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10 in 10 seconds

Both Father Ron Rolheiser and Matthew Kelly have reflected on the practice of gratitude in their work. On the Monday of Holy Week, Matthew Kelly discussed gratefulness as a spiritual exercise, mindfulness practice and way of life. We were asked to list ten people, things, or situations for which we are grateful. If I were to spend the recommended five minutes writing, I would have generated a list of 100 instead of 10. I wrote my list in about 10 seconds: My life, my health, my daughter, shelter, food, knowledge, faith, work, my parents, and my friends.

I practice gratitude on a daily basis. As someone who has taken part in various therapeutic approaches to mental health, gratitude is a key practice to overcoming anxiety and depression. Being grateful builds your strength, health, and faith. I’m grateful for life. I’m grateful for my good health; que bonito no tener ninguna operacion this year. I am grateful to move my life forward and to care for my health.  I took  my health for granted for many  years; without life and health, I could not enjoy the many blessings like my daughter, my family, my friends, new  professional opportunities, basic necessities like food, shelter, running water, clean air, human rights including freedom.

On the same day as the gratitude reflection, my staff at work took part in staff development training on burnout and self-care. It’s a theme we explore consistently. As folks in a helping profession like education, we preach self-care but do not always follow through. Our trainer went over major areas that indicate burnout. One is cynicism. That may be more damaging than the physical or emotional symptoms of burnout.  Cynicism taints your worldview and your daily attitude and behavior. I’ve reflected in the past on my failure to understand those who seem to be negative in every moment I encounter them, (My choice). Pero no es que no entiendo; it’s that I have rejected that way of being. I spent many years operating from a pessimistic view of the world. I lost many opportunities. Those losses taught me to enjoy my blessings. I will not ever live my life that way again.

It’s difficult to curb my self-righteousness. I empathize but I judge those who have chosen to live with negativity. As someone who has learned to manage anxiety, I fall prey to judging those who cannot or choose not to heal. It’s a vicious cycle. If you engage in negative self-talk and you are not working towards healing through professional help or spiritual direction or family, you continue to create situations that make you feel depressed or anxious. I know because I lived it. By shunning those who suffer from these issues, I protect myself.

I’m grateful that I overcame depression. I’m grateful I can manage my anxiety. I’m grateful to be able to change my mornings.  M and I are collaborating on a daily behavior chart which will assess how I’m doing with my tone of voice.  I’m grateful for faith, discipline, and for the lessons I’ve learned to help me become the best version of myself.

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Spiritual well-check

healthy heart

On the 2nd Friday of Lent, the Dynamic Catholic reflection discussed spiritual health.  We were encouraged to nurture our souls as we do our bodies. Matthew Kelly talked about the 10 minutes of prayer he has recommended for many years as part of his ministry. He also went over the Dynamic Catholic prayer process. That morning, I went through the process which then made me reflect on forgiveness. Forgiveness continues to be an area of growth for me.

I do hold grudges. It’s hard for me to get past wrongs that I feel folks have done to me or those I love. My anger may fade but doesn’t go away.   I’ll be civil and polite a la Ben Linus.

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Ben Linus knew better than to try to be up in the church

But this is actually deceitful, passive-aggressive, and petty. It’s duplicitous. So I prayed for those I have wronged through my words and judgments. Several individuals are people I work with daily. Some I avoid. Some I choose to make contact with more often. While that may sometimes be the Ben Linus effect, I am also pushing myself to be more open no matter what my personal opinion and feelings might be. These people have the right to dignity and respect. Why take the low road and not show kindness? I pray for the gift of forgiveness.

I also pray to be free of self-righteousness. I own my flaws.  But usually this leads me to consider myself superior to those I do not love.  I feel that I’ve done the work in becoming more aware of my weaknesses; why don’t these people get there? That sort of thinking is unfair and unkind. I stop thinking of these people as individuals with private lives and focus on my history with them. This person lied, created an unsafe situation, betrayed my trust, and disappointed me or any combination of these wrongs or all of the above. This person makes bad choices and I disapprove. This person needs to get right or get left. Yet I am unwilling to be a guide or a model. I disconnect and judge and don’t offer forgiveness.

