This summer, I realized my family was in serious need of prayer. Oh, we are always in need of prayer, but this year things were a little more unsettled than usual. My eldest son was experiencing the growing pains of leaving his teenage years into young adulthood, and making his parents crazy as we experienced these pains alongside of him. My husband had been accepted into the diaconate program, and was preparing to enter a classroom for the first time in over 20 years. I was experiencing symptoms and signs of an aging body and battling anxiety in the process. Luckily, the other two children were status quo and I hoped a little extra prayer would keep it that way.
Whenever I think of powerful prayer practices, the rosary is always at the forefront of my thoughts. Unfortunately at the time I was in a season of not praying the rosary regularly (or at all if I am completely honest here). I am not clear why, but I seem to go in and out of practice of daily (or even weekly) rosary recitation. Not having grown up praying it, unless (true story) there was a thunderstorm, then my mother lined us all up on the couch to pray the cessation of Our Fathers and Hail Marys. She did not know about the mysteries, so this time of prayer was not a meditative pray practice more like a plea with God to have mercy and to not (literally) strike us down. Ironically, the one storm we were not sitting together in prayer, our house was actually struck by lightning – but that’s another story.
As I contemplated our current state of life and searched for strength as we moved through it; my thoughts came not only to the rosary, but more specifically the 54-Day Rosary Novena. A friend had shared this with me several years ago, and I remember the peace that covered my heart while and after praying it. That afternoon, I sat in my favorite prayer spot to begin the 54 days of prayer, when suddenly I felt this weird nudge in my heart to get outside and walk while I prayed. I tried with all my “I hate going outside let alone exercising” heart to ignore the Spirit’s nudge but could not. As I scoured the house for my sneakers, the image of the walls of Jericho and Joshua (and friends) encircling it came to mind. In some instances my family needed walls brought down and in others shored up. It was clear to me anyway, I was being called to pray these 54 days encircling my home – why not, I had nothing to lose but perhaps … my dignity.
In order to understand the oddity of this task, besides turning my yard essentially into a track, I need to set the scene. I live on a fork-in-the-road, just off a busy highway. Visible. Very visible. Yet, for my family, for my health, to obey my God, I was willing to look a little silly. Ok, a lot silly as I made the widest girth possible but am still essentially walking around in circles for all the world to see. Day by day, however, it was clear the walls were coming down.
The first benefit I discovered came in the actual praying of the rosary, without a phone, computer or housework to call me away or distract me from contemplating the mysteries, the 20, 30 or even sometimes 60 minutes spent in prayer was incredibly fruitful. That distance I had felt from God leading into the summer was melting away, as I remembered all Jesus had and still does for a poor sinner like me and my heart overflowed with love and gratitude. One neighbor started texting me occasional prayer requests and when another questioned my strange new practice, I had this unique opportunity to witness to my faith that I’d not had in the twenty years we’d lived in the same neighborhood. Next, I started to notice my own physical symptoms were abating – the exercise was a big part of the answer to my prayer about my health. Lastly, and to me most importantly, I started to observe changes in my eldest son – the walls of his heart and poor choices were starting to come down.
So my neighbors may think I am a little strange, but I continue this practice today – lacing up my sneakers and grabbing my beads. No one was ever sorry for spending time in prayer, nor looking a little silly for Jesus.
Copyright 2015, Allison Gingras
First appeared on New Evangelizers
The Narrow and Wide Gates
Jesus tell us He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. When I think of following Jesus - my mind often drifts to this verse in Matthew. Today instead of focusing on the narrow and the difficult way it clearly can be - no arguing that - I want to focus on how this road can be widened.
It is wide when we:
Let me expand a bit on these:
First, it is easy to think that our lives are as good as they are going to get especially if we have a comfortable life and enjoy good health. It is also easy to fall into a mindset of resignation if things aren't going well or we are not well, and just chalk it up to life and circumstances beyond our control. A faith in Jesus Christ is much more than a lucky charm or a wishing well - knowing Christ is making a new friend, one that has the words of wisdom to bring you hope, peace, joy and love in every situation. HOW could you not what a friend like that?!
Second, never assume that the person in the pew beside you or with hands held high at a Christian concert, actually knows Christ as friend. I was a cradle Catholic, who went to Mass almost regularly for 10 years before I realized there was so much more to my Catholic faith than a perfect attendance record for the pearly gates. There was beautiful and powerful prayers (such as the Rosary, Novenas and Litanies - just to name a few), there was grace in abundance available in the Sacraments (which brings healing in Reconciliation, strength in the Eucharist, and courage in Baptism/Confirmation - just to name a few), and there is the scriptures - to guide my path and bring my dialog with the Triune God to a whole new level. No one told me. I missed the message somehow and no one thought to invite me deeper, but once someone did my life was transformed.
