Blessed By Sadness

July 2018

A little over a month ago, my 90 year-old mother passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s.  Despite the fact my family and I had been saying goodbye to Mom literally for years, I think many of us were surprised how hard it was when she died.  Being people of faith, we know that the tears are for us and not for her. We are confident that Mom is now with God and knows more joy than she ever could have known on earth. (And that’s saying something because that lady was JOYFUL!) Yet, the sadness is still there…

The same week my Mom died, an obituary made the news not because of its beauty but because of its darkness.  It was written by the children of a woman who had died. At first, just the facts of her birth and death were given but the ending talked of how she had abandoned her children and that the world was a better place without her.  The pain and bitterness of her children was obvious in the piece.

The contrast between my Mom’s live of love and joyful service and the life of the woman in the obituary got me thinking.  A long life can be either a blessing or a curse. Not to yourself, mind you, but to those you meet along the journey. You see, a long life gives you lots of opportunities.  Those opportunities can be used to give love and bring healing or they can be used to create division and cause hurt. If, at the end of your life, people are still sad that you’ve gone, you probably sowed lots of seeds of love during your time on earth.  But, if your obituary could read like this one, then….

I know, I know. Sadness sure doesn’t seem like a blessing, does it? But when the sadness comes from the loss of something beautiful it is a great blessing and a gift.  I feel so blessed to be sad that Mom is gone; so glad that I miss her. And what a testament to her life that so many people miss her and are sad that she’s gone! Of course, we know that this separation is also temporary and merely physical.  We are still in union with Mom through the communion of saints. She’s our best advocate in heaven, second only to Mother Mary, I assume. But, Mary has billions of children on earth to advocate for. My Mom only has one husband and 10 children (plus their spouses, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and her siblings, and their children…ok bad example) to keep an eye on. And just wait until our final reunion!  What a party that will be! Then the sadness will be completely gone and our joy will know no end. Until then, I will cherish the sadness as a sign of my love for her but it will never eclipse the joy of having her in my life.

Cast Out Fear!

A little more than three years ago I had the unexpected opportunity to accept a full-time job leading the children’s catechesis ministry at my parish.  This unsolicited offer from my pastor caught me off-guard and definitely by surprise.  I hadn’t worked full-time since having my oldest child who was, at that time, 18 years old.

So, with the help of my husband and my spiritual director, I prayed, discussed, thought, and prayed some more about whether this was where God was calling me at this time in my life.  After a lot of obsessive thinking and waffling between yes and no, I accepted the position with my husband’s support. 

Almost immediately after accepting the job, I started worrying about whether I had made the right choice.  I was filled with fear and anxiety.  What was I thinking?  How could I manage a family and full-time job after all these years?  Where did I get off thinking that I could teach anybody about a holy life? After all, I was just little-ole Laura trying my best to be a good wife, mother, and daughter.  Most often, though, it felt like I was just trying to survive each day!  How could I take on this important task of teaching the children of our parish?

In my panic, I emailed my spiritual advisor and shared my anxieties.  His response was exactly what I needed to hear.  “You’ve thought and prayed about this and have discerned your decision. Cast out fear!  Our God is bigger!” He was right.  I needed to trust my discernment process but, more importantly, I needed to trust God.  Whatever I couldn’t handle, He would.  Besides, especially when you enter ministry, you need to be keenly aware that you are NOT the one who brings forth the fruit of your labors.  God is the one doing the heavy lifting.

In my fear, I was putting limits on God that He doesn’t have.  It’s so easy to forget that God is truly beyond our understanding. He is so much more than we give Him credit for.  By trusting Him, I was following His will for me.  Looking back on that time, I see that I answered God’s call with my own “fiat” the day I accepted this job.  But, if I had given in to fear, I would have run away from God’s plan (probably while screaming!).

When in your life have you given in to fear rather than trust God and step out in faith?  How do you need to “Cast out fear” in your life today?
 

