Category: Featured


Good Marriage Prep Matters

In my work preparing engaged couples for marriage, I find myself pondering what might have been different for us, if my husband and I would have been required to take the same prep that is currently offered in the Diocese of Phoenix. While we were married in Phoenix over thirty-eight years ago, the marriage prep was minimal.

It was the seventies, (need I say more). I had met my future spouse in a disco. Yes, God does answer prayers and work within the confines of our reality at the time. Mark was a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force, still wet behind the ears from the Academy, and in pilot training. Stationed in beautiful Arizona, he was “looking for love in all the wrong places.” (wrong music genre, but appropriate for the story) I was in college and working full time at the local hospital.

I had been praying the Rosary for help in finding a good spouse. Other than that, it was work, disco, and homework. I knew my prayers were heard the night we met and began dating. Due to his flying schedule we could only see each other on weekends, but we made the most of the little time we had together.

Months later when he had graduated and received the assignment we never wanted, a remote tour to South Korea under Martial Law; he proposed.

The clock was ticking as he had orders to begin training outside of Arizona. We made a hasty appointment with the parish Priest who was also a family friend. I remember meeting with Father, I cannot recall what he said or if we took a marriage prep inventory or not.

Mark then departed after we set a date for the following November. I would see him only once more before he went overseas, and then not again until a few weeks before the wedding. No texting, emails, skype or similar communication, just letters that took weeks to arrive. We kept a steady stream of those coming back and forth across the Pacific.

You can bet we were not discussing the expectations we had for each other as husband and wife. Nor the best strategies for conflict resolution, finances, or effective communicating. We were going to have to learn on the fly in a very tense situation, while being alert to the fact that I might be immediately evacuated from country.

Would we have been receptive to a class on “Theology of the Body” or “Natural Family Planning” that my couples must take? I’d like to think so. Not unlike the couples I work with, we worked, went to school, and got the prerequisite fun in on the weekends. I couldn’t have known then what I know now about the key importance of good marriage preparation.

In hindsight, I can clearly see that what we offer the couples now would have been so helpful, saving us from years of miscommunication and misunderstandings. It would have offered opportunities for deeper and more insightful discussion on areas that were simply avoided out of ignorance or not talked about out of fear. I believe it would have better prepared us for the storms that were just over the horizon we weren’t even anticipating.

Yet, “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” Thankfully, God was squarely in the center of our relationship. We hadn’t learned yet the vital importance of praying together daily, of sharing what was on our hearts, and for me, just asking for what I needed from him rather than assuming he could read my mind. That last one took me decades to overcome.

One of our sons sent us a clip of a comedian talking about this very thing recently and he said something most profound, “women think a statement is a command, they don’t just come right out and say what they want because they don’t want to sound bossy.”

He continued, “men want to do what women want, they just need clear commands.” Even that little segment would have been helpful so many years ago, (well actually right up until last year).

By the grace of God, our faith, (hurt feelings, unnecessary arguments, lots of tears) and persistence, we discovered in the trenches, what would have been more beneficial in boot camp.

I have experienced eight years of accompanying these couples as they prepared for their own marriages. I’m blessed to see countless “ah-ha moments,” and receive amazing positive feedback from the couples themselves about the classes. Good prep makes all the difference.

So here it is, if you want your marriage to succeed in a challenging culture that has itself been the casualty of many failed marriages, I invite you to take advantage of every possible avenue the Catholic Church offers for preparation. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed and think you can’t fit another thing in your schedule, you are the greatest benefactor of the efforts you make. Think, happily ever after!

There is also a great online, pre-cana course that you can take advantage of if the prep in your Diocese is inadequate or needs a boost, http://www.catholicmarriagepreponline.com. Don’t worry, I’m not getting any kickback here, just sharing a great resource!

May God in his abundant love and generous mercy grant you the most amazing happily ever after and help your marriage become the joyful witness this world so desperately needs.

