17 May 2018

Woman, Know Thyself!

I have a good group of trusted friends. Women who I can call any time of the day or who make time to talk and pray with me when I need help or encouragement.

While these women are my earthly sisters, mentors, and friends, over the years there are several holy women whom I consider my "spiritual soul sisters." 

These women who have gone before me show me what it means to be a woman seeking the heart of Jesus through my dreams, passions, desires, and creative pursuits.

One such woman is Edith Stein, or St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Raised in a Jewish home, Edith eventually became an atheist. Highly intelligetn, she went on to study at a univeristy level where she eventually became a lecturer and philosopher. She lived a vibrant, creative as a single woman for a number of years before getting baptized Catholic and eventually entering a Carmelite convent. Her life was cut short when she was sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942.

Words I would use to describe her would be smart, articulate, passionate, creative, and self-aware.

Over the last year I have spent more more time reading biographies and writings of Edith Stein; specifically her essays on what it means to be a woman.

In a culture where there are so many mixed messages on what it means to be a woman, Edith offers women words that are beauty and truth on their worth, dignity, and place in the world. 

The older I get (I am a young 32 1/2 right now!), I am convinced that women today are hungry for deeper meaning in their lives. We are struggling to understand who we are called and created to be.

And that is why I am so drawn to Edith. 

Because she has something to say to each of us, no matter what our state or vocation in life. She challenges us to to embrace and come to a deeper understanding of the essence of who we are as women and how we can make a unique contribution to the world and those around us.

If I had a rally cry for what summarizes what Edith taught and believed it would be, "Woman, Know Thyself!"

One biographer of Edith put it in this way: "Before they can be ready to assist others, women first need to be securely anchored in their own depths."

What we need to possess is an inherent and soul-deep understanding of our dignity and worth as women in the eyes of God.

For Edith, this is only possible in the context of grace and through a life of interior prayer, silence, reflection, and inner detachment from the world. She modeled this in a way for me as a single woman in a way that is practical and non-shaming.

As a writer, lecturer, and philosopher, Edith was a woman of deep thought and her insights from the 1930's are even more relevant and applicable to women today searching for meaning, purpose, and joy.

So Woman (yes you!), know thyself!

Nurture your spirit and soul. 
Chase after your creative dreams and pursuits, even if it feels silly, make time for the things that fire you up and bring joy to your life.
Learn about what your charisms are.

Find out your temperament, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram type, and your love languages.
If you need it, go to counseling. Do your own healing work.
Make room for "breathing spaces," as Edith says and take time to rest in God.
Do not wait for your life to "start" until you get married or meet someone.

You are worth the time, energy, and focus of caring for and knowing yourself.

Are there certain ways you are being called to know yourself in a deeper way?

How can this "rediscovery" of yourself help you become more "anchored in your own depth"?

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14 May 2018

Mending the Heart (A Book Review!)

I remember it very distinctly, the day I decided I could no longer stay in my marriage. 

It was the beginning of November, and the week of Thanksgiving I moved back home with my parents for a time as I figured out my next steps.

I felt like a failure and very relieved all rolled into one. I remember thinking, "What would people think of me once they knew? If the parish youth minister can't make a marriage work, well then who can? Would people judge my decision to leave without knowing the Hell I just lived through?"

I went through my divorce and the annulment process two years ago, and wish a book like this was around for me at that time.

I love the Catholic Church, but it makes my heart sad that we have had so few resources for men and women navigating the pain of a divorce. Not to mention there is still such poor understanding on what the Church actually teaches on divorce, annulment, and re-marriage.

Lisa Duffy, a well-known Catholic speaker and writer, has a brand new book releasing today. Mending the Heart: A Catholic Annulment Companion is such a gift to those who are divorced and contemplating going through the annulment process.

I was so honored to receive a copy to read and write a review for the book.

Even if divorce has never personally touched your own life, I think this book is a great thing for every Catholic to read. For your own understanding yes, but also because it is very likely you will come across people in your life who could benefit from these words.

One of the things I love most about Lisa's writing are her personal sharing and compassion in understanding the pain of divorce. She is very affirming that God sees and wants to bring healing even after something as traumatic as divorce:

"Despite all the heartbreak of losing your marriage, God wants to heal you."

"The pain I endured for so many years felt as though it should have killed me, and at times I thought it would. But it didn't If the pain and suffering is so terrible that it feels as though you'll die, but you continue to live, it means there is hope, there is a future, and God still has good things in store for you."    (Ohhhhh sister, do I relate to THIS!)

And it is because of this pain and hurt, Lisa writes, that the Church offers the annulment process: "...so that you can look beyond what a civil court has ruled and the social implications of divorce to what the actual spiritual reality may be." 

I think too often we sometimes forget the most important place to start in walking alongside people in pain, is acknowledging their wounds and hurt. So let us always begin there first, before you say anything else. 

Lisa does a great job giving a simple breakdown of the annulment process, which unfortunately can be very confusing for Catholic and non-Catholics alike: "Using the details you provide about your marriage relationship, the people involved in the annulment process - you, your ex-spouse, and the canon lawyers - can create a big picture scenario to determine whether or not a valid marriage was brought into being on the day of your wedding."

She does a great job explaining tricky concepts like the difference between valid and sacramental or what is a valid marriage bond.

Equally important as explaining the theology, is breaking down hurtful, insensitive myths regarding divorce and annulments. 

