Thursday, February 11, 2016

How We Lent

I've written before on some of the things we do during Lent but don't really have one cohesive post that pulls it all together.  So I thought to myself, hey self, you should do that.  Because when people ask you what you do, you can actually have some sort of intelligible answer and maybe even give them a link.  

Let me say again first, like I've said before, that Lent should only be found at His feet.  It's so so so easy to get pulled into what others are doing and there is a crazy amount of ideas and inspiration online, now more than ever.  A person could drown in the flood of posts (so clearly I needed to add another one ;) and I very easily get overwhelmed with all of it.  But I also know that some people are looking for ideas and traditions to share with their family.  So take what you see and if it sparks something in you and matches where the Lord has been leading you, then awesome.  

I'm a simple girl especially when it comes to Lent.  For me, the season is about breaking down to the bones of the Christian life.  Getting back to the basics of growth in holiness.  Sometimes, especially lately, there are so many voices and options that it can almost backfire.  We find ourselves (self)pressured to DO ALL THE THINGS lest our Lent be a failure.  The Church, however, has given us very very basic guidelines:  Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving.  That's where I find my peace.  Shutting out all the voices and focusing on those three things with myself and my family simplifies the purpose of this time and draws us nearer to Him.


We exchange our normal pre-bedtime Rosary on Fridays with the Stations of the Cross.

This year I'm also trying to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with the boys at 3 p.m. (which any mom knows also involves a whole lot of offering up, too ;)

We have exactly 14 stairs which works perfectly during Lent.  This is how the boys learned the Stations.

Some years we've made it to daily Mass.  Those were good times and really fruitful.  I'm hoping to get to a few this year, at least.  Incorporating more Mass and official liturgy of the Church into Lent is always a good first move when it comes to deepening our life in Christ!


We talk about giving something up and we all usually choose something for the entirety of Lent.  This year, though, a couple of the boys decided a few weeks before Lent to work out a calendar for themselves.  

(How cute is this?  Weapons.)

We also have our crown of thorns on the dining room table.  When a sacrifice is completed (either the one they've chosen for all of Lent at the end of each day, an extra one they chose, or a pain they endured bravely) they take a thorn out of the crown and learn to share some of Jesus' sufferings.


Doing good works and giving more manifests itself in some way in the bean jars.
The boys may place a bean in their jar for every good work they do.  On Easter morning they find the beans they've earned turned into jelly beans.  It's not about earning goodness but more a tangible reminder of the reality that our good works are treasures stored up in heaven that will be rewarded.

We've also had success with placing coins in the jar that will be used to buy something for the poor (usually through Food for the Poor).  

And there are usually several opportunities presented for food drives or giving in other ways in which I try to include the boys.

Some of the other practices we do or have done as a family during Lent:

Hiding the Alleluia  - I have wooden "Alleluia" letters that get wrapped in a gold bag and then placed in a brown bag and hidden away.  On Easter morning, they go on a hunt for the letters (along with eggs and their baskets) and find the Alleluia again.

Simplified Decor - I take down any 'extras' and they're either not replaced or replaced with purple and burlap and Lentesque decor.

Draping the pictures and statues - Just like in the church we've some years draped the religious pictures and statues in our home with purple cloth.

Simplified Food - In the spirit of the season, there's lots of simple meals in the meal plan - soups, beans, rice, etc.

Family Sacrifice - Some years we've given up something specific together along with our personal fasts.

Scripture on CD This Audio Scripture is absolutely amazing and I try to have this on in the house often during Lent to sink into our souls a bit.

Spring Cleaning - I used to be great about this but it's getting harder and harder as the babies come and the schooling increases.  But Lent is a great time for a whole house spring cleaning - curtains cleaned, floors washed, ceiling corners vacuumed, the whole deal.  I at least try to do something beyond my normal cleaning routine in those last weeks before Easter to prepare.

