Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When Life Gives You Lemons, Start Reading Your Bible

Coffee Talkers!

Well, my hopes of writing every day were thrown out the window and that's okay. It's one of those times where I realized that the Lent I had planned out and the Lent that God had in mind were a bit different, and that I can accept that God's ways are better than my ways. Also, accepting the built-in sacrifices and penances of daily life is better than insisting that I "do my Lenten things," regardless of the needs of the people and reality of the situations around me.

Some unexpected trials popped up in these past days, and thankfully everything has continued to progress in a pretty manageable way. However, it makes me think of those extremely dark and difficult moments of life, which every person encounters sooner or later (or both), that well-meaning people start throwing out sayings like, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" or "God never gives us more than we can handle." The truth is, however, the lemons aren't always suitable for drinking and God frequently gives us more than we can handle on our own. That's why we have to rely on Him and on our brothers and sisters among our friends, family, and community of faith to help and sustain us!

Image result for bible and lemons

So instead of making lemonade or being upset when a trite saying is not enough to help us through our trials, let's take a look at the Scriptures to see what God has to say about our need to rely on Him and on the community of faith. Click here for ten Bible verses to get us started in our reflections on reliance on God and community.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,
Leslie

Monday, March 5, 2018

Not According to Plan...

Hello again, Coffee Talkers,

     Today was one of those days where things did not go quite as planned, and that always throws me off a bit. But it was also one of those days where, somehow, all of the "unplanned" moments ended up working out in an unexpected way and fitting together like a puzzle, as though someone else had a better plan than I did.
     Life is like that sometimes, isn't it? Both in the minutiae of day to day life, and in the big picture of our plans, we can ask God for the grace and presence to be aware of and to accept the ways that the Divine plan for our lives may be far different from what we imagined.
     This week, I will pray for an acceptance of God's will. At the beginning of each day, I will ask God for the grace to see situations and circumstances from the perspective of faith. At the end of each day, I will examine the ways that things that went differently than I had planned for and expected, and consider the ways that those unexpected or challenging moments opened up avenues of grace and mercy. What opportunities for spiritual growth did I embrace, and which ones did I miss? How will I do better tomorrow to accept God's will with joy in all circumstances?
     As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,
Leslie

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Don't Take It For Granted

Hello, Coffee Talkers,

     Today, I stopped off on my way to work to get some gift cards to help out a co-worker who is on medical leave for the rest of the school year. Over Christmas break they found a tumor, which they removed and discovered was cancerous. She's undergoing chemo treatments now. She's young and was in otherwise very good health. She has kids at home.
     This week, I will consider how helping others in a time of need develops my own sense of gratefulness for the things I have and my sense of empathy. I will make a list of at least ten things that I often take for granted, but that I now realize are a special grace and blessing from God that I have done nothing to deserve. I will give thanks to God for the good things in my life, and even thank Him for the trials and difficulties, knowing that the Paschal Mystery teaches me that out of the greatest suffering can be brought about mercy, redemption, and salvation.
     As always, thanks for stopping by and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,
Leslie

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Giving the Gift of Time

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

     My apologies for not writing as frequently as originally planned -- as I mentioned in a previous post, I no longer have a computer at home, and blogging on a mobile device is not working well at all without an app available for it. In any case, I'll continue to post whenever I'm able and hope that you all are Lenting along well with or without Coffee Talk!
     Yesterday I took a personal day off from work to join one of my children as they competed in a county wide school competition. I have never taken a personal day before except for school requirements and medical leave, and was even a bit reluctant to do so as I know I'll need the time when I'm on maternity leave at the beginning of next school year. However, I figured this was one of those special moments for my child which, as a teacher myself in a different school district, I rarely get to be a part of and figured I'd regret missing the day more than I would using up a personal day. After we finished, we headed home and I was able to spend the rest of the day with all of my kids before bed time. It was so refreshing and unexpected to have some quality down time with the kiddos on a day that would normally be packed with other responsibilities. I even colored with my older kids -- something I haven't done in ages -- and we had so much fun together! It was a great reminder to me that part of our Lenten "almsgiving" can be giving the gift of quality time to our loved ones. 