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Is There Something More

What do you do when you feel this inner pull that wants to move your life in a different direction? When the day to day brings you no joy and you get the sense you should be doing something else, something worthy, that somehow has value and meaning. Maybe you just ended up in the job you have now, it doesn’t bring you satisfaction, doesn’t set your heart on fire, or give you any sense of deep accomplishment. It takes every ounce of strength you can muster to get yourself out the door each day.

Is this all there is, or is there something more?

The finite will never fill the hole you have in your heart, or your life. You were made for greatness.

So what do you do when you wish you were doing something else? When you feel this pull inside of you to take a different route, try a different course, follow a dream you once had before the reality of life kicked in the door.

There is a course of action that will bring you great satisfaction, fill the recesses of your hearts longing even when you don’t know what you are longing for. You can only ignore the feeling, and distract yourself for so long. Cause it’s always there in the background, just under the surface, right around the next bend, calling, compelling, inviting you to stop and sit and listen.

Why are we so afraid of silence? It is but a respite from our frenzied life, a pause button on an irritating song, an exit off the highway that leads to a beautiful park. How do you know what that something more might be if you don’t stop and listen? There is so much noise now. So much confusion than ever before. So much more loneliness, disconnectedness, fear.

It needn’t be so.

So I invite you to find a place each day where you can stop, sit, and listen to the wee small voice that won’t shout, won’t make itself heard over the whirl and pulsations of the world. Take off your headphones,  silence the phone, and stop all the distractions that keep you on the hamster wheel from hell.

Do this for yourself, just 10 minutes each day. You will find that you will crave this time where you can recharge, be free of finite things and ponder the Infinite.

Dear Struggling Marriages

In my work preparing couples for marriage, I have had to account for the unexpected implosion of a marriage where I was once part of the preparation. Sometimes I hear about the troubles first hand, other times when I see one of them meeting with the Nullity Minister. It saddens me every time when those couples who looked and acted so much in love, and desired to dedicate their whole lives to one another in sacramental marriage; give up and quit. I feel I have an investment in each and every couple. I connect with them, and give my whole heart in the work God has called me to.

The work of marriage however, is the couple’s work to do together for the benefit of their own souls, their family, and for society. The work they do will effect generations for good or bad and ultimately the whole world. We see this lived out in today’s culture when parents don’t take seriously their duty to raise up responsible, moral, hard-working future citizens. Those children left to their own devices, can easily become everyone’s problem. Choosing themselves and their personal happiness over working things out with a spouse, can have a devastating effect as children are left in the debris of divorce.

As in every disagreement, there is her version, his version, and the truth. I hate it when I hear cruel accusations lobbed at their spouse. Was this the same couple who cuddled on the couch in my office as we talked about marriage? What happened? What changed, or rather, what finally came to the surface and reared its ugly head? How do two people so in love that they want to be together for life, give up on each other, “fall out of love,” or cheat on their spouse?

It is easy to quit on one another- that is what the world wants and that is exactly what Satan wants! Quitting is easy, staying married is hard. One man told me “if it is this hard, then it must not be love.”
Really? Exercising is hard. What would happen if we quit on that? Just look around to see the fruit of that life style. What about our jobs? They can get pretty demanding. Should we not work? Picking produce, fermenting grapes, stocking shelves, is a real pain in the back day in and day out. No one’s talking about giving up on wine.

Love does not quit, give up, walk out, or point fingers… or lie or choose every other thing including work, children, or friends, over the beloved. Marriage is the sign that God instituted to point most to His unconditional, irrevocable, faithful, exclusive love for each of us. It reflects Christ’s love for the Church. You know Christ, the One impaled on a tree, barely clinging to life, bloody, and bruised. Perhaps there is something to learn in that icon. Love hurts. It hurts like hell sometimes. St. Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “Love to be real, it must cost, it must hurt, it must empty us of self.”

And therein lies the problem, “ self.”

