“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There is a season for each of us in our roles throughout our lifetime. After I had my baby, I remember a friend saying the days are long but the years are short. As a child, I remember my mother saying she couldn’t believe how fast time goes the older you got.
The older I get, the more I see the wisdom in these words throughout different seasons of my life. Part of this current season includes seeing my parents begin to age. I begin to feel a sense of urgency to talk to them more often, twinged with some regret from the times that I took them for granted, was too busy to pick up the phone when they would call, or laugh at their lack of ‘tech skills’. I value every conversation a bit more. A lot more really.
We know that one of the Ten Commandments is to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12). This is a key element of God’s instructions for us. I remember memorizing this for a religion test at school. These words have now become alive, have flesh on them, as I age and wish for time to now slow down so I can breathe in every experience now. As God’s children, we can ask Him to love us through these seasons and feel His grace, for every purpose under heaven. Can you ask Jesus to accompany you through your own season of life?
My 22nd wedding anniversary is coming up. We mark our time typically in the calendar year and rely on the anticipation and enjoyment of special events, special seasons and of course, anniversaries. Some of these anniversaries can be positive but some can be a reminder of sorrow or loss as well. I recently read that our physical bodies can ‘remember’ anniversaries even if we are not consciously aware. As we come up to the one year anniversary of the covid response, we may be feeling overly worn out, anxious, and overcome.
We travel through life not knowing what the future may bring. I can plan and sometimes those come to fruition, but the older I get the more I see that God’s plan is, and always has been, THE plan. Jesus is accompanying us throughout our days, our weeks, our years and beyond. Jesus knows our ‘anniversaries’ of what has been.
He walks beside us through the highs and lows of life: the celebrations (peaks) and the times of sorrow or despair (valleys). Technically, we only have the present. God has told us that He is the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Not I was. Not I will be. He is here. Now. Beside us. Let God sit with you in your own valley if that is where you are. Let him rejoice with you on the peaks. Can you feel Him now?
Recently, two close friends of mine were able to adopt a child. There was so much that went into this process but the end result made all of the work worthwhile. What an honor it has been to be an active spectator witnessing the joy, excitement, commitment, and obvious immediate love and genuine acceptance I saw in this family. It was so pure and had a holy element to it. I not only saw the couple, but countless friends, family, extended family and parish community come to celebrate the gift that this child is and would be to their family.
As I reflected on this one day, I was reminded of some scripture that speaks of us being God’s ‘adopted sons and daughters’ and the imagery made more sense to me now. We read in Ephesians Chapter 1 verse 5 that, “In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will…Under this belief, we are all equals in the eyes of God and He has called us worthy.” We too, are adopted people, children of Abba Father. We are the ones who have, through no doing of our own, been accepted into the family of God, through our baptism. If we see the human excitement and celebration over this one child being adopted into a family, we cannot even fathom the joy by our Heavenly father when we ourselves were welcomed to His family.
God’s word mentions this many times, but we are reminded in Matthew 18:5 that “Whoever receives one child in my name receives me.” As an ‘adopted child’ myself, I am grateful to be so loved in my family of God.
As I sit down to write this blog post, I feel as though this, and every other thing that I am attempting to do, is akin to trying to live my daily life walking through water. Every movement seems harder and slower. Every decision seems harder and slower. Mundane tasks that would have required little to no mental effort before seems like a mountain to climb. I am here, in relative isolation of the pandemic, dealing with personal grief. Recently, my only living sibling died suddenly and this reality has hit me like a two by four, taking me out at the knees.
Most people have already or will experience this situation of a close family member dying. The reaction of friends, family and colleagues meant so much to me though – much more than I had expected. It is like feeling one hundred percent gutted and one hundred percent loved/supported all at the same time. What an odd space within which to exist. To sit with. To feel Gods’ presence in. To feel those prayers that many people have promised and offered up for my consolation. To witness in real time and space the love, service, prayers, check-ins, and food deliveries that are the working hands and feet of Jesus Christ serving me in my pain. What a gift! The words of scripture that I have read, prayed, sung, said to others are now existing within me in a palpable way: “Come to me all who are heavily burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Thank you, Jesus, for letting me rest in you. Can you allow Jesus to give you a place with which to rest today?
