Which path will you choose?

“Never say or do anything until you have asked yourself whether it will be pleasing to God, good for yourself, and edifying to your neighbor.” St Ignatius of Loyola

In discernment, there are always two paths. One leads to God’s will and the other to your will. Which will you choose? And how do you know which is which?

I think these two paths can be broken down into more paths in the decision making. Each can have a variety of answers aligned with God’s will or your will; but there are always two main paths.

Today is the feast day of St Ignatius of Loyola. St Ignatius started the society of Jesus and is also known for his spiritual exercises. In his spiritual exercises, he teaches his pupils to meditate in prayer, seeking indifference, to contemplate their feelings and to ponder the spiritual movement of those feelings.

Why feelings? Our feelings tell us what our deepest desires are. If God has control over our desires and He places them in our hearts, then we should search our deepest desires for direction. Just as in the picture above where a red flower has grown in the center of the trees between the two paths, God is at the center of our being. When we have feelings that are joyful, satisfying, fulfilling that gives us life coming from this core, then we know with no uncertainty those are from God. The choices in life that produce these feelings within that center are from God. This, my friends, leads us to the path aligned with the will of God.

What happens if I choose the other path, the path of my will? Will I be struck down by lightening? Will God be disappointed in me? By no means will God bring wrath upon you or discontent. There are no wrong paths as long as they do not involve sin. God will walk with you no matter the path. A wise person told me the flower in the middle of the path can also represent that God will bring fruition on both paths, whichever we choose.

Why discern if God will bring fruition upon either path? I think it is important to search and make the best choice. Perhaps in doing so, one will bring more joy and peace in fulfilling the will of God and the other less. One will be more life giving than the other, yet God is still present in both.

As you discern your life choices, don’t forget to include God in your discernment. Don’t forget to search deep within to identify with your deepest desire and ponder the feelings that bring exuberant life.

Your measuring stick or God’s?

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!” St. Catherine of Siena

Do you carry around a measuring stick?  Is your measuring stick perfection?  Or is your measuring stick someone else?  Are you constantly pulling it out and measuring yourself against it?  When you don’t measure up, do you beat yourself up over it?

Food for thought and a real struggle for many of us.

I guarantee I’ve been pulling mine out a lot.  One of the toughest job roles I have is being a mom.  This is the role I pull out my measuring stick the most to compare against.  In this role, I feel I have to be perfect.  Why?  Because God entrusted these two souls into my care.  There is one person that knows my parenting better than my kids.  She can attest that I evaluate my parenting style and if it isn’t working I adjust.  At the end of the day, I still do not meet the measuring stick of perfection and it leaves me feeling I am not good enough.

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The Blessed Mother, Mary, is the ideal mother.  She exhibits total trust in God.  She is a very humble and loving mother to our Lord and to us as her spiritual children.  She is the role model that I look to as a mother.  My own relationship with my mother hasn’t been the greatest and there are a lot of things about mothering that I don’t quite get or understand.  Often I feel like I am treading water with my good intentions of teaching my children to love God above all things, read the Bible, practice their faith, be respectful, accountable, honest and kind.  Then there are these moments of affirmation in things my girls say or do that confirm I don’t have to be perfect in my sense of perfection, according to my measuring stick.  I only have to fulfill the things that God asks me to do as their mother and allow Him to do the rest.  When I do as He asks me, I am fulfilling this role in perfection, in God’s perfection – not my ideal measuring stick I have tucked away.

I always have to chuckle at God’s hidden messages.  I had started writing this last night and this morning I read a memory on my Facebook page from 2013 where I was reflecting, at the pond at work, what my oldest daughter had told me.  She had told me that she told her friends that God made everything perfect, even the trees.

I think children hold the secrets to life sometimes.  If even the trees are perfect then so am I.  I think the key to that perfection is conforming to God’s will in my life, just as the trees conform to all God provides.

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As my role as a mother, there are two most important things that I can do for my children in conforming to that will and that is to teach them to love God above all things and to look to Him for guidance in making the right choices.  If I instill these two values in them, everything else doesn’t really matter.  They will make mistakes and I will make mistakes but if we always come back to those key learnings, our life will be perfect, perfect in conformity to God and not a measuring stick in my pocket.

This applies to all things in our lives, not just our roles in life.  Often we have trouble loving ourselves because we compare ourselves to others or perfect ideals on our measuring sticks.  We only see our faults and never feel good enough.   Our flaws are like neon signs and they tend to take away any peace that Jesus has given us.  Today, chunk your measuring stick of PERFECTION in the trash.  Tell yourself you will not pull it out again.  Look within at the person God  created you to be and place your trust in Him, conforming to all He has in store for you and that is where you achieve PERFECTION.  You are perfectly made to love and be loved.  Don’t let lies of the enemy tell you any different.