Love isn’t about you, your feelings, your happiness, or unlimited fun. Love is about other. Love is giving, and pouring out without cost, or measure, or return. The word is sacrificial, because not putting me first-hurts. It takes dying to self over and over, until it becomes natural, a habit honed over time. When husband and wife do that very thing, we see such a beautiful, attractive window into God’s marvelous love for us. We desperately need this kind of witness in our world. Married couples have the power to raise up, or warp, twist, pervert, or elevate, how humanity sees God, imitates love, and understands marriage.

Almost always the couple does not make dedicated time for each other, pray together, or practice their Catholic faith regularly through attending mass. There is critical importance in placing each other above all else, of making God, faith, and prayer, a part of your daily existence. After thirty-eight years I can assure you, without God, we would not have lasted long on our own.

I have nothing to lose by being frank in writing these things sent in love, and empowered by truth. I beg you, do whatever is necessary to remain true to the vows you both made in front of God. “For I hate divorce, says the Lord…” (Malachi 2:16). I too hate divorce with all my heart. It leaves everlasting devastation in its wake. It harms children, and grandchildren for generations. It poisons those around us, it poisons how humanity thinks about marriage and a lifelong commitment, and it poisons how people think and relate to God. I have read one hundred raw testimonials from adults whose parents divorced, and the negative consequence it had, and continues to have, on how they think, and interact with others. (Primal Loss-Miller)

With God’s help and the healing power of confession, anything is possible. We believe in the God of Miracles! There is a retreat called Retrouvaille for couples who find themselves in dire straits and who are willing to do whatever it takes to seek help. It means “rediscover”. It is Catholic, but any faith can attend. I know it saves marriages, even the most horrible and seemingly UN-savable marriages.

So if you ever really loved each other, and if you are willing to let God do what He does best, then I invite you to do this, because you both deserve it. It is not magic. Nothing will change if you both are not willing to trust, love, surrender, and do the hard work.

It’s all up to you whether you are a part of a miracle, or just another statistic.

Blessed Doughnuts

What is the deal with Catholics and doughnuts? I have memories of being bribed by doughnuts through much of my young and snarky life, to either behave in or attend extra masses. My father was successful at getting all five kids to join him at daily mass in the sacred summertime with simply a nod towards Winchell’s doughnut establishment. That sweet, fried, circular vision of yumminess was all the incentive we needed to get up early for over a month.

Sacrileges? Not at all. Any good parent realizes that you can catch more kids with doughnuts than with bagels, at least here in the west. Doughnuts have been used for decades to threaten, bribe, and otherwise make an unruly kid straighten up and think twice about messing around in God’s house. I overhear parents threatening their kids when they are walking into mass, “you better behave, or no doughnuts.” Hey, I’m not pointing any fingers, I used that for years myself.

Jesus used bread to get folks to hang around and listen to the good stuff on many occasions. Fryers just hadn’t been invented yet or I’m pretty sure he would have had doughnuts here and there, to mix it up a bit. Like after the Resurrection when Peter and boys had gone fishing and caught nothing. Jesus would have captured their attention mighty fast, if they saw him walking along the shore with that bright pink box in his hands. “It’s the Lord,” and I think he has doughnuts.

I don’t know if it is just a Catholic gimmick, “hey I gotta idea of how we can get more buns in the pews.” Or, perhaps a Christian hook or if all religions see the value in sweet endings. I suppose it’s harmless as long as we eventually grow up and out, of having to be encouraged with sugared O’s to spend time with the Lord.

We are a people who can nosh quiet happily on junk food for a long time and somehow feel satisfied. Mistaking the counterfeit for the real deal can be spiritually dangerous. No, I’m not suggesting that Catholics confuse doughnuts for the Eucharist. Gees!

In our parish we are undergoing renovations to the sanctuary. Additions include a life-sized Crucifix where there was once a Risen Jesus, and moving the Tabernacle from a side location “among the people” to its new home central to our worship, behind the altar.

Don’t worry, Jesus has a new gig hovering over the Baptismal Font.

