About Kristen

A 30-something wife and mama of 3 (so far) living out my faith (Catholic) in the southeastern US.

Mercy and Forgiveness

A few years ago a dear friend was in a horrific accident with two of her children. The accident report was chilling and one of her children lost their life afterward. In the ensuing investigation it was found that the accident was caused by driver error and also it came out she had been driving on a suspended license. Ultimately, she was not charged but the pain kept coming.

There was PTSD for her and her surviving children. There was a huge scandal involving people raising funds for her family (this incident has made me very wary of crowdsourcing). And her marriage did not survive.

Her faith lay as shattered with the glass in the street. She converted to Catholicism years before as a teenager. It had been an unpopular move among family and friends but she stuck it out, determined this was the Truth. Later many of these same friends and family would abandon and betray her in her most tragic moment.

Over time she’s had to rebuild her life and her faith along with that. The first Good Friday after the death of her child, she commented how close she felt to the Blessed Mother. She made many changes in her life that brought her closer to God again. But one terrible thing holds on: lack of forgiveness and mercy.

Not on God’s part for sure, but in our human imperfection, we often cannot come to be merciful to ourselves and forgive. Ironically, even for things we don’t need forgiveness for.

I have watched my friend struggle from afar (she’s moved across the country now). She is much, much better but those moments of grief where she beats herself up are brutal to watch. I can’t imagine how they actually feel.

Last night at a Communal Penance service, I thought of her when the pastor said that Jesus always has mercy and forgives our sins, but we also have to love Him and ourselves enough to forgive ourselves. It’s not easy in small matters, but ones like what my friend is enduring…

My prayers for my friend, for all those who are suffering for mercy and self-forgiveness this Lent. And get to Confession!

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That time the Holy Spirit showed up at Publix

Wednesdays are my craziest days. After a full day of work, I have to rush home and eat quickly before picking William up at Science Olympiad and then we rush into the small-ish, city-ish where our former parish is where I still teach Faith Formation (until the end of the school year) and the boys attend FF. It’s a 40 minute drive each way and in rush hour traffic.

After class we trek home usually with no stops. EXCEPT…they’ve opened a new Publix on our way. And the boys and I love Publix. So last week we stopped in for the first time and tonight we went in again because today is payday and we are out of school snacks and coffee creamer.

As a treat, I promised the boys we could get doughnuts. We came to the bakery counter where we were greeted by the kindest smile and countenance. The young woman waiting on us’ name is Olivia. And as we started to give our order, her smile got brighter as she said, excitedly, “Who is on your medal?” I’m used to non-Catholics asking about my Crucifix but rarely about either of the medals I wear on the same chain. I assume it’s out of an over-abundance of politeness and wanting to avoid awkwardness about Mary and the Saints.

I reached for the medals and looked down saying, “This one is my Miraculous Medal and this is Mother Teresa,” as I touched each medal.

Olivia came out from the back of the counter and pulled hers from under her collar to show us and said, “I have St Lucy, she’s my Confirmation saint.”

She returned behind the counter to fill our order when I took a chance, “Were you confirmed at St Mark?”

Her face lit up even more which I didn’t think was possible when I added, “Was A. your sponsor?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed barely able to contain herself.

“I was at your Confirmation Mass,” I told her. I had remembered her Confirmation saint.

We exchanged a bit more before concluding our order and I was sorry the encounter had to end. We wished each other well and the boys and I continued our shopping.

Olivia had no way of knowing that we had just left the Faith Formation or that my maternal grandmother’s maiden name is Santa Lucia. Those details did not go unnoticed by me, however.

What Olivia did know, however, was also not lost on me. She knows the beauty and richness of the fullness of Truth. She knows the joy of recently coming into the beautiful faith I was blessed to be born into. And in that moment, when she saw my medals, she knew the overwhelming feeling of family encountering a stranger who had this amazing faith in common with her. And she knows something else…she knows the power of witness and evangelization. Yes, even our fellow Catholics need to be evangelized within the faith. It is far too easy to take this incredible gift for granted…especially if you are a cradle-Catholic. When you see it in the eyes and the spirit of someone who found it after years of never knowing about it and for whatever reason was reached in the least Catholic state in the nation, the Holy Spirit will take that opening and force in as much grace as possible.

I left Publix tonight feeling like I haven’t in months. I can’t fully describe that feeling, but I know at least in part I knew what an awesome God we serve and the simple joy of loving Jesus and letting Him love us back by sending the Holy Spirit into an ordinary encounter.

