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 crying 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 before 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 forms of religion instead of a real relationship with Jesus and 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!

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". If what we are doing is out of love for God, it 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.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Most Important Thing...

Recently I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine. She is a Protestant and she has been burned by most of the churches she has been involved with. She and her husband have encountered numerous people in the Church that have been anything but loving; people that have been caught up in a power trip and their own agendas. Currently they are not involved in any church and she was lamenting to me that they do not know where to go anymore. I encouraged her to seek the truth and seek intimacy with Jesus. I told her the problem with many of the churches she has belonged to is they were starting in the wrong place. They were seeking the things of God instead of God himself. They were also seeking community for community's sake instead of first seeking intimacy with Jesus, his presence, and the Kingdom of God.

Intimacy with Jesus leads to love and is the right foundation to build a house on. A house built on any other foundation will crumble and fall (Matthew 7:24-27) which is what literally happened to a couple of the churches Tom and I were involved with in the past. I then had an epiphany based on the Annunciation of what led Tom and I to leave the Catholic Church 15 years ago. There were things on our heart we believed to be from God that we desired to do. Going off of what we knew in the natural, we didn't see how those desires could be fulfilled within the framework of the Catholic Church.

During the Annunciation, when  the angel Gabriel asked Mary to bear the Son of God in her womb, she asked, "How can this be since I have no relations with a man?" She didn't understand how it would come about, but she believed that nothing was impossible with God (Luke 1:24-47). Tom and I, however, had trouble believing how the desires of our heart would be fulfilled as Catholics so we went outside the Church to try and find community and operate in our gifts. The churches that we got involved with were also seeking these things first and in the end they crumbled and fell. When Jesus is the center and focus then community naturally flows out of that and it becomes strong and healthy and thrives.

I then told my friend that the reason we became Catholic again was because we recognized it to be true and believed Jesus was truly present; body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. I told her there are only two things you can believe regarding the Eucharist; either it really is the Body of Christ or Catholics are idolaters and we worship bread. However, if it really is the Body of Christ then that is something to seriously consider.

My friend asked me if they would encounter mean people in the Catholic Church. I told her they probably would because there are Catholics that need to be evangelized and who are in need of transformation. Also wherever there are people, there is going to be sin. The difference is that there is an Apostolic covenant there and even if there is sin, Jesus is still present in the Eucharist and grace is imparted through the other Sacraments. From my experience, when there is major sin among people and especially the leadership in Protestant churches, it's as if God's presence leaves the building.

A Protestant speaker and prophetic person that I respect a great deal is Graham Cooke. One thing he talks about is seeking a habitation of God instead of just a visitation. There are some Protestant churches that have a certain level of habitation and the presence of God is very tangible from the moment you walk in the building. That occurs when those churches are centered on intimacy with Jesus, prayer and a true gospel message centered on the cross of Christ. Unfortunately my friend is discovering that that kind of church is hard to find. Every Catholic Church however has that habitation and has for over 2000 years. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18)! The Catholic Church is not perfect and often there could be better preaching but the good thing is it is not all about the priest. I believe there is no higher form of worship than the Catholic Mass and the greatest level of intimacy we can experience with the Lord here on earth comes from being able to receive him in the Eucharist.

I still do not have a clear vision of how the desires of my heart and promises the Lord has given me are going to be fullfilled within the walls of the Catholic Church but I am choosing to wait and trust because the most important thing is, this is where I find Jesus and intimacy with him. Spiritual intimacy with Jesus is the most important thing. Everything else is secondary.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tiny Bubbles - A Life Transformed

One of my favorite bible verses is 2 Corinthians 3:18 - And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Anyone who thinks that walking with the Lord and the spiritual life is boring probably isn't serving the same God I serve or perhaps they are just not in need of as much transformation as I am. With the Lord there is never a dull moment especially as we press into the light. The more transformation a person needs, the more exciting it can be.

Now I will admit that as we press into God, we can feel a little schizophrenic at times even if we are not. As we press in, insecurities, fears, anger, depression and anxiety can rise to the surface of our heart. Darkness can seem to consume us and make us want to run in the other direction and escape to idols. When we are in that dark place, it can feel like we are being lowered into a dark well. God can seem very distant but in actuality, he is holding us so close we can not see him. If we will persevere during those times and join our sufferings to Christ, remembering that there is nothing negative we can experience that he didn't experience, especially on the cross because he took on our sin, we will be transformed from glory to glory into the Lord's image.

