A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Archive for the ‘Parenting’ 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.)

 

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.)

“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.

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.)

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.)


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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