How to receive grace

I went to confession before Christmas this year, and spoke to Fr J about how very frustrated I am. I know what I should do, and many times I desire to do that good that I should do. Yet I am falling short so often – even on basics like going to church on Sunday when we are out of town visiting. Loading the dishwasher and running it before going to bed. Setting aside time for prayer every day, more than the few minutes when I lay down to sleep, exhausted. I have the motivation, I know how to do these things, so why am I failing at the follow through? (BTW this is a perennial problem for me. I am great at imagining what I want to do, making a plan, lists, etc. But actually doing it? Well ….)

Fr J reminded me of the passage in the Bible from Romans 7, where Paul talks about how the good he wants to do, he doesn’t do, and the evil he does not want to do – that is what he does. And Fr J talked about the only thing that makes it possible to do the good: God’s grace. I am struggling and experiencing that my will, knowledge and desire are not going to get me there – I need God working within me. (I used to have a killer, will of iron when it came to studying or doing other things I had to do before relaxing or having fun. I’m not sure where that went!)

Fr J said he would pray for me, that I would receive this grace in the year to come. It brought to my mind that this is how I am to receive the Lord into my life at this time. Like Mary, afraid and puzzled but willing to whole-heartedly do what was being asked of her – nurturing and caring for this precious and vulnerable life. Like Joseph, receptive to God’s word, willing to work, provide for, and move into new territories, having confidence in God’s guidance. (I haven’t gotten as far as the shepherds, wise men, animals etc. – but no doubt there are lessons there for me as well!)

I feel that, perhaps, I need to be gentle and open and nurturing to the presence of this grace that I desire. You would think that God’s grace would just sweep in and overwhelm everything else in my life, but I guess that is not how it is meant to be right now for me.

The other Bible passage that I have been praying with is from Luke 13. This is when Jesus heals the woman who has been bent over for 18 years and is unable to straighten up. Jesus sees her in the crowd and heals her – suddenly she is able to stand. Imagine how different the world would look from these two perspectives! Interesting to me – she does not ask for healing – she makes no profession of faith – Jesus just heals her. I am not quite sure why this passage is staying with me, but it is.

So in a way – I hope – I have fewer decisions to make. I just need to decide to settle into the grace that God wants to give me, to do what I need to do in order to nourish and care for the openness to this grace. I hope this is the missing piece to actually *doing* all those things that would make my life, and the lives of those who are connected with me, so much better. If God has called me to do something, or to fulfill some role, surely He will give me the grace needed (if I ask for it) to do as he wants me to do. (I hope!)

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Prayer Buddy Reveal: Isaiah55!

I have had the privilege of praying for our fellow blogger at http://isaiahfiftyfive.blogspot.com/ . She sounds like she rocks the Christmas cookies! Below is the message I sent to her, as I had a deep experience at midnight mass I would like to share.

I invite you all to pray for her and her DH, all of my friends and family who are struggling with health issues and IF, and also to pray for my friends who are single and whose hearts are longing for marriage. I also have many whom I love that do not believe in God, so if you would pray for them too that would be wonderful.

Merry Christmas to all of my readers! I pray your hearts will be filled with love, peace and joy in this blessed season.

Dear PB,

I’ve been looking in on your blog and am so happy to have the chance to get to know you. All through Advent, I have been praying for you and your DH, as you seek out a way to be parents. My commute to work has been an especially good time to pray for you both, as well as prayers before I go to bed and my evening blog time.

I wanted to share with you the prayer that came to my heart during Christmas midnight mass (I just got home). I prayed for you in your desire to be a mother, to welcome new life as Mary did this night. I asked our Lord to flood his love through you, to give you a desire for His will in this situation, to be able to discern how to get through the painful, soul-wrenching experience that is infertility. Then I asked God to help me pray for you. The image that came to me was that I was carrying you (as an adult carries an older child, with one arm under the knees and the other at the shoulders) – bringing you to Jesus for His healing. I knelt down with you and said something along the lines of ‘Lord, bless this woman. Although she is a stranger to me, she is my sister too. She is my sister through you and through infertility. Lord, you know of the pain and suffering this causes. I ask you to heal my sister – to heal her physically, emotionally, spiritually – to bring her deep healing in every way that she needs. I pray first for us to desire you, and your will in our lives – and I ask you to see this longing in her heart to be a mother, the longing of her husband, family, and friends – and I ask you will fulfill this desire for her, in whatever way builds your Kingdom in her heart, the heart of her husband, family and friends. Thank you for hearing my prayer.’

I feel that the Spirit is the one who really prayed this within my heart for you. I will keep praying for you and checking your blog.

