Category : Joy

Psalm 150 Beach Meme
Faith, Joy, Life, Prayer, Scripture, Spirituality
0

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

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

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Kid Triathlon Finish Banner
Action, Grace, Hope, Human Dignity, Humility, Joy, Leadership, Life, Love
0

Going the Distance: On Heartbreak, Hope, and Love

My kids, ages 8 and 9 1/2, were registered to do their third Kids-Triathlon.

Kids Tri 2014

First Tri in 2014

Kids Tri 2015

Second Tri in 2015

And then three weeks before the race this year, my youngest, Max, broke his arm (for the second time in 8 months–this time while playing the-floor-is-lava).

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He was disappointed that he couldn’t do the tri, but understood.  There were tears, but Max has a positive, fun, jovial disposition.  While others might sulk, he had a moment of sad, then moved on to joking and cheering… until the night before the race, when he started to cry.  Overcome with disappointment, he cried, “I weally wanted to do this twiathlon…”
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I had a choice: I could tell him to simply chin-up and deal with the consequences of his broken arm, I could join him in his devastation and call off his brother’s tri, or I could meet him with compassion and find a way to help him work through it.

It was heart-breaking.  But Max embraced his role, cheering his brother and their friends on.  We prayed.  Others prayed, and he cheered his friends on.  You never would have known Max was the least bit upset.

Kid Triathlon 2016-5

Alex, my oldest, started his race as expected: confident, nervous, excited.

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His 100 yard breast stroke was steady through the cold waters of the freshly drawn pool.  

Kid Triathlon 2016-9

He ran through transition with a double dimpled smile, blowing a kiss as he ran by.

He sped out of transition on his bike with confidence.  

Kid Triathlon 2016-11

And we eagerly waited his return…

After a while I knew something was wrong; it was taking too long.

Finally Max spotted him off in the distance.

As Alex got closer, he was going too slow.  My Mom-Spidey-Senses were going off and I ran towards him.  

Kid Triathlon 2016-15

Tears streaming, Alex wailed that his chain had been broken for the whole, entire 3 mile bike.  It had fallen off three times; a volunteer helped fix it the first two, but not the third time.  So he had to walk/scoot it in, incredibly frustrating and costing him buckets of time.

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Crying, he ran his bike through the end of the course, into transition.

Disappointed, Alex started his run strong… but the frustration overcame him and he began to just walk, crying.

Kid Triathlon 2016-24

Tingling Spidey-Mom-Senses, I see my son.  He hasn’t given up.  He’s discouraged, but he hasn’t given up.

Kid Triathlon 2016-26

All he can see is the failure.  The failure to accomplish the bike as he knew he could.

Kid Triathlon 2016-18

He couldn’t see the tenacity.  He couldn’t see the determination.  He couldn’t see the strength.

Kid Triathlon 2016-19

He could only feel the pain and disappointment, which were real… which were huge.

Kid Triathlon 2016-20

I saw my son cross the finish line against all odds.  But I couldn’t cry with pride, because he was simply devastated.

Kid Triathlon 2016-21

So I took him by the hand and walked him over to his coach.  A multiple Ironman, multiple ultra-marathon (100 mile) finisher, who coached kids at the YMCA for free, just to share his love of the sport.  A grandfather, who loves kids as much as he loves the sport… who is one of the best examples of coaching that this professional educator has ever witnessed in her life.

Kid Triathlon 2016-22

And this Ironman Coach Grandpa explains to Alex that his determination to finish–that he didn’t just give up–was one of the most inspirational things he had ever seen.

Still, Alex couldn’t understand.  Still, Alex couldn’t comprehend.  So Coach Grandpa asked if he could take a picture and post his story on Facebook.  Because he was certain that there were other Triathletes that would find inspiration from this 9 year old.
Kid Triathlon 2016-23

We packed up and headed home.  And I insisted that Alex read the comments on Coach Grandpa and my own Facebook posts.  For some reason, when he started to read the comments of strangers who were moved by the fact that he still finished the race, things started to shift for him.  “Wow.”

Why is it that we doubt the words of those who love us, but accept the words of those we don’t know?

Regardless, those words were heard.  The affirmations of strangers were heard.  The encouragement of his Coach was heard.  And Alex started to look at his Triathlon in a new light.

Where he once saw failure, he started to see determination.

Where he once saw frustration, he started to see success.

And I finally let myself cry, but not for hurt, or pain, or disappointment.  Rather for pride.

What may have been my son’s worst experience ever may have been the proudest Mom-moment of my life.

Because he finished.

Not because he won, but because he didn’t give up.  He finished.

My son faced adversity, felt the full brunt of it, and said to himself, “I could quit, but it’s only another 1/2 mile.  I can make it.”