“40 Ways” to Liven Up Lent

Featured imageThere may be 50 ways to leave your lover but Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio has 40 ways to inspire you to prepare for the Resurrection of the greatest Lover of them all. In 40 Days, 40 Ways: A New Look At Lent, Dr. D’Ambrosio gives the reader 40 ways to celebrate Lent that are creative, unique and fresh.  Don’t look for a page that’s about giving up chocolate for Lent because you won’t find one.  Instead you’ll find lots of suggestions to enrich your prayer life as well as ways to reach out to others in need.

For example:

  • Day 4-Cut back on purchases of luxuries and give the saved money to the needy.
  • Day 10-Learn the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  Identify one to begin incorporating into your life this Lent.
  • Day 23-Reach out to the least important, least popular, most ignored person at school, home, or work.
  • Day 35-Learn the Prayer of Abandonment of Blessed Charles de Foucald.   Surrender your possessions, your future, and your life to God as you slowly pray it daily.

But this book isn’t just a list of 40 suggestions.  Each day and the idea that goes with it is paired with a meditation or deeper discussion of the day’s idea and it’s meaning and implications.

40 Days doesn’t end with Lent though.  It continues on to guide our thoughts during Holy Week and to help us celebrate the whole season of Easter-not just Easter Sunday.  Add to that the wonderful resources in the back of the book and you’ve got a slim volume that is jam-packed with knowledge, information, inspiration, and guidance all in Dr. D’Ambrosio’s signature accessible writing style.

In a nutshell, if you’re one of those people who struggle to come up with new ideas for your Lenten devotion, look no further.  40 Days, 40 Ways: A New Look At Lent will inspire you to dig a little deeper into your spiritual life.  I guarantee you won’t regret the purchase.

May Your Journey Be Blessed,

S.S.

A Little Review of “A Little Game”

In general, a movie about chess would not normally motivate me to write a review.  But, “A Little Game” starring Ralph Macchio, Janeane Garofalo, F. Murray Abraham, and Olympia Dukakis isn’t just about chess.  Released January 20, “A Little Game” is about a girl named Max whose life is filled with changes that she doesn’t want but must learn to accept.  I quickly felt a connection with Max and her attitude toward change.  In our house, we often joke about how “change is bad.”  Of course, we know that’s not really true but sometimes it feels true.  So when Max began to ask questions like, “Why do things have to change?” It was as if someone had bugged our house and decided to make a movie based on what they heard! Max could have been one of my kids.

This gentle story is surprisingly funny given the serious themes and situations that it addresses.  When I sat down to watch it with my fifteen and ten year-old sons, they were less than enthusiastic about the idea.  But it wasn’t long before they started chuckling at the funny parts and commenting on its wisdom.  Believe me, I was as surprised as you are!

At first glance, “A Little Game” is a movie about a girl struggling with the death of her grandmother while trying to fit in at a new school and learning the game of chess from a grumpy old man.  But when you look deeper, themes of love, sacrifice, hope, confidence in yourself, and the importance of relationships become evident.  While not an overtly faith-based movie, I couldn’t help but feel that God was speaking to Max through the people she encountered.  Just like most of us, it takes Max a while to start listening and an even longer time to act on the words she hears.

I truly enjoyed watching “A Little Game” but the biggest compliment I can give it is that the more I reflect on it, the better I like it.  In fact, I want to watch it again to savor the characters and their wisdom.  Who knows?  I might even take up chess!

May Your Journey Be Blessed,

S.S. (The Suburban Saint)

Warning: Listmaking May Be Hazardous to Your Spiritual Health

I love to make lists.  I’m a list maker. You know, one of those people who write “make a list” at the top of their list so that they can have the pleasure of crossing something off right away.  Yep, that’s me.  I love the feeling of order (real or imagined) and the sense of accomplishment (real or imagined) that I get from writing a to-do list and attacking one item at a time until it’s been whittled away to nothing. Recently though, I’ve noticed a dark side to my list making. It usually reveals itself when I’m listing either my accomplishments or my struggles.

