A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Put your hand in the hand of the man

Who stilled the water

Put your hand in the hand of the man

Who calmed the sea

~ “Put Your Hand in the Hand,” written by Gene MacLellan

I admit it: I’m no sailor. I love looking at the ocean, swimming in it, or smelling the salty air by the water, but choppy waters or a rocking boat make my head spin and my stomach churn.

Sometimes the challenges we face can make us feel like we’re out on a rough sea, with no safe harbour close by. We might react physically to the stress with nausea or dizziness and worry that we’ll never touch solid ground again.

That’s where our faith comes in.

Think about this passage in Matthew 8:24-27*:

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but [Jesus] was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

The disciples feared for their lives because of the waves that threatened to swamp their boat, but when they cried out to Jesus, he calmed the storm.

No matter what crisis we face, God offers us shelter from the storm. He hears our prayers and answers them, though not always in the way we would like or expect. He can bring peace to our hearts and keep the waves from overwhelming us.

Over the past few months, I’ve felt like I’ve been fighting a losing battle against the waves. But lately the waters have been a little calmer. My son will soon be finished exams. A loved one fighting cancer is nearly done his chemo treatments. I’ll be starting a new job soon, with appropriate work clothes (thanks to Dress for Success). I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for ten years, and I feel strong enough to take on the challenge of balancing the demands of my job and home life. And I have more love and support around me than I could have hoped for.

I’ve held onto my faith despite my worry and feelings of being overwhelmed. I’ve kept praying and going to Mass when all I could do was just be there. And God is bringing me through it all.

I pray that, if we feel like we’re never going to reach the shore, we would stop struggling against the waves and ask God to guide us there.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

We’ ve all heard about criticisms levelled at people whose physical challenge wasn’t immediately obvious—arthritis or the early stages of multiple sclerosis, for example—when they used parking spaces reserved for those with a disability.

Not all pain or illness is easy to spot. But do we keep that in mind as we go about our day?

We see the driver moving too slowly in the passing lane, or the person with too many items in the express lane at the store, or the cell phone user chatting too loudly, and we assume the person is inconsiderate or uncaring of the rules or selfish.

Do we ever stop to think about what this person might be dealing with?

We’ve mentally tagged the person as obnoxious when he or she might be reeling from a personal situation: a layoff, the needs of elderly parents or young children or both, a recent health scare or an ongoing health situation, a marital crisis, financial loss, or even a combination of these.

That person might be more tense than usual when driving, unaware of how many items are in the cart, too caught up in the situation to worry about who can hear the cell phone conversation. Too wrapped up in his or her stress or pain to worry much about social graces. Too busy working to keep putting one foot in front of the other to be concerned about others’ opinions.

We can’t do anything about the behaviour of strangers, although we can work harder to keep from taking it personally and to remember that we have no idea what they might be struggling with.

As for people we know, if they’re acting out of character, we can do something. We can reach out. Invite them out for coffee. Ask how they’re really doing and whether things are okay. Offer to pray with or for them. Let them know someone cares enough to ask.

I’ve been coping with a lot of stress this year. I hide it fairly well with smiles and little jokes. And makeup. But those who know me have seen the stress and offered support—a phone call, a text, a hug, coffee and conversation—and that has made the stress a little more bearable.

Before we judge others for what seems to be simple thoughtlessness, I pray that we would take a moment to ask ourselves what they might be trying to handle that isn’t plain to see. May we pray for those whose struggle isn’t obvious, bearing in mind these words from Psalm 147:3*:

He heals the brokenhearted,

and binds up their wounds.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

 

Whether the battle is large or small, we need to prepare ourselves mentally and physically to face it. We need to carry the right gear and know how to use it.

I’m not talking about an armed conflict but rather about the struggles we face every day: our efforts to keep our children safe, protect our marriage, defend our beliefs, or stand up for others’ rights.