And he did.  He finished.

There are so many lessons I take from this experience.

  • From Max who at 8 years old allowed himself to feel intense disappointment, yet didn’t let it consume him… rather, he chose to cheer on his friends.
  • From Alex, my tenacious 9 1/2 year old, who didn’t give up.
  • From perfect strangers who not only found inspiration from Alex’s story, but who took the time to applaud his tenacity.
  • From a man who volunteers his time, talent, and treasure to help kids find success with and develop a love of his sport.
  • From my husband who sees the moments of real, in-the-trenches-mothering, applauds them, and captures them on film.

When Jesus said to love one another as I have loved you… this is what he meant.  Yes, my kid did a great job at overcoming adversity, but he wouldn’t have been able to do it without you and me. When Jesus said “whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me,” this is part of that.

As a Mom, when I love my kid in his time of need, I’m being Christ to him.  As a community, when you reach out to someone with encouragement and love, you’re being Christ to him.  You are loving one another as Christ loved us.

This is it.  Right here, right now.  And we did it.  He finished.  And he’s proud because of you.  So thank you.

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A Joyful Heart
Advent, Humility, Joy
0

Preparing, Waiting, and Joy

I love how life teaches me about faith.

Advent is about waiting and preparation.  I know that.  I knew that.  Except I didn’t really get it until the year I was pregnant.  That was the year I encountered the blessed waiting of Advent as an expectant mother in her first trimester.

Up till then, my “preparations” were focused on gift-giving and party-attending.  Don’t get me wrong – I planned, prepared, and purchased gifts from the heart.  I organized Christmas caroling at the nursing home for my high school students.  I participated in Giving Trees.  It wasn’t that I was self-centered and materialistic… I just didn’t get the whole waiting and preparation thing.

But that Advent when I was pregnant with my first child, I sat at Church one Sunday, ever-so-aware of how nauseated I felt, ever-so-aware of the little life growing inside me, and ever-so-in-awe of the path that lie ahead. Preparation wasn’t about nursery colors, registries, and baby names.  It was about preparing our lives–and our marriage–to receive and raise a child.
New Born Alex

Fast forward nine years.  I thought I knew what waiting and preparation were about.  And then, on December 1st, the day after the First Sunday of Advent, my husband came home with the news that he was being furloughed.  Furloughed is not unemployed; you technically keep your job but aren’t allowed to work until the company can afford to pay you.  He’s an aerospace engineer, working for a company contracted by NASA… How long would the furlough last?  Until contracts were signed and there were funds to pay for his position.  Possibly in a day or so… possibly 4-5 weeks.

So we waited… and hoped… and prayed.

In the waiting, there was an absurd amount questioning (particularly second guessing financial decisions and employment possibilities) and the awareness of a humbling loss of control.  From day to day there would be a glimmer of hope, and then a “no.”  A lot of uncertainty.

Through it all, I was struck by a deep sense of perspective.  We faced temporary unpaid leave.  Many are in the midst of long-term unemployment.  Others face terminal illnesses or a tragic loss of a loved one.  Sure, we’d rather not be in this situation, but it could definitely be worse.

This past Friday, after two weeks of uncertainty, Peter went in to work for a meeting and then used up the last of his paid leave.  There was one more glimmer of hope: his company had won a contract with three-persons-worth-of-work, but it was a matter of waiting to see if they would assign it to him.

Sure enough, the answer came Saturday night while we were at his boss’s house for a Christmas party.  Praise God, Peter was assigned to part of that new project and could return to work on Monday.  Awash in joy, I couldn’t wait to share the news!
Back To Work Post

The next morning was the Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday, which is Latin for joy!  We light the pink candle and remember to be joyful.  Let me tell you, joy radiated from within, and it felt incredible!

Children seem to dabble in joy so easily, especially at Christmas; adults seem to struggle with stress, especially at Christmas.

We really do need that pink candle to remind us to be joyful.

Well, with this good news, I was determined to be joyful!

To be honest, although I had been setting aside money from Criagslisting old toys, I was hesitant to do any Christmas shopping until I knew whether we might need those funds in other ways.  So between Amazon and all the other stores for all the other things, I’ve been buying gifts this week.  It’s a little crazy out there.  It’s tempting to forget joy and embrace stress… after all, everyone else is doing it.

So every day this week, in the midst of every errand, I find myself pausing in reflective prayer: I am so thankful for the opportunity to do this. I choose joy.

 I invite you to do the same: choose joy!

  • How has your life taught you about faith recently?

  • How can you choose joy this week?

