Lenten Resolve

As we start our annual journey through Lent let us be strengthened by the love of God. He desires us to make this journey with His Son, both as remembrance of why He was sent to earth and to make us grow as Christians.

Hopefully you will use this 40 day period to pinpoint an area where you can grow and improve. Pray to God to find that flaw and give you ideas on how to decrease that vice by strengthening the opposing virtue. Spending more time in prayer and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit will give tremendous direction.

We all know our downfalls and tendencies. God knows them too and forgives us when we ask. He knows we will falter time and time again but still loves us with unending Fatherly love since He created us to be the person we are. What we view as our shortcomings may sometimes be what sets us apart and makes us unique, and could be what He loves most about us.

In preparing for the Lenten season I got out my devotional books I have accumulated over the years and decided which ones I will use this time to guide my reflections. Inside my favorite one was a list of resolutions from previous seasons. Many of the same efforts on the list I have purposely repeated year after year to become a more prayerful, introspective Christian. Yet looking over this list I was pleased to realize that some of these resolutions have now become daily habits. That was encouraging and exciting to me. It also gave me hope that what I am now struggling to overcome this Lent may hopefully become a new virtuous habit that can last long after Easter to improve my relationships.

May you too have the determination and hope to bring about change through your prayer and steadfast efforts this Lent!

Jesus equips us for our future journeys as He did for the Apostles

“He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two.”  (Mark 6:7)

I’ve heard this verse read in church multiples of times, and usually the reflection about it revolves around them being sent in pairs and taking nothing extra for their journey.

But after watching the series “The Chosen” which focuses on getting to know the disciples Jesus calls to follow Him, I imagine this scene much differently and realistically.  I have several new thoughts about it:

  1. Jesus “began to send them out,” meaning He gradually was thinking about this new action and the disciples’ personalities and who best to pair up to work together and complement each other in their journeys without Him. Maybe one disciple was shy or reserved so Jesus paired him up with Peter since his boldness would carry them both.
  2. Jesus “sent them out” in pairs, knowing that doing this new evangelizing alone would be too much to ask of them just yet.
  3. This experience obviously taught the apostles how important Jesus felt it is to stick together, for after the Resurrection we read about “Two of them were traveling to a village called Emmaus” (Luke 24:13).
  4. Jesus “sent them out,” knowing that His time on earth was coming to an end and this venture of evangelizing, healing and spreading the Good News would be a terrific trial run for them. Like a mock interview, this would be a preview for them for when Jesus would no longer be leading them as they travelled to spread His message in His name. I imagine after Pentecost when they officially were commissioned to “go out and make disciples of all the world” (Matt. 28:19) they were boosted not only by the power of the Holy Spirit but because they had this experience of doing it all before and with good success.
  5. “Then they returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name’” (Luke 10:17). How excited the apostles were to return to Jesus with confidence and excitement over the success they had in sharing His loving message and being able to heal without Him being right there with them.
  6. Trust – this whole experience had to teach the men to trust in God. They had learned over the years to trust in Jesus and His leadership in knowing where to go, who to talk to and rely on, and how long to stay in any one place. Now they got to experience it on their own and realize that God is guiding them and as long as they trusted His providence they would survive and have success. 
  7. From the Bible, but especially emphasized in “The Chosen,” we learn that the disciples really were just ordinary men with ordinary families and jobs and most without educations. They weren’t preachers, scholars or doctors with experience in preaching and healing.  They obviously learned a lot while watching Jesus, but this experience without His direct presence was so important in their growth as future leaders.

Christianity grew as a result of this outreach planned by Jesus. The apostles grew in self-confidence, inner strength, comfort in preaching and faith. Pray that God will guide you and give you that same boldness and direction in your journey through life!

Pandemic feels like Noah’s experience

Recently I watched the theater production by Sight & Sound of the story of Noah. It was a beautifully staged performance with vibrant actors and scenery, and many live animals in the surround theater in Pennsylvania.

