Word of the Year for 2018: Compassion

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Just before the end of the year, I listened to Beth Davis talk on “Teachable Tuesday” about  choosing a word for your year.  This word would inspire you in 2018, serve as a theme for the year ahead, and help bring you closer to God and His plans for you.  I immediately knew what mine was supposed to be.  CREATE.

CREATE.

I was going to be a maker in 2018.  I was going to allow my great Creator to work through me.  I had so many plans, was so excited and motivated.  I was going to WRITE a book, WRITE TWO BOOKS, write in my prayer journal, EMBROIDER all the pretty spiritual bouquets I could dream of, plant all the things I love in my GARDEN, paint and draw and color with my little girl.  I was going to do ALL THE THINGS!!!

All my life my expectations have been high.  This has sometimes served me well.  It meant I held out and waited for my one true love.  My high expectations have helped motivate me while working at home and forced my fingers to hit the keyboard when I might have preferred to stay in my pajamas and snuggle in bed with the baby.

But sometimes these overinflated expectations—these great desires to do all the things I love and master all the new things for which I hold great curiosity—have been a hindrance.  I’m left realizing I have a limited amount of time, energy, and resources.  After all, there is only one of me.  Reality sets in, and then I feel defeated.  In fact, this post itself doesn’t seem to be taking shape into what I envisioned, and I feel frustration brew as I struggle to compose some coherent lines with Daniel Tiger singing in the background, my daughter tugging on my sleeve, and my son crawling with a single-minded determination toward the fireplace.

As if on cue, the negative self-talk sets in.  I compare myself to everyone else around me.  They seem to be able to accomplish so much.  They seem to have unlimited energy and nicely curated lives.  In fact, I bet they have clean houses and reliable childcare and an abundance of free time.  What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I manage the way they can?

Then I’m not good enough.  I’m not enough.  I’m weak and lazy and a mess.  It took hearing my daughter say, “Mama is a hot mess,” to know that things were not okay.  I realized that she doesn’t actually think I’m a wreck.  She’s just repeating words she hears me say about myself.  She is learning from me what’s of worth, what to value.  And I don’t want to steer her wrong.

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Because I am a “hot mess,” there were no Christmas cards sent out this year.  This was our Christmas card Facebook photo, in all our imperfect glory.  And perhaps illustrates why I really need to be working on compassion for myself!

At about the same time, I listened to a podcast about being compassionate to yourself and your children.  I opened my planner and noticed that, inspired by Karen Schultz’s reflection in the Daily Devotions about a reading from St. Paul, I wrote down a virtue to cultivate for each month of the new year.  January’s was compassion.  I decided it wasn’t a coincidence.

Reflecting over our Christmas plans, I noticed that I had a far better time than I had expected in a situation I normally do not enjoy.  I realized that instead of approaching some people in my life with negativity and criticism, I truly embraced compassion for them and discovered new feelings for them and a connection I did not think possible.  I had been praying for compassion toward these individuals for a long time and had almost given up the effort.  Yet finally my heart was moved to compassion and opened to them.  So often it’s when you want to give up that things finally fall into place.  Strangely, this newfound compassion for them led me to approach my own failings and flaws with compassion.  I finally arrived at the realization that while my struggles may be different from theirs, we both struggle and can find communion in that.  I had been judging them harshly and looking at them through a critical lens.  The same lens through which I viewed myself.

When I judge others through the eyes of the world instead of viewing them through the eyes of Jesus, I turn away from compassion and forget that they are children of God, deserving of love.  And I can say the same for myself.  When I judge myself, my home, my accomplishments, my life through the world’s eyes, I will always fail.  When I approach my own life and the lives of those around me from the perspective of the values of this world, no one will live up to my expectations, not even myself. When I see myself, my family, friends, and neighbors as children of God, the expectations fall away and all that remains is love.

So my focus shifts from doing to being.  This doesn’t mean I won’t create this year.  I plan to write every chance I get!  I can’t help but think that anything I create will be so much better coming from a place of compassion.

Compassion has already transformed my life in the short amount of time I have truly focused on practicing it.  I can’t wait to see what this year holds.

 

The Thoughts of Your Heart

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The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 5-6

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. . .And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. . .

Mark 1:29-39

I’ve never been one to focus on wickedness or demons.  I joke that we are more of a “all you need is love” kind of Catholic family.  But lately I see such a darkness in this world.  That darkness has to come from somewhere.  Sadly, it comes from within us.  We have demons within us—addiction, violence, hatred, jealousy, envy—that must be cast out of us if we are to live a full life with Jesus.