Let’s say I’ve got a speaking engagement and need to send a bio for the introduction, or maybe I’m updating my resume.  When I sit down to make a list of my accomplishments it’s easy to look at the things I’ve achieved and feel a sense of pride.  After all, I’ve worked hard.  And as my grandfather used to say, “He that tooteth not his own horn, the same it shall not be tooted.” But that healthy sense of confidence that comes from looking at that list can quickly turn on me and blossom into full-blown pride.  My inner voice begins to say things like, “Man, I’m awesome! Look at all I’ve done!”  If I’m lucky that inner voice will be quickly silenced by the greater awesomeness of someone else.  If I’m unlucky, it will be silenced by an awesome failure on my part.  Either way, the voice does get silenced but often not as soon as it should.

But it can go the other way too.  Let’s say that things have been stressful in my life; that I’ve really been struggling with things in my personal, professional, or spiritual life.  That’s when I’ll often start another kind of list.  This one isn’t quite as nice as the last one though.  This is the woe-is-me list that I make in my head. This list is the one where I rattle off all the “horrible” things in my life that can range anywhere from health problems to running out of milk.They all get equal treatment.  My stubbed toe will get put on the same list as a family conflict or lost job.  It doesn’t matter at that moment that my toe is a very minor blip on the timeline of my life.  It gets equal billing with “major life crises.” The danger of this kind of list making is that it makes everything sound worse than it really is.  Heck, when faced with a list like that most of us just want to curl up into a fetal position and suck our thumb!

My point is this-the truth about my awesomeness or my trials is somewhere in between pride and despair.  There are a lot of details missing from both-like the time it took me to accomplish all of those awesome things. (Awesomeness doesn’t happen overnight!) Or the fleeting moments of joy I’ve experienced or lessons I’ve learned amidst the struggles.

So, heed my advice and beware of lists.  They may help you get things done but they could also be your undoing.

May Your Journey Be Blessed,

S.S.

Have I got a deal for you!

Today I’m proud to be a part of the Working Mother ebook blog tour at Will Write For Tomato Pie.  See my interview at Will Write For Tomato Pie!

My friend Erin McCole Cupp has written a short but powerful story about the struggle the Holy Family might have had just to survive in a harsh world.

I really enjoyed this short book.  It took me by surprise quite honestly.  Erin has the ability to look beyond the paintings and statues and see the real person along with their very real emotions.

Did I mention that it’s available on Kindle?  And only 99 cents!  You can thank me later.

May Your Journey Be Blessed,

S.S.

Overwhelmed? Congratulations!

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622
Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

Yes, you read that right.  I’m glad you’re overwhelmed.  Heck, I’m overwhelmed too.  After all, it’s a busy time of year with lots of places to go and people to see; plus the shopping, the baking, and the decorating. But that’s not why I’m overwhelmed and that’s not why I want you to be overwhelmed either.

No.  The type of overwhelm that I’m talking about is different.  It’s a good thing actually; something to strive for.- I’m overwhelmed that God chose me.  He chose to love me, to create me, to guide me, and to save me with the gift of His son.  If that doesn’t knock you off your feet in amazement, I’m not sure what would.

If you’ve ever watched a professional sporting event on television, you’ve seen homemade signs with “John 3:16” written on them.  In case that never made you curious enough to go look it up, that’s the verse that says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  That’s an amazing love!  I mean, seriously, how many of us love each other enough to share our money much less our child!

That’s why I’m overwhelmed.  It’s not because my to-do list is long and my time is short although those things are both true.  Just the idea that God loves little ole me enough to send His Son to save me makes my mind go “TILT” like an old pinball machine.

So that’s why I want you to be overwhelmed.  I want you to be so aware of God’s love that your mind can’t process the idea.  Get this, even when we get to the point of being overwhelmed, we’re still only scratching the surface of God’s love for us. *mind blown*

I wish you an overwhelmed Christmas.  You’re welcome.

May your journey be blessed,

S.S.

(Suburban Saint)

You’re Part of the Plan

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  (Sorry I’m a little late.) Sometimes people get a little mixed up with the name of this feast day and think it has to do with Jesus being conceived through the Holy Spirit.  In reality, this feast day is a celebration of Mary being free of original sin by the grace and will of God.  This enabled her to be worthy to carry the Messiah in her womb.  After all, you don’t think God would let His Son be tainted by sin, do you?

