Monthly Archives: November 2014

Eucharisteo- To Give Thanks!

“For years, I have pulled the covers up over my head, dreading to begin another day I’d be bound to just wreck….I wake to the discontent of life in my skin. I wake to self-hatred. To the wrestle to get it all done, the relentless anxiety that I am failing. Always, the failing. I yell at children, fester with bitterness, forget doctor appointments, lose library books, live selfishly, skip prayer, complain…I live tired. Afraid. Anxious. Weary.” Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts.

imagesThe book One Thousand Gifts was given to me a few years ago by my beautiful friend Marie. A few friends gathered once a week to do a book study, it was life changing. I remember reading the above exert and totally relating. When caring for a child who relies on you for everything, life can sometimes feel like a series of meaningless days. Kind of like the movie Groundhog Day, the same monotonous day over and over again. Voskamp describes these emotions as just going through the motions of life, not really living. So she presents the question, “How do I live more fully in this life on earth?”

Is it creating a fabulous Bucket List and making sure I experience all that this earth has to offer? Must I see the Grand Canyon before I die or could it be simpler? Can’t we find this beauty here and now? “Today I will embrace the skin of a boy child that my body grew from a seed.” Voskamp writes. Isn’t this miracle so much better than the Grand Canyon? So why don’t I get it? How do I find that beauty in my own mundane life?

“And he took bread, GAVE THANKS and broke it, and gave it to them.” Luke 22:19

The Greek word for GIVE THANKS is Eucharisteo. When you break this word down Charis means grace. “Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks.” (p. 31) Broken down even further Chara means joy. Isn’t joy what we are looking for in that bucket list? “Where can I seize this holy grail of joy?…Was this (word Eucharisteo) the clue to the quest of all most important? Deep Chara joy is found only at the table of Eucharisteo- the table of thanksgiving…The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here!” (p. 33)

Voskamp goes on to say that in the Bible thanksgiving always precedes a miracle. And think about the reason for original sin. It all came about because Adam and Eve couldn’t see how wonderful their lives were. They were ungrateful and wanted more. That is me! Katie is the most incredible gift God could have ever given me.image1 (1) She is perfect and I continue to ask for more, I want her healed of this horrible affliction, but God made her perfect. Why can’t I see that?

“Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives.” (p. 35) Think about the last time someone gave you a gift. Did you say thank you? You may have even taken the time to write a special note to say how much the gift meant. If you don’t say thank you, the action is not complete. Everything we have is a gift from God. Yes, everything! Laundry, chocolate chip cookies, the feeding tube that makes our lives so different but allows me to nourish Katie, bedtime routine with kids screaming, ankle braces that help Katie walk holding my hand, the wheelchair I struggle to fold up and lift into the car every time we leave the house, the Ipad we use to help Katie communicate. So if we fail to say thank you, we are not completely accepting His gift.

So what about the ugliness of life? How do we say thanks for hardships? Could I actually say thank you God for not rescuing Katie from this neurological condition that has stolen so much. Voskamp says there is beauty in everything, the beauty is found in transforming the ugly to beautiful. That was an “Ah Ha” moment for me. I finally got it. No, I’m not going to say thank you God for her sickness, but I am going to say thank you God for the new perspective on life Katie has shown me, for the relationship she has helped me build with You, for the invaluable lessons she teaches her siblings, image2for the amazing side of her daddy I see, for this blog that is helping me grow and SO much more. In thanksgiving I am able to see the gift that is Katie because if she had been born as a typical child, who would I be? “Because eucharisteo is how Jesus, at the Last Supper, showed us to transfigure all things – take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and transform it into joy that fulfills all emptiness.” (p. 53)

The title “One Thousand Gifts” comes from a list that Voskamp starts, adding all the ordinary and extraordinary things in her life. The list changes her completely because she is recognizing and naming things, in turn validating everything. She becomes aware of the scent of jam on toast, the sound of a blue jay outside her window, the creak of her knees, the feel of the wind blowing her hair into her face. When she slows down and pays attention she says thank you and then sees the beauty in her mundane life.

So as we enter this Thanksgiving holiday, let’s all take the time to unplug from the things that are distracting us from the beauty around us. Let’s recognize the gifts that surround us in every moment of our day.

Photo by Emily Kuhn

Photo by Emily Kuhn

This Thanksgiving I am grateful that my family of 5 is exactly where we are supposed to be, living this very “Special” ordinary life that God planned for us. Thank you God!