I was part of a marathon meeting that week. Our organization discussed the ways we can alienate others in how we present who we are. It’s not that we shouldn’t be honest and air our grievances or share our opinions. It gave us an opportunity to own the behavior and to confirm that there is a time and place for certain conversations. I myself have struggled with this issue in my professional life. If I have personal problems with someone, it’s not fair to involve others. I strive to keep my personal grievances private and to make time for thoughtful analysis of my thoughts, words, and actions. It may be difficult but it is necessary.  In asking for God’s forgiveness, I must first forgive others.

 

4 Challenges in 40 Days

“Long have I waited

For your coming home to me

And living deeply our new lives…” “Hosea” by John Michael Talbot.

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This Lent, I am taking on a 40 blogs for 40 days as part of the 4 Lenten challenges I will be completing.

One challenge is joining the now-viral  #40bagsin40days challenge to clear up clutter. This has been an ongoing challenge.  I have read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which had an impact on my wardrobe. I have also read numerous blogs and articles on thrift shopping and capsule closets which changed how I purchase and keep clothing and shoes. However it is a work in progress as clutter continues to consistently affect our home and my office at work. Purging daily, whether it is paper clutter or material items I don’t need, will clear space.  I don’t need much. What I need is love, family, discipline, and positive outlets. I have those blessings in place. It’s a matter of clearing space, energy, and time to truly enjoy them.

Rather than completely fasting from Facebook, I will be reducing my presence on social media. If I’m doing a 40 day writing challenge, social media is the best way to share my work. I will use social media purposefully.  I will post images and links related to my Lenten challenges and reflections. Another reason to revisit this traditional practice of reducing my time online is my actual enjoyment of this fast. Fasting from social media has gotten easier.  I don’t want my Lenten challenges to feel as if they are not sacrifices such as “Oh I’m giving up chocolate.” I moved away from that type of material sacrifice years ago because it doesn’t change me from within. Giving up Facebook and not posting status updates or sharing memes does not make me any less petty. Usually I get back online Easter Sunday and I’m posting a blog about how fulano de tal ruined my Lent. It’s not pure pettiness; there is some reflection involved.  Being off line is no easy fix.  I will move past venting through my writing over the course of these 40 days.

A challenge I began in therapy and within my immediate family is my commitment to stop being a mean mommy.(Can-do attitude)M  has always been articulate in expressing her opinions and feelings. While she is outwardly not thin-skinned, she’s much more sensitive than when she was 7. When I  hear her say, “you’re mad at me”, “you’re mean to me”  or use negative self-talk like “it’s my fault that…”, I cringe.  I am responsible for prompting my child to second-guess herself. In these 40 days, I will make a conscious effort to hold my tongue, monitor my body language and facial expressions, and modulate my tone of voice. I will be firm and tough but do it in a way that is nurturing, not demoralizing. Given our family’s histories, M is prone to anxiety. I will not be an additional stressor in her life. I want M to look at our relationship as one that strengthens her.

Finally, I will pray more in these 40 days. M and I will be praying the rosary during our commutes again. Instead of listening to New Edition during my morning drive to work(I’m not swearing off NE for 40 days! That blog is forthcoming), I will listen to gospel music.I will do some spiritual reading. I will participate in Best Lent Ever through Dynamic Catholic. This program has changed the way I experience Lent. Lent has become a beloved season  which I anticipate yearly.  I love what Lent offers my family, my prayer life, what it does for my relationship with myself and ultimately my relationship with God. God bless.

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To learn more about the #40bagsin40days, visit 40 bags in 40 days

To join Dynamic Catholic for the next 40 days, sign up at Best Lent Ever

 

Twelve days of Christmas(in June and July)

“Our lives change when our habits change.” Matthew Kelly
During the summer of 2004, I was fortunate to be awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a high school teacher, I would study the Renaissance in an intensive institute at Columbia University and create curriculum to be used with my students as my final project. I also moved into Carman Hall, one of the dorms.  After checking out the campus gym, I explored my new neighborhood and found the local Catholic church, Notre Dame. At that point in time, they had Liturgy of the Hours in the morning and I thought it would be a nice start to the day after my morning workout. Before I knew it, I was a daily Mass attendee.