King David knew that he needed God’s help to face the conflicts in his life, such as King Saul’s efforts to capture and kill him or the attempts of his sons to take the throne:

Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war,

and my fingers for battle;

my mercy and my fortress,

my stronghold and my deliverer,

my shield and he in whom I take refuge (…).

~ Psalm 144:1-2*

We can turn to God for comfort, for a safe place to cry out in pain or anger, for forgiveness when we act and react in the wrong ways. But he can also prepare us to do battle when necessary:

  • to put an end to the bullying or cyberbullying of our children
  • to secure the health care or educational assistance our children need
  • to help our spouse deal with an addiction or another health issue
  • to stand up for our right to practise our faith
  • to speak out on behalf of those who are persecuted or in need

God can give us the tools we need, such as the wisdom to know when to speak or listen, the words to say, empathy to help us see another person’s perspective, courage to make the right choice and take the necessary step or steps forward, and perseverance to resolve the situation.

When we find ourselves needing to do battle, may we remember “The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth” (Psalm 145:18).

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. . . .Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7*

We find ourselves in the middle of wedding season, with many couples choosing May and June to get married. Often this chapter of Corinthians is read at weddings, including mine in 1996.

These aren’t simply beautiful words about love. When we apply them to marriage, we can see that we need to be patient and kind with our spouse, happy for and not jealous of our spouse’s success, willing to compromise, unwilling to hold grudges, and prepared to hang in there during the rough times and not only the smooth ones.

Doug and Linda engaged013240756_10206434256681945_1275776754904074119_nMy in-laws have been married for 46 years and my parents, for almost 48. No marriage lasts that long if one spouse always has to be right, have his or her own way, or gives up when things are difficult. No marriage lasts that long if husband and wife let job stress, family conflicts, illness, financial problems, or an inability to forgive drive a wedge between them.

Today couples are too quick to let their relationship slide—slowly or quickly—into separation and even divorce when they hit a bump in the road. But think about these words of Jesus from Mark 10:7-9:

“‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Pulling apart a marriage isn’t supposed to be easy because our lives are meant to become one on our wedding day.

If we know a couple who has been married a long time, we should ask them their secret. It won’t be selfishness or resentment or barely veiled contempt; we’ll probably hear that it’s commitment to loving each other and to staying together, hard work, love, and selfless giving.

I pray that, whether we’re engaged, newly wed or married for a long time, we would give more thought to these passages and renew our commitment to our partner in thought, word and deed.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

“How are you?”

I’ve noticed, that, besides the usual “Good, thanks,” or “Not too bad. How about you?” a common answer is “Busy!”

Now, most people are not looking for a litany of our problems when they ask how we’re doing, but it’s sad that “Busy!” has become such a regular and accepted response to the question.

Sometimes life seems to rush by in a flurry of work deadlines, appointments, chores, school events, and worries. We think, “If I can just make it till the weekend or the end of the month or the summer…”

Is that any kind of way to live—wishing the days would go by so that we can take a deep breath—when our lives will be too short for us to accomplish all of our goals or all the good we could do?

I understand feeling that way. For me, it goes something like this: “I’ll like myself more when I’m thinner…If I could just sell the house, that would be one big item off the to-do list…” And I quickly find myself overwhelmed by what’s on my plate.

No, this post is not about chunking, or breaking down our goals into smaller pieces. It’s about pausing for a moment here and there during our day to bring our cares and concerns to God and letting the weight slip off our shoulders and into his hands:

Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7*)

It’s about crying to him if we need to and seeking comfort through the Holy Spirit, finding that listening ear we desperately need, and remembering that God has good plans for us (see Jeremiah 29:11).

If we need a little extra motivation, here’s a thought: do we want our children to keep putting off enjoying life until some event happens—to wish their lives away? Or do we want them to see that, despite the curves life throws us, we can still find comfort in God, pleasure in the blessings he gives us, and a deep-rooted joy?