It’s February. It’s cold. The joy and wonder of Christmas has worn away with the scraping of the driveway for the thirtieth time this winter. February can be a tough month for some in general and our spirits can begin to sag. We may need something to shake us from the ‘winter doldrums’. There are sinful, negative parts of my life that I want to cast off, to die, to allow a new habit or way of being a disciple in the world. This portion of a Lenten prayer from Henry Nouwen speaks to this desire.
“How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death? Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess…. I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen.”
Having a fresh start, officially on both the calendar and in our faith lives can be just what we need to move our hearts and minds to a new focus; not on our own fluctuating feelings, but on the internal life that we need to foster with Jesus. Whether we think I have the will to move past these winter blues, Christ and the Holy Church supports us in this continuous journey forward on our road to the glorious resurrection, ultimately.
I was scrolling through Facebook last week and I saw a beautiful fall picture with leaves collected in open hands. The quote read, “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.” Somehow, that spoke to me, right at that time, at this season, right in this place in my life. Letting go is usually held in a negative light: having to let go of a loved one as they pass away, let go of a dream that may not come to fruition, letting go of a job or position you had hoped to get. This message was saying the opposite. It was in fact, ’lovely’, to let things go.
That got me contemplating the divine and the example of Jesus in our world. Jesus let go all the time. He had few worldly goods of which to speak, let go of all worldly comforts during his forty days in the desert, and ultimately, letting go, obediently as he called out to God on the cross in desperation. Sometimes, God may be calling you to let things go in your own life, within a positive context. Is God possibly calling you to let go of resentments, past hurts or anger, an unhealthy attachment to material goods, a habitual sin? Isaiah 43:18-19 tells us, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
I encourage you, in this season of fall, as you may catch the glimpse of a falling leaf, to remember that “the trees are showing us how lovely it is to let things go”. Ask Jesus to help you and rest in the act of letting go.
I recently attended a funeral for a person that died very suddenly and unexpectedly. We attended the funeral service: a wonderful service and there were many people there to celebrate his life. What struck me this, was that in the end, there was one collage of pictures, one table of artifacts that were important to that person (a guitar, a hat, a water bottle, a hockey stick, etc.), and one hour of recalling the key points of their life with a few stories thrown in. After that, most people who attended move forward for the most part (with those closest still grieving of course).
We sometimes live our lives, worrying, fretting, complaining, catastrophizing situations, getting overly upset over situations, what someone said (or didn’t say), our plans, our influence (or lack thereof), our short term and long term plans that happen (or don’t). After all of our lives, our toil, our concerns, our efforts, we all end up with one collage, one table of artifacts, one hour of formal memories. This really bothered me and my spouse wisely said, all of the good we do, the prayers carried out through us, the evangelizing we do to bring others closer to Jesus, is what lives past that table, that collage, that one hour. That is how we live on with eternal ripples in the world for Christ. It has reshaped how I look at things (at least for now). I challenge you to live each day to create positive ripples that will live past you and your earthly time. Mother Teresa wisely said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
We are very excited to embark on a new initiative at our school with all of our grade five teachers and their students. This initiative was in response to the rise in students’ rate of generalized tension/anxiety and an inability to quickly get back to work during and after transitions. In other words, we wanted to try to support students to focus, calm down, and get meaningfully engaged in the classwork more quickly and easily.
Our school, like many, has embraced the “Zones of Regulation” and has a school wide language embedded in our discussions and understandings. Part of the use of “Zones” is to support and guide students into the ‘green zone’ to be able to learn and participate optimally in classwork and interactions. This ‘green zone’ is said to be optimal as it describes students who are calm, alert, engaged, focused and ready to be on task, both internally and externally. As a school, we decided that this new initiative on ‘mindful breathing’ fit perfectly with our school’s ‘Zones work’ as one more strategy to help students get to this green zone.
As a grade level, the learning time lost during and after transitions was identified as a concern. This ‘mindful breathing’ strategy was brainstormed and we had a meeting to get it started. We met with grade level partners, administration, the school psychologist and the inclusive education coach. It was decided that three times a day, when needed, each teacher would lead a two- minute guided breathing exercise with a pre-set script (from you tube or from the script directed by the teacher). Students would then follow the short prescribed breathing and theoretically, be ready to engage more productively. We are hopeful and eager to gather the post data to compare the differences. This two- minute investment, we expect, will pay off in dividends with more on task work time and higher quality interactions.
Before beginning the actual practice of mindful breathing, times were recorded of transition time and engagement time were recorded to attain a baseline. After the baseline information was collected, the staff addressed the students about the new initiative and its intent. A class survey was given based on the students’ own perception of the issue, their own perceived levels of engagement and their awareness of strategies to help them exist in the ‘green zone’ at school. This same survey will be given to the students again after the initial weeks of the program.