Prior to my summer in Morningside Heights, I had only ever attended Mass on Sundays. Daily Mass is different. It has a different pace and overall vibe. It is a much more intimate experience than Sundays or holidays because it is often more quiet and the people who attend may be “regulars” who attend consistently. I like to attend daily Mass during Lent and other times I’m not bound by my work schedule. I am not surprised that many spiritual advisers recommend daily Mass as a means to reconnect and revive your faith life. It certainly has that effect for me.

About six days after surgery in June(and once I was cleared to drive) I spent 12 consecutive days in church. I attended daily Mass at the three local parishes I visit. Initially I had intended to do a novena, nine consecutive days of prayer and devotion, in gratitude for my health.  But once daily Mass became part of my daily routine, I made an effort to get my day started in this way.  It allowed me to focus on hearing the Gospel and being in community with others, rather than analyzing the aches and pains of my body’s recovery.
Now that I’ve had a week of not attending daily Mass, I can tell the difference. I am more connected to technology (phone, computer, TV) and less focused in the mornings and therefore back to my last-minute, oh-man-I-forgot-my-charger-my-medication-the-entrance-passes ways.  I am reading for leisure less. I’m skipping my prescribed daily walks. I have not followed through on my plan to write more often.  Yet I’m encouraged by one positive change daily Mass helped bring about in a mere 12 days.  I have committed to serving as a lector in my parish. After 7 years, I will be returning to a ministry I loved.

Health isn’t simply about the body but the soul. No hay mal que por bien no venga. My physical health challenges have pushed me to seek healing in many ways. The key will be to commit to healing habits.  

YouTube Theology -Or- how making my own music video was spiritual exercise

“I let it fall, my heart
And as it fell, you rose to claim it
It was dark and I was over
Until you kissed my lips and you saved me” Adele
Last Good Friday, I spent a few hours perfecting a visual and musical reflection on Jesus Christ.  I tend to be verbal, articulating my thoughts into words.  Still, I found the project worthwhile. It made me weep, smile, and think.  It was also an experience I could share with my daughter, discussing the different images with her. To this day, she associates Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” with Jesus.
So just what did I mean?  I’ve had many a student put together a PowerPoint or music video to articulate her/his thoughts on a book and my attempt was no different.  In creating this video, I intended to produce a reflection of key images and themes related to my understanding and connection to Good Friday.  Lent has always been an important liturgical season for me; it resonates deeply with my life experience and my spiritual life. I’m well aware of the brokenness of my connection to the church; I have been in self-imposed exile from ministry since the second trimester of my pregnancy. I still attend Mass and nurture my prayer life.  I still seek Jesus.
Who is Jesus to me? He is a man of open and magnanimous heart. He is a beloved first and only child to his mother. He is the forgiveness of a loving father to his prodigal son(s).

Jesus is a lover of people and equalizer of society. He reached out to women, already second class citizens in a patriarchal society, especially those who were outcasts: the woman at the well, the woman with the hemorrhage, the adulteress who was going to be killed.  He preached truth and hope to everyone.

In recent history, I have recognized Jesus in the activism for a more equitable society.  Our world of failing economies and political battles is in need of a Good Shepherd, a wise rabbi, a teacher of the people.
And who is Jesus if not his Passion?  In the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, countless stained glass windows and paintings, we experience the moments of Jesus’s suffering and death. Jesus is a political prisoner, tortured and stripped of human rights. He weeps in pain yet carries the cross with dignity. We are called to be the angel in Gethsemane, Veronica, Simon the Cyrenian, Joseph the Arimathean, Mary. We are called to love him. 

As for the song chosen, I’m sure many feel that a secular song is inadequate or even inappropriate. However, in revisiting the lyrics, I hear of the love between Jesus and humanity, of his sacrifice and pain, of the end of the relationship on Good Friday.  But I also hear of a love that inspired and challenged.  That first stanza may as well be me talking about Jesus. 
And so I wait for Easter.