Saturday, October 29, 2011

I have stilled my soul

Lord, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
Like a weaned child to its mother,
weaned is my soul.

Kissing the Face of God
Psalm 131 is a song of trust, giving all thoughts and worries of the world to God - like a child who quiets in the arms of its mother. It is the perfect bedtime prayer to still the soul, surrendering to sleep, imagining being held in the warm mantle of our Mother's embrace.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I've had a little birdie chirping in my ear to get me on Twitter for awhile now, and I'm here to announce that I am now tweeting!

My bird name Twitter username is LieslChirps, so come on over and follow me!


Tony Rossi commented on His Eye is on the Sparrow and pointed out that Audrey Assad has a version of this song on her new Live from SoHo album. I haven't had a chance to get the album yet, as $7 is 1/5 of a tank of gas (if you're confused, see the above post for how I now think of money in terms of food and gas), but Matthew Robbins was kind enough to send me the embed code so I could share the video with all of you.

Enjoy this beautiful adaptation by Audrey Assad, called Sparrow:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Changed Their Minds?

For awhile now, my most popular post has been The Largest Genocide our World has Ever Seen. I think it's partly due to the fact that people keep finding it through Google search terms such as "largest genocide" and "genocide in the world today 2011", but I'm happy that it has had so many page views. I just pray that people who stumble upon it accidentally take the time to read it and really reflect on it.

In light of this post, I found the following video very interesting. His line of reasoning is logical, and you can see the surprise and sometimes prideful shame on people's faces when they realize that his logic has led them to re-think their beliefs about abortion.

This video is 33 minutes long, and I encourage you to not only watch it, but to also pass it on. The conversations that he had with these people made many of them change their minds about abortion, which is what we need to be doing. As I've said before on this blog, in comments, and in personal discussions, abortion in this country (and the world) will only end when the thought of killing a child in the womb becomes inconceiveable, and this will only happen if we take the time to convert one heart at a time.

I'm tipping my hat to Fr. Greg at GW Catholics for sharing this video. I would like to see this video (or one like this) on display in the modern day genocide exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

**Side note: I only have one qualm with this video, which is how the interviewer portrays salvation. But that's for another post...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spiritual Dry Spells, Part 2

I think the introduction to Part 1 was long enough, so without further ado, here are the next five things I've learned from my spiritual dry spell.

6. Seek out the advice of a spiritual director

Jesus, the first spiritual director, with Peter!
I have a confession to make. A few Many of these oh-so-helpful tips have been pointed out to me by my spiritual director over the past few months. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on these suggestions (even if I'm not so good at putting them into action), but he should get some of the credit (I'm a chemist, I love to cite my sources). 
But in all seriousness, while I  may not always like to hear what my spiritual director has to say, he is almost always spot on with pointing out the "obvious" things I have failed to see in my blindness. Having a person who knows you and your spiritual life, who is also close to the Lord, will help your spiritual life improve by leaps and bounds. A spiritual director is able to be objective where you are not, but he can also be subjective. Often, your spiritual director has gone through similar trials in his own life, which means that he can give advice based on experience. Especially if you're having trouble hearing God in the "usual" places, letting God speak to you through a spiritual director can greatly improve your spiritual life, and it sometimes even causes the spiritual lightbulb to start to flicker a little bit brighter.
7. Say, "Thank You."

Heavenly Father, thank you for cranberry sauce.
The day that we gather with family and friends and eat turkey and that delicious cranberry sauce (the kind from the can) is not the only day that we should be thankful for all the great things in our lives. We should be thankful for the wonderful creation of cranberry sauce every day!

