A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category

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.)

 

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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

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.

When the UV index is high, we know to look for shade—especially those who, like me, burn at the drop of a hat. When there’s a blizzard, we know to get off the roads and find a safe place to wait it out. And when there’s a thunderstorm, we know to seek shelter, and not under a tree.

We know how to handle tough weather conditions, but we don’t always know how to deal with the storms life sends our way. We may try to cope by spending more time at work, looking for ways to numb or block out the pain, or overindulging—anything to keep from feeling what we feel.

Why do we try to tough it out rather than turn to God?

In Psalm 118:5*, the psalmist says this:

Out of my distress I called on the LORD;

the LORD answered me and set me free.

Sometimes we’re slow to call on the Lord, even though we know that he is always faithful, always ready to hear our prayers, always merciful and loving, and always a safe place for us, as we read in verses 8 and 9:

It is better to take refuge in the LORD

than to put confidence in man.

It is better to take refuge in the LORD

than to put confidence in princes.

We need people in our lives we can trust and depend on but, being only human, people will let us down, sometimes through no fault of their own. God will always be there for us, no matter what challenges come our way—health concerns, job loss, financial problems, even betrayal by a friend or loved one.

When we face difficult times—and we will—it’s good to know that we have a God who is ready to listen and comfort us and help us make it through those times to better days so that we, like the psalmist, will know that the Lord is our strength.

The LORD is my strength and my song;

he has become my salvation.

~ Psalm 118:14

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

With so much going on right now—including the constant effort to keep my home ready to show potential buyers on short notice and concern for a loved one who started chemo treatments this week—sometimes I forget to just take a breath.

It seems as though my mind and body are busy from the moment my alarm goes off in the morning till the moment I turn off the lamp on my bedside table at night. And if I’m not just thinking about what’s going on, I’m praying about it as I push through my day.

But here’s some food for thought from Psalm 94:18-19*:

When I thought, “My foot slips,”

your mercy, O LORD, held me up.

When the cares of my heart are many,

your consolations cheer my soul.

We can easily get so caught up in our worries and cares and hectic lives that we don’t recognize the reason we can keep going: God, in his mercy, is holding us up and even carrying us when we struggle to go on. And we can miss the joyful moments he sends us to help us soldier on.

This week, my son celebrated his 16th birthday. As we go through a difficult time, I know that he is one of the consolations God has given me, showing more thoughtfulness and maturity than most people would expect of someone his age. And so we took the time to make his birthday special with a homemade card; thoughtfully chosen gifts; a family game of basketball before our dinner that he helped barbecue; more family time; and, of course, a chocolate cake with chocolate icing that I made. It was a joy to press pause on everything else and celebrate my son, who is, as I told him the other day, becoming a wonderful young man of good character.

Maybe we can press pause—not necessarily for a day, but for a few moments—to reflect on our lives and notice the consolations God sends us when we’re struggling: family members who stand behind us, a parish community that supports us, friends who call just when we need someone to listen, the gift of our children who brighten our lives.

And maybe, just maybe, our cares might seem a little easier to bear.

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

Something might seem obvious to others—as plain as the nose on one’s face—and yet we can’t see it. Sometimes we’re so focussed on our problems that we can’t see what’s right in front of us.

Personally, I’m a bit stressed right now, a state as familiar as breathing for most of us these days. And I’ve been feeling kind of alone as I try to cope with the stress. I’m a bit guarded, so my support system isn’t as big as I’d like it to be.

All of a sudden, I’ve found myself being offered support when I just took a moment to reach out—from my extended family, my pastor, my music teacher, even a couple of my yoga instructors. A kind word in person or by e-mail and phone, an offer of prayer, an invitation to talk if I needed to, a quick hug.

These caring people might have been obvious sources of support to others, and yet I hadn’t realized I could count on their kindness.

How often do we miss the opportunities God presents us with to turn to family and friends for comfort or advice, to make a new friend, to support a colleague, to help a neighbour? How often do we miss the chance to connect with others because we’re hesitant to count on others and to trust? How often do we keep relationships superficially friendly because we’re afraid to open up in case others don’t like what they see?

So much of our contact these days doesn’t go beyond the surface. We deal with automated telephone systems and tellers and auto-reply messages. We like, share, and connect online but don’t form real relationships.

We need to open our eyes and our hearts to the chances God gives us to form new and lasting friendships and partnerships so that, when we need to rely on others because of illness or some other crisis, we don’t find ourselves standing alone—and so that we can offer that helping hand, that listening ear, that shoulder to cry on when someone else needs it.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.

~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

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

At special times—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, a wedding, the birth of a child—giving thanks seems natural. Surrounded by family and friends, we recognize just how blessed we are.

And then there are the other times—the times when we feel worn down by a tough work week or a family situation or even world events, and gratitude seems out of reach and blessings hard to count.

In Psalm 50:14-15, 23*, we read these words:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,

and pay your vows to the Most High;

and call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

 

“He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me;

to him who orders his way aright

I will show the salvation of God!”

God knows we go through challenging times, and yet he still calls us to offer “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” and honour him because he promises to hold us up and carry us through it all when we call on him:

Cast your burden on the LORD,

and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)

Even when we struggle and find it hard to be thankful, we are dear to him and he cares for us and longs for us to share with him what is in our hearts. Even when we feel broken and doubt our own abilities and worth, he never leaves us. He is always faithful, always merciful, always loving—and for that alone, he is always worthy of our praise and our thanks.

