though, through the rosary we meditate on the life of Jesus. We meditate on his joys, his adventures, his sorrows, and his glory. It is all covered in the rosary. The goal then is to join our lives to his. In this way, we become a living rosary. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hearing God's Voice

Last night I had the privilege of giving a talk at my church on hearing the voice of God in our lives. This is a topic I am very passionate about!

When I was eighteen, I actually stopped believing in God because I figured if there was a God then he should be able to speak to me and since I didn't hear him speaking, he must not exist. At the age of nineteen, the Lord revealed himself to me in a powerful way! I discovered that he does know and care about us on a personal level and he does speak to his people. He saved me from a life of sin and despair and I couldn't wait to show him how grateful I was! I got involved in every ministry I possibly could and became VERY busy. Looking back, I was actually running way ahead of him and there were times he was trying to get my attention but I wasn't listening.

One such occasion that really stands out was a time I was actually praying alone in my room instead of on the go like usual. A word came to me that something was going to happen to my car, it would be on a Wednesday and it would be on the way to church. I thought that was odd because Wednesday was the only day I wasn't at the church. That next Wednesday came and went and nothing happened so I forgot about that word. Shortly after that, the youth minister at the church I attended asked me to be on the leadership team and they were going to start meeting on Wednesdays. I said yes, but did not remember the word the Lord gave me. The first Wednesday leadership meeting day was hectic to say the least. I went to community college in the morning, worked in the afternoon and then was rushing to make it to the meeting in the evening. The church was about thirty minutes away and I was speeding down a busy highway during rush hour traffic, trying to make it there on time. I still did not remember the word that came to me that day in prayer but for some reason I felt uneasy in my spirit so I was praying the whole time in the car. All of a sudden my car went from about 75 miles an hour to 20 in a matter of seconds. I also lost control and my car was swerving all over the road and finally came to a stop on the left hand side. Miraculously, no cars hit me even though there were cars driving on all sides of me. It turns out, the front Axel rod broke off. According to natural law, I should have been hit. Even though that event shook me up, I continued full speed ahead and did not slow down until after I was married and had a couple kids. Through difficult pregnancies and an autoimmune condition, the Lord finally was able to get my attention and began to teach me how to lean back in him, rest and receive his complete and perfect love and grace. You can read more about that here. It is out of this place that I began to hear God more clearly in my life.

The fact that our God speaks to us is one thing that sets our God apart from other so called "gods".  Psalm 135:15 says, "The idols of the nations are silver and gold, but by the hands of men. They have mouths but cannot speak..." Our God is living and active! He is more than capable of speaking! Heck, he even brought the world into existence by speaking a Word and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14)!

Obvious ways God speaks to his people is through Scripture and through the Church. If you have ever read the lives of the Saints, you know he also desires to speak to us personally. The reasons we often do not hear him are because we are too busy, there is too much noise around us, we do not have our spiritual "antennas" set towards him, and we do not expect to hear him speak to us.

Learning to be still, rest and listen has helped in my ability to hear God in my life. There are many scripture verses about resting in the Lord. Here are a few of my favorites:

Psalm 62:1 - "My soul finds rest in God alone."
Isaiah 30:15 - "In quiet and rest is your salvation."
Psalm 46:10 - "Be still and know that I am God."

There are different ways God speaks to his people. It can come from a thought popping into our head that wasn't from us; visions, which can range from an image popping in to your head to a whole scene being played out, like a movie; sudden knowledge, you just know with your "knower"; an audible voice; and dreams.

Personally I have had a lot of fun with dreams. There are several types of dreams a person can have. There are dreams from our flesh that help us work things out in the night. These are usually in muted color. There are dreams from the enemy. Sometimes God allows these to help give us insight into the schemes of the enemy. These are usually in black and white. Then there are prophetic, God-given dreams. These usually stand out the most and have vivid color.

