Category : Faith

Houston, TX, September 21, 2005- Traffic jammed the freeways as Houstonians fled the on-coming hurricane.   Recent memories of Hurricane Katrina sent people scrambling to prepare for Hurricane Rita.  Photo by Ed Edahl/FEMA
Faith, Suffering, Transformation
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You are still on the fastest route.

When first I started commuting into town, Google Maps guided me with directions.  After a few days, the routine was ingrained, and I began to appreciate her insight on traffic.

I mean traffic. No one likes it; everyone hates it. But if you’re going to drive, you have to deal with it… much like the reality of suffering in life.

Google Maps helps me deal with insufferable traffic.

Google Maps

I appreciate knowing how long the delay will last and whether or not there are any better alternatives. When she says, “There is an accident ahead; you can save 20 minutes by taking an another route,” I will always click ACCEPT! Who wouldn’t?

Who wants to suffer through traffic, when they don’t have to?

However, sometimes there aren’t any better alternatives. “You are in a 13-minute delay. You are still on the fastest route.

You are still on the fastest route. Hear that affirmation. Release the angst. Stop wasting energy trying to find another way around it.

You are still on the fastest route. Thank you, Google Maps. I’ll claim the confidence that there’s nothing I can do differently—that I am doing the best I can. And with that, I can patiently wait.

Occasionally, when I doubt her wisdom, when I just can’t stand it any longer, convinced I know better, I try some back roads. More often than not, that fails. Nothing is gained, and sometimes my impatience even costs more time.

Suffering is a lot like that. Sometimes there is an alternative and we should take it. (I mean – within reason. Google Maps won’t suggest illicit maneuvers, after all!) But other times — like when you unexpectedly lose a job or a loved one, or a traumatic illness or accident leads to months of care — there’s nothing you can do differently. It just takes time. You are still on the fastest route. Just keep inching forward. Trust. And be patient.

Our God is a Redeemer who takes our pain and suffering – no matter how long, no matter how hard – and redeems them. It just takes time. You are still on the fastest route. Just keep inching forward. Trust. And be patient.

Also, when the backseat passengers start with the unsolicited advice to take those back roads (bless their hearts – they don’t know), tell them Google Maps said “You are still on the fastest route.

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Screenshot 2019-01-16 09.26.38
Article, Faith, Human Dignity, Joy, Life, Passion
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“I cared about her more as a human being than as an athlete.”

After the video of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi’s “perfect 10” floor routine went viral, NPR interviewed her head coach, Valerie Kondos Field about her character and skill.

Katelyn had almost given up on the sport. “The elite level came at a price. Not just the injuries, but the body-shaming and the cut-throat competition that left her questioning her self-worth” (NPR’s Morning Edition).

Coach Val became a catalyst for change in Katelyn, who had stopped loving the sport at age 11. How? At the 1:40 mark in the two-minute interview, Coach Val utters the sentence that says it all:

“I cared about her more as a human being than as an athlete.”

And that was everything.

Caring more about a person’s humanity than about the role they play, regardless of the context, is the essence of respect for human dignity.

Want to know how to live your faith in the secular workplace? Care about people more as human beings than as coworkers and employees.

How does every single faculty and staff member live out the Catholic Identity of the school? Care about people more as human beings than as students and colleagues.

It really is that easy.

Care for a person’s well-being more than the function they provide.

Stop using people as objects. Stop objectifying the body for the sake of athletic or advertising success. Stop shaming. Stop the competition that leaves people questioning their self-worth.

We don’t have to choose between people and profit, between personal well-being and excellence, between compassion and success.

In fact, look at the results: not only does Katelyn’s routine earn a “perfect 10,” not only has the video of her performance gone viral, but in the words of Coach Val, “She just exudes goodness and love and joy.”

Be a catalyst: care about a person more as a human being than anything they can do.

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Psalm 150 Beach Meme
Faith, Joy, Life, Prayer, Scripture, Spirituality
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What is my Psalm?

Biking around my NASA affiliated Houston neighborhood is one of my simple joys.  When neighbors ask if we’re “the family that bikes to Church,” I smile with delight and gratitude.  Yes. Yes, we are.

Honestly, this isn’t something that I would instinctively insert into my daily prayer.  Yet, studying the Psalms has prompted me to ask at any given moment: What is my Psalm?  This simple question helps integrate prayerful conversation with God into the ordinary moments of daily life.

To pray in the style of the Psalms – or to pray using the words of the Psalms themselves – it’s helpful to know a little background.

The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs from throughout Israel’s history.  They are prayerful responses to real, specific life experiences.  And as varied as our life experiences may be on any given day, so are the Psalms!  This variety and connection to life is why the Psalms were so often sung and prayed in worship by the ancient Israelites, sung and prayed by Jesus and the apostles, and continue to be sung and prayed by us today.

Acknowledging simple joys with a Psalm of Praise is a beautiful way to recognize God’s presence in all things.

How?