The hypothesis is that by highlighting, discussing, and teaching a relaxing, focusing breathing strategy and using it with the students consistently throughout the day for five weeks (trial time), we will see the time lost in transition decreased and the engagement time increase. Five weeks was the time period that we chose to check to see if the strategy was having a positive effect for students. A positive by-product of the use of this relaxation/focusing strategy would be that students may see this as a tool that they can apply in other areas of their lives (home, community, extracurricular events, etc.). Students would begin to see the inherent value of having this specific breathing technique to self-regulate and focus their bodies and minds.
This initiative was shared at the onset with parents of all grade five students to help explain the idea behind it and serve to answer any initial questions or concerns that parents may have. A common message went out to all grade five parents and was well received. This is another way to build a positive home/school connection by sharing information and strategies that may be helpful for families as well. Our motto is that ‘you cannot over-communicate’.
Another related action that the school is undertaking to creatively engage our PCS team members is to have one of our psychologists host an evening presentation for parents (all parents welcome) to highlight and define anxiety for students and families. We have had great interest in attending and parents are keen to learn more about this issue and how they can better support their children in this area and related areas. This PCS member gave a similar presentation at a staff meeting this past year as staff are not immune from stress or anxiety themselves. Taking a mindful breathing break was welcomed, honestly, as opposed to ‘one more thing added to a full plate’.
We see this targeted, attainable initiative as one more way to build the tool box for students in order to help them engage and relax more quickly and effectively after a short transition. Although we are only beginning with the grade five classes, if successful, we hope to grow the strategy to other classrooms in the school. By collecting ‘hard data’ on its effectiveness, we hope to share this ‘mindful breathing’ with others. Having the entire class take a collective ‘breather’ will only serve to enhance the overall regulation of the students. This is just one intentional way to build the staff and students’ ‘tool box’ of self- regulatory strategies but we hope to build this naturally into the school day long term if successful.
We made an inevitable trip to the dump after our spring-cleaning blitz at home this spring. At the time, I had no idea that it would have some spiritual relevance a few days later, but that is how creatively that God can work in our hearts and minds. The most mundane experiences can be transformative into deeper and meaningful insights. That is the joy of being a human being and open to the gifts that God can bring into the humdrum life that is the majority of our day-to-day living. In this case, God was blessing me with an insight through my own child who is seemingly much more prone to finding the sacred in the ordinary than me.
Our son had come to the dump with us that day and had not mentioned any reaction in particular at the time. That same Saturday evening, we participated in the sacrament of reconciliation and then went to mass. Upon returning to our seat after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, my son looked up at me and said, “Jesus must be so happy going into our body and soul tonight because we just went to confession and there is no dirt or junk in us tonight. It’s like we don’t want to deliver Jesus to the dump if we still have all that sin inside of us. We cleaned our soul out and its ready for him now!”
Wow – what a powerful visual that I had never quite considered like that before. How many times have I received Jesus in the Eucharist and had less than a clean place for him? Are we working to create a space worthy for Jesus to enter? This was an excellent reminder about the importance of regularly participating in the sacrament of reconciliation as we also regularly receive communion.
Do you think there is any spring-cleaning you feel called to do internally? Can you use the sacrament of reconciliation as a way to help you do this?
Oh the first weeks of January…such a unique opportunity for renewal in any way that I choose after careful contemplation and reflection upon the last 365 days of my life! I try to examine my life in categories: physical health/choices, emotional & mental status, and of course, my spiritual life. Admittedly, my first inclination was to consider mostly my physical health with ideas on how the next 365 days will be decidedly better. I saw a quote recently while scrolling through many ‘Happy 2019’ messages on social media that said, “Our hope is not in the new year, but in the One who makes all things new”.
I repeated it slowly and deliberately to myself a few times; it moved me in a special way. It is not by our own volition that we re-invent ourselves but in the recognition that Jesus alone can make us ‘new’. How did I decide to live this out? I went to the sacrament of reconciliation and was ‘made new’ by the Lord the first week of January. This affirmed my resolve to put my hope in Jesus and not in my own waning willpower (that will most likely waver in a relatively short amount of time). The mercy of the Lord will never waver. What a beautiful gift we have in Him.
What is one way that you can truly put your hope in the One who makes all things new?