Shouting Into the Silence

One of my favorite songs of the past year is Lauren Daigle’s Trust in You. It brought me great comfort in a year when our family lost both of my husband’s parents, my grandfather, and a beloved pet. When your ten-year-old tells you it’s been a rough year, it kind of breaks you in ways you never knew you could be broken.

Brokenness is hard, but beautiful too. The beauty lying, of course, in the truth that it allows God’s grace to flood in and, if we allow it, to change us and bring us closer to Him.

God showed me in the past year lots of concrete ways, within this world, that humanity acknowledges the beauty in brokenness, like the Japanese art of kintsugi where broken pottery is repaired with gold, silver, or platinum so that the imperfection becomes beautiful or the fact that scar tissue is stronger than “regular” tissue.

And God blessed me in the midst of some tragedy with long prayed for things, like my current job.

I have felt a special connection to the Psalms in this time as I have often felt like David, shouting into silence and begging God to relieve me of the pain of the current struggle while simultaneously clinging to Him. God has taken me to some places I could never have imagined both wonderful and confusing. God has let me, like Moses, see my heart’s longings but not allowed me to live in them.

I continue to shout into the silence because the struggles still seem insurmountable some days. I continue to cling because like Peter tells Jesus,

“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Sacrament Factories?

So, I haven’t said anything about the recent story about the little girl in Indiana who wanted to make her First Holy Communion in a suit instead of a dress because…well, I have nothing new or productive to add to that discussion and frankly, neither do most of the people mentioning it or commenting on it. I have my opinion, same as anyone, but it is pretty well covered in what’s already out there. 

So I was pleasantly surprised to read this article by Brianna Heldt on The Federalist’s website. Unlike most of the other coverage, Brianna does have something to contribute to the discussion and namely it’s this passage that caught my eye: 

Speaking as a Catholic (who, incidentally, has had the joy of witnessing two daughters and two sons receive their first Holy Communion), I am admittedly most troubled by the perception and treatment of my church as little more than a sacrament factory. You should be, too. The notion that a priest is somehow required to offer the very body and blood of Jesus on demand–and, if not, potentially face a lawsuit–is both ludicrous and terrifying. That people would demand the Catholic Church capitulate to their every whim, and give them what they want on their terms, is absurd.

That term, “sacrament factory?” Let’s just say it hits a nerve. 

As many know I am a catechist. I teach third Grade Faith Formation and I can tell you right now that I have a class half the size of the one that made their First Holy Communion this past April and May at my parish.  

We have this issue in the Church currently called , “Milestone Catholicism.” It is this thing that happens when a parent never takes their kiddo to Mass and suddenly around second grade, show up to sign up for sacrament prep. It gets real fun in my diocese where all sacrament prep is a minimum of two years for Reconciliation, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. No exceptions. But we need that pic of the white dress and veil and it makes the grandparents happy and, well, it’s just what you do. 

These parents are outraged that not only will things not happen on their timeline but that they will have to meet various requirements like submitting a baptism certificate, bringing their child to weekly classes, and (the horror) attend Sunday Mass each week. And the child is required to sign in each week because there really is no other easier way to track Mass attendance. These parents feel that their faith and parenting is being attacked. They want the sacrament on demand with no “extras” as they see it. 

And you know who agrees with them? A lot of faithful Catholic parents. The parents who took those vows at Baptism seriously as well as the Catechism when it said parents are the primary educators of their children find themselves, ironically, siding with the “milestone Catholic” parents. The basis of their argument is that the sacrament is a gift freely given and should have “no strings” (i.e.: required sacrament prep meetings or classes for parents and/or the kids, meetings of the child and parents with the priest, or the priest even asking the child questions to ensure readiness). Take the mom I encountered in a Facebook group who recently moved and came to her new parish and requested her six-year-old son make his First Holy Communion. Although he was younger than the kids at her parish school and in Faith Formation who were in the sacrament prep classes, the priest was willing to meet with her to discuss the possibility because the child was homeschooled and the family attended daily Mass and their previous pastor sent him a letter in regards to the family’s history as being practicing Catholics. At the meeting, when the priest requested to ask the little guy some questions to ascertain his readiness to receive the sacrament, his mother refused to allow it. She said on Facebook that of course he knew the answers but that it was ridiculous to require, “an examination” in order to receive the sacrament. When pressed to see what the questions were she wS forced to admit she had no idea because she didn’t allow them to take place at all or even ask the priest what they were. 