Toxicity in relationships

“So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  Ephesians 6:14-17

Are you a victim of a toxic relationship?  Have you been a victim of a toxic relationship?

In the chemical industry, toxicity is always a concern with certain chemicals.  We are always made aware of the toxicity of the things we work with and how to safely handle them through labels or safety data sheets. In some cases, we have to put on layers of protective equipment to protect us from exposure to the toxic chemical.  It is the awareness that something is toxic that triggers our response to protect ourselves with additional safety gear.

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In relationships, we often don’t receive this awareness.  There are no labels or documents that come with the people we are engaged in a relationship with. The toxicity is not revealed until we are embedded in the relationship.  In some cases, as with a family member, it has always been a part of our life.  And in many instances, it goes unrealized, it’s just normal.

What does a toxic relationship look like? Webster defines toxic as containing poisonous material that is capable of death. If you have been in or are in a relationship with a spouse, a friend, or a family member and you feel they are draining the life out of you, there is a high probability you were in or still are in a toxic relationship.

So, how do you deal with toxicity, especially with people you love? How do you protect yourself from the poison that is capable of death, death of your spirit?  Perhaps the answer is the armor of God?

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What do you think the armor of God is that is mentioned in Ephesians 6:14-17?  I think the armor of God that is stated in Ephesians is Jesus, the truth that gives us righteousness through His love and His peace that no one can take away.  It is our faith in this truth, love and peace and it is the Holy Spirit that guides us in the word of God, establishing our faith in Christ.

You may say, okay that’s nice.  I get that but how does this help me in my toxic relationship or dealing with the affects of a past toxic relationship?

If the relationship is life threatening, seek help.  You may need to leave the relationship. 

If the relationship is causing spiritual death or has caused spiritual death, start in prayer.  Seek God’s help.  Pray for the person and forgive the person.  Embrace the word of God by reading the Bible.  Embrace the forgiveness and love of Christ.  Soak up Christ’s peace through the Eucharist and know that the person cannot take this away unless you allow them to.  Become a warrior with the armor of God on and  the army of your community supporting you on the battlefield in prayer.

We alone cannot fight toxicity but God can do it for us.  It is our faith and trust in Him that allow us to wear His armor and shield our hearts from the venom present in the relationship.  Don’t allow toxicity to poison you and cause spiritual death within you.  Protect yourself with “the armor of God”.

Are you treading the muddiness of life or seeking life giving springs?

“Change is life giving. It helps us grow into someone greater than we already are.”

This morning as I walked along the pond at work before starting my morning, I noticed murky water surrounding the outer boundaries of the pond. As I asked God to reveal himself to me along my walk, I peered towards the fountain towards the center of the pond. As my eyes moved towards the center, I noticed the water wasn’t as murky.

As I continued to walk, I began to contemplate my exterior and interior being. Just like the outer realm of the pond, there are things on the external that muddy my life, causing confusion and lack of clarity. When I gazed towards the fountain, I could see the life giving springs at the core of who I am. That spring is God Himself living within me. I can choose to go to this core and clear up the murky waters or I can choose to live on the exterior treading through the muddiness of life.

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Of course God didn’t stop there out at the pond.  As I entered the building, on the wall I noticed a poster hanging that said “Change is life giving. It helps us grow into someone greater than we already are.”  Funny – this poster has probably hung in this same spot since I’ve worked at this campus the past 10 years.  I have walked past it quite a number of times and never really realized the words printed on it.  Yet, today as I’m reflecting on the gradient changes in the pond, I see this poster and realize the words on it are more food for thought for me in this very moment.  You think it was a God moment?  You bet it was.

I asked myself what does it mean to me to go to that center, that living water that resides within me and each of you?

  1. Asking God to desire Him, to desire holiness, to desire life.
  2. Receiving the graces He offers us.
  3. Change.

I’ve been reading “Finding God in all things: A Companion to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, by William Barry, S.J.  In the book, he points out that our desires are not under our control.  If we are unhappy with what we desire, then we must ask God to change or help us overcome those desires.  It is only through our realization that God is in control of our being, even our desires, that we can request to desire Him first, to desire sanctity and this life giving water.

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Once we have the desire for this life giving water, then we will search out and take part in that which offers us grace – the Sacraments, the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  I believe when we receive the graces God offers us, we begin a transformation within us that is life giving and brings us into the core of who we are in Christ.  This starts with our conversion but doesn’t end there.  The more we are open to receiving the gifts God offers us through this living spring within us, the more change we undergo and the greater God illuminates through us, revealing Himself to others.  This is our call to discipleship, to building the Kingdom of God.  My friends, the greatest vision I have had is to look upon another sister or brother in Christ and see Jesus looking back at me through that person.  Over the years, there have been many sisters and brothers that have reflected the very essence of Christ in my presence through their unending love, compassion and mercy.  Today, that is our challenge, in a world full of brokenness, to reflect the image of Christ from the core of our being onto our brothers and sisters, especially those that hurt us the most.