Our recently appointed Pastor explained in great detail the catechetical reasons for the proposed changes back in January. He might have had less kickback had he suggested that a Ferris wheel be brought into the worship space. The emails and comments he received were truly unchristian and really unkind. I have to wonder how someone can come to mass, even with the hope of doughnuts after, and have such cruel and heartless words to say. As expected, our numbers are decreasing, because that is how American Catholics show their disproval; in the plate, and in the pew.

Some have shared with me their feelings of our church “going backward” or that they are “not being fed.”

Really?

It’s not, to the first, and impossible to the second! And I’m not talking about the doughnuts! Jesus shows up 100% of the time.

What I believe part of the problem may be, is a lack of good formation and the ability to recognize what is really happening at every mass. The critical nature of entering into the timeless beauty, where heaven meets earth, despite whether we like or dislike the music, the sermon, pews, parishioners, or the priest.  I wrote an article a few years back about lost opportunities in the homily for catechesis and formation. When did it stop being about the Lord and all about us?

When we grow up eating a lot of doughnuts we can get confused about the importance of the Real Presence versus presents. One might get us in the door, but it is the other where we encounter the Lord and He doesn’t come dressed in sprinkles. Plain, simple, and pure love for the receiving. An unquenchable, insatiable, desire fulfilled at every mass if we have our appetites and minds focused on the Real deal.

One round circle can change our lives, transform our hearts, and make us new. The other circle just makes us fat.

 

Down But Not Out

Yesterday I got the flu. I tried to ignore it, but like a thunderstorm, flus do not go away just because you ignore them, they actually pick up intensity. Last night I could no longer hold that storm at bay so I crashed in the way of taking to my bed.

Thunderous sounds emitting from my nose and mouth made sleep nearly impossible. Drugs, where are the drugs? I popped two green nighttime capsules and hoped they would calm the storm. They only took the edge off.

This morning, I looked and felt like something the cat dragged in, but somehow realized that there really was something to be grateful for in all this. Living in a first world country we often take much for granted; clean bed, private bathroom, easily accessible over the counter drugs, and wonderful fresh water to name a few. I can’t imagine living in Africa or some distant island as I tried to deal with this flu and its annoying symptoms. Would my option be to lay in the shade of some distant tree, hoping the wild animals would just leave me alone rather than making short work of me in the way of a meal? Clean abundant water would be scarce, sewer systems, over the counter relief maybe miles away in the big city.

In my home I can crawl into my bed and in the cool darkness rest in relative safety. I could fetch fresh cool water at any time, adjust the air conditioner as needed, and get some relief either by access to a local doctor or the many clinics that surround our home.

We are blessed in more ways than we can possibly imagine. It would serve us well to recognize our many, many blessings and thank God along the way.

Oh Holy Night

Oh light from on high, for us You came,

Shattering the darkness, our ignorance, and shame.

You came as Innocence, a babe in Virgin’s womb,

In poverty You entered, no place for humble child to room.

Angel choirs filled the night sky,

Mountains, valleys, with all creation sighed.

That we may approach Oh Divine, Majestic One,

Unafraid, filthy, and in need of Your love.

May I, on bended knee, beside hay-laden throne,

in hushed and awestruck tone,

Captivated, mesmerized, all alone,

Beg You, one day, take me home.

Stuffing the Pie

Thanksgiving-the National Vigil of Black Friday?

What? Wait. NO!!

Yes, I’m afraid we seem to have lost our way. This day, I thought was to stop, sit still, remember and be grateful. To surround ourselves with family and friends, you know those people that we are most grateful for in life. To celebrate the bountiful goodness that each one has brought into our life. To look to heaven and pray a blessing of gratitude to the One who holds all things in his hands.

When do we stop and contemplate the many, many ways that we have been blessed? Do we search each day for God’s abundant grace and blessings?

When we deliberately seek the blessings in everything, including the difficult and challenging, a wonderful thing happens, we change our outlook. More joy, more grace, and more wonder become a part of our everyday.