I'm also definitely looking forward to our boys embracing these tenets of Lent on a more personal and mature level as they grow.  We're seeing the beginnings of that now with our oldest and it's pretty awesome.

When it comes to Lent personally, I find peace in following that same basic formula.  Some sort of new (or renewed) practice in personal prayer, some sort of personal fast, and some extra way or ways to give.  Every year it looks just a bit different depending on where God has me but if I've learned anything it's that the more I give and become available to Him during Lent, the more beautiful and deep my Easter becomes.

And there we have it.  I've got a Lent post.
May God abundantly bless you and yours this Lent and draw us all deeper into His merciful heart.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Why I Love Those Memorized Old Fashioned Rote Prayers of the Church

Catholics often get criticized for our rote prayers - the formulaic, memorized prayers that have been passed down from century to century.  After all, isn't that exactly what Christ meant when He warned us to "not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words" (Matthew 6:7)?  Doesn't your mind immediately go to monotone Rosaries and lengthy magical novenas?  Mine does.  

While rote prayer can most definitely be heaped up empty phrases, it is not in itself such.  I so love spontaneous prayer that leaps out of the heart and speaks directly and specifically to the situation at hand.  It is good and beautiful.  But I also love rote prayer, those prayers that have been passed down from generation to generation that can find its way to our lips in an instant.  It's not an either/or but one of the many many both/ands of the Church.  Here are a few reasons why I've fallen in love with rote prayer:

Rote prayer gives us a language in which to pray.  To some the ancient prayers of the Church feel funny in the mouth and they're thrown out as antiquated and irrelevant.  But the more I pray with these "antiquated" prayers, the more my language in speaking to the divine is refined and recognizes the Beauty it is that I am addressing.  My language changes not because I am trying to be false but because I am trying to become true...true to who He has created me to be and true to Who He is.

In our deepest most profound moments - when there are no words - it gives us words.  There have been times in my life when there were just no words and the most I could eke out was a desperate Ave.  Whether it is in grief or pain or joy, there are moments in our human existence too deep for what we can express in our (or at least my) limited vocabulary and the learned prayers become a source of grace and comfort.  When the tragedy strikes or the grief overwhelms they are the words that make sense even when nothing else seems to.

Rote prayer ingrains in our hearts.  Ask any life coach and they will tell you that our words (internal or external) have the power to shape our thoughts and actions.  Our words are powerful.  When we pray the words of these prayers with devotion and in good will, they have the potential to shape how we think, how we act, and our own internal state of heart.  They become the focus of our hearts.  Those prayers, revered through the ages, can become a springboard for our minds and souls to move deeper into union with God.  In some ways I even find that my soul can go deeper than otherwise because I'm not as preoccupied with finding the best words.

Rote prayers give me a "go-to" when someone asks for prayer.  How often do we tell someone we will pray for their intention?  Better question:  How often do we actually do it?  When someone asks me to pray for them or for an intention now, I've learned to immediately pray a Hail Mary or Memorare or the Jesus Prayer.  This way I know that I've been true to my promise and I am able to pray and bring those intentions to God immediately (and hopefully again later) whereas I might otherwise forget or try to pray in my own words and immediately get distracted.  

That brings me to humility.  Rote prayers help me to grow in humility.  When those intentions come, be it for me or for someone else, sometimes I don't know WHAT the right answer is.  But He does.  Rote prayer for me involves a surrendering to His will.  I'm not asking for a specific outcome but for whatever is truly best in the situation.  Prayer becomes not about me forming the "perfect" words for the situation or asking the "right" way for what I see as the best solution but simply abandoning myself to the work of the Holy Spirit and His will.

Rote prayer helps the Church grow in unity.  When we pray with others, having the same words to pray deepens that prayer as two or more are praying that much more closely together.  It grounds us in the knowledge that our life as Christians is not just a "me and Jesus" reality but a corporate one.  Similarly, when someone from a completely different country and culture is praying the Hail Mary, even though I cannot understand the language I can still know what they are praying.  There is communion and beauty in that.