There are several ways you can discern if a word is from God or not. You want to first ask if it lines up with Scripture and Church teaching. You also want to ask yourself if the word is encouraging or is it full of guilt, manipulation or condemnation. Even corrective words should give hope and encouragement. God does not use guilt and manipulation to get his point across.

There are ways we can hear God better in our lives. First we need to know that he loves us and desires to speak to us. We need to rest in the knowledge of his love for us and expect him to speak. Another powerful tool to hearing the Lord speak is opening up our imaginations to him. He gave us our imaginations and he can use them. An example of this is Ignatian prayer in which you place yourself in the Gospel narrative. Often it starts with the imagination but then the Lord can take off with it and show us things. Children have great imaginations so I usually use this type of prayer with my children.

Last but not least, we need to take seriously the things that come to us and God will give us more. One day I was crying out to the Lord and telling him that I really needed to hear him speak to me. He said to me, "Well, when you are serious, I will speak." I realized after that, that he was actually speaking to me all the time but I wasn't taking his words seriously or listening. He often speaks in a still, small voice and it was easy to dismiss words and images coming to me as distractions. After the Lord spoke this to me I began writing things down that would come to me in prayer even if it didn't make much sense. One example of this was an image of elephants that popped into my mind one day in prayer. I wrote it down in my journal. Soon after that I was outside with my four year old daughter. She looked up in the sky and said, "Look Mommy! The clouds look like elephants!" That evening, I was watching the news and they were talking about a tornado that touched down in a little town in Alabama. They interviewed a little girl who said, "It was as if an elephant stomped on my house." The Lord definitely had my attention and I felt like he was trying to warn me that some "storms" were about to hit our nation. Soon after that I had a dream about 9/11. This was back in 1998. I believe the Lord showed me these things so I could pray for our nation.

The Lord is so kind and merciful and desires to speak to us a lot more than we are willing to listen. If we will put down our iPhones, turn off the television, be still and worship him, he will speak!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Toddler God

After having five girls and then a boy, you can't tell me that there's no difference between boys and girls. My son, who will be two in January, makes animals growl at each other, says "vroom vroom" every time he sees a car, makes swords out of just about everything and loves to throw things. He does these things without any promptings. None of my girls did these things. Having a son is giving me a better understanding of what Jesus must have been like as a child as well as adding to our joy. 

My daughters have also given me a glimpse of what Jesus might have been like as a child, especially my creative ones. Dealing with my creative children has helped me to sympathize with Mary, the mother of Jesus, who must have really had her hands full with probably the most creative child who ever lived. Creative children are often in their own little world. They color on the walls, play dress up with their clothes that were put away neatly in their dresser, cut their siblings' hair, and fail to listen because they are usually zoned out in an imaginary land. They get into lots of mischief without really meaning too, but their curiosity and creative spirit can get the best of them. Perhaps that is what happened when Jesus wandered away from his parents and ended up in the temple.

Having a son is helping me see a whole new dimension of God. My son is now a full-fledged toddler and is into everything! Lately I have been wondering what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to have a toddler God and especially a boy toddler God. Toddlers already think that they are God and the world revolves around them but how do you handle a toddler that really IS God and created the universe?! He must have really kept them on their toes to say the least! This does not mean that I think Jesus sinned, but I think there is a whole lot of mischief a toddler can get into without sinning. The same holds true for creative children. They are not trying to be disobedient but because they are usually zoned out in their own little world they have created, they usually are not able to hear what you are saying to them. This understanding has helped me to be a lot more patient with my own children. There is also a reason God made children cute!

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Case for Infant Baptism and Practical Tips to Help Children Encounter Christ

1 Corinthians 12:3 -" one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit".

This is what the bible says and yet some evangelicals I've met do not agree with infant baptism. Not making the connection? How about this? These same evangelicals do not consider their children "saved" until, on their own, they can say Jesus is Lord and ask him into their heart.  Also, they are not seen as ready for baptism until they ask Jesus in their heart. However, it is by the Holy Spirit that we can truly recognize Jesus as Lord.

Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestant denominations believe in infant baptism. As Catholics, we believe at the moment of baptism, when the water is poured over the baby's head, they also receive the Holy Spirit. I believe it gives them an advantage that unbaptized children do not have. I would dare to even say that since Jesus lives in their heart through baptism, they will probably be more predisposed toward the things of God.

Now, I have some wonderful evangelical friends who really encourage me in my walk with the Lord. I have heard some things however by others that have grieved my heart. One woman was talking to me about her 9 year old daughter who was not "saved" yet. Another woman told me how she was talking to her older children and a couple of them mentioned how Jesus lived in their heart. Her little 3 year old son then asked her if Jesus lived in his heart to which she responded, "Not yet." In all fairness, this woman was probably right. Her son had never been baptized so Jesus probably didn't live in his heart through the Holy Spirit.

These incidences break my heart and frankly I do not understand. Someone please enlighten me!

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me." - Matthew 19:14

Also, the Jewish people would never have thought of leaving their children out of the Covenant.

Isaiah 59:21 - "And this is my covenant with them," says the Lord. "My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children's children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken!"

The attitude of expecting children to make a reasoned decision for Christ before being baptized and before Jesus can live in their heart also makes me wonder how evangelicals view disabled children who can not make that decision and children who die before they reach the age of reason and can make that decision. My guess is they would assume that child would still go to heaven. Then why not baptize them as a baby so they have that extra advantage?!

Personally I do not think we give our children enough credit. In the time when Tom and I were away from the Catholic Church and involved in evangelical churches, we encountered more than a few people who did not think their children were capable of having a relationship with Jesus much less sit through a worship service. It made me sad that at a typical Sunday morning service, the children would be dismissed before worship began and sent off to daycare or a classroom where they could be entertained for the next hour. They did get some instruction as they heard a bible story and did a craft but I think it would have been much more beneficial for them if they had the opportunity to worship with their family.

Little children are capable of more than we give them credit for. We should not hold Jesus back from them. Maybe it is because my children were baptized as infants, and the grace of their baptism has been nurtured, but my children definitely have a spiritual sense and relationship with Jesus. When my 4 year old was only 3, she had an experience where Jesus told her not to be afraid because he was protecting her from the monsters. My 6 year old recently heard Jesus tell her that even when my husband and I were not around, she did not need to be afraid because he was always with her. My 8 year old told me that since she received her 1st Holy Communion last year, she has been growing closer to the Lord. Even my 1 year old seems to have a spiritual sense and love for Jesus. Whenever he sees a crucifix or picture of Jesus, he exclaims, "Jesus!" He also does this when we drive into the church parking lot. I believe being baptized has a lot to do with them being drawn to the Lord. The Holy Spirit in them recognizes and draws them to Jesus.

I can also remember having experiences with the Lord when I was a baby. I have memories of lying in my crib and being surrounded with the peace, love and presence of the Lord. Unfortunately, when I was a teenager, and my "reason" was fully activated, I stopped believing in him and walked away. I believe it was partly because of the grace of my baptism that I ended up coming back to him. I am very thankful that seed was planted in my heart from the time I was a baby.

Children also have amazing, God given imaginations which can help them have an amazing prayer life. I have taught my children from a young age how to pray. I think it is important for us and our children to have time set aside everyday to encounter the Lord. There are a couple ways I have done this which has proven to be very fruitful with my children. One way is to have them picture a peaceful place in their mind (an ocean, a field of flowers, a shade tree, etc.). I have them picture themselves at that place. I then have them picture Jesus there with them. I tell them to be still and listen in case Jesus wants to show them something or say something to them. The other thing I tell my kids to do when they go to prayer is, seek Jesus' face. Both of these ways have been very powerful and my children usually have very profound things to share which I then have them draw or write in a prayer journal. It might start with their imaginations but then Jesus takes off with it. They also look forward to spending time with Jesus every morning using these tools. They are gaining a love for prayer. These methods were also used with my older two girls who love the Lord dearly and have a close relationship with him.