Recently I’ve been devouring thrillers.  I love the page-turning, climactic, pulse-racing nature of these books.  I felt an insatiable desire to finish them immediately, to read non-stop at the expense of my husband, my children, my work, and my own personal well being (hello shower! hello prayer!).

Suddenly I discovered I was having difficulty falling asleep at night.  I couldn’t turn off my brain, struggled to wind down.  What could be the problem here?  The books I was reading had opened my imagination to some very dark plots, which in turn filled my mind with some very dark thoughts.  It didn’t help that I was consuming these books the way a glutton would go through a whole bag of potato chips in one sitting.  I felt like I was crouched over a bowl of chips and salsa, saying just one more bite, I promise! I had to admit to myself that this was a problem.

It went against the way I was raised and how I have always operated.  Reading is good.  No one can question the value of reading.

Yet the books I was reading were the equivalent of consuming two pizzas, a couple of ice creams sundaes, a few liters of soda, all in a day.  Just as that would be filling my body with junk, I was filling my mind with dark, twisted stories that brought me no consolation.

In the end, it comes down to this: does this bring me closer to God or separate me from Him?  Sometimes we need to guard our thoughts. Making sure that the words and images we put into our minds and allow to animate our imaginations are from God and not a product of the demons and darkness within others needs to be a priority.

So instead of spending the evening swiping through a story of a terrible marriage and the horrible events that occur because of it—watching the suspense light up the pages in the darkness of my toddlers’ room as I lie on her floor and wait for her to fall asleep—I’ll read something that showcases the beauty of this world, that nurtures my soul and encourages gratitude.

Immediately!

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. . .the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.  And immediately he called them; and they left their father. . .and followed him.

And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. . .And immediately there was in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?. . .But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him.”

Mark 1:14-28

IMMEDIATELY.  The word “immediately” appears four times in my gospel reading for today.  That seems pretty significant.  So often I think that I must take time to deliberate.  I spend days, weeks, even months researching, plotting, planning, and mulling over a decision in my head before I consider taking action.  Often the process spirals into worry.  We are taught to approach serious decisions with careful consideration, and the assumption is that this will take some time.  That truly good discernment can only occur when great time is spent on it.

Jesus shows us otherwise.  Sometimes we need to act right away.  And usually those times involve Him and where He is leading us.  I suppose the key is determining if the call is actually coming from Him or instead from forces of this world.  If He is truly the one reaching out to us and compelling us to act, then we don’t need to stop and think or engage in a lengthy pro/con debate about the scenario.  We just need to do it.

This can feel very risky.  When I try to imagine the risk those fishermen took that day, I grow uncomfortable.  What would their families think of them?  How would they make ends meet?  What if they were too hasty and later experienced regret?  These are all feelings of this world, brought on from the judgement of others.  In the end, we have to trust that Jesus has a plan for us and that saying YES to Him immediately is the only way to go.  As we are reminded, the kingdom of God is at hand.  Let our thoughts align with our actions and follow Him.

Jesus in the Wilderness

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This year I hope to read through the entire Bible using a daily Catholic Bible that provides 20 minutes of readings from both the Old and New testaments. Monday, January 1st appropriately begins with Genesis and Mark, the earliest gospel.

Behold, I send my messenger before thy face,
who shall prepare thy way;
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. . .
[After Jesus was baptized by John]
. . .The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days. . .

Mark 1:1-13

These days I often feel like a voice crying out from the wilderness. Trying to balance working from home, raising a 3 year old and 7 month old, keeping up my home, managing the bills and doctors appointments and the other necessities of life, all the while my husband works 60 hour weeks, can leave me feeling stranded in a no man’s land and alone even as I am constantly surrounded by two precious little beings. Group texts with friends help ease the need for connection, but the isolation is still real.

This passage reminds me that even John and Jesus were in the wilderness at one point in their lives. In fact, God actually SENT Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.

A wilderness is defined as a wild and uncultivated region, as of forest or desert, uninhabited or inhabited only by wild animals; a tract of wasteland. We all have those wilderness times in our lives. Often we feel alone or abandoned when we are in them. Perhaps instead we need to cling to the image of Jesus in the wilderness and ask Him to be with us in ours, pray that He will give us strength to face the wasteland of our sorrow, the wolves that try to devour our souls, the darkness of the seemingly uninhabitable places in our hearts. If we open ourselves up to Him, He will be there. He knows; he has been there before.

Ironically, it is often in the actual physical wilderness that we have the easiest time finding Him. When I take to the woods, explore a trail in a state park, or just sit out on the porch watching a thunderstorm, I experience my deepest connection with Him and suddenly in this “uncultivated region” I am able to truly cultivate Him in my heart.