Message Received

You all know that great writers are usually not great speakers. Those of you who know me personally recognize what a gift it is that, given time and inspiration, I can express myself coherently in the written word because I am awkward and forgetful and do this hand-wringing thing when I’m speaking in person. I get sweaty and kind of start to hyperventilate. Adorable!

But as you also know, if you’ve read my past few posts, I’m also trying hard to bring my faith to the forefront of my life. I’ve opened up to you about trying to quiet the noise in my life to truly listen to what God wants from me, and I’ve admitted my struggles in being able to hear His voice as much as I’d like.

Before Easter, when I was in at the height of my dedication to prayer and study, I would ask God for direction. What can I do? Where do you want me?

One Sunday as I sat in church with my family, I heard a call for volunteers to help with the children’s Liturgy of the Word. This is kind of a miracle in itself because sitting in a church service with my three kids isn’t the most conducive to, you know, hearing what’s being said at the pulpit. But I also felt this stirring in my heart, saying this is something I could DO! I already teach my kids about our faith – why couldn’t I teach other peoples’ kids? This is something I might be good at. Having committed to trying my best to listen closely and say yes to God (thanks Lysa TerKeurst!), I volunteered.

When they invited me to sit in on one of their services, my flight response kicked in. I realized I had no idea how this program worked. The children go with their families to church on Sunday, but after the opening prayer they are excused to participate in this special children’s service in a smaller chapel and return to their families in time for communion.  

I soon learned this  isn’t a church nursery. This isn’t Sunday school with crafts and snacks. This is a CHURCH SERVICE, created to mirror the same service the adults are participating in, only geared to inspire and make sense to children.

Realizing what I had gotten myself into, I wanted to run. I’m not qualified for this! I won’t be good at this! This is NOT something I can do! You guys, I CAN’T SING PSALMS.

But I noticed I was the only new volunteer who had showed up that day. The ladies who run the program were just so warm and welcoming. I felt like I had to at least try.

I’ve now been observing for a few weeks, and it’s finally my turn to lead today. That means I’ll be leading all the prayers, doing all the readings and songs, and even – EEK! – giving the equivalent of a homily about the gospel.

ME! I’m doing those things. Stop laughing and/or worrying about the children’s future.

So I just opened up the guide I was given, which outlines my week’s readings and some suggested activities, and saw this:

IMG_6354

The entire theme of this weeks’ readings, assigned to me weeks ago by very sweet church ladies who know almost nothing about me except that I’m not a convicted sex offender, is about is about LISTENING to God speaking to us through the scriptures, church community, and quiet prayer. It’s about how to hear and understand what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us, and why it’s so important to say yes and obey.

They even suggested starting the service with a LISTENING GAME in which you quiet all the noise in the room and listen closely to identify sounds made by a person you can’t see. Is there a divine coincidence emoji I could insert here?

Weeks ago, I asked what I expected by fortifying my prayer life. Did I think God was just going to smack me in the face? Will I ever get a sign?

I opened this book a few days ago and saw these words, which were written for me to use in a role I’m in because for the first time, I listened and said yes when I felt the answer stirring in my  heart.

My bushes may not be burning, and I’ll probably be sweaty and hyperventilating this morning, but for the first time in a long time, I think I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

Wish me luck!

Advertisements

Finding Peace in the Quiet

nook

One of my favorite professors once asked how many of us set aside time to exercise our minds. A room full of college students, many of whom had been up half the night studying for finals, raised their hands. He then asked how many of us regularly take time to work out our bodies. More hands raised; some were even carrying gym bags to hit Rec Hall after class. We all agreed it takes time and effort to improve ourselves.

“And how many of you regularly take time out of your day to work on your faith?” he asked. He was a theology professor, so we should have seen it coming. But most of us just awkwardly looked around the room, unsure how to answer. “Isn’t that as much a part of you as anything else?” he challenged.

That question has stuck with me in the years that followed. I’ve since graduated, married, and become a mother of three. Real life happened, and that life is busy. Making time to challenge my beliefs and strengthen my faith has only gotten harder.

Caught up in the whirlwind of a busy life — rife with meaningless distractions, anxieties and challenges too hard to muscle through alone —  I began to realize that this phase of my life, as a mother to young children, is one in which I should be leaning heavier on my faith for support, not leaving it in my carefree past. It was time for me to quiet the noise in my life and reconnect with the things that matter most to me.