I’m also thankful for you reading this post right now, Please share your ordinary “Thankfuls”!

 

Character Flaw

You are so amazing! You and Andy inspire me! God gives special people special children! You are so strong! These are the beautiful words spoken by so many of you, words that have lifted me so often. But these words also stopped me from answering God’s call to write this blog for a long time. My explanation to this is a bit tough for me because it involves discussing an ugly character flaw I’ve always had, but God sends me what He wants me to write and I just type, thanks God.

For as long as I can remember I have demanded attention.image1 I was always the kid in the middle of the room singing and dancing, yelling LOOK AT ME with my actions. As I grew older I realized praises felt good. I have always lacked confidence in the brains department so I made up for it with my outgoing and often overbearing personality. I look back on so many conversations that revolved around me, I would typically start a phone call with, “Listen to this…” instead of “How are you today?” I can only imagine how exhausting I was to others.

When I began to grow in my relationship with God this character flaw became increasingly apparent to me and I felt shame for it. Shame for sometimes seeking the ego boost that came with these words especially when it came to Katie. The encouraging words had become a consolation for all the hard work.

Emily Kuhn Photography

Emily Kuhn Photography

So why do I crave these kind words? Because they make me feel better about myself. I was talking to my priest around Mother’s day this year and told him that the commercials about how wonderful moms are made me feel like crap. You know the ones with all those adjectives that I will never be. He said, that feeling actually comes from pride. It’s me wanting to be the perfect mom, wanting people to use those same words to describe me. As I grow in humility I realize it is okay for people to use real words to describe me, like impatient and annoying. Because when I humble myself and realize maybe they are right, then I will learn how to be better.

“This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”        Isaiah 66:2

I’ve also learned that being humble means realizing that I can’t boast about anything because only God deserves the praises in my life. I am nothing without God.

I have far to go, but God has definitely given me the grace to realize this humility. While journaling over the past few years God has continued to tell me to share Katie’s story. But I was fearful that bringing attention to myself would feed my ego and in turn feed this ugly character flaw. So I resisted for about a year. Obviously, I eventually gave in and what I have discovered is one of the most beautiful gifts God has given me. The compliments have poured in 10 times more than I had ever imagined. People are sharing my blog and even strangers are saying that these words have changed their lives. But instead of feeling great pride, I feel completely humbled. I feel like falling to my knees to praise God for using me to do His work. Truly I deserve no praise, God and God alone has control over these words. Why else would I write about my embarrassing character flaw? Because God knows that these specific words will help someone today.

The gospel reading this Sunday rang loudly to me as God was encouraging me to write about this post. It was the Parable of the Talents from Matthew’s gospel Chapter 25. The story about the man going on a journey and entrusting 3 of his servants with money. The first servant received 5 talents, he in turn invested them and received 5 more. The second servant received 2 and did the same receiving 2 additional talents.image2 But the third servant, only given 1 talent, was afraid to lose it. He buried it in the ground for safe keepings. When the man returned he told the first and second servant, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.” But to the third servant he said, “You wicked lazy servant!”

Harsh words! And I felt them personally, because another reason I delayed this blog was a fear of backlash, fear of being judged and fear of offending someone who has differing beliefs. The talents in this parable are all those gifts that God has bestowed on us so that we can spread His love. It is our faith! For me it was the ability to write and the gift of Katie. image4I had two choices, I could continue to use the challenges we face with Katie for my own self esteem or I could use the talent of writing to share her with others. For most of my life I held my faith as a very private matter, never to be talked about in front of others because who knows what they believe and I wouldn’t want to offend them. But now I know that is not right. I have great respect for all opinions and if I offend someone else I hope they will say something and speak about their beliefs. When we engage in conversation or even a little healthy debate now and then, we grow.

“I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.”            Luke 12:8-9

Father Robert Barron had a challenge this week related to this reading. He said “…your faith will be increased in the measure in which you share it. Don’t wait until you have more faith, more knowledge to insure you don’t say the wrong thing. Share it now so your faith will grow, your knowledge will grow.” His challenge was this, “Find some path for the propagation of your faith, some way to concretely share it, maybe it is teaching Sunday school, talking more about God in your own home, maybe it’s hanging a cross at work, whatever it is, give it away. Difficult? Yes, but a great pay off.” I know so many of you reading this right now do this so beautifully already, I’ve learned to do what I am doing right now from so many of your examples! It takes humility to spread God’s love because you are taking a risk. A risk that God predicts and promises glory for in return.