We can also find consolation in the fact that we are not alone. Besides the Lord experiencing this kind of darkness, so did many of the Saints. St, John of the Cross has a whole book about the 'Dark Night of the Soul'. Mother Theresa experienced it for forty years. Can you imagine the glory she is experiencing now?!

The analogy most often used to describe this process and one that is found in the bible is of gold being refined in the fire which is an excellent analogy. When gold encounters fire it causes the dross or scum to surface and then it needs to be skimmed off. In the same way as we encounter the fire of God's love (Hebrews 12:29), the impurities in our own heart will surface and need to be skimmed off. Just like the gold, as we surrender to God's love and allow him to do this work in us, we will shine brighter and be even more beautiful than before, giving greater glory to God.

Another analogy that can be used to describe this process is a bottle with a little bit of soap at the bottom. You may not even notice that there is soap in the bottom of the bottle until you pour water into it. This causes bubbles to form and rise to the surface. The only thing that will cause the bubbles to rise and come out is to continue to pour water into the bottle. Eventually the water will run clear. As we allow the water of the Holy Spirit to pour into us, imperfections will rise to the surface. As we persevere and continue to allow the water in, the imperfections will leave and we will experience more of God's presence and greater clarity in our life.

Now, it is almost not natural to put oneself in a place to experience this kind of discomfort. That is why if we are trying to walk in the light of Christ, the world will hate us. My four year old made a pretty profound statement recently as she said, "The soldiers killed Jesus because they didn't like light and Jesus is the light of the world." In John 15:18, Jesus says, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." There are many who are not going to "get" us. That's okay. As we give our whole selves over to Christ whole heartily, leaving the World behind, the glory we will encounter and become will far surpass anything the world could have offered (Matthew 19:29).

Hebrews 12:1-3 - Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Finest Wheat

One thing that serves as a  great consolation to the heart of Jesus and helps give him strength to continually pour himself out and give himself to us in the Eucharist is his people laying their lives down and joining their sufferings to his sufferings. Every disappointment, every tear, every heartache, every physical suffering joined to the heart of Christ becomes a sweet smelling offering of crushed wheat given at the table of the Lord. Jesus then takes this finest wheat and forms it into bread which is consecrated into Jesus' body and blood, broken and given for us all.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Heart of the Matter

This past weekend our family went on a retreat with the BSCD. It was our annual regional gathering. We had it at St. Leo Abbey in St. Leo, Florida. It is always good to get together, reconnect with other like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ and encounter the Lord together. It was a powerful time and the Holy Spirit definitely showed up and blessed us!

The Lord started speaking to me right off the bat when we arrived. We were letting our children run around on the beautiful monastery grounds before we went up to our room. My five year old daughter was enjoying herself at first but then she kept encountering bugs which were scary to her. She asked me, "Mom, why are there so many bugs here?" I told her it was because there was a lot of nature and bugs like nature. I then said to her,"Just focus on the nature and don't pay attention to the bugs." Immediately I knew the Lord was speaking to me. So often in life I pay more attention to little annoyances, frustrations and objects of stress in my life rather than the beauty and blessings around me. By doing this, I rob myself of joy.

Another way I think we rob ourselves of joy is by choosing to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life. We get caught up in what we should or should not be doing instead of making it our main goal to encounter Christ and rest in his love for us.

Saturday afternoon we had time for worship and the Lord showed me an image to share. It was of a big, bright red, fully ripe strawberry hanging from a tree. It was so ripe it was dripping with juice. I knew the strawberry represented the heart of Jesus. I heard the Lord say, "Pick from the choicest of fruit which is love! Taste and see that the Lord is good! Then go out and give this love away to those who do not know about my love!" The word was full of emotion as I experienced the Lord's heart for his people. This word also went right along with what the Lord has been showing me over the last few months. We can be doing all the right things, keeping up with our responsibilities and even having a daily prayer life but if our main goal isn't to actually encounter Jesus and experience his love for us every day then life ends up feeling burdensome and lacking joy.

Last week Pope Francis tweeted, "Each encounter with Jesus fills us with joy, with that deep joy which only God can give."

Nehemiah 8:10 says, "The joy of the Lord is our strength."

Encountering Christ and his love everyday is how we eat from the tree of life. This is what gives us joy and propels us forward with the strength we need. It is this joy that will attract others to Christ and our way of life.