Rote prayer helps to preserve the collective memory.  Rote prayer unites us with the saints of before and preserves us from the pride of thinking we're smarter or holier or more enlightened than the billions of people who have preceded us.  It allows us to participate more fully in the human experience of passing on our beliefs and culture to the generations after and links us to the generations of before.

Rote prayers allow me pray as He did.
Jesus as a devout and perfect Jewish man prayed rote prayer constantly.  Traditional Judaism is centered around rote prayer - the reciting of the Psalms, the Shema Yisrael, the prayers and rituals directly given the Israelites by God Himself.  Their prayers are chanted and memorized and we can assume that Jesus participated faithfully in those prayers.  They were not "empty phrases" but were deep and heartfelt and a part of His perfect life in union with the Father.

Certainly the Christian needs to guard their prayers from becoming empty phrases.  St. Teresa of Avila said "Much more is accomplished by a single word of the Our Father said, now and then, from our heart, than by the whole prayer repeated many times in haste and without attention."  The state of our heart is of utmost importance.  But simply because a prayer is memorized does not make it empty.  Picture the husband who is telling his wife "I love you."  It can be repeated out of habit yet sincerely every morning as he leaves the home for work and it can also be spontaneously exclaimed in a rush of emotion.  Both times have merit and worth and beauty in different ways.  Our focus need not be on eliminating repetition in prayer but simply to make sure that the words we do pray are sincere and from the heart, as best we are able.  

May all of our prayers whether ingrained in our memories or uttered unscripted be from a sincere and humble heart.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

All Grown Out {a gray hair update}

Remember that time I told you that, inspired by Kendra, I was finally just going to do it?  And by it I mean finally finally stop dying my hair to cover the gray that had been filling in since college?  Then, because that's what bloggers do, I blogged about it here and here?

It's been over a year of growing out my hair and letting it be whatever color it was made to be and can I just say I really kinda like it?

I have ZERO delusions of grandeur here.  It's still thin and a bit mousy.  I will probably, barring some very strange and very uncharacteristically superficial miracle of the divine, never have great hair.  It's always been on the thin side, made even thinner with each three-seven month postpartum wave of suicidal tresses leaping out of my scalp each time I shower.  Yay babies!  (Just kidding.  Worth it, obvs.)  I still have no idea what one is supposed to do with hair besides wash, brush, and clip it up with a plastic jaw clip circa 1998.  But for the first time I actually...kind of like it.

For a while, a long while, it was transitioning.  My head hair grows ever so slowly and for a good year at least, it had 3-4 colors in it as the old dye grew out.  Which I probably should've been self-conscious about but 99.7% of the time I totally forgot about it because it was on my head and I couldn't see it.  Very often I wouldn't remember that my hair was so funky until I looked in the mirror.  (Not because I'm super humble, just super distracted and busy.) 

It is finally just the two flavors now - original and new recipe.
But first a quick few throwback pics:

Circa summer 2013.  I don't remember having my hair that long but there it is, box-colored and all.  When I did dye, I died it darkest brown to match my original color.

Quick throwback to last summer as the dye faded so so slowly:

I thought of doing a little progression of photos over the last months since then but I'm the mom so there's like three none of which show my hair all that well.'s where it is now:

Full on gray.  Fancy hair band courtesy Lilla Rose.  Postpartum bald spots courtesy Baby Ben.

But he's worth it.

Super awesome back of one's head shot

And creepy eye shot showing it straight which definitely highlights the silverness of it all.

It was a long and often awkward transition to get to where all my head is now its meant-to-be color but I'm so glad I persevered and didn't last ditch resort to the box in the medicine cabinet.  I even even gave that safety net away!  At the risk of sounding way hokey and ridiculous, I feel more me.  Free and hippy and crunchy and all.  I've even gotten a few grocery store comments from random strangers and store clerks telling me they like it which is equal parts hysterical and amazing.  (I also get some funny looks, too, but I'm not clear whether that's the hair or the five boy children piling in and around the cart.)  I still forget that it's different and that people will notice that.  I also know there are people who I'm pretty sure think I'm crazy for doing it or just don't like it.  But funny enough, it doesn't really bother me.