Seeing God in all things

Is your heart open to receiving God?  Is your mind open to allowing Him to reveal Himself to you?  Are your eyes and ears open to seeing and hearing Him around you?

God is present in all things, I have no doubt about that.  He has revealed Himself to me in so many things, small things on the ground, on my windshield, in a person, in a hug, in a book, and through life of the animals and plants around me.  I have written a lot about seeing God in all things.  I want to share an experience I had where God revealed Himself through the Bible and nature.

As I was looking for something, I ran across something in a journal that I had written during a weekend I spent at a Bed N Breakfast two years ago.  I decided to just sit with my Bible on the porch, read and reflect. I flipped to my favorite Psalm, Psalm 139, read it, placed my Bible down, and asked the Holy Spirit to reveal to me what God wanted me to see.  I never imagined what God had in store.  The pages in my Bible flipped.  I picked it up and read something, jotted it down.  Put the Bible back down and the wind turned the pages again, so I picked it back up and jotted the verses I read.  This went on for quite some time.  The most interesting part of it all was that what I was jotting down was in sync with what I was seeing and hearing around me as I peered in the distance from the view of the porch.  This Bed N Breakfast has become a spiritual encounter for me each time I spend a weekend there.  This is my spot to connect with God through nature.  Through this place and what I have learned over the years from the teachings of St. Ignatius, I find that God reveals Himself to us in so many things throughout our day.  It’s just a matter of opening our minds, heart and eyes.  I want to share what I wrote, a composite of all the verses I read.

Why do I seek You Lord when You are with me.  You sit beside me.  You hold me and comfort me.  You rest Your hand upon me.  From Your presence I cannot flee.  You are all around me.  (Psalm 139:5, 7)  I hear a melody as You whisper to my heart a new song, a song of love.  (Psalm 144:9)  I see the birds of Heaven perched in a tree.  Among the branches, he sings a melody.  I know this is meant for me, to know that You are near, that You are singing to my heart.  Your melody is found in the chimes of the wind as You turn the page of Your Word, speaking to my heart.  You tell me You guard my steps by day and my sleep by night for You never slumber nor sleep.  I find rest in knowing Your hand will guard me from the enemy.  (Psalm 144:4,7)  For You tell me that You are my Father, I am Your daughter.  You are the Rock of my salvation.  (Psalm 89:27)  You fill me with Your mercy as I am poor and needy. (Psalm 109:22)  You give me food for my soul as I marvel in Your wondrous works.  For great are Your works, majestic and glorious. (Psalm 111:2-3)  The trees sparkle like fluttering butterflies as they dance to Your harmony.  The birds are so carefree as they spread their wings and are lifted to the Heavens.  My mind is in awe as I watch the light of Your presence sweep across the grass like a lamp for my feet guiding my path. (Psalm 119:105)  Your hand is my compass as it brushes the grass saying follow me.  The wind is Your messenger guiding my journey, never fleeing and always patient.  Your light is a cloak covering my soul.  The clouds are Your chariot on the wings of the wind lifting my heart and my soul to a place of rest in Your presence. (Psalm 104:1-4)

As the pages were turning in my Bible and I was jotting down verses and taking in everything around me I noticed a few things.  I observed, a bright colorful cardinal perched in a nearby tree, a beautiful coat of red contrasting the leaves of the tree.  I heard songs of the birds as I listened attentively.  I knew this song was for me to hear, to know God was near, present in the melody.

In the distance, I watch as the light and the shadows brushed the meadow.  The winds moved the grass as if God’s hand was gliding over it.  The light moved across the field followed by a shadow, as if the chariot of the clouds was traveling ‘on the wings of the wind.’  The view, the sounds and the verses I read all made sense.  God was speaking to me through the wind.  The Holy Spirit was turning the pages of the Bible and my eyes and ears were drawn to things surrounding me to let me know that this was meant for me to hear and to see, to feel God’s presence, to know He was with me always guiding and protecting me.

The last verses I read as I sat on that porch were:

  • “Teach us to count our days aright that we may gain wisdom of heart,” Psalm 90:12.
  • “Fill us at day break with Your mercy that all our days we may sing for joy,” Psalm 90:14.
  • “If only I had wings like a dove that I might fly away and find rest.  Far away I would flee; I would stay in a desert.  I would soon find a shelter from the raging wind and storm,” Psalm 55:7-9
  • My message to you my friends as I write this is that we never journey alone. God is with us in each moment, in the subtlety of life. Ask Him today to reveal Himself to you. Open your heart, mind, eyes and ears to receive Him. Perhaps in your path, you will see a cross on the sidewalk from the formation of pine needles or the warmth of air will brush your face in a moment of need. In these moments, He is letting you know He’s there.
  • Do you desire holiness?