Begin by inviting praise, such as: “Let us praise God!” Then articulate the specific reasons for praising God in that moment. And conclude by recapping the praise.

Look at how Psalm 117 – which is the shortest Psalm, with only two verses – provides a great example of this basic structure:

Praise and Psalm 117

As I bike through my neighborhood, if I were to use the words from Scripture, I might recite the final verse of Psalm 150

Psalm 150 Meme

But the beautiful gift of the Psalms is how they also teach us how to pray our own Psalm of Praise.

Praise God

For my adorable green bike

For its form and its function

and its matching green basket

For the ability to ride

For my wonderful neighborhood

For biking to the homes of friends,

to fun at the pool,

to Church,

to Starbucks,

to CVS.

For the opportunities I have

to share this with my family

whom I love

For all that I have; for all that I am,

Praise God

IMG_0147

Ask yourself: What is my Psalm?  And then say it, write it, sing it, pray it.

For more Wisdom of the Psalms, be sure to subscribe by entering your email on the sidebar.

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Tent in Cayonlands
Book, Faith, Lent, Spirituality, Transformation
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Pitching a Tent

I originally wrote this post three years ago, shortly after having lost a dear friend to breast cancer.  Of course, in the 3-year cycle of readings, Luke’s account of the Transfiguration is (once again) the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent. This reflection also makes its way into the first chapter of Continuing the Journey (which is now available in both English and Spanish, with a Leaders Guide–also in both English and Spanish… but I digress).

From February 2013…

My dear friend Amalour passed away last week.  And in my grief, I am still having a difficult time paying attention to almost everything.  So it  didn’t come as any surprise when I had a hard time following the homily today at mass.  The Gospel on the Second Sunday of Lent is the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28:-36).

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.  Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.  Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

Years ago (before kids), I facilitated a faith sharing group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Maryland, and one of the women explained how the story of the Transfiguration was one of her favorites because it offered a glimpse of Jesus Christ glorified.  I heard her words and felt moved by her passion, but that’s not how the story struck me.

Personally, I find myself identifying with Peter, James, and John.  Like them, I would have been happy to follow Jesus up a mountain.  Like them, I would have probably been overcome by sleep.  Even before kids.  And like them, I would probably been so awestruck, I would have been happy to  to pitch a tent.

Actually, I would have been happy to have my husband pitch the tent while I set up camp.

IMG_1690

At the Vigil service for Amalour’s funeral, her husband Brian offered one of the most moving eulogies I have ever heard.  Brian talked about Amalour’s unending quest for improvement.  In their marriage–in their lives–they’d do the work and come to a plateau.  It was a nice plateau, on which Brian was ready to pitch a tent and enjoy the view.  And Amalour would say no; we’re not there yet.  We can do better than this.  There’s more to see; there’s more to do.  Again, and again, and again in their lives, Amalour was always striving for something more… for something better… in all the ways that mattered.

I am a do-er.  I’d like to think of myself as someone who walked alongside Amalour on the path of growth.  In many ways, I know I have.  But I also know one of my weaknesses is doing too much. I have been guilty of distracting myself from the real, true, important things in life with busyness… filling my days with so much stuff that I don’t have time to think.  When I’m in this mindset, pitching a tent and enjoying the view sounds like a GREAT idea!  In fact, I’ll even busy myself with setting up camp.

Thing is, life is more of a journey than a sit-down and watch (or in my case, get everything ready to sit down and watch).  And sometimes that journey is hard.  Very hard.

I can imagine that witnessing the Transfiguration was to be a gift to inspire Peter, James, and John for the journey that lay before them.  It was not meant to be the end of the journey… or even a break from the journey.

So the challenge, I suppose, is to take those moments of grace, peace, hope, and light and allow them to inspire us along the path.  To avoid the temptation to pitch a tent as though that moment was the end-all-be-all.  To avoid the temptation to busy ourselves with setting up camp instead of doing the real work of journeying through life.


Tent in Canyonlands by [Rob Lee]https://www.flickr.com/photos/roblee) licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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Leaders guide and 3 copies of Continuing the Journey
Book, Conversion, Evangelization, Faith, Friendship, Life, Small Faith Sharing Groups, Spirituality, Transformation
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5 Keys for Effective Faith Sharing Groups

Adults crave quality connections with other adults, where we can have good conversations about the things in life that really matter.

For a variety of reasons, we don’t always have the opportunity to do this; to have these quality connections and conversations. Our schedules become busy with kids, work, commitments, activities, sports, responsibilities, and so on.  We often find ourselves socializing with the people who keep similar schedules in similar spaces. We talk about the things we do or the things we see, but not always what’s going on inside our hearts.

Sharing the yearnings of our hearts–our hopes and dreams, our joys and sorrows, our brokenness in pain and suffering–takes trust, vulnerability, and love.

Trust, vulnerability, and love aren’t characteristics easily found in today’s impersonal, fast paced, technology dependent world.