     Sometimes it's so easy to get caught up in all of the obligations of daily life that it's possible to lose sight of what's really important or why we do what we do. For example, if I really put God first, family next, and work third, it helps me remember that the whole reason that I do well at my work is to serve God and to serve my family. Some of us, who are of the more 'perfectionist' and/or 'workaholic' varieties, may find it hard to 'turn off' work even when we're home. We're physically near our family members, but not always truly present, as we check our e-mails and text messages and social media apps in case there's something that someone needs outside of our home. This week, I will choose a day to fast from non-work use of electronics, e-mail, and social media. I will also plan for a reasonable daily limit to my use of those things, and outside of that I will do my best to be completely present to the needs of those around me. I will put others interests ahead of my own, and let them choose what we do together instead of being too busy or concerned with my own pursuits.
     As always, thanks for stopping by and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,
Leslie

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Accepting Death — A Lenten Reality

Hello again, Coffee Talkers,

     Lent is a season for repentance, for accepting our own sinfulness and our own mortality, and for preparing for own inevitable deaths. This is why we start the season by marking our heads with ashes, while hearing this prayer: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Yes, our hope is in rising with Christ but before we can hope to rise with Him, we must die with Him. This is why, in full immersion baptisms, you can see the symbolism of being baptized into Christ’s death (the body is submerged into the water as Jesus was buried in the tomb) and coming back up again with new life (as Christ rose from the dead).
     There is a prayer from the Stations of the Cross, a popular Lenten prayer practice, in which we pray to accept our death. I believe that this particular reflection is from the Stations of the Cross by St. Alphonse’s Ligouri, although in the version I found here online there was no attribution, so please correct me if I am incorrect. In any case, the part of the prayer that struck me deeply and has stayed with me since I first heard and prayed it is this: “I accept in particular the death that is destined for me.” This entails not only my acceptance of the reality of my own mortality, but even the particular circumstances of my impending death “with all the pains that may accompany it,” trusting that God (being outside of time and being omniscient) already knows these circumstances and has His own purposes for them.
     How can I better prepare for my own death, both spiritually and materially speaking? How can I better prepare for my death (not knowing when it will be) so that I will be as prepared as possible in soul and in providing for the material needs of my family once I am no longer with them here on earth? Today I applied for additional life insurance for all of us. I’m no insurance salesperson, and I’m not suggesting that this is specifically what Lent is asking of us, but it was a realistic and tangible way that I can prepare for my own death and the death of my immediate family members so that it will be hopefully less burdensome to whoemever remains as they grieve the loss of someone close to them. Also, what are some ways that I can get my spiritual house in order? This week I will make a point to get to confession and to make prayer and sacraments a more frequent practice in my daily and weekly schedule.
     As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,
Leslie

Friday, February 23, 2018

On Gratitude and Seeing Through the Eyes of Faith

Hello again, Coffee Talkers!