    Before writing these blogs, I try to seek God’s guidance because He knows this audience better than I do. He knows what that one person needs to read to grow closer to Him. In doing so, I pray about what to write and try to be in tune through out my day on anything God may be directing my focus towards. I do believe this technique is how we should each discern God’s will for us in all that we do.

    Somedays I see, hear or feel nothing that God is placing before me to write about and other days like today I see connections that I know are not coincidences.  This morning, I flipped a devotion on my desk to today’s date – about a week of flipping, because I do not look at it everyday. The devotion was about holiness. Stormie Omartian the author of The Power of a Praying Woman writes, “God has made a way for us to live in holiness. And He is able to keep us Holy. When our heart wants to live in purity and do the right thing, God will keep us from falling into sin. It is only by the grace of God that we can live in holiness, even after we have chosen to do so. That’s because God enables us to do what He asks us to do. But we still need to ask Him to do it.”

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    When I read this, a conversation I had with a beautiful sister in Christ struck me. Just yesterday, I was in a “funk.” I was being the victim. I was needing to vent a little, share my heart a little – just needed a listening being. My friend, whom God has given a gift to nurture others, received my victim mode – for that I am grateful. In the midst of my rambling, I shared with her how I was praying and she made a comment of me being “holy.” I think I had a burst of laughter – thinking to myself, me holy? In fact, I responded, “not really, just found many years ago that my relationship with God is key to life.”

    When I examine myself, my life, there is no way I can see myself as being holy. I strive to do what’s right. I feel I’m grounded in my relationship with God. Yet, I sin, I fall, I complain when things don’t align with me, and I’m selfish. My list goes on and on why I cannot achieve holiness.  The slow learner that I am did not realize that my response stated two things my lack of belief in my ability to be holy and my relationship with God that is key to my holiness.  I have heard and read that anyone can achieve sanctity and that is our primary goal as children of God so why do I not see myself as being holy or capable of holiness?

    I think God has many lessons for us to learn. Those lessons involve His grace so that we can be open. And this is where my lesson on holiness began this morning. When I read this devotion, I realized that holiness is not a perfection. I’m going to falter. I’m going to fill the victim role at times but it’s God’s grace and my desire to receive it that grounds me in holiness, creating the role as victor in my life. It is ‘my relationship with God’ that brings holiness upon me, not my faults.

    Friends, holiness is our strive to see, hear and follow God’s will for us. It is the grace He gives us to do what’s right. It is seeking Him in prayer and the Sacraments to receive this grace freely offered to us. It is in this grace that we receive all we need to align with His will, making it easier to avoid temptations of sin and be righteous. It is here that we are not the victim but the victor and arise to holiness.

    Do you desire holiness? Do you embrace your relationship with God above all things? Are you open to hearing Him throughout your day so that your will aligns with His? My dear friends, I think this is our journey to holiness.

     

     

    Journey through the desert

    Take a journey with me. Let’s walk along a path that seems to have no foot steps in front of us. Perhaps there have never been any or perhaps they have been covered up by the sands.

    There is nothing living among the path we walk, everything appears to lack life. As we walk, let’s look at the moments in our journey that did not bring life into us. Look at them closely. Is there anything you can learn from those moments that will breathe life in you today? Something present that will help you with a trial, tribulation or a feeling of unrest?

    Walk along this desert floor and feel the heat of each of these moments. Feel the dryness of your faith. Do you thirst for God as you trodden this warm, sand filled land? Do you see a mirage of your Heavenly Father before you inviting you to sift through the sands of the desert in your life, to draw closer to Him by offering these feelings to Him, bringing life upon you? Or do you see a mirage of something that isn’t from God, tempting you to turn back and dwell in the journey behind you suffering death within, clouding your vision to move forward – to see God in the moments of hurt and pain? Which mirage will you turn to? Which one draws you near?

    You continue to walk along this journey and notice above your head there appears to be a dove. He flys just in front of you. You have to glance upward to see him. You wonder what is a dove doing in the middle of the desert. Yet you feel an exuberant amount of peace. Could it be the dove’s presence? Can you feel his guidance along your path? Follow him. See where he takes you.

    It looks like he is guiding you to a spring ahead? It appears to be a spring of life giving water. Is it another mirage tempting you? Or is it a spring from your Heavenly Father inviting you to dive in His love, accept the grace He has given you? Will you drink from it? Will you dive in? Or will you pass it by because your vision is cloudy and the reality of the spring has been covered up by your conscience?

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    It is your choice to drink from the spring of life to come to the table and receive the Eucharist, the life giving body and blood of Christ. It is your choice to dive into the moments of desolation, the moments when God feels distant and search for His presence, His invitation. It is your choice to allow Him to bring life into your being or remain in the desert of death. Which choice will you make today? God will draw close to you in the desert filling you with a spring of life.