What struck me the most was the comparison to our present-day pandemic situation. Noah and his family had spent 40 days floating aimlessly on the ark while enduring constant rain and storms. Then when the rains finally stopped they rejoiced, but they still had concerns because they were surrounded by nothing but water. They had to stay inside the ark with their meager supplies and all of those animals for an uncertain number of days. Plus they already knew there were no other survivors waiting for them to visit and had to be content with their own immediate family for companionship, much like we have been since March 2020.

Eventually the ark landed on a mountaintop, but the water around them was so high that they still couldn’t get off the boat. In the stage play, the family starts getting on each other’s nerves, taking care of the animals becomes a nuisance, and they all start getting antsy and restless being cooped up in tight quarters for so long (sound familiar?). Noah starts to have doubts about whether he has done enough to follow God’s will and is disappointed in his own frustrations. His faith has been severely tested and his family is looking to him for leadership and guidance and he is at a loss what to tell them.

Finally after 150 days the dove that Noah sent out (a second time) returned carrying an olive branch – a sign of hope to them that the bird found land and they soon would be able to get off the ark! The vaccine that is now available seems like that sign of hope that an end is coming nearer.

Eventually God told Noah they could exit the ark and He wanted them to begin repopulating the earth with holiness through his family (Gen. 7:24). God established a new covenant with Noah in reward for him being a “just man” (Gen. 6:9) and following His commands.   

When this pandemic is over I pray that God also tells me that I have been a good and faithful servant to survive this unusual time of quarantine. Through my prayers, spiritual reading and reflection, return to church, and reaching out to friends and family as best as possible, I hope that I have been a good influence on others and pleasing to my Lord. I have strived to maintain a positive attitude through it all and lead my family to never give up hope, faith and love just as Noah did.

Eventually we too will be allowed to “leave our ark”, but don’t wait until then to spread the Good News and live as a holy, hopeful Christian!

“You Got This!”

How often have you heard that phrase, or even said it yourself?! When our daughter was competing in gymnastics we heard her and her teammates use that phrase a lot.  My husband didn’t like it, maybe because it is overused, or maybe because it sounds like the competitor doesn’t have the confidence to accomplish their feat and he knew our daughter did.

“You Got This” gives support and encouragement to others. If I were the one competing I think I would appreciate hearing it from those watching. Especially if it were a new task I was attempting to tackle.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a voice coming down from heaven saying “You Got This ______ (fill in your name)!”  There are so many times in life when we are uncertain of what we are doing or whether we should even be doing them. When we start a new job, become a new parent, or take on a new ministry for the church we always have those lingering doubts in the back of our minds whether we are qualified to handle them.  

There are often signs from God that we are pursuing the right path and that He has equipped us to handle it, even if we don’t hear those exact words spoken from above. Like when an observer or mentor compliments us afterward, when you pulled off the task without a hitch, when all the pieces fall into place smoothly, those are all signs that you are following God’s will.

However, many times our actions are like saying to God, “Don’t worry God, I’ve got this! I have full confidence in myself that I can handle this and I won’t be needing Your help today.” This independent, self-reliant attitude is good to a point, but when we turn away God’s help due to over-confident pride it becomes a sin. It can lead to failure when we attempt things on our own without asking God for direction or confirmation we should even be doing it. And it can even lead to missed opportunities to have greater success had we allowed God to assist us ahead of time.

We all can afford to get more in the habit of saying to God, “You Got This!”  With full surrender and trust that He in fact knows the best way to get through each situation for us if we let Him. If saying it to others gives them confidence, what would it hurt to stop each day and tell God you are trusting Him with your day to boost your self-confidence. 

That doesn’t mean we don’t have to do anything, we may still need to act on His behalf or move forward in whatever way we discern He is encouraging us. For instance, we may need to confront someone, or we may even need to be silent when we thought we should speak up.

With Lent around the corner, we may want to consider having this be a Lenten Resolution. Asking God for direction one extra time each day, or surrendering our plans in trust that “God has this.” 

The Serenity Prayer helps everyone, Part III

The Wisdom to know the difference.