     My apologies for not blogging yesterday, for anyone who noticed. The last time my personal laptop punked out on me I decided to not replace it and to just use computers at work, library, university, etc. Overall it’s been a great decision — it keeps me more present at home and more focused when I need to do computer work. Anyway, yesterday and today I didn’t have a chance to blog on a computer and I’ve discovered that there is not an app for Blogger on mobile devices, so I finally found a way to type this on my tiny phone with my giant fingers on Safari. I can barely see what I’m doing, so please forgive me for even more typos than usual!
     Some of my readers know that I’m currently working full time as a public school music teacher. My undergraduate degree is in music education and performance, but I didn’t decide to teach in the public school system until a few years ago. Since that time, I’ve been teaching on a temporary teaching permit while finishing up the credential program for my state licensure, and it’s been a long and trying process to say the least. But now that’s it’s finally nearing its end (I jumped the last major hurdle yesterday), I can already see some of the silver lining on some of those cloudy moments in the journey.
     It’s so, so hard for me in moments of difficulty to really trust that God has a reason for the trials in my life, even though in the end I always see God’s faithfulness. Sometimes there are people and situations that inadvertently do us harm, and other times it is deliberate. It seems hard to imagine that God could be present in those moments, or even allow those difficulties for a greater good or for some ultimate purpose.
     I think of the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Dude was having a really rough time — if memory serves, it was his  own brothers who had dumped him into a cistern and then sold him into slavery. Not cool at all. In time, the brothers found Joseph who, instead of giving them a piece of his mind for how they’d treated him, told them, “Even though you meant to harm me, God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Instead of holding their horrific behavior against them, Joseph forgave his brothers by seeing the situation through the eyes of faith, a perspective that actually made him even grateful for the good God had brought about through a very bad situation.
     This week, I will focus more on seeing difficult situations through the eyes of faith, and in being grateful to God in all circumstances even when I can’t see the good that may come from my present trials or adversities. I will thank God for all the good things He has done for me, and when others wrong me (inadvertently or deliberately), I will be quicker to forgive them and to thank God for whatever end He may have in mind from that particular difficulty.
     As always, thanks for stopping by and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,
Leslie

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

Welcome back, Coffee Talkers,

     Lent is a great time to meditate on the prayer that Jesus taught us, The Lord's Prayer, "Our Father." If you are looking for some reading materials to help you with this meditation, consider reading the beautiful passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Our Father.


     For today, I'd like to reflect briefly on the part of the prayer wherein we ask God the Father to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." It's easy to rattle off those words time and time again without really considering their implications, but when we really think about the meaning of this passage it becomes a bit mysterious. Why would we ask God to forgive us in the same way we forgive others? Especially for those of us who find it hard to not hold a grudge or to forgive someone who has wronged us multiple times, this doesn't seem like the most appealing option. Is Jesus saying that God can't forgive us if we don't forgive others, or that somehow God's endless mercy is dependent upon our forgiveness of someone who has wronged us?
     This passage helps us to realize that, while God's mercy does not rely on our own willingness to forgive, we cannot receive the mercy of God without a heart that is open to forgiveness and mercy. When we hold a grudge and refuse to offer forgiveness to another, we harden our own hearts and thus impede our own ability to receive and be healed by the merciful love of God the Father.
     This week, I will focus on being more quick to forgive and giving others the benefit of the doubt. I will apologize first, even in a situation where I believe that I am "right," because I want to put being in relationship above being right. I will consider all the ways that God has forgiven me, and all the ways that my friends and family members bear with my many imperfections. I will allow this self-knowledge and humility to guide me to a place of extending forgiveness in a difficult situation.
     As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,
Leslie

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Daily Aspirations - Prayers to Help You Through the Day

Hello again, Coffee Talkers,

     I hope you all enjoyed the long weekend (if you had one), and that you're ready to get back into the Lenten swing of things like I am! Today, I am going to write a bit about a simple way to fit more prayer into the routine and rhythm of our days. I know that many of us (especially parents and caretakers of little ones or the ill and elderly) don't have a lot of time to dedicate to quiet, uninterrupted prayer, and sometimes that may seem discouraging. One practice that I've found helpful is to incorporate aspirations - short prayers that can be committed to memory and prayed quickly and quietly any time, any place - to help center your day back into the presence of God and aid you in keeping a more prayerful mindset in the midst of the busy-ness of our daily lives.


     One of my favorite examples is "Jesus, I trust in You." Another is "Come, Holy Spirit." I find that if I pray these prayers, and especially if I'm mindful enough to pray one of them in place of some other less charitable interior response (in traffic, for example, or when dealing with a difficult person or situation), it helps me to center myself and remind myself of the presence of God with me in all circumstances. It also helps to keep me calm and slow my response time before possibly saying or doing something that I may later regret. Lastly, calling on God for assistance can change my perspective on the situation, allow me to sanctify my daily work (no matter how mundane or distasteful), and truly bring God's assistance to the situation. OurCatholicPrayers.com has provided a list of some aspirations here.
      As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,
Leslie