Now, I share the ridiculous abundance of Christ moments in my life. Things I once thought as crazy coincidence, are now clearly an amazing godcidence (*word I coined during my reversion in 2005) - and I embrace and ponder the lesson to be found in them. If I am thinking something and the answer comes via a friend, book or Mack truck - I do not ignore it. Usually through tears I praise God for the heavenly hug, and then tweet it, blog it, or InstaQuote it -- lately you may even find me Periscoping it!! I make it a rule not to keep it to myself because authentic witnesses of faith change lives and coupling that sharing with an invitation to come and see widens the WAY to the Way, Truth and Life.
How are you working in the world to widen the way to Christ?
As I peruse the book titles in the Catholic aisle of my local bookstore, it is hard not to notice the plethora of conversion stories being told. What I do not see a lot of accounts from the person who grew up Catholic and drifted in and out (mostly out) of practicing their faith until something changed in them or for them. They had a turn around a GREAT awakening in their soul as to who the Triune God really was - not distant, not mean but loving, truly loving, merciful, trustworthy and faithful - just to name a few of the infinite God's characteristics.
These stories are sometimes referred to a re-conversion or reversions, and while I am awed and fascinated by conversion stories be it former atheist, agnostic or baptist minister, I am most drawn to how faithful people are set on fire for the faith or even how those cradle Catholics keep from drifting away. This is my story. A small town suburban girl with divorced parents, low self-esteem, and moderate means - that attended 9 years of Catechism, went to Mass for most of the school year while in what we called CCD, and then usually just Christmas and Easter after that - and I have no recollection of ever being in Mass with my Father. There were no bibles in my home until 8th grade catechism class when I received this red covered nearly see-through paper thin paged New American Bible as part of Confirmation prep. Praying as a family took place only during really scary thunderstorms and occasionally before bed. God was scary, death was petrifying and Hell was real - until I hit my teen years, then I was convinced hell was our time on earth, I would never have an abortion but who was I to dictate what a person does with their body, and actually participating in religious activities like Church was for old people who were closer to death than I and needed to have that safety net in place IN CASE that hell place I once believed existed after death really was real.
Then one day I was invited to a retreat - and that reawakened in my heart that God was real and that I didn't want to wait to know Him but was looking to be better acquainted now but how? I struggled to figure that out - once again falling in and out of practice of my faith until another more significant invitation was presented to me. A Christmas gift of The Purpose Driven Life along with an invitation to start a bible study at a new friend's home would change the course of my life forever. There I would be introduced to scripture - and the working of the Holy Spirit in my life. The noise in my head once negative soliloquies with myself morphed into hope filled dialogues with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (as well as the Blessed Mother, some new Saintly friends and my Guardian Angel). That invitation lead to so many more - each initiated by Christ but acted through either another person or a particular situation. In hindsight I can see how each invitation was instrumental in bringing me to a deeper faith, helping to grow and shape my understanding of God and heavenly things, as well as support me to remain a faithful person.
Over 10 years later, invitation still plays a significant role in my living out in the everyday my Catholic faith. I see as my relationship with Jesus grows those invitations that once were extended to me, I now extend to others. While no longer involved in the initial bible study/book club group - I offer one weekly in my home. St. Paul teaches those things we have been comforted in, God will use to comfort others in similar situations this has been true in my life with retreats to teach about the peace of forgiveness, embrace JOY and learning cling to the hope that comes from trusting in God. Invited by God to answer yes to the mission He had for me - allowed me the incredible blessing of being an adoptive mom, Catholic radio host and writer, as well as to meet the most amazing people sharing this journey to heaven who teach me so much about God's love, mercy and faithfulness.
I long to shake my Catholic family tree and awaken hardened or deaden hearts to the beauty, hope and fullness that comes with living a sacramental, scriptural and prayer filled Christian life. Those three things make up my Grace Trifecta - and without one of the pieces of that faith puzzle I would be incomplete. Invitation brought Eucharistic Adoration, Reconciliation and a great appreciation of the Mass into my life; each transforming who I was to who I am - and even further to who I WANT to be. It is this sacramental piece that fills my heart with the greatest desire to tell my Catholic story of faith. It is the gift of grace in the sacraments that I understood the least, and that I now see I benefit the most. It is this element of the Catholic faith that some how missed in all those years of considering myself Catholic -- but really I wasn't and my heart ached for something that was there all along.