When we take a moment to give thanks, we begin to realize the little things in life that get us through day-to-day life, especially when life seems pretty rough. So, each day, think about five things for which you can be thankful. While you can be thankful for material things - such as a roof over your head, air conditioning in your room, food in your refrigerator, a can of cranberry sauce on the shelf, a laptop on which to blog, etc. - it is also good to recognize the non-materials things in your life that you are grateful to have. It can be a myriad of things, but here a few examples that I may or may not have experienced in the past few months:
  • The grace to be able to focus on work or school during a time of high stress, especially during crunch time.
  • An unexpected message from a friend that makes you laugh when you were on the verge of tears.
  • A big, toothless smile from a sweet baby (especially when the baby doesn't smile at anyone else!)
  • Delicious home-cooked meals from friends when you wouldn't have had any food to eat at home.
  • A surprise gift card from a friend, and when you ask why, she responds it's because "you have so much to celebrate this year."
  • The cool fall breeze that allows you to roll the windows down in the car and blast some good music.
  • The out-of-the-blue realization that you are appreciated and loved by others.
The list could go on and on. During a dry spell, it can be easy to fall into the trap of "Woe is me, my life is so awful blah blah blah." In taking the time to stop and say thank you to God for the gifts He has given to you, it is easier to not fall into this state of despair, which keeps you further away from the temptation to fall into sin as well.

So, next time you're feeling down, stop and say a prayer of thanksgiving to God, even if it is for the simple gift of a can of cranberry sauce. Actually, I don't have any cranberry sauce on my shelf. Next time I'm at the grocery, I'll have to grab a can, and then I can add that of my list of "thank you"s for the day.
8. Remember that it's not all about feelings

Have you ever been/remained in a relationship with someone because you liked how he or she made you feel more than you actually liked the person? Maybe you didn't realize it at the time, but I think many people can relate to this situation.
So gloriously in love, I was swinging around
on lamp posts, just singing in the rain!

When I first started to feel spiritually dry, I didn't understand what had happened. I had been so vibrantly alive with my faith! I described the feeling to everyone as being in love with Christ and in love with the Catholic faith. When I went to Mass, I felt good. When I prayed, I felt His presence. When I served others, I felt that warm happiness inside. In my daily life, I felt filled with joy. I felt loved and so I easily loved in return.
Then it all went away. I only noticed the spiritual dryness because I noticed the lack of the feelings I once had. I didn't feel in love anymore. So I started to sink in deeper, because I relied on those feelings so much. As my spiritual director has said many times (it took many times for it to start to sink in!), we live in a culture that is all about emotion. “Do what 'feels' right” is the mantra of our society. We become so focused on how something makes us feel that we don’t always think about why we are doing it. While human emotions can be a beautiful and wonderful thing, when we use them as reasoning for what we do and do not do, we tread into very dangerous waters. By letting my emotions guide me, I had come to the point spiritually where I was more in love with the feelings I had from worshipping God, and not focused on actually loving and worshipping God. Instead of loving God because I felt loved by Him, I should have been loving God no matter what.

One of my good friends made the following analogy. When you first start dating someone, you have butterflies in your stomach and you enjoy being around this person as you first get to know each other. Yet, as the relationship develops and advances to the point where you love the person more deeply, you don't always have those feelings you had in the beginning because you don't need them anymore. Your love for that person is what sustains you, not the feelings you have when you're around him. A relationship with God can be very similar - sometimes, when we first start "dating" God, we are filled with these feelings from the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives. But we have to let this relationship develop into a stronger and deeper and unconditional love - a love that doesn't rely on feelings - but yet, a love that will always remain.
When she shared this analogy, it made me start to see my spiritual dry spell in a new light. Don't get me wrong - I would still like to have the lights turned back on - but I began to see this dryness as a gift, in a way. A gift calling me to a deeper relationship with God, calling me to love Him more deeply because He is God, not because of the feelings I get from loving Him.
9. Realize that you're not alone

Being in a vibrant faith community can be extremely beneficial to your spiritual growth, but when you're in a spiritual dry spell, it can also be very lonely. How is it that every one else so on fire for their faith, and I'm the only one floundering around in the darkness?

Chances are, you're not the only one that feels dryness in their spiritual life, but especially in an active faith community, you don't want people to think that there is something wrong with you, so you keep it a secret. While I don't recommend shouting out to the whole world - "Hey, y'all, I'm experiencing a spiritual dry spell over here!" (whoops, did I just do that?) - I think it is important to discuss what you are going through with people you trust who are firm in the faith. This can be a spiritual director, but also a trusted family member and/or friend might be able to help you row through the storm. In doing this, I think it will be easier to realize that you are not alone. You might discover in sharing with a trusted friend that they have experienced a similar dry spell or are feeling dryness along with you!

Suffering Saints: John of the Cross,
Teresa of Lisieux, Mother Teresa, and Padre Pio
Everyone goes through rough patches, even