Friday, February 16, 2018

Not Turning Your Back On Your Own: The Corporal Works of Mercy

Hello again, Coffee Talkers,

     Today's daily Mass readings are short, but action packed with rich Lenten reflection materials! I'd like to comment briefly on a passage from the first reading, found in the 58th chapter of Book of the Prophet Isaiah. After mentioning that a day of quarreling, fighting, and carrying out our own pursuits is not exactly the fast or penance that the Lord had in mind, the prophet tells us what we should be doing instead:
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own. (Isaiah 58:6-7)
     This touches on the corporal works of mercy , those teachings of Jesus which instruct us in treating the least of his people as we would treat Him. These works include feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and prisoners, burying the dead, and giving alms to the poor. These are all very noble practices, and it's good to consider how we can up the ante of our corporal works of mercy during Lent. Some of these activities, of course, take some time and preparation -- for example, I used to volunteer as a visitor in ministry to the young men in the juvenile detention center in the high desert of Southern California. That took some time to get fingerprinted, trained, etc. Also, it may be a similar process to be a regular volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. These are really worthwhile outreaches to consider, but not all of us are at a time or place in life to do those things.
     However, the last line of the reading really touches on the one thing we can all do, right now, right away -- "not turning your back on your own." For example, my older kids are pretty self-sufficient in many ways but between them and our 18-month-old twins and a baby on the way, there's plenty of clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and giving drink to the thirsty to keep us busy for quite some time in my household! If I were to go out to visit the homeless, but to the detriment of my own family, this is not necessarily the fast or penance that the Lord desires. Yes, we can go beyond the scope of our own homes and families, but if we haven't met the needs there first then let's reprioritize. What are some ways I can be more present to the needs of my husband and children today? How can I meet the needs and extend care to my extended family members? What about my friends, and the people in my workplace? Are there needs that I can meet by making a sacrifice of my time, talent, and treasure?
     As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,
Leslie

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Shhhh... A Lenten Secret!

Hello again, Coffee Talkers!

     In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells us to pray and fast in secret. There are a few things about this passage that I've been reflecting on this morning. First, the secret part -- a lot of people say, "If you're supposed to be doing this all in secret, why the ashes on the forehead bit?" Well, ashes on the forehead is a sign of the beginning of a penitential season -- read more about the Biblical theology of ashes here if you'd like -- but we don't display ashes on our heads every day of Lent. There are lots of things about praying and fasting in secret that could be said here, but the one thing I want to focus on today is the fact that praying and fasting in secret makes it completely possible for anyone, anytime, and in any place, to participate in the practices of prayer and fasting, regardless of our external circumstances. I've had a few non-Catholic friends even ask me if it's okay to participate in some (or all) of the Catholic practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during this season when we recall Jesus' own fasting and prayer in the desert. The answer, of course, is yes! No one else needs to know, because "your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Mt. 6:18).
     Next, regarding prayer and fasting, I've been thinking today about how both of these practices are aimed at strengthening our reliance on the nourishment we need physically and spiritually from food and from God's Word. Lent is a time, therefore, to reevaluate our current relationship with food and with the intake of words or messages. When I say that we should examine our relationship with food, I don't mean in an Oprah-esque talk-show therapy kind of way, but rather to evaluate how we eat and to what extent we consider where the food comes from, how it nourishes our bodies, and to what extent we are grateful for the gift of food we have been given. This morning, this sight really brought to life the Scripture in which the Psalmist asks the Lord to "give success to the work of our hands."
Do I regularly appreciate the work, both Divine and human, that goes into producing the food I eat each day? Today, I'll give up one food that does not nourish the body well, and more thoughtfully eat and appreciate one that does.
     In terms of prayer, I now turn to my relationship with words and with God's Word. What kinds of words and messages do I take in each day, and to what extent do they give me upset or peace? How much do the words or messages offer me spiritual nourishment, or rob me of spiritual good? Today, I'll spend a few more minutes reflecting on the daily Bible readings from Mass, and a few less minutes scrolling through my Facebook feed.
     As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,
Leslie