This is the story, I long to tell ... this is the story I pray is God's will for me to tell. What about you?
All Rights Reserved 2015, Allison Gingras
Images Public Domain on Pixabay.com
Dear Middle School bully, I forgive you for the three years of torture you put me through. I realize now that you too had struggles and pains in your life and no one to help you sort them out in a healthy way. My adult heart truly aches for what you must have been experiencing to spend so much energy and time making another person feel so horrible, scared and hopeless. I wish you could have shared your problems with me, so that we could have been friends and sorted life out together, instead of choosing to be my enemy. The most baffling thing for me especially back then, was I never knew, I still do not, what it was about me appointed me your target. I can tell you that I spent many hours trying to decipher what it was, and many more hours trying to change whatever it was I would perceive it to be.
You did not need social media to terrorize me. You did just fine with the telephone, passing notes and using other kids just as scared of you to get messages to me. So while we would like to blame social media, it certainly is not the cause, nor the evil here, but at the core is our inability as a society to admit we or our children are in trouble, hurting or most importantly need help. Instead of blaming the victim for being bullied, sadly I cannot tell you how many adults said, “what did you do?” Or expecting to the innocent party to change or avoid the bully, the next saddest statement, “just ignore her”, someone should have stepped up and reached out to you.
What you probably never knew is your incessant bullying was just a part of many other difficult and even horrible things going in my life at that time. It was just one more straw in my overloaded backpack of life that would eventually lead to my attempting to take my life at only 13 years old. By the grace of God, and for reasons only He knows, it was spared, and for that I am grateful. You see, as an adult (who has now had many years of therapy, spiritual direction, and a re-version to the Catholic faith), I know now suicide would have been a permanent solution to my very temporary problem. If I had been allowed to succeed, I would have never been given the opportunity to bring my two sons into the world. I would not have two other children waiting and praying for me in heaven, nor would I have been able to provide a home for a beautiful little deaf girl from China. As well as touch the lives of countless people God has allowed me to share His love with, or other missions He has sent me on I’ll never even know I was a part of – but because I was here, I was available for.
Yes, Middle School bully, or should I say friend from Middle School with a very broken heart and low sense of self and worth, who choose to bully me. I forgive you. I really do. I pray for your happiness, and hope you have found healing and help for whatever it was that brought you to that place so many years ago to make every waking moment of a very scared little girl’s life a living hell. Yours must have been infinitely worse, and I am so sorry that you suffered that way.
St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:
God has been very faithful to this promise in my life, providing me abundant opportunity to share my sorrows and triumphs, and hopefully bring comfort and hope to those who are in a similar situation.
I pray this for you. I pray first and foremost that you have found God, and allowed His merciful, faithful heart to heal yours. I pray that you have been allowed to bring healing to others who have shared in your childhood struggles, and even more importantly in doing so, have been able to prevent or stop others who may or could have turn to bullying as a way of coping with their confusion, doubts and fears.
Yes, Middle School bully, I forgive you and wish you the abundant joy and life that God has sent His only Son to bring to us. I chose to forgive, I chose to release you from the bitterness and anger, I could harbor, because I do not wish either of us to be held by those memories any longer. Yes, forgiveness is an act of the will, just as making the choice to be part of the solution. I thank God for the gift of being able to see you with His eyes and to be given the understanding that in you there is good which is most likely being crushed by your own pain, insecurity and fears. God is a good God - and I believe with my whole heart that He has made good on His promise to bring a great good when He has allowed someone's free will to bring bad.
If you are being bullied, tell someone – beg them to help you AND the person who is hurting you. If you are living with the guilt of being a bully - God wants you free too! If you have hate in your heart against anyone it can continue to hold you down from the abundant life Jesus came and died to give you. If this hurt is new or many years old, until you welcome God's grace into the situation and allow Him to help you heal and forgive, those words and actions will always have some power to hurt you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and you are loved beyond measure, you do not (nor did not) deserve to be treated the way you were and you are entitled now to be free and at peace. Please reach out for help. Tell someone, don’t be ashamed – I'll say it again YOU are loved and loveable! God wants you to not only know it but to experience it.
All Rights Reserved 2015, Allison Gingras
Cover Credit: Pixabay, PD
Forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel - so important but it can be incredibly difficult. BUT it is Not Impossible. Have you forgiven someone who has hurt or bullied you? Please share your story!
Faith is awareness of God as a personal God, with our personal response to the love in which we have come to believe. It is a personal encounter, a contact with the divine Persons into which we are taken by the grace of God.