See, here’s the thing, parents are the primary educators of their children. And the Church is tasked with ensuring that those candidates for any sacrament are truly ready and eligible to receive said sacrament. So some kind of assessment of knowledge and understanding HAS to happen. If it doesn’t than the Church risks being a sacrament factory. But parents, regardless of motivation, are fighting this tooth and nail. And I’ve seen priests I know personally slandered for insisting they determine if a child is ready to receive a sacrament that they will be administering to that child. In some cases the child appeared out of thin air into the sacrament prep classes and in others the child was from a well-known family but in both cases the priest was maligned for doing due diligence. 

So, what are we left with? Is the sacrament factory model the equitable way to allow kids to receive their sacraments. Is Eucharist on demand and Confirmation when requested the way of the future? Or do we simply Chrismate everyone and then ensure all infants are Chrismated going forward? 

We have to be very careful in our complaints to not make our parishes one visit places. That’s not what they’re designed to be. Most of us (myself included) probably should spend more time in prayer and less arguing every requirement because none of us have the answer ready when we issue our complaint. 

Falling

The calendar says it’s fall but in my neck of the woods, that calendar lies. We’ve had a few brisk days but other than that it’s all 80+ degree temps and 10000% humidity. 

I am almost two months into my new, full time job. I love it and it’s made life better in untold ways. 

With the change of employment, God has worked on my heart and other,  littler changes are starting to happen and larger changes are looming on the horizon. I’m letting God take me where He will and I am learning it is all good places, even if a few look scary from the outside. 

I am busier than ever but still feel calm and quiet. My faith these days looks a bit different in someways from where I sit but it is deeper in ways not visible to most. I’m good with that. It’s not about me and everyone else, it’s about me and God after all. 

This year I lost my grandfather, my husband lost both his parents, my kids lost a pet. It’s been painful and rough. But God held us close and we’ve come through better and stronger in our weakness. 

It doesn’t seem possible that I’m 38 and just finally realizing the simple peace that comes in just sitting in His love. But I am. To quote “Aaron Burr,” I talk less, smile more. I listen and realize how little of that I did in my life to this point. 

God’s love and grace are making me see things in a clearer light. Simple light. And I’m going to do my best to keep walking in this light. 

Today is the feast of St John Paul II and I am encouraged by his words: 

Failing to Attend to Detail is Failing to Care

At the end of the school year there was a meeting of other directors in my program. One of the directors shared with me a major headache in her program. Apparently one of her assistants was handling the end of the year event for the program and had failed to properly order a small component of their celebration that, while small, was in fact, essential. Unfortunately, compacting the problem was the fact that this component could not be purchased locally. It was too late in the year to change their plans and so the entire celebration was scrapped and the kids would just be watching videos instead. The kids were disappointed and their parents were angry.
This director told me there had long been an issue with this attention to details and as a result lots of frustration, confusion, and disappointment. Each time the director said the assistant was apologetic but there was no changes in behavior.
It got me thinking about how the closing when we sold our house two years ago was poorly handled by the attorney's office and a lack of attention to detail by them resulted in days worth of frustration and problems for us. We were not a big money maker for them and their lack of attention to detail showed we were a low priority.
When we fail to pay attention to detail, especially habitually, we demonstrate a lack of caring toward others and our task at hand. It can cause multiple unforeseen problems not only for ourselves but others as well. We would do well to remember that God pays great attention to detail as Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:30, even the hairs on our head are numbered. And we are called to love one another as God loves us so…
For many, attention to detail is not an easy thing. We all have things we need to work on and if it is something you struggle with, perhaps think of attention to detail as a way of loving others. Changing your mindset will help in changing your behavior and mindset. Just another small thing we can do to become more Christ-like and help us to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Stuff

Two weeks ago my mother-in-law passed away. She died Monday and her funeral was Thursday. My mother drove to be there. It was the first ever non-Catholic funeral I had ever been to. My mother-in-law was Presbyterian and her minister made myself and the kids feel very welcome. Even Shelby, who made it the entire service. It was shorter than Mass and she wasn’t exactly quiet during it. She takes Psalm 98:4 and Psalm 100:1-2 very seriously, after all.

Sunday morning we attended 7:30 AM Mass, which is our parish’s earliest Mass. Afterwards the boys and I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and then came home. Sometime that afternoon I realized my phone was missing but didn’t think anymore about it til Monday morning when it wasn’t in the house or in Jeff’s car. I made it 6 days without a phone y’all. And I was totally not freaking out to where I had to have a phone but Jeff was and so yesterday I bought my first ever smart phone (because technically the last one I had I found out was a multi-media phone not a smart phone and the Blackberry I had before that–which I lurved–is also not a smart phone?). My brother Matt will be disappointed to hear I went Apple all the way. Iphone 5s. Straight Talk.