This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

Yet trust, vulnerability, and love are at the heart of true spirituality, discipleship, and Christian community. Or at least, that’s what Jesus had intended, that’s what St. Paul wrote about, and that’s what Acts of the Apostles describes.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. (Acts 2:46-47)

The experience of quality conversations and connections is invigorating; these moments fill our hearts with love, peace, and joy. When the topics touch upon spirituality, discipleship, and Christian living, these conversations are evangelizing–kindling our passion for God.

So when, and where, and how can we find quality connections and quality conversations with other adults?  In today’s Church, we can certainly find this within small faith sharing groups.

My last post explained what a small faith sharing group is.  This post begins with a vision for what kind of experience we want (quality conversations and connections) and will focus on How to implement small faith sharing groups.

Five Keys For Small Faith Sharing Groups

Just because you get a group of people together and give them a topic does not mean you’ll get these fantastic evangelizing conversations and quality connections.  Have you ever been part of a never-ending meeting that goes nowhere?  Or one that devolves into either a therapy session or venting and complaining?

Beyond the logistics of who, where, when (and what to discuss), there needs to be a great deal of attention dedicated to how. I suggest Five Key C’s to cultivating evangelizing conversations and quality connections:

  1. Confidentiality – the atmosphere of the small faith sharing group needs to be one of trust, vulnerability, and love.  Whatever is shared in these conversations must not be repeated in any other context.  This is a confidentiality based in agapic-love, willing of another’s good… the only exception to confidentiality is if someone’s life is in danger.  Care and concern for the well-being of another always takes precedence when someone’s life is in danger.
  2. Conversation – participants enter into small faith sharing groups with the expectation of conversation.  Good conversations extend from mutual respect.  To get to a place of mutual respect, sometimes “ground rules” need to be made explicit, such as:
    • encourage laughter and joy… but never at the expense of another.
    • express concern for one another… but not by offering advice, criticism, or judgment of others.
    • recognize and validate emotions… but resist the temptation to counsel, advise, or solve problems (unless specifically asked for).
    • honor one another’s time with both brevity (when sharing) and patience (when listening).
  3. Coordination through Facilitators – a good facilitator is a good listener and servant/leader.  More than a host or a coordinator that plans the meetings, a good facilitator knows how to:
    • invite everyone’s participation in the conversation… but not force it; no one has an obligation to share.  Some folks are natural talkers who easily share; others are introverts that need time to think and process.  A facilitator’s job is to prevent “conversation ball-hogs” by making sure that everyone has a chance to speak and contribute.
    • be patient as participants share their stories… but also be attentive to staying focused on the discussion topic and keeping the discussion within the time allotted.
  4. Conversion and Application to Life – it is easier to talk critical analysis–what you think about a topic–than it is to consider how the material applies to your life.  It’s easier to talk about concepts or other people’s stories than it is to consider how the wisdom of Scripture and Tradition is personally calling you to conversion in your own life.  Faith sharing group discussions are concerned with:
    • How you currently experience [the topic] in your life – whether with success or struggles.
    • Ways in which you feel [the topic] is calling you to live your faith differently or better… a call to action of sorts.
  5. Centered on Prayer – Faith sharing groups always need to be centered on our Life-giving, Loving God.  We need to remember to:
    • begin by inviting the Holy Spirit into the discussion.
    • choose discussion material that helps us focus on how the wisdom of the Christian Tradition applies to our lives today.
    • pray over, for, with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling through difficult times… even if it is in the middle of the discussion.
    • end with a prayer of thanksgiving and/or petition.

One last thing to keep in mind when working with adults in a faith sharing group setting: busy adults don’t always have the time to read and prepare.  Or sometimes they do read and prepare, but then time passes, life happens, and they forget.  In a classroom setting, it makes sense to emphasize coming to class prepared.  In a faith sharing group, the focus is on evangelization; quality connections and conversation about faith and life.

Catechesis is an essential “moment” in the process of evangelization (General Directory for Catechesis, 63).

To help adults focus their conversation, it’s always a good idea to offer a summary that reminds participants about the key points in the material before opening the discussion.

Faith Sharing with Continuing the Journey

You know what material easily lends itself to small faith sharing group discussion?  That’s right!  My book, Continuing the Journey: Cultivating Lived Faith.

Even more, you know what will help with the Five Key C’s of cultivating evangelizing conversations and quality connections?  My brand new Leader’s Guide.

LeadersGuide_BookCover
I believe so strongly in the value of small faith sharing groups that I am offering the Leader’s Guide as either a free PDF (click here), or a hard copy can be mailed to you for $5.99 with free Prime Shipping through Amazon.

Note: all Amazon links include my affiliate link, which means Amazon gives me a couple of extra pennies from your purchase.

Go forth and share your faith!  And let me know if I can be of any help in the process.  In addition to these resources, I am available to offer trainings and workshops for small faith sharing group facilitators.  Just email me!

Blessings and peace as you continue your journey!

Love Julie



Sign-up now and receive the 68-page PDF Leader’s Guide to Continuing the Journey.


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