In 2007, I was blessed to learn about Spiritual Directors. Someone who could guide my prayer and budding relationship with Christ. Shortly after the discovery that such a wonderful thing existed, my prayers were answered when Fr. Dang was assigned to me after I called the local retreat house inquiring about the availability of directors. Fr. Dang was from Vietnam, very soft spoken with a thick accent. Every week I would have to really strain to hear and understand him, which I am fairly convinced was part of God's plans to teach me to be quiet and pay attention! It was a wonderful first experience with a Spiritual Director - we alternated between getting to the root of the issues that kept me from loving and trusting God more fully, to teaching me different prayer practices, and because he was a Priest, some visits I was able to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Fr. Dang and I met every other week for about a year, until he was transferred by his order to Texas.
I then tried another one of the directors, a religious sister, at the retreat house but we did not click which was ok - I am not sure I prayed for God's will on Fr. Dang's replacement just took the name offered. The same for Director #3 - another Priest who was sorta famous in his work - super funny, engaging and insightful, but again we just didn't mesh as director and directee. Again, there wasn't much prayer - more stars in my eyes. PRIDE and honor seeking is never a good leader when it comes to choosing a Spiritual Director.
Then came the desert period, where I was on my own for a while. I was unsure who to ask next - the retreat house was presently out of options, the archdiocese had availability but the travel was unappealing to see him (or her) on a regular bases, and as for local Priests - I felt uncomfortable given their already overloaded schedules. **SIDE NOTE: I have since learned it is not MY place to determine if someone's schedule is too full to include Spiritual Direction - don't be afraid to ask, but DO BE prepared for them to decline. Most importantly don't take it personally, as they may be the avenue to whom God had for you all along!!
That kinda what happened when I finally emerged from my dry time to renew my search. First, let me clarify that desert or dry experiences of prayer are not necessarily bad. The Lord did a great deal with my spiritually during that time, I learned to persevere in prayer even if I wasn't "feeling" it, it was also an opportunity to put into practice all those lessons gleamed during my time with Fr. Dang. It was a beautiful time of reflection and searching - and from it I for the first time realized that I had felt distant from God but had NOT DISTANCED myself from God. In the past when the loving feeling faded with spiritual things, when I had gone from the honeymoon phase to the day to day of living a life of faith, I would gradually leave Him of out daily equation - and eventually discover I barely gave God a thought... until something happened and I needed him again. This time things were so different, I continued to seek and enjoy the search, praying without ceasing, and without my even realizing it - continuing to grow in faith.
While this was wonderful - there was still something (or should I say someone) missing in my life. I longed for that Spiritual Guide, a Spiritual Mentor in my life. We had settled into a new church, and I adored our Pastor. His homilies, bible study leading, and confessions were phenomenal and nothing I had ever experienced before in my life as a Catholic. I prayed and asked God to guide my choice, and approached him. He sweetly offered to meet once every other month but I was hoping to find something a little more regular. Father suggested asking our Deacon - that idea had NEVER occurred to me. OF course, a Deacon - they are there to serve, they receive education and training and are ordained!! *SIDE NOTE: Lay people make fantastic Spiritual Directors too!! The key is praying and asking GOD to lead you to the perfect SD, and to trust in those nudges and leads!
At first I was unsure if OUR Deacon was the one for me - he was considerably older than I and we'd not spoken much in the few months I'd been a parishioner. One Sunday morning, I prayed during the Consecration for a clear sign that Deacon Jerry was the Spiritual guy for me. He was preaching at the Mass that morning, not a normal occurrence, so I took that as my sign. After Mass, I scurried to catch him but he was gone - some much for seeking signs. I was on the altar helping the musicians pack up when Deacon appeared seemingly out of nowhere back on the altar. I got so excited, I rushed to speak with him, never noticing that the guitar player had put his case at my feet, I soared through the air, basically landing at Deacon Jerry's feet. Gathered myself, pretending like the acrobatic show never happened, and asked if he'd join me on my journey to grow closer to Christ. He graciously accepted - it MAY have been a pity thing seeing how desperate I must have seen throwing myself at his feet and all!!
The quote this post began with is from a book Deacon Jerry gifted me in October, 2013, after 4 years of regular meeting (we are still together today Praise the Lord!) -- it summed up to me exactly what I have gained in my countless hours of conversation with my mentor, director but most of all, friend!
More on the impact of that quote on the spiritual life tomorrow ... as my #write31days challenge continues ... though I might be more on a #write25orsodays challenge .. hee hee!!
All Rights Reserved 2015, Allison Gingras
cover photo: StockSnap, Pixabay PD
What's been your experience? Share your story!!