A Year in Review

New Year’s Eve day…some people are getting ready to party tonight, some are thinking about the past year, some are making New Year’s resolutions. I’m doing all three.

I think about what a whirlwind year it was. We dealt with a lot of illness in the family. A lot of trips out of state to help with family members dealing with illness. Lots of work. Crazy calendars. “To do” lists that were pages long where only the top 3 items would get done each day. So many times, life seemed “out of control” – crashing down on us all at once. Many times it seemed to be too much to humanly handle.

As I look back, I realize that all of these overwhelming situations were, in fact, too much to humanly handle. We simply could not do it alone. We simply cannot do it alone. We can try, but it gets to be too much.

Patiently and persistently, God shows me that I don’t need to do it alone. I am not alone. He is here with me. He is here with each of us. We just need to trust Him.

And trust is so difficult. In fact, I am remarkably bad at trusting God, which is why, I think, He gives me so many opportunities to try and try again.

And, I’m really glad for these opportunities because every time I do let go and trust, amazing things happen. Amazing.

Amisdst the hardships of the year, there were amazing, incredible blessings – overwhelming, flowing-over blessings. And, every time they shone through, it was when I finally let go of control. At all those times, when I really could not humanly struggle any more, I saw what God was trying to do for me. And, when I let go and let Him take over, every single time, the results were beyond my wildest dreams.

Pope Francis, in his wisdom, reminds us, “If we can realize that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be! Everything is his gift. He is our strength!”

So, my resolutions this year are to try to recognize His blessings in all things, each day and to “let go and let God” – as much as I can, in every moment. To trust that He’s got it. To trust that He’s got me. I accept the abundance He is continually offering me. I accept His constant and unwavering love. And, I look forward to seeing what He’s got in store for the coming year!

pope francis on trust cropped

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Cross on my Mirror

A lot of people hang rosaries or crucifixes from their rearview mirrors. For a long time, I neglected this practice because I didn’t want to be distracted by something hanging by me while driving. After a couple of accidents though, I decided I could use some extra protection so I got a crucifix and hung it from my mirror.

Having the crucifix literally, always before my face, has provided some unexpected insights.

First, it’s hard to ignore Christ when he’s right there before you, hanging on the cross, reminding you of His sacrifice and of His love for you.

Second, the crucifix has become my barometer.  If I drive too fast, I have to slow down and hold onto the cross to stop it from swaying too wildly. The same is true when I cut corners or when the road is bumpy.

As I was driving this morning and a sunbeam illuminated the cross, I realized my experience with this cross is an allegory for the Christian life.  As Christians, we need to keep Him always before us – our eyes always fixed on Him. When we do, we remember his sacrifice and his love.  He steers us straight.

When we cut corners, He reminds us to steer clear.

When the road is bumpy, when life throws curve balls, when we don’t know the road ahead, He reminds us to hang onto the Cross.

And, at all times, He is with us. Christ present. Christ before us.

 

 “I keep the LORD always before me;

with him at my right hand, I shall never be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices;

my body also dwells secure,

For you will not abandon me soul to Sheol

nor let your devout one see the pit.

You will show me the path to life,

abounding joy in your presence,

the delights at your right hand forever. (Psalm 16)

The colors

My father used to work in the intelligence community. He says that there were a high number of Catholics in this community because they “knew how to follow the rules.” He also says they had a high rate of nebulous results on their lie detector tests – a fact that he and his friends always attributed to “Catholic guilt.”  Stressing over answers delayed their response times and would register as a “not quite the truth” response.

I was reading a study* this week about how the neurochemical mechanism of stress has been discovered.  Pharmaceutical companies are likely clamoring to create a drug to stop stress in its tracks.

The problem is, “stress” is a very broad term and it always points to an imbalance.  The triggering of the “fight of flight” mechanism always means something within the person needs to be addressed.  Sometimes this imbalance is, in fact, neurochemical and medications are helpful in addressing the imbalance. Muting stress without looking at the causes though, should not be an option. Maybe it will be an option someday, but it certainly isn’t a viable option. Our bodies were created with beautiful precision.  If we are experiencing stress, we need to examine our whole self – body, mind, and spirit – to discover and address the reason for the stress.

Stress almost always reveals some form of suffering.

Saint Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Dolores (SD), spoke most eloquently to the unavoidable presence of suffering in the human condition.  Having suffered deeply and personally through the loss of his mother at a young age and as a young person growing up surrounded by the atrocities of the Holocaust, he wrote as a veritable expert on the subject of suffering.

The concept of “salvific suffering” reminds us that although suffering in life is unavoidable, Christ stands with us in our suffering.  It does not call us to go out and seek suffering.  Nor, does it call us to not address the suffering if there is a remedy for it.  Yes, we strive to suffer through with God’s grace, to offer our suffering for the pains of others, but not just to suffer without purpose or end.  “Salvific suffering” helps give meaning to and make some sense of suffering, yes, but to seek it out or endure it endlessly without seeking assistance, no.

Many years ago, I was telling my spiritual advisor of some personal suffering. In his wisdom he said something that stuck with me through the decades, he said, “Rebecca, you are not Christ. Let Christ be Christ. Give it to Him.” “In the cross of Christ not only is Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed” (SD 19).

In Catholicism, we are also taught that our bodies “are the temple of the Holy Spirit.”  If there is a smoke signal going out, if the temple is “under-siege,” should we just let the temple burn?  Stress is a “smoke signal” that points to a pressure upon – a potential or actual brokenness of some part of the person. We are called to save the temple and respect our own human dignity as children of God.

Children of the living God.  Children of a God who calls us to fullness of life.

Christ died and took all of the sins of the world upon Himself.  Through his own suffering he offered us the resurrection.  New life.  Bright life.  Full-of-joy-life.

The term “self-care” has floated around the counseling community since the late ‘80’s.  Unfortunately, many people think that “self care” is an indulgence or luxury.  At a most basic level though, it is an important response to stress.  It is our responsibility to take care of the temple.  When we feel stress we need to look into ourselves and look for the cause – is it in the body, mind, or spirit?  We often need help with this, from an objective point of view – be it a physician, counselor, priest, spiritual director.  These people can help us find the brokenness and put us on the path to healing.

But, they can only help us along the path. We need to take the first steps and then keep plodding along the journey.  It may not be an easy journey. It definitely would be easier if there were an “anti-stress” pill to pop.

In the Gospel, even Christ’s own friends didn’t recognize him after the resurrection.  In their sadness, they plodded along not recognizing that it was He who was right beside them. It was not until He “opened their eyes” that they recognized Him.  While we are entrusted with the care of our own temples, it is He who will open our eyes.  Let us always strive to take care of our temples, to ask Him to heal our whole selves – body, mind, and spirit – and to open our eyes to the beauty of the colors around us.

The problem with that “anti-stress pill” is that, if we take the pill, we won’t get to see the colors at all.

And the colors are brilliant….worth every plodding step.

*http://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-11-trigger-stress-brain.html