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Statue of St. Francis DeSales
Calling, Holy Spirit, Joy, Life, Passion, Vocation
3

Workings of the Spirit Part 1: A Series of Uncanny Coincidences with Impeccable Timing

Have you ever had one of those conversations that center around “How You Got to Where You Are”?

  • How did you end up moving [here]?

  • Why did you decide upon [that university]?

  • That’s an interesting job… how did you come to that line of work?<[/list-child]
  • How did you meet [your husband]?
  • [/list] A few months ago, thanks to FaceBook, I reconnected with a friend I met in 1999, when we both started working at a Catholic high school in Austin. In our catch-up conversation, Ayne asked, "How did you go from teaching to writing?" For a while, my phraseology was a secular blend of user-friendly language: "it was totally random," "everything just kind of fell into place," or "coincidentally..."  It's not that I didn't recognize Divine Providence when it happened, it's just that the workings of the Holy Spirit are often so unbelievable that it's hard to describe... Most recently, my friend Heidi introduced me to Theology of the Body guy, Christopher West, and explained my background writing for Our Sunday Visitor’s textbook series.  Shaking my hand, Christopher asks, “So how did you get that gig?”
    [column width="1_2" last="0"]

    Me: “Long, convoluted story.  Short version: Holy Spirit.”

    Christopher: [Laughing] “Fair enough.”

    Me: “I mean I could ask the same of you: How did you end up doing THIS gig?”

    Christopher: [Nodding] “Holy Spirit.”

    And we all laughed.
    [/column]
    [column width="1_2" last="1"]
    [caption id="attachment_578" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Christopher West Christopher, Heidi, and Jason (Christopher’s assistant)[/caption][/column]
    How did I end up going from teaching to writing?  How did I end up with the most amazing, beyond-my-wildest-dreams, dream-job? The short answer is truly: through the workings of the Holy Spirit.

    When I look back on my story–when I look back on my life–I see the workings of the Holy Spirit with great clarity.  I see it happening in my life when things just work out.  Sometimes it’s when certain doors close and others open.  Maybe it’s just me, but this can be confusing, especially if you thought you were on the right path and then come to find out you made a terrible mistake.

    Perhaps if I explain my own story, it’ll make more sense.

    A Series of Uncanny Coincidences with Impeccable Timing 

    In my teens, I was constantly busy with one of two activities: youth group in my wonderful parish and the incredible theatre program in my public high school.
    [column width="1_2" last="0"][caption id="attachment_574" align="alignleft" width="194"]20120910101935251 Vernon Township High School Theatre[/caption][/column]

    [column width="1_2" last="1"][caption id="attachment_575" align="alignright" width="300"]Antioch Youth Group Antioch Youth Group, St. Francis de Sales Parish[/caption][/column]

    When the questions about college came up, I took those activities to their logical end: I was interested in majoring in technical theatre at a college that could nurture my spirituality.  Conveniently, there was this cute guy in my youth group that was a theatre major at Muhlenberg College (a Lutheran liberal arts college in the Allentown, PA area).  He loved it, and that was endorsement enough for me at the age of 17, in the summer before Senior Year.

    That summer, my parents spent a few days at the Jersey Shore with my Dad’s parents.  Pop asks, “Where’s Julie thinking about going to college?”  At the very moment that my Mom replies, “Oh, some Catholic university in Allentown…” a couple walks along the beach hand-in-hand, wearing Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales t-shirts.  She jumps up and proceeds to interview these strangers on the details of the college.  Later that night Mom calls to verify what colleges I’m looking at, and when I proceed to correct her, she actually gets all indignant with me.  Insists I look at Allentown, because as the strangers on the beach said: they have a very good theatre program and they’re Catholic.  Even though our parish was also named St. Francis de Sales, I still wasn’t sold.  I mean, COME ON!  But as any adolescent would, I told her what she wanted to hear so I could get off the phone, mumbled my “whatever” and rolled my eyes.

    [caption id="attachment_554" align="aligncenter" width="570"]20120910200333 Pop and my Dad at the Jersey Shore, 1991[/caption]

    The following month I was seated in the Guidance Office, using the computer program which asks you to enter all of your college criteria so as to narrow down your limitless choices of colleges and universities to 25 or less.  Of course–alphabetically–Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was first on the list.  Weeks later, at the high school college fair, I visited Muhlenberg’s table only to be told that they’d suggest I contact Allentown College (who wasn’t even at the college fair!).  So fine.  I grudgingly made an appointment to visit for their Open House and even agreed to stay for an overnight visit with some students.

    Sure enough, once we arrived on campus, I was sold.  My heart delighted in the rolling hills of Center Valley.   Their theatre program was exactly what I was looking for.  And without a doubt, I found a spiritual home.