So you know what happened, right? This morning when we got to Mass, William says, “Mom, guess what I just found?” It was stuck in the driver’s seat itself (I usually drive Jeff’s car to Mass). Apparently because I am short and Jeff is not when I moved the seat forward, it jostled the phone free.

I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit had a big hand in all this. Especially because I mainly used my phone to communicate with my co-workers, it forced all of us to be more intentional. Maybe. I have no doubt the Holy Spirit was all up in my grill though. That’s just how our relationship is. I’m all unsuspecting and He’s all grabbing my face by the sides and being nose to nose.

Yesterday was First Communion rehearsal. William will be making his First Holy Communion May 20th y’all. He did so well. He didn’t process in too quickly (some kids thought it was a race), remembered his praying hands, genuflected (a surprising number of kiddos did not), and despite being adamant about receiving in his hands, did on his tongue at rehearsal. It’s just rehearsal, so we’re going to practice at home with Cheez-Its (I know, I know).

Shelby’s turning into a teenager on me. She’ll be 11 in July. She’s been slamming doors when she’s mad or trying to make a point but she also has done it in peoples’ faces. Subtle this princess is not. The last 2 days of school last week she ended up in time-out for the first time ever for throwing things. And not following directions but mostly it was the throwing. They have been teaching her to nod for yes and shake her head for no. The shaking her head she’s not quite gotten but the nodding she’s mastered (well, her version of nodding because Shelby does almost everything a little different). When I asked her if she was throwing things in class, she nodded. When I asked if she went to time-out, she nodded again. She’s definitely not stupid, that’s for sure. She knew what she was doing and she knew it was wrong.

Joseph has told me he loves being in AIG. He’s doing pull-out with a group and he enjoys the challenges of the activities they are doing. He’s also slamming doors and the office chair in his room. Because he could never be outdone by his sister… Apparently one slamming of the chair was on his bed which William witnessed. William said the chair bounced and “stuck the landing” which William found very impressive. (His description had Jeff and I rolling…that kid…)

Distraction. The devil has put a lot of it in my way. Maybe that’s what the Holy Spirit was telling me. Monday a student at Jeff’s school was killed crossing the street to get on the school bus. He wasn’t one of Jeff’s students, but some of Jeff’s kids were on the bus and witnessed the accident where a driver going the opposite direction failed to stop and struck the child (passing a stopped school bus is against the law either going around it or passing it from the other direction unless it is a 4 lane highway with a median). His funeral Mass was Friday at Church 2 of 3 and it’s hit out tight-knit community hard.  Many students and staff were absent or left early Friday. Jeff stayed to cover another teacher’s class (the funeral was during his planning period). The boys have said their teachers have gone over bus safety a few times in the last week. In the midst of all the tragedy, I’ve found myself in awe of a community where we support each other and there is always a shoulder to cry on, a hug to be given or received, and genuine care and concern when someone asks, “How are you doing?” Between the death of my mother-in-law and this student, I’ve witnessed God in some really amazing people caring for one another. In the prayers freely offered without asking as well as those given without question when asked, I have felt His immense love.

With every death there are questions. With my mother-in-law, my husband wondered why God allowed her to suffer in her last days rather than take her more quickly. With the death of this child, why God would take someone so young, so full of life, so good in an instant. This week I got my iPhone and have been hard-core listening to podcasts including Jennifer Fulwiler’s interview of Leticia Adams, whose son Anthony tragically took his own life on March 9. It is a hard listen, but trust me, very worth it. The questions for God and the anger and all the feelings…it brought me to today.

This Gospel…you know which one…John 11:1-45…

Martha and Mary had questions too. And they dared to ask them to Jesus. To His face. When I heard the Gospel this morning, I thought of Leticia going up to the Tabernacle and confronting Jesus. I realized that it’s really okay to tell Him that we know “there’s a plan” and all that but to acknowledge that sometimes…things just suck. Yeah, maybe it’s our human condition, but Jesus can take our pain and anger and frustration. He may not raise our Lazaruses from the dead, but He can take it and He does not hate us for it or resent it. And He wants us to give Him all of it because only He can heal it. Eventually.

I lost my phone but like Lazarus it was returned to me with something greater. My faith is bursting because I am aware of the distractions. And I know that my God is bigger than all the BS stuff that I put up with: the pain, aggravation and frustration. And when I collapse and say I can’t do this anymore, He’s cool with that. He won’t give me the answers necessarily, but He will hold me and let me cry til there are no more tears to be cried. And for the first time in my life, I can say that in all my brokenness,  it is well with my soul.