I think the most interesting change of all is that I'm relearning what colors look like on me.  I hadn't even thought of that but going from very dark to very light hair makes clothing look different!  I'm finding myself opting for more blues, grays, and pinks than I used to because they seem to work better with it.  I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the postpartum loss filling in again and then maaaybe even getting a real cut again.  We shall see.  In the meantime, jaw clips and fancy headbands it is.

(If you're interested in gray hair inspiration I really like Lauren's encouragement and tips at How Bourgeois!)

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

When the Divine Surgeon Probes (Again)

A long while ago I heard a talk on Confession as part of a day long retreat.  The speaker had written a book on the subject and his opening question and point has stuck with me since then.  What is the Sacrament of Confession all about?  If you could choose one word to summarize why we go, why Christ instituted this Sacrament for the Church, what would it be?
What is your first answer?


Sure, Confession is about all those things, most definitely.
But the Church chooses another word as its primary attribute - healing.
It is, first and foremost, a Sacrament of healing.

Our sins wound us but our wounds are also often the root of our sin.
In the Sacrament, we find Christ's desire to heal us - the same Christ who made the blind see, the hemorrhaging woman to be healed, the lame to walk again.  He longs to heal us of the wounds that have held us bound not only for a few weeks since our last Confession but the root causes of those sins that may be years or decades old.  

We often (or maybe I should be specific - I often) get frustrated by having to repeat the same sins in Confession, despite the fervent and sincere intention last time to avoid the offense again.  It sometimes feels like I'm getting nowhere.  I get tired of the same issues coming up in my heart and head over and over, the same wounds splitting open and causing the pain that tempts my heart to lash back and defend itself.  Lord, I thought I was DONE with this!  But if Christ's true desire is to heal us, not just forgive us, I've been trying to view it as a process - the Divine Surgeon's careful and meticulous process of healing.  

I'm no medical expert but I do know that many times and for many injuries, there are wounds that can be attended once.  They heal and the owner is put right, never to be bothered by it again.  They go off on their way, healed and restored, singing their alleluia.  

But the bigger wounds, the bigger deformities and illnesses and traumas…they sometimes require treatment over and over.  They require feeling the sting of the surgeon's knife yet again as He has to go in again to take care of more of the problem.  It would be too traumatic to the patient to endure it all at once so the physician wisely takes his time.  Certain parts need to heal first and in certain order for the complete healing to occur correctly.  So our Divine Surgeon in His intimate wisdom of our wounds and the illnesses that plague our souls, sometimes (often) needs to go in again for more work.  The scalpel cuts through again and we feel the wound probed again.  It is tiring, yes, but it is the only way to true healing.  

So it is with some of our deepest wounds and sins.  The injury we felt long gone sometimes still rears its head and the symptoms return or come back in different form.  It must be visited again to clear the infection completely.  The wound we might rather choose to live with almost perfectly well, He wants to make truly well, restoring us to real and complete health.  We could function okay enough without going there but it would be stunted growth, our health always compromised by the unfinished work.  Just as with our physical body, a good doctor seeks to uncover the root cause of the problem and not just treat the symptoms.

So, again, He asks for me to share my symptoms.

Lord, I get so angry sometimes.

Lord, sometimes I feel like I'm worth nothing.

Lord, I was so jealous the other day.

Lord, my heart.  It just...hurts.

He listens and then carefully and precisely and slower than I would often like, He reveals the wounds that might be causing it all.  He probes it just a little bit more and it stings yet again, revealing deeper parts that I didn't even know were underneath it all that need to be taken care of first.  Cutting a bit of tissue away here, suturing a bit there, doing the work He must do to heal.  

We'll need to let this part rest now.  
Come back and see me in a few weeks.

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