This is the third line of the Serenity Prayer, and the most critical.  The first line asks God for the peace to accept what we cannot change, the second the courage to change what we can, and now we are asking God for the wisdom to know the difference between the two.

As we strive for peace and holiness in our lives we need to keep God central in all our decisions, thoughts, words and actions. It is only with His assistance we will know when to act or not, and to have serenity in whatever it is meant to be.

If we are trying to change things we don’t have the power to change we will struggle and be anxious.  If we are complacent and don’t have to courage to change the things we can, we will also not be happy.  If we are uncertain whether we can our should try to change things, we will not be at peace and might miss opportunities God has intended for us to act on His behalf.

Solomon was a wise judge and king. In his dealings with the public he sought God’s insights and strove to lead with fair justice. When God was pleased with Solomon’s rulings and offered to give him anything he desired, Solomon showed his prowess by asking for “wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this … great people of Yours” (2 Chron. 1:10-11).  God was so pleased that Solomon did not “ask for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, nor for a long life.”

Imagine you just won the lottery and were granted any wish you desired, how many of us would think to ask for wisdom over all the other things life has to offer. Yet in the big picture, what is the one thing that will enable us to behave most like Jesus to earn our eternal reward and obtain the peace, love and hope we are talking about in this Serenity Prayer?  Wisdom.

May we all seek holy wisdom. Try to repeat this prayer every day for a week and see if it doesn’t help you grow closer to God and what Jesus wants from you.

The Serenity Prayer helps Everyone, Part II

The courage to change the things I can.

This is the second line of the Serenity Prayer, and it includes an action we need to take besides just praying for peace in the first line.

There are a lot of things in our lives that are changeable, unlike what I discussed last week that aren’t. For those items, God wants us to have the courage to act on them. He wants us to acknowledge that they are within our control (with His help) to improve and not to be afraid to change them.  God wants us to become the best version of ourselves, like Matthew Kelly promotes, and this entails being willing to step out in faith and improve that which we can.

This includes improving our spiritual well-being, our physical body and circumstances, our emotional stability, our use of our talents in our jobs or status in life, improving our intelligence and thought patterns and much more.

It also includes doing our best to change what is around us when we can. Helping our family and co-workers become better versions of themselves, donating to those who are less fortunate, encouraging the down-trodden. Being willing to be God’s hands and feet every day to make the world a better place is being a good Christian.

God knows doing these things will give us more peace and happiness as we become more like His Son.  Jesus told everyone that He wants us to be the light to others (Luke 8:16), add zest to the world by being like salt (Matt. 5:13), and to be willing to change the world by being like yeast (Matt. 13:33). We also ought to be full of mercy as Jesus was to bring more peace to the world through softening our own hearts and others.

So ask God right now for the courage to change what you can, in order to bring peace and improve yourself and the world around you.

The Serenity Prayer helps everyone

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the Wisdom to know the difference.

This is a beautiful, well-known prayer that has been used throughout time to help guide people. It is even used in the AA organization as part of their 12-step healing process.

There is so much packed into this short prayer, over the next several weeks I would like to break each part down in reflection.

Serenity is a wonderful grace to ask God for. Especially in these days we all need peace, happiness and holiness. God desires our happiness and for us not to suffer from anxiety and stress.

Paul mentions Serenity as a quality Jesus exhibited so we should want to be like Him in this way; “I, Paul, beg of you by the serenity and gentleness of the Messiah…” (2 Cor. 10:1).

Accepting the things I cannot change involves two steps – knowing what is unchangeable, and the ability to surrender to giving up control over those things. We all tend to want total control over our daily lives, but we all know this isn’t possible. There are so many things that we have no power over. For instance:  the genes in our body, or the time of the sunrise, or what time in history you were born. There are also many things that we think we can control, but we truly can’t. Like how someone else feels about us, or having the perfect amount of funds or running vehicles in our possession.

Trying to recognize which of the things in our lives that bother us are unchangeable and not worth stressing over is what this prayer is asking. Not just to see them but also to let them go, and to be able to let them go while maintaining peace about it. God wants us to truly release our sense of control over that which is out of our hands and have the joy which comes from letting Him handle it. 