I needed peace, and this season of Lent seemed like the perfect time to try.

***

There’s about an hour each afternoon — quiet time, we call it — when my kids are either napping or playing quietly alone in their rooms. I usually take this time to address my most pressing need. If we’re having company over that evening, for instance, I’ll take that time to clean up the house. More likely, however, I will address my need to unwind by falling down the rabbit hole of social media and Internet news. It became clear that my first step in “quieting the noise” should be setting down the phone and backing away slowly.

I knew I also wanted to use that time to work on a need I had long neglected: reconnecting with God. Whether that meant making it through a rosary without falling asleep (hi, I’m Catherine and I’m a lazy Catholic), reading through a gospel, or just talking things out with the Big Guy, I was determined to use this time to give my faith a workout.

So I snuck off to quiet corner of my house where no one would know to look for me and let my knees find the floor. From that first day in February, this has become my new happy place.

There are plenty of days when my mind wanders and I struggle to devote the focus it deserves, but it wasn’t long before I found my heart spilling out into that tiny corner. It’s where all my anxieties come out begging for guidance, where all my shame comes out begging for forgiveness, and where I go in thanksgiving to ask how best to go forward in serving. It’s where I go to remind myself of His suffering when I’m feeling at my worst, and where I pray for ways to help my friends lift the crosses they bear, too.

In the midst of a chaotic day, this time is both humbling and calming. It’s a daily reminder that I am small but I am loved, and that I can carry this love into all the relationships in my life.

Believing that someone is listening, though — especially in quiet solitude — can be a daunting leap. On one particularly challenging day, tears were drying on my cheeks as I prayed for guidance on my hard stuff. I began to question if prayer was ever enough, if even Lightsaber Jesus could help me.

lightsaber jesus

May the force be with you. And also with you.

Pulling up the blinds on a nearby window, I looked out, desperate for answers. I was struck at once by a great nothingness.

For the first time in weeks, the sky was clear and blue. The tops of the bare trees were still, no wind imploring them to dance or bow. I scanned the periphery again and again, waiting for something. The open sky felt like a void.

I slumped back against the wall, resigning myself to the sorrowful silence. What were you expecting? I chided myself. Did I think God was going to send a messenger hawk to my window? Did I think Jesus might descend on a cloud to tell a 29-year-old suburban housewife how to deal? Why were none of my bushes burning?

I glanced over at the baby monitor I had perched on a nearby shelf. It was quiet, the green light indicating my littlest was still sleeping in her crib. With the blinds open, there was now a glare against its screen.

That’s when I realized I, too, was now bathed in sunlight from the open window. I felt the warmth on my face and arms, the glare too bright to keep my eyes open when I gazed up into the blue.

Basking in the glow, my frustration fizzled. Of course. The clear sky wasn’t just an emptiness; it was an opening for the sunshine.

Here was the quiet I craved. Here was the connection I sought after, this ongoing conversation with Him. In some small way, this was even the sign I didn’t know I needed: a gentle reminder to be still and know.

Here was peace.

And so each day, I practice quieting the noise to hear Him. I practice being still to feel what moves me. I hide in a nook by myself to remember I’m not alone.

And each day, I practice carrying this peace into my roles as wife, mother, and friend.

I’m a work in progress, but I learned a long time ago that it takes time and practice to improve any part of myself. And this is as much a part of me as anything else.

Related: Jesus and Jellybeans: Talking Easter with Littles

Why Taking My Small Children to Church Is Worth the (Tremendous) Effort

My kids are ages three and under, but I talk to them about God. I tell them the Bible stories, teach them about showing love to others, even sprung for a teething rosary. And every Sunday, we have “the church talk” on our way there, reiterating why people go to church and why it’s important to be as calm and quiet as possible: though today they are too little to fully grasp what we do there, it’s a place full of people we don’t want to disturb as they try to listen and pray.

And despite these measures, the torrent of infantile wailing and gnashing of teeth that so often awaits me in that Sunday service is almost enough to trigger an existential crisis.

I grew up attending weekly Catholic Mass and then studied religion in college. The church has always been a place I could go to find peace, learn, and connect with something bigger than myself. Since my kids started joining me three years ago, despite having still attended Mass almost every Sunday, I may have heard four minutes of sermon, total. So it made me wonder — as both a woman of faith and a mother of young children who could pass for your average exorcism candidates some Sundays — why bother taking them at all?

Continue reading