As amazing as it is that Mary was spared the stain of original sin, another aspect of the feast day has recently caught my attention.  Have you ever thought about how much thought God put into His plan for salvation?  We’re talking about some serious planning here folks!  God (who, of course, is all-knowing and all-powerful) prepared Mary to be the mother of Christ even before her conception.  He deemed her worthy of the most important role a mortal could play in His plan for salvation, Christ-bearer.

Yet, with all of that advance planning, He still gave her the choice to say “yes” or “no.”  He took a pretty big risk, don’t you think?  What if she had said “no?” I guess God would have had to go back to the drawing board and find someone else worthy of the task.  But, God still gave her the choice.  Of course, He knew she would say “yes.” (See “all-knowing” above.)

So how do we fit into this plan?  What part do we play?

Well, I can’t tell you what your part is in God’s plan, that’s between you and the Big Guy.  But I can assure you that your part is unique AND important. Each of us has a part in God’s plan.  Sure, it won’t be as high-profile as Mary’s part.  Mary definitely got the lead role in that scenario but, in God’s plan, there truly are no small roles, only small actors.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all said yes just like Mary did?  Can you imagine a world full of people doing God’s will? It would be amazing!  Like heaven on earth. To me, that’s what they mean when they say, “Thy Kingdom Come!” So, if that’s what God’s kingdom would look like, sign me up!

May your journey be blessed,

S.S.

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This Just Might Catch On…

They call it “rest” from what I’m told.  Last week while most mothers were frantically planning, cooking, and cleaning I was recuperating from minor surgery. (Emphasis on “minor” with the acknowledgment that the only “minor” surgery is one that happens to someone else.  So, for me, my minor surgery was somewhat significant. Funny how minor surgery can knock you off your feet for a few days!)

Seriously, I haven’t rested this much since my last pregnancy and that’s been almost twelve years ago!  Besides the obvious benefit of the recuperative qualities of resting, I noticed one or two other benefits that aren’t as obvious.

  1. When Momma can’t do everything Momma usually does, someone else has to.  My dear husband took great care of me (as usual) but I tried to direct the majority of my helplessness toward my lovely children.  I was pleasantly surprised how capable and helpful they’ve become!  So–
    • Blessing #1-My children are growing up to be capable and caring individuals.
    • Lesson #1-Since they’re so capable, I need to let them “practice” being capable more often (i.e. Do less for them!)
  2. When it hurts to move or bend you have to sit still.  Sitting still is NOT my strength.  Just ask my dear husband in the evening as I flit from task to task to tie up loose ends before bed.  The poor guy is just trying to sit with his wife for goodness sake! BUT when you’re forced to sit still you can either fight it or embrace it.  The first few days I embraced it and I found that the time we spent as a family was much sweeter, slower, and more relaxed.  We played more board games, watched more movies, and had more silly conversations than we do when I’m completely mobile.
    • Blessing #2-Being off my feet helped me be more present with my family.
    • Lesson #2-Stop rushing around!  Sit down and just hang out.  The to-do list isn’t going anywhere.
  3. When you catch up on rest, it’s amazing how much better you’re able to handle stress.  Suddenly things don’t rattle you as easily and your sense of humor improves immensely.
    • Blessing #3-I feel rested and ready to embrace Advent and the upcoming Christmas season.
    • Lesson #3-I need to make sure that I get enough sleep day-to-day because it DOES affect me even if I don’t want to admit it.

So, in a nutshell-Rest is good.  Get more of it.  It’s good for you and for the people who interact with you. You’ll thank me. They’ll thank me.  We’ll all be happier.  Agreed? Good!  Now, go take a nap!

May your journey be blessed!

S.S.

(The Suburban Saint)

Preparing for the Ultimate Guest During Advent

Find out how your Advent preparations can be like planning a party.  For a fresh perspective on Advent check out my latest post at Catholic Mom!

May Your Advent Journey by Blessed,

S.S. (the Suburban Saint)

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