This can be difficult when the situation pertains to a painful health condition, a heart-breaking relationship, a lost job, or being isolated from family. But faith means knowing that God hears your prayers, feels your pain and is working on a solution that He knows is best for you. It includes trusting His providence over all things in this world, which makes Him happy when we do! 

Being grateful for all the wonderful things within our control and that God has already granted us helps us cope during those tough times too. A grateful heart is a happy heart. It is impossible to be unhappy if you feel blessed and thankful!

Christmas Spirit

Christmas Day has come and gone, but the joy of the season hopefully is lingering for you.  I heard a homily during Advent that made an impact on me:

            Christmas isn’t just a day

            Christmas isn’t even just a season

            Christmas is a lifestyle

The happiness, the generous giving, the joyful music and well-wishes that we give and receive all throughout Advent are such loving, Christian actions. They uplift everyone’s attitudes and feelings. Even in this unusual year, the Spirit of Christmas started early and really seemed to be heightened because people needed something to be happy about.

These positive actions should not just occur during Advent. As the saying above emphasizes, they should become a permanent part of our lifestyles. Everyone needs uplifted and encouraged.  Even with masks on, we should show Jesus’ love by smiling to all. Until we can hug again, we should be waving and complimenting anyone we come across. Giving little tokens of appreciation shouldn’t be just for Christmas, and saying Thank You goes a long way to hard-working service people.

Acting as if we are still excitedly anticipating Christmas makes us more joyful, giving people. Joyful, giving people are examples of Jesus’ loving persona. When we treat others like Christians should, we show them how to be like Jesus. Being treated with kindness makes others want the happiness we have so it serves as a wonderful witness.  This makes God happy with us too because we are spreading His love.

The gifts of Love, Joy, Hope and Peace that we get every year from celebrating Christmas should continue on well past December 25th.

Happy New Year!

Celebrate the coming of the new year tomorrow! Everyone seems happy to greet 2021 and be done with 2020, but there are so many blessings we can all find from this past year.

I challenge you to think of at least three things that God blessed you with in 2020 that you didn’t have before.

The first thing I immediately think of, thanks to the pandemic, was a slower, simpler, more reflective time at home.  I spent more time in Adoration, spiritual reading and listening, and prayer ~ growing my faith by leaps and bounds.  Also, by having events cancelled and spending more time at home I realized how lovely a simple lifestyle can be for a family. It made me realize that people are a higher priority because that was what I missed the most – lunch dates, community of church functions, and visiting family moreso than shopping and other meaningless busyness running around.

I am also more grateful for my health, especially as time went on and I knew more people being exposed to the virus. Just like going to a funeral or hospital visit makes you appreciate your own health, hearing of others’ stories makes me content to stay home, safe and healthy. This was something I took too much for granted before 2020, and certainly wasn’t ready for back in March.

Thirdly, I feel especially blessed to be in a developed country with access to technology, advanced medical care, food delivery systems, large churches and outdoor places to safely gather, individual transportation and energy sources, and so much more. I also have a greater appreciation for the old-fashioned postal service to send and receive cards, letters and thank you’s!  The ingenuity of the American spirit has also impressed me with the number of creative people figuring out ways to work around the virus and still serve and reach out to those in need. The feeling of love is all around us and the heroes are everywhere if you search for them.

Be Blessed that we made it through 2020, and know that God will continue to bless us through the New Year!

Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours, may you revel in the joy and peace of Christmas this weekend!

May you make the best of what opportunities you have to share the story of the Birth of Our Saving Lord and what that means to you with everyone you can. “Glory to God in the highest!” (Luke 2:14)

May you enjoy good food, good music, church services and lots of smiles and laughter.

May God bless your family with love, happiness, time together (even if just virtually), health, comfort in knowing His providence, and an increase of faith over the weekend and beyond.

May you always feel the hope of what being a Christian provides – eternal salvation in the presence forever with our Loving God!

Merry Christmas and God Bless, Colleen