No, the Church is not saying your marriage relationship never existed.
The Annulment Process is NOT just a moneymaker for the Church. 
Getting an Annulment will make the children illegitimate. FALSE!

When we bust through these and other myths, I think it makes the hearts of people more receptive to the truth and beauty of what the Church teaches.

A sensitive, pastoral concern is the number of couples who are divorced, civilly remarried, and wanting to be in full communion with the Church. 

Lisa does a fantastic job explaining why the Church asks couples in these situations to refrain from Holy Communion: "First, the Church's standards are specifically set in place to help us achieve the happiness we search for all our lives. When the Church tells us we need to wait until the annulment process is complete and a declaration of validity or invalidity is made before getting married, she is actually looking out for our best interests, even if it seems really hard to wait."

Lisa also gives the reader a step-by-step walk through of the annulment process, which I think answers a lot of questions people have that can hold them back from even starting the process. She also explains the different grounds Canon Law gives that could decide a marriage is not valid.

One of the things I found most encouraging as a divorced woman myself, was the section on how to heal and move forward after the pain of a divorce. 

Lisa gives honest, practical ways for Catholic men and women to stay connected through to the Church and begin their own healing journey back to wholeness. Stay close to the sacraments. Honestly, I cannot imagine getting through this type of trauma without them.

I actually completed all my writing for the annulment questions in Eucharistic Adoration. Why not do the hard, heavy work with Jesus? He can totally handle it.

I have personally benefited from Lisa's other books and was grateful to attend a training she did on starting a divorce recovery group in parishes. 

It has actually inspired me to start such a group at the parish I currently work at and I have just completed training in my diocese to be a lay advocate. This means as a lay woman I can help people with their own annulments. 

The healing work I have done, the more it leads me to write and speak on my own experience and in some small way be an advocate to support women who were in very similar shoes I was in.

I am looking forward to helping others walk through the process, as it was so healing for me.

You can find out more about Lisa' writing, speaking, and personal coaching here.

Thank you for supporting her great work and ministry to the Church!

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11 May 2018

3 Books You Probably Should Have Read By Now

Everyone has formed their own paradigms about God based on how they were raised or personal experience.

While the Word of God needs no additional supplement, I keep coming back to several books in my own life that have helped shape they way I see myself before God and who God is. And then, what that means on my role in the world.

Most of all, they've helped me heal in my own false perceptions of who God is and know deeper my own dignity and worth before the Father.

Whether you read one or all of these, I hope they will do the same for you as they have for me. I hope they challenge and inspire you to wrestle with God like Jacob, ask lots of questions, and allow God to tell you how He see's you, the Beloved one.

Life of the Beloved
Henri Nouwen

Nouwen is one of the people I am most excited to meet someday in Heaven. I sort of stumbled onto his books in college, but didn't really start to appreciate him until the last three or four years.

While I love Return of the Prodigal Son and The Wounded Healer, I keep coming back to this book.  Nouwen writes this book for a friend who does not have faith. Many people walk around caring wounds, shame, and feeling less than, but Nouwen writes this book to remind his friend (and each reader!) that Beloved is our identity, the only possible way that God looks at each of us.

"From the moment we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are. Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make. When our deepest truth is that we are the Beloved and when our greatest joy and peace come from fully claiming that truth, it follows that this has to become visible and tangible in the ways we eat and drink, talk and love, play and work."

It takes a lifetime to live and believe this truth. But this is a truth, a reality that so many women and men desperately need today.

Every time I come back to this book, there are fresh insights and realizations as if I am reading it for the first time.

The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way

This book a priest friend gave me after completing the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius during Lent one year.

The author is unknown. 

The book is the tale of an Orthodox Christian who is seeking what it means to pray, live a life of prayer, but specifically how to pray constantly. Coming from the Orthodox tradition, it keeps coming back to the simple power of the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have mercy on me a sinner). 

This pilgrim travels far and wide seeking out holy priests, spiritual teachers, and seekers whom will teach him in the ways of Christian prayer and meditation.

The pilgrim comes to realize one can prayer unceasingly at all times, particularly using the Jesus Prayer as a way to live prayer in all things.

I had heard of the Jesus Prayer before, but since then it has become one of my favorite ways to pray in the car.

On Becoming Human
Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier is new to me in a lot of ways, though I have heard of him before as the founder of L'Arche, an international network of communities for people with severe intellectual and physical disabilities. 

This is the type of book I think every human being should read.

Here, Vanier shares about his human vision for creating a common good in the culture that radically changes our communities, relationships, and ourselves. Vanier suggest to the reader that by opening ourselves up to outsiders, those we perceive as weak, different, or inferior, we can achieve true personal and even societal freedom.

He writes: "So to become human implies two realities. It means to be someone, to have cultivated our gifts, and also to be open to others, to look at them not with a feeling of superiority but with eyes of respect. It means to become men and women with the wisdom of love."

And later on in his introduction: "Peace will come through dialogue, through trust and respect for others who are different, through inner strength and a spirituality of love, patience, humility, and forgiveness.

What specifically is this book about? Vanier sums it up best when he says, "This book is about the liberation of the human heart from the tentacles of chaos and loneliness, and from those fears that provoke us to exclude and reject others. It is a liberation that opens us up and leads us to the discovery of our common humanity."

Like I said, just do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy.

What are books you think other people should have read by now? What would your top three be?

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