I pray that, if we find ourselves postponing our happiness until some future event unfolds, we would stop to smell the roses, or enjoy cooking dinner, or play with our children, or appreciate whatever other gifts God has blessed us with.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

With a bit of chaos in my life right now, I find it can be hard to see other people’s problems since I’m feeling overwhelmed.

As Christians, we’re called to do exactly that—to see others’ needs and help meet them, to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15*).

We may find we see and try to minister to the needs in our community and beyond but fail to see the needs in our own family.

Shen Yun

Working hard at trying new activities and attending different events with my son.

We have to remember that, when we get married or become parents, our focus has to shift from me to us. No longer do we get to think only of our preferences about where we live and work, how we balance our home and work lives, or how we’d like to spend our free time; instead, we have to think about how these choices will affect our spouse and children.

Today, we focus so much on ourselves as individuals that we struggle with this shift as a society:

  • Parents work long hours to advance their careers or pursue hobbies with the same intensity they did when they were single, and they miss out on time with their children.
  • Many children do extracurricular activities five nights a week, meaning family meals may be rushed or everyone eats at different times.
  • Some of us are so caught up in community or parish activities that we’re too busy for family time.

That’s not to say that using our talents in our jobs, relaxing through hobbies, or taking part in the life of our parish are bad things. Far from it. But do we think too much about the me (what I want to do, what my goals are, what would make me happy) and not enough about the us (how our family is affected by our choices)?

As summer gets closer and we push the pause button on school and extracurricular activities and, just maybe, work slows down a little, the time is right to look not only at where we’re headed as individuals but at where we’re headed as a married or an engaged couple or as a family—and to ask God’s guidance in seeing where we need to make changes and in transforming our lives as a result.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

 

After a long absence, I’m returning to the workforce. Those who have been there and done that know what a daunting prospect it is: preparing a résumé, lining up references, creating profiles on job search websites, chasing job leads, and trying to land that elusive interview to get a foot in the door.

Recently, I’ve made a few visits to the Y Employment Access Centre in my area. I’ve discovered a lot of helpful resources there. But besides the handouts on CVs and cover letters, job boards, and workshops, I found something more valuable: encouragement.

When we’re feeling discouraged—about our weight-loss efforts, job search, and so on—hearing people say they believe in us can give us that boost of confidence we need to start believing in ourselves.

I found that positive “You can do it” attitude in everyone from the receptionists to the career counsellor to the job developer. And in my husband and son, my mother and mother-in-law, my piano teacher…

How often do we have the opportunity to offer someone else that little bit of encouragement but fail to seize it? How beautiful to help others see they have it in them to pursue a dream or goal that makes good use of the gifts and talents God has blessed them with!

Society respects people with confidence but is quick to condemn those who seem to think too much of their abilities. No wonder we can struggle to believe we have what it takes to make our plans a reality!

Whether we’re young or not so young, we can all use a word or a note or an e-mail of encouragement to help us take that next step. I pray that, the next time we have the opportunity to encourage others, we take it.

I believe in you

I can’t even count the ways that

I believe in you

And all I want to do is help you to

Believe in you

~ “Believe in You” by Amanda Marshall

At Mass on Sunday, the priest filling in for our pastor talked about Mother’s Day and about the fact that parenthood is a lifetime job—not something we can simply walk away from.

Makes it seems pretty daunting, doesn’t it? It should. Being a parent is more than a job.

Parenthood, like marriage, is something we shouldn’t enter into lightly. No matter how old our children are, we still want to protect and care for them just as we did when they were infants and we were their whole world. But the larger their world grows, the more we realize how limited our ability to protect and care for them really is.

grad photo

My son and I after his Grade 8 graduation ceremony two years ago

I speak from experience. My son recently turned 16, and while we still play a guiding role in his life, his world is so much bigger than this house and the people in it.