    [caption id="attachment_555" align="aligncenter" width="570"]College-3 The beautiful valley in Allentown College’s (now DeSales University’s) campus.[/caption]

    Realizing Passion and Finding (a little) Clarity

    As it turned out, I really enjoyed theatre, but more as a hobby than a career.  So I changed majors.  But I really had no idea what I wanted to do.  Or what I was supposed to do.  It was at that time that I was taking my first theology course.  And. I. LOVED. IT.  Not just “really enjoyed,” but exploding with THIS STUFF IS AWESOME passion.  My heart and my brain came together with excitement. PASSION.

    But I still had no idea that this would actually go anywhere.

    And then I was sitting in a study group, preparing for the mid-term or final in this theology class.  We were taking turns explaining concepts when, after one of the guys correctly explained a concept, he simply said: “Still, I just don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense.”  So I give it a shot.  I was a little surprised by the clarity that came out of my mouth, but it worked: he got it and so did everyone else in the group.

    Certainty and Doubt

    When I told my parents that I wanted to be a theology major, they both asked what I would possibly do with this (very expensive) degree.  I had no idea.  But I just had to do it.

    By my senior year of undergrad I knew I ultimately wanted to teach theology, but figured I’d have to get a degree in education first.  Note that I never actually looked into the options… I just convinced myself that it wouldn’t work… it couldn’t work.

    College-84

    I’m going to pause here in my story and  draw attention to a few themes.  If you experience any of the following, consider that it just might be the work of the Holy Spirit:
    [list] [list-child icon="fa-arrow-right"]A series of uncanny coincidences with impeccable timing

  • Realizing you have a passion about something

  • Feeling certain that you need to follow your passion, even if you’re unsure of how to proceed.

Stay tuned for my next post, “Workings of the Spirit Part 2: Mistakes, Passion, and Problems.”


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Dance!
Human Dignity, Joy
3

Daring to Try

I am amazed at the things I will do for my kids.

And I’m not talking about the maternal-instinct so-they-will-survive stuff (like sleep deprivation and all those things I blocked out of selective memory).

I’m talking about Daring to Try.

For my son’s 5th birthday, we had a dance party for 17 kids ages 3-8.  Two months prior to Max’s birthday, we attended a cousin’s wedding, which is where we introduced my kids to the dance floor.

Dancing at a Wedding

This would probably be a good time to mention that I really can’t dance.  I try.  I have fun.  But to be honest, I’m not very good at it.  I’m a big ball of uncoordinated, awkward self-consciousness.

But what I’ve come to understand about my kids is:  They. Don’t. Care.  They just want me.  Having fun.  With them.

I see the way my kids look at me with awe and love.  It’s like they take my own awe and love of them, multiply it and thrust it back upon me.

My kids see me with God’s eyes.  With God’s love.  And with all my humanness, imperfections, and limitations, they still see awesomeness.

I have two choices here:

  1. I can correct them: tell them why I’m not-quite-good-enough and effectively model self-doubt
  2. Or I can make an effort.  I can try.  I can model humility and try, and try, and try again…

It’s not all that easy to try…  In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown explains how putting yourself out there requires quite a bit of vulnerability and courage.  It doesn’t come naturally.  It’s a choice.  A choice I want my kids to make.  So I force myself to model it.

Don't Let Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good

So for Max’s 5th birthday, I gathered 2 hours of kid-friendly dance music, including lots of line dancing stuff apropos for weddings, and burned the playlist to a 2-cd set as the party favor.  Then we cleared the furniture out of the living room, set up some dance lights, and effectively turned the living room into a dance floor.

Max's 5th Birthday Dance Party.

That was the easy stuff.   At a certain point, it became necessary to actually lead the line dances.  In case I wasn’t clear on this, let me lay it out: I would rather have crawled under a rock and died than get up in front of people and lead the Electric Slide.

Except that’s not true.  Not when I look into the eyes of my kids and see their joyful desire.

So I threw caution to the wind and I Dared to Try. And the kids Loved. It.  Everyone had a blast.  Including me.

There’s a post I found through Pinterest called “Waking Up Full of Awesome.”  The author, Melissa, posts an appropriately absolutely awesome picture of her 5 year old and reflects on the phenomenon of how we once – when we were 5 – “woke up  full of awesome.”  And at some point most of us lose that.

I don’t want that for my boys.  And I don’t want that for me.  And neither does God.

I want them to see their awesomeness as clearly as I do.  And I want to see my own awesomeness as clearly as they do.

Because that–with all that awesomeness–is how God sees me.  So that’s where I’d like to be.  For now, my next step is focusing on Daring to Try.


Dance! by Scott Robinson licensed under CC BY 2.0

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