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12

“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” 1 Peter 4:14

Great Expectations

Will Katie ever walk independently? Will she ever talk? Will she ever know how to spell her name? Will she ever eat a hamburger? These questions have crossed my mind a time or two over the past 10 years. The answers are just not known by us on this earth. I’ve never been told by any therapist or doctor that Katie will never do whatever it is that we are discussing. Which would sound like great news, but it creates an inner struggle that has consumed me most of Katie’s life. What to expect of her and what to accept she will never do.

Katie has an impairment in most every aspect of her life. She has always qualified for physical, occupational, speech and even vision therapy. That is a lot to keep up with at home. For the first 4 years of her life we pushed her hard. When we were at home I had a schedule and it included lots of therapy. I made it as fun as I could, making games out of our goals, but it was hard work for both of us. And that quickly became exhausting and disappointing. It was an emotional rollercoaster because we worked so hard with little progress. Don’t get me wrong she did succeed at a lot of things, but I always wanted more. I wanted her to understand what I was saying, to turn the pages of a book, to take a step independently, to feed herself, to look at me when I entered the room and so much more.

image (22)Then came Lexi, I didn’t have as much time to do therapy all day and quite frankly I was tired of doing it so we took a break. We continued therapy outside of the home and I still did some home therapy, but not nearly what I was doing before. I justified it by saying it’s time to accept a few things in life. I told myself she is never going to do a lot of the things I had in my head and I took the easy way out. Then about 3 years later it hit me like a ton of bricks, “What am I doing?” NOTHING. Was the answer and I felt tremendous guilt. If we had continued with intense home therapy would she be able to walk, talk or what else?

So we started working hard again and it paid off, now 3 years after that wake-up call Katie is doing some really exciting things. imageShe knows her colors, some of the letters in her name and she nods her head “yes” and shakes her head “no” more and more every day. We are also working with a communication device to give her choices in life. Beautiful progress!

This scenario made me think of my own faith journey. What am I expecting of myself? How often do I hold myself to God’s standard? What am I accepting? How often do I say, “Oh well, I’m human I’m going to sin. As long as I ask for forgiveness, it’s okay.”

“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

My relationship with God is a process that never ends. When I become complacent, like I was with Katie’s therapy, I stop growing, stop progressing, just as she had. God wants me in constant motion moving toward Him, constantly learning more, striving to be better than I was yesterday. This comes from keeping my eyes on Him at all times. Taking time each day to learn more, to study the Bible and the teachings of the Church. It also comes from taking my focus off of myself and learning from the people that God has purposely put in front of me. Paying attention to what my friends, my priest and even the bank teller has to say, because God put these people in front of me for a reason, what can I learn from them?

So what does God mean when He says, “be perfect” in Matthew’s gospel? I think it means making a goal every day to not sin, I fall short, but if I never strive for perfection I will surely never succeed. And since I fall short I try to sit down on a regular basis and examine my conscience. I try to do this with a pen and paper. Where am I messing up? What are my weaknesses and how can I work to do better? This is the beauty of confession in the Catholic Church. Examining my life and saying my sins out loud to another human being is quite humbling and it really makes me stop and think. I’m far from perfect, and I often end up with the same shortcomings over and over again. But when I’m going to confession those shortcomings are on my mind and I consciously try to fix them.

So if God forgives us for our sins, if we only ask then why strive for perfection in this life? Because it is what God has asked of us. Reverend Ray Ryland says, “perfection means to realize fully your purpose on this earth.image (23) To strive to develop your unique potential under God to the fullest.” In other words be the very best me I can be. And always push Katie because she will continue to surprise us with her incredible abilities.

“Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, knowing that you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance; be slaves of the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-25

I really want to know what you think. Please share a comment on what you have learned about striving for perfection in your own faith journey. I would love to learn more from you.