We need to pray every day for guidance in being good role models for our children in our work, family, community and faith lives. For the courage to answer the hard questions they bring us and the resourcefulness to find the answers we lack. For the strength to model and instil in them values like honesty, integrity, empathy and compassion and to support them, whether or not we agree with their choices. For patience when they question our decisions and compassion when they make mistakes.

A tall order, it’s true, but one that God can fill through the Spirit.

Whether we’re married, divorced or single parents, we all need parenting resources to draw on. Instead of looking only to family and friends, parenting books or programs, and counsellors, I pray that we would also look to our heavenly Father and ask him to increase in us the spiritual gifts and the values we need to raise our children. May we remember these words of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-8*:

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

Ever feel as though you do nice things for everyone but yourself?

I know parents in particular struggle with this problem. It seems more important to make treats for the bake sale, wash a teenager’s favourite shirt or pair of jeans, sign permission slips, and help with homework than it does to take care of ourselves. And if we’re married, doing things for our spouse—picking up dry cleaning, confirming appointments, making special meals—often trumps things we need or would like to do for ourselves.

How many of us are so focussed on our families that we don’t make time to eat well, exercise or get enough sleep? How many of us say we’re too busy or we need to put others first?

We are called to serve our family and our community with the gifts God has given us, but if our gas tank runs dry, we won’t be fit to serve anyone.

Maybe the time has come to direct a little kindness toward ourselves. God loves all his children—and we need to remember that we’re included in that number.

Despite the upheaval in my life, I’m not running on fumes because, for the first time in years, I’ve been making a serious effort to take care of myself. I get up early, have a healthy breakfast and work out before I get my son out the door for school. I don’t keep junk food in the house or bake many treats. And I get ready for bed long before bedtime, get the next day’s clothes (workout gear included) ready, and turn in at a decent time. But I’m still not making the grade in the making-time-for-fun department.

 

What small changes would we be willing to make to improve our self-care? Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure lunches and backpacks are packed and clothes are laid out the night before to cut down on the morning rush.
  • Get ready for bed before bedtime: take off makeup, wash up, put on pyjamas, turn off the television and other devices.
  • Put out workout gear at bedtime to make it easier to exercise early in the day, or pack the gym bag for a lunchtime or an after-work gym visit.
  • Stock up on fruit, veggies and unprocessed foods so healthy choices are always available.
  • Plan fun activities to do as a family: bike rides, movie nights, soccer in the park, a visit to a community festival.

I pray that we would make the effort as well as the time to take better care of ourselves so that we would be fuelled to serve God and care for others.

How quickly things can change. At one moment, a day can seem dull and grey—and then the sun breaks through the clouds. Or we notice the daffodils starting to bloom in the garden.

Or maybe one simple gesture lifts our mood: someone holds the door when we’re carrying an awkward package, a loved one or friend phones when we’re down, or our spouse gives us a much-needed hug.

Are we doing our part to lift someone else’s mood?

Sometimes we forget that it’s not all about us—that others have their struggles and challenges and need an encouraging word, a helping hand, or a kind gesture just as much as we do.

One parishioner at my church used to say that her ministry was giving hugs. Not only did she give a lot of hugs, she also made a lot of people feel welcomed and valued.

What could our own ministry look like?

  • hugs for our spouse before and after work
  • encouraging words for our children as they start their homework
  • genuine thanks for any store clerks or customer service reps we interact with during the day
  • positive reviews on social media of music, books or movies we enjoyed
  • text messages or e-mails to someone who’s in our thoughts

The gesture doesn’t have to be grand to be meaningful; it just needs to be timely. In my experience, saying thank you in some way at the time someone helps us is worth more than a big gift later. It’s better to catch our children in the act of being good and comment when we notice. And it’s more generous to offer that hug than wait to be asked for one. We all like to feel that we and our efforts are appreciated, even if we’re no longer children looking for a gold star on our work.

Instead of waiting for someone else to raise our spirits on a rough day, I pray that we would regularly make a point of doing those little things that might just help someone else get through the day.

Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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