We should never say that children are too young to have a relationship with the Lord. We also should not just be preoccupied with their salvation and them making a one time decision for Christ. What is important is that they come to know and love Jesus. The grace given at baptism helps this to happen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Poison of Pornograpy and the Effects it has had on my Life.

The use of pornography among men and even women is staggering! What is even more shocking is the use of pornography among Christian men! You can read more about that here.

I have personally been affected by pornography because of the loved ones in my life. I was first introduced to it when I was a little girl. A close family member would look at pornographic magazines right in front of me. Unfortunately this family member was also a workaholic and paid little attention to me. Naturally what I subconsciously concluded from that as a little girl is that men were superior to women and the only thing women had to offer of value was their bodies. This was reinforced to me when at the age of 6, I was also molested by an older boy. This sent me down a road of sexual curiosity and I would often sneak the pornographic magazines that were in my home along with my friends and cousins. It is hard to put into words how damaging this was.

At the age of 19 I discovered God's love and I gave him my life. Through his grace, I underwent several years of inner healing of these past memories. When I was 23, I got married to a man who was 21. We were so very young and also immature. Those first years of marriage were very tough and stressful. My husband would shut me out and I felt all alone. This was compounded by the fact that I got pregnant on our honeymoon and it was a very difficult and complicated pregnancy. I later found out from him that the reason he shut me out was because he had a problem with porn. Especially when he was stressed, he would turn to pornography. He also had a fear of intimacy which would cause him to turn to porn instead of me. You can read more of his story here.

My husband has worked hard to overcome his addiction. He has taken advantage of the Sacrament of confession and has allowed God's love and grace to transform him. He is a different person than the one I married. He is better able to love me and be emotionally available to me. It has taken me a while however to be able to receive his love and let him love me. All those years took a toll. I have had to work through a lot of anger but haven't had anyone to talk to about it because I didn't want to make him look bad. I also put up walls to guard my heart and got used to it being just me and Jesus.What I am now realizing is it didn't need to be up to me to guard my own heart. Jesus would have been more than capable of guarding my heart for me if I would have fully entrusted it to him. As he is calling me to a higher level of surrender and I am letting go, those walls are coming down. I am finding healing and a greater level of freedom. Jesus truly is able to redeem anything especially when darkness is brought into the light. I am very proud of my husband for sharing his struggles. I trust that God will restore the years the locusts have eaten and I look forward to what the future holds with my love!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Discernment and Being Used in the Area of our Greatest Weakness

The gift of discernment is a much needed gift right now especially with the times that we live in. There are several types of discernment that is important for members of the Body of Christ to walk in. There is the supernatural gift of discernment, where through the Holy Spirit, you know something about a person or situation that you wouldn't otherwise know. There is discernment that comes out of a relationship with Christ, enabling a person to recognize what the Holy Spirit wants to do and say in a given situation. And there is a natural discernment a person acquires from life experiences. When a Christian walks in all these dimensions of the gift, rooted in love, it can be very powerful!

The supernatural gift of discernment enables certain Christians to clearly recognize and distinguish between the influence of God, Satan, the world, and the flesh in a given situation. Through this gift one can warn believers in times of danger or keep them from being led astray by false teaching. If the gift is not rooted in love, it can come across as judgmental. An example of Jesus operating in this gift is found in Mark 2:8:

Immediately, Jesus knew in his Spirit that this is what they were thinking in their hearts and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things?" 

Jesus was able to say this because he had a mature character and acted out of love. When I started following Christ at the age of 19, I would discern a lot of things about the people I would come in contact with on a daily basis. However, I did not yet have the character to act on it or the level of maturity to be able to handle the things I was seeing.