I pray that we would take time each day to give thanks for the blessings we’ve enjoyed, such as good health and the love of our family and friends, and the blessings of that day, no matter how small they might seem.

And blessed be Your name

When I’m found in the desert place

Though I walk through the wilderness

Blessed be Your name

~ From “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman

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

Whether on a Pinterest board, on our Facebook wall, or through other social media such as Twitter or Instagram, sharing what we love with our friends and family—or the world at large—continues to be popular.

IMG_0153

Pixie and Skittles, my two cats, enjoying a sun patch. Clearly, I love photos of cute animals.

Perhaps we’re inspired by photos of beautifully plated food, stunning architecture, panoramic city views, fashionably decorated homes, or designer clothes and accessories. Or maybe we’re drawn to natural images: adorable young animals, snow-capped mountain peaks, cascading water, breathtaking sunrises or sunsets, or views of Earth (or even Pluto) from space.

We feel almost compelled to share something that makes us laugh, takes our breath away, or moves us in some way.

We might feel gratitude for all that God has done for us, renewed strength in receiving the Eucharist, and relief and lightness of spirit when we receive the sacrament of reconciliation; do we then feel compelled to share our faith?

I’m not saying we should all be evangelizing on street corners or writing faith-based blogs; not everyone feels called to these things. But we have options for sharing our faith in a low-key way:

  • caring for our neighbours, whether close by (such as by helping someone clear a snow-covered driveway) or not (by volunteering at a soup kitchen, for example)
  • inviting a relative, friend or neighbour to enjoy a pancake breakfast or multicultural dinner or to take part in a yard sale or craft fair held at our church
  • displaying religious art in our home and garden
  • wearing a cross or saint medal on a chain
  • inviting someone to join us for lunch or dinner “after Mass”
  • sending greeting cards that say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” instead of a seasonal message
  • offering to pray for someone experiencing illness or loss or struggling with a difficult decision

Not only might we quietly witness to those who haven’t received God into their hearts or haven’t heard the good news, we might also encourage fellow believers in their faith (see Romans 1:12*).

I pray that God would guide us in sharing our faith with others, whether we’re called to witness in a quiet or a not-so-quiet way.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.”

~ Mark 16:15

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning a wedding, celebrating a new job, welcoming a newborn or an adopted child into our family, moving into a new home? If so, the solemnity of Ash Wednesday might seem at odds with our mood.

Think about this reading from Joel 2:12-13*:

“Yet even now,” says the LORD,

“return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

and tear your hearts and not your garments.”

Wedding 300dpi BW

My maternal grandparents on their wedding day

Who could think of fasting or weeping or mourning at a joyful time? And yet that is what we’re called to do.

We don’t have to draw on memories of sadder times to get into the spirit of Lent; instead, we need to look into our hearts to see where a change is in order:

  • Do we focus on appearances, or are we genuine?
  • Are we proud of what we have or thankful for our blessings?
  • Do we judge those who are less fortunate or give to those in need? Do we give donations or volunteer our time to gain attention or to serve?
  • Do we take our spouse and parents for granted, or are we grateful for their love and support? Do we care for them in turn?
  • Do we encourage our children or nag them? Do we push our expectations for their lives or encourage them in their God-given gifts? Do we notice and comment only on acting-out behaviour or give them credit for the good character they show in working hard at school, getting along with siblings, doing their chores and being kind?
  • Do we focus on others’ mistakes and refuse to acknowledge or ask forgiveness for our own?
  • Do we attend Mass and receive the sacraments only occasionally, or do we receive them regularly to strengthen us?

If we do a spiritual self-check and think everything looks fine, maybe we need to ask the Spirit to show us where we might be failing our families, our friends, our faith or ourselves. Then, even in a time of great joy, we can enter into the spirit of Lent and begin to prepare our hearts to welcome the risen Lord at Easter.

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.”

~ Luke 3:4

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

 

 

Remember the story of Sisyphus from Greek mythology? As a punishment for his lying and trickery, he was forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down—over and over again for eternity.

Sometimes we might feel like we’re pushing that boulder, trying to deal with a huge problem that we don’t think we’ll conquer before we run out of steam—our children’s acting-out behaviour, the struggle to find a good job, relationship problems, or even a bad habit that we just can’t break.

We can start to feel discouraged, defeated, even broken.

We won’t find our strength in other people, although we may welcome their active listening and support. We won’t find it in hobbies or physical activity, although they may help us relax. And we won’t find it in comfort food or cigarettes or caffeine or alcohol or compulsive rituals.

But as followers of Christ, we have a faithful source of strength to draw on to help us keep going, as we read in Isaiah 40:28-29*:

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary,

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and to him who has no might he increases strength.

When my son was a little boy, he was full of energy and ready to push boundaries and test rules. Children don’t come with an instruction manual, and so I was learning as I went along—and I was tired. Often, at the end of the day, I would ask God to give me strength and help me be a good parent. As I look back, I can see that God has never failed to strengthen me to take on the next day’s parenting challenges.

Whatever obstacles we may be facing in our lives, we need to remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord:

  • When Sarah doubted she would be able to have a child, the Lord asked Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14) And in their old age, Sarah and Abraham had a son (see Genesis 21:1-7).
  • When Jeremiah wondered how he could be sure that the people of Israel would return from exile, God asked him, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) And Israel returned from exile, as we read in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • When those who heard it would be difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God wondered who could be saved, Jesus told them, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

May we always remember that no challenge is too great for God to walk through with us and that he will hold us up when we are weak.

(T)hey who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

~ Isaiah 40:31

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

 

 

 

 


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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