The Greatest of these is LOVE

How do you connect with someone who can’t talk, who can’t say I love you, who can’t even look you in the eye? And how do you love someone you can’t connect with? Before I had Katie I often asked those questions when I would meet a person who had severe disabilities. I couldn’t understand how you could build a relationship with someone who couldn’t talk. I also remember a phone conversation with my sister when Katie was a newborn, before we knew the extent of her disabilities. I said, “I can handle a lot, but I don’t think I can deal with this if she can’t talk. She has to be able to talk!!” Fast forward 11 years and Katie has never spoken a single word, but she communicates love like no one else.photo (7)

To answer these questions we have to understand what it means to truly love. On Valentine’s Day a few years ago I was listening to a homily by Father Robert Barron. He was talking about 1st Corinthians 13. You know, the one about love that you’ve heard at most every wedding you have ever been to. It was read at our wedding, but I had never taken the time to study what each verse meant.

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything that I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Love is the center of everything. We can have all the things this world has to offer and all the things God has to offer, but if we don’t know how to love, none of it matters. Love is to will the good of other people. When I heard that statement I instantly thought of my parents.photo (6) They love me so intensely just like that, and never expect anything in return. They taught me how to love Katie with an unconditional love. If we are kind to others just so they will like us, or bring someone dinner in hopes they will return the favor or give a gift knowing they will give us one back, we are thinking about ourselves. We have ulterior motives, not love. When we put other’s happiness in front of our own we are showing pure love.

“Love is patient, love is kind.”

I lose my patience with Katie just like with my typical kids and it’s always because I am putting myself ahead of her. I want things done on my own time frame and according to my will. This is a tough one with a special needs child because very few things happen the way I want them to. Milestones are not met, outings are cancelled because she is sick, therapy sessions are cut short because she isn’t cooperating. If I were loving as God wants, my emotions wouldn’t be a factor. If we take ourselves out of the equation and look at what the other person needs, patience comes flowing out of our love for them. And kindness is the expression of this patient love.

“It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests…”

Jealousy isn’t a factor in my relationship with Katie or my other kids, but it does rear its ugly head in other relationships and it always comes from my ego. When someone else has more, does something better or just seems happier than us, we automatically feel less than. When in actuality their accomplishment has nothing to do with us at all. If you are a parent think about how good it feels to find out your child has succeeded at something. Then think about the same scenario with someone you are not as fond of, the accomplishment stings a bit. But we are called to love everyone, even those who don’t always make us smile. Jealousy usually leads to gossip, because if we can find someone to agree with us we inflate our own ego…the opposite of love.

“… it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrong doing but rejoices with the truth.”

Being Katie’s mommy requires a lot of one on one work teaching her very basic things, sometimes she does great and others not so much. At times when she has more difficulty learning I get frustrated, quick tempered…why? Because I feel like I am failing, I’m not doing enough to help her. What is that? You guessed it, my ego. It’s not about me, it’s about her and doing all things for her with love and not focusing on the results. Think about a time when someone really ticked you off. Then think about the root of that anger, it likely had something to do with your ego. But if we love properly we are not focused on our own feelings and we let insults roll off our back, because it’s not about us.

“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

It is hard to bear other peoples struggles, sometimes I just want to leave the room when Katie is sobbing inconsolably. Sometimes I do walk out for a breather, but I try to stay by her side, bearing her pain, enduring her suffering because I love her. photo (8)When we love others we are ready to bear anything for them. When they are in pain, we endure that pain too because we are focused on helping them not on our own self-interest. I have great hope for Katie, I have no idea if she will ever speak or walk independently, but I have hope, there is always hope. We have hope for those we love, hope that they will realize that life is about growing in their love for Christ, hope that they realize staying stagnant in their faith walk is never enough for God.

“Love never fails.”

God is love and God is eternal. If we love the way we are called to by God, there is nothing in this world that will end it. That’s a bold statement because people hurt us all the time. But again love is not concerned with our hurt, it’s focused on others. God calls us to love everyone even our enemies, it is His greatest commandment.

“If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”

Father Barron explains this passage as a comparison to our spiritual immaturity. When I was a child, obsessed with myself, with wealth and worldly pleasures I spoke only of that and did not have God as my priority. When I became a man, I put God first, I realized He is the only thing that matters. He also says this passage compares earth to heaven. We only know partially here in our flesh, but in heaven we will know fully and it will be more beautiful than we can even imagine.

“So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

cropped-lA2.jpgSo how do I love Katie when she can’t say it back? Because I LOVE her, I bear her pain, I want what’s best for her, I know it is not about me and what she can do for me. It is the essence of unconditional love. That is the beautiful gift Katie has given me, teaching me that love can be so perfect when we humble ourselves and put our own ego aside for the good and benefit of someone else.