“Praise him for the unexpected and the unlikely, for the daily and the difficult, and the graces in disguise. The more you count, the more gifts you will see. Do not disdain the small. The moments add up, and we might come to believe it- the whole world is full of his glory!…” (Ann Voscamp, One Thousand Gifts)

Start NOW, don’t hesitate. Add your Blessing Comment, then pass this along for others to add theirs and together we will see that there really is more GOOD than bad in the world. Let our lights shine brighter together, so all can see that it really is not as gloomy as the media makes it to be.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

Vulcan Death Grip

As I proceed with my recovery I am currently seeking relief through therapeutic massage. Don’t be confused with the massage word meaning I am in bliss, and total relaxation. That I am not.

No, therapeutic massage is something quite different indeed. If you have experienced it, I need not explain further. If you however require a bit more clarification, read on.

In my naivety, I envisioned pleasant pressure, mellow music and pure relaxation as muscles were gently encouraged into their proper place. Unfortunately,  while that might feel incredible, it does little to realign stubborn, tight, balled up, injured muscles. Something in the way of direct and deep tissue pressure that hurts like a red hot poker being pressed into the offending knot is what is needed. It takes your breath away- and not in a good way. Although I will admit that passing out might be preferable at times.

What has this to do with anything of importance?

I believe that in everything, the good, bad, pleasure and pain, there is something of importance to remember. Life is short, and we are dead a very long time. So how will we use every moment to prepare for eternity?

I think about these things in the throws of my painful recovery. Key word being “recovery.” I am alive. I can walk and function mostly close to normal. At times I have glimpses of what normal used to feel like. Glimpses.

I am grateful that I wasn’t hurt worse. Bicycles and cars aren’t meant to collide.

I am encouraged by these words of St. Catherine of Siena, “But just when we want to be healthy we are sick; just when we want to be alive we die; just when we want to be rich we are poor; just when we want to be in power we are made servants. And all this because these things are not ours, and we can keep them only as much and as long as it pleases the one who lent them to us.”

God places all things in our life as a means to grow us in love, and detach us from unhealthy attachments that hold us pinned to the earth.

They will be there as long as we need to learn the lesson and for some of us, that may be a really long time.

 

 

On the Airwaves

It’s been awhile since I updated my blog. What a roller coaster of a year. A move in January, a wedding in March, hit by a car two days later. Months of recovery. A new granddaughter in June. Lots of doctors visits, physical therapy appointments, and work all squashed in with travel here and there.

I got behind on my blogging, What do I have to say anyway that is worth reading?

There are countless other writers with true talent, wisdom, and wit. To call myself a writer is a big stretch. I have words in my head that need an outlet. They aren’t my words, or thoughts that ultimately get put down- because they wouldn’t be worth reading. However, I like to think that I am open to being a tiny, insignificant, instrument in the hands of Divine Inspiration.

So tomorrow, I will have another chance to be an instrument, as I have been invited, quiet out of the blue, to be live on the Gus Lloyd, Seize the Day, morning radio show on Sirius XM. We’re going to talk about my latest story, Giving God Deadlines

Wish me luck and say a prayer that I don’t embarrass myself on the airwaves.

“Hang In There”

About 8 months ago, I brought a meal and spent some time visiting a friend of mine who was having another bout with cancer.

Two months ago that same friend brought dinner to me as I recovered from my accident.

Two weeks ago I stood at her bedside as she unconsciously labored barely clinging to life. I held her hand and spoke with her son. Other visitors came and I knew it was time for me to go. Leaning close to her ear the words I really wanted to say were nowhere to be found, what came out instead was simply, “hang in there.”

I cried all the way home at the sheer stupidity of what I had said to a dying woman. How completely devoid of inspiration or hope.

Normally I have lots of words in my little arsenal, and rarely am at a loss for what to say. This was one of those moments to the contrary, and it breaks my heart.

At times in our life when we are confronted by situations that hit us like a brick wall we are caught off guard and often say things we regret. We may not know what to say at all, so something trivial, or inept slips from our lips instead.

This was that time for me.

Friday,  I attend her funeral. I will lift up a prayer and my sincere apologies to her. I imagine that perhaps she will look down kindly at me smiling and say, it’s ok Barb, all is well, hang in there.