I wish and pray that your Christmas and 2012 will be filled with God’s love, peace, and joy, and that your ‘tears may be turned into dancing … that the night may be turned into day.’

Sick, but not down

I have a stuffy head, runny nose, cough and am tired – but – I am no longer ‘down’ as I was before. AF has duly arrived so I guess it was just the hormonal storm this month. Sometimes it really affects me, other times I hardly notice it.

Prayer buddy, I know it’s a small thing, but if you could pray for me that I get over this cold quickly I would really appreciate it! I don’t want to take any more sick days from work as I have had to take a few already this fall, and I have a project going with the grade 5 class that I want to complete before the holidays and I can’t leave it with a supply teacher (it involves using hand saws, glue guns, etc).

Meanwhile I have a few posts in mind, but bed is calling me so I will hope to post soon.

Goodnight!

AF must be coming to town ….

(kids mentioned)
It’s been about 3 days of ‘not my finest moment’ … I am feeling down, overwhelmed, just not getting stuff done (and trust me, there is lots that needs to be done). I think a few factors are at play – generally not getting the amount of sleep I need; DH has been gone about a month and I think that this is the end of my tolerance for missing him; the kids are missing him and needing a lot from me, and my resources are just low. I just need to get some (censored) marking done and it is such a struggle for me.

Sneaking in some fudge for breakfast yesterday and a cupcake today, well that is quite out of character too (although emotional eating is IN character, I am afraid). A friend I miss seeing invited us over for a little visit today – we walked over (what’s that? exercise?) and had tea and some cake she had baked. There was also a neighbour visiting, whom I don’t know well, and he seemed like a really nice guy. This did mean, however, that it wasn’t the talky talky kind of visit we might otherwise have had. I still had a good time, but I was a bit out of it. Have you ever had that slightly disconnected feeling?

I am feeling wistful more often too. Looking up and seeing a pg woman cuddling her toddler; seeing 2 year olds cuddling up to their parents; hearing about this or that person expecting – it doesn’t devastate me and wring my heart as it would have done years ago, but I am not free of the passing sadness that I wish (in many ways) that life had been easier for us that way – that we might have the option of adding to our family now … even though I am not sure I really, truly wish that, part of me still wishes that.

Part of the Bible reading today has the passage about ‘in all circumstances, give thanks.’ There is much I can rejoice in, and I am trying to live there – even looking at what are the big struggles for me right now (marking, keeping up with schoolwork is a big one) and how can I give that over to God – instead of blaming myself and finding fault, to acknowledge this is a problem that shortchanges my students, myself, my family, my joy – and pray for help with it. It just feels like it is bigger and stronger than me right now. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t … but I believe it is not bigger and stronger than God, so I am trying to put it over into His hands, if that makes sense (which it totally won’t if you are not a person who believes in God … my parents would think I am wayyyy out there!)

Today I read a very moving post by Mrs Spit. Actually her last few posts have been moving and heartbreaking, as she honours the anniversary of the birth and death of her only child Gabriel. These words especially hit me today:

************
I have learned this. In the midst of the worst pain and sorrow and horror of your life, seeds are sown.

All sorts of seeds, really. Seeds of bitterness and seeds of deeper understanding. Seeds of never ending joy and seeds of sorrow.

It is the work of our entire lives to choose which seeds we water, which seeds we fertilize, which seeds we pluck out as weeds.

*********

It comes from her post here: http://mrsspit.ca/

I have never suffered the kind of crisis that she, her husband and family have. I so admire her grace and wisdom. And these words make me think about what seeds am I nurturing? I guess I need to recognize that yes, I do have PMS – worse sometimes than others – and no, that is not a reason to stop nurturing the ‘good’ seeds and just give up and let the seeds I don’t really want to grow(snapping at people, being irritable and miserable).

I’m just not exactly sure how. I could make resolutions about eating healthy foods and going running, which I am sure would be good for me. I guess I’m not ready to commit to that. But I think I will start with a hot bath, and then I will try to prioritize what MUST be done for tomorrow (prep for work? laundry – clean clothes to wear? lunches to make? they all seem important. I must be able to cut a corner or two somewhere). And maybe I will take a minute or two to turn out the room lights and just sit in front of the Christmas tree … an almost magical presence for every Christmas as long as I can remember.

At least AF has got to show her face soon and I can get through that and get on with it.

Dear prayer buddy ….