One of my biggest character flaws has been in the area of my speech. One of the Saints I have been able to relate to most since my conversion in 1988 is St. Peter. From what we know from scripture, it seems he was always putting his foot in his mouth and sometimes saying inappropriate things. It is very encouraging that the Lord ended up appointing him as the leader of the Church. Out of Peter's love and relationship with the Lord he finally learned to to discern who Jesus was and what the Holy Spirit was doing (Matthew 16:17) and the Lord ended up using him mightily.

Part of the reason I believe I struggled in the area of my speach is because growing up communication was something my family was lacking in. When I was a kid, instead of being told that I was saying something out of line or inappropriate, I would receive dirty looks. I did not always know however why I was receiving dirty looks. This may sound odd but it got to the point where I would purposely say inappropriate things just so I would know why I was receiving the dirty looks. After my conversion 26 years ago, this is the thing I struggled to overcome the most. I always found myself saying inappropriate and wrong things.  One of my main prayers was that Jesus would give me discernment in this area and that he would help me be socially appropriate. What I have learned over the  years is that discernment doesn't always miraculously drop into our mind. As I have learned to lean back, rest in Jesus' love for me, and surrender to his perfecting love and transformation, I have learned to better discern and make decisions based on love. For example, before speaking, I now first naturally ask myself the question, "If I say this, will it edify and encourage those I am speaking to?." "If I say that, will it make someone else look or feel bad?" This has also helped me to know when I am crossing the line into gossip.

God can use anything from our past for his purposes (Romans 8:28)! Some ways my dysfunctional childhood helped me in the area of discernment and how the Lord is using it is that I learned to pick up on body language and words not being said or the meaning behind words. I can often tell if someone has ulterior motives and can not be trusted. I can also usually tell if someone is being genuine which has also helped me be more genuine; after all, if I can tell this about others, maybe they can tell this about me. 

I write this post in hopes that it will encourage someone. The Lord is starting to move me out in ministry. Lately my husband and I have been given opportunities to speak and minister. If the Lord could use someone like me, he could use anyone. I love how the Lord often uses us in the areas we are weakest so his glory is then displayed the most!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

9/11, Dreams and Second Chances

On the anniversary of 9/11 every year when I am watching the footage of the twin towers being hit by planes on TV, I am reminded of a dream I had exactly three years earlier in September of 1998. At the time I had the dream and until 9/11 happended in 2001, I did not realize the dream was going to be somewhat literal. I even prayed about and came up with a symbolic interpretation. 

Around the same time I had the dream, the Lord kept warning me that some storms were coming that would effect our nation. He impressed on me that even though he wasn't going to cause the storms, he was going to use these storms for his purposes and for good. Through them some people would turn to him and come to know him. Finally I had the following dream that gave a little more detail into the nature of one of the storms that was about to hit.

Dream - I was in a room filled with other people and we were socializing. The room was at the very top of a skyscraper. A big storm was coming but the people were not too concerned. I looked out the window and I saw a huge demon coming across the sky in the form of a big fire ball and it was headed right for the skyscraper. I knew I needed to get out of the path of this storm so I got my family out of the skyscraper, put them in the car and we drove away to get out of the way of this storm.

Dolly the sheep

The way I interpreted the dream at the time, which I believe is still relevant in a spiritual sense, was that the skyscraper represented man's own efforts to become like God and get close to God without God, much like the people did with the Tower of Babel. In the Church it is using the forms of religion instead of a real relationship with Jesus, relying on his grace and mercy. In the world it is through technology and setting ourselves up as gods by the things we are able to create. I also felt at the time that the Lord showed me it was very important that things be founded on the solid rock of Jesus because everything was going to be shaken and whatever was not founded on him would not be able to stand.
embryonic stem sell research

When 9/11 happened in 2001, it was very sobering to realize that the Lord was warning me of something that was actually going to happen and maybe I could have helped lessen the severity of it if I had only prayed more. I am very grateful for his love and mercy and for second chances! Today I pray for all those people who were directly affected by this tragic event!