Hello prayer buddy,

I am trying to make a change in how I do things and I would appreciate your prayer support! I believe that I am meant to be teaching right where I am at this point in time – while there are many challenges, I have an amazing admin team, great colleagues, and mostly good-hearted students. (Unfortunately many are really struggling with challenges, from difficult custody arrangements to medical issues that really affect their behaviour and ability to learn and do their best, etc. Some days drain the energy away and are very frustrating!). While I believe that God has brought me to this place, I really struggle with keeping even vaguely on top of the marking. I do pretty well at being prepared but I am so upset with myself in terms of how I am just not getting feedback to kids as I should be.

I am going to try getting up earlier, getting to school earlier, and leaving school earlier – with the thought that when I walk in the door at home, I will sit down and do half an hour to an hour’s work in marking. Then I can make supper and do everything else that needs to be done, including my prep for the next day, prepping lunch, etc. I will then have to get to bed earlier (a challenge for me – I am a night owl) so that I can get out in time in the morning.

Please think of me as I try to put myself in God’s hands for this change, for my own health and sanity and my students. I hope this is the solution that will work for all of us.

Thank you!

Be the donkey

A real blessing in my life since the summer has been 2 friends I meet with once a week. I had been praying for at least a year to find someone to help me along my journey, especially through the trials of last year – perhaps a spiritual director, or a prayer group – it seemed like nothing was going to come of my desire for some IRL company. Then C. approached me and asked if I would be interested in meeting once a week, and away we went!

So we have a little formula of prayers etc we follow, and we read the readings and psalm that will come up in the next Sunday mass. This week the readings were about preparing a way in the wilderness, making straight the paths, John the Baptist. B. shared with us some reading she has been doing from a book called ‘Donkey Bells’ (now on my wish list) which talks about how the donkey carrying Mary to Bethlehem was also carrying the Christ child, the new life which was to be born. B. recommended to me that I consider ‘being’ the donkey – as I walk, run, dance, plod or trudge along my path – I am carrying a new life, a life that will become known to me and change me. Perhaps there will be new revelations for me at Christmas, perhaps not, but it will come sooner or later.

Another really profound thing that B. shared had to do with offering up whatever we have to give at mass. When the gifts are carried up to the altar, or on the altar, make it a point to give God our anxieties, our fears, our joys, our plans – whatever is in us to give. I did do this at church this morning and an amazing thought came to me: Catholics believe that the bread and wine which are brought up become transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, which we receive in communion. So here I am offering my sufferings, anxieties, etc … which are being carried up and placed into God’s hands … to be transformed … to be given back to me, in a way that will strengthen me and bring me peace and joy. (maybe? I hope so anyway).

I haven’t yet started to put myself in the place of the donkey (I love the thought that I have official permission to be an a$$! hee hee hee). I still feel overwhelmed by everything I need to do, especially as DH is away for periods of time and I need to manage working full time, the kids, the house, etc etc. Most of the time I am fine with it – just thankful that we are in a much better place financially (though we still have a lot of catching up to do, at least we are not going further into a hole), my job is challenging but satisfying and I love my colleagues, etc. Every now and then, though, I think of my good friends who are single or married and childfree, pursuing careers but having a relatively more peaceful and undemanding home life. (Definitely tidier house, time to enjoy other hobbies, time to travel, etc.). Other times I see the friends who have easily had their children and are, for the most part, stay-at-home-moms – everything they are able to do for their children and with their families, but it just isn’t going to work that way for us. And those who have had the # of children they want – 3, 4, or even 2 but knowing that 2 is the right number for them. Although it may indeed be better for us not to have had some of these choices, sometimes I do wish we could have chosen.

Every time I check Lori’s website (from the road less travelled) I see the quote she has put up, along the lines of ‘we must be willing to let go of the life we had planned in order to live the life that is waiting for us.’ I absolutely think it is true, but it is hard to do.

So there we go. As the donkey, I can carry all of the things I can rejoice in, as well as all of the ‘I wish it were different’ things. And definitely my prayers for those who are in desolation, and find it hard to be thankful or find joy, about their situation – the lack of choice that seems in such direct conflict with their desires and longings. While I do feel it at times, it is a far, far cry from what it has been at the darkest times of life.

Morning prayer

Last year, when things were grim indeed, and it took most of my reserves of courage, perseverance and energy to go in to work every day – I started to further explore the idea of prayers at different times of the day (the daily office, involving things like morning prayer, afternoon prayer, evening prayer, compline).

Somewhat earlier than this, my reading involved some things on the rule of St Benedict and how he organized his monastery. There are a lot of aspects I really like about this, and I hope one day to delve into it further. I also found the site for Northumbria community, and purchased the download of their disc with some amazing prayers which helped me through the really dark days. If you explore their link you will also find the prayers of the daily office and ideas of how to use it.

They words, or lyrics, for one of my favorite prayers (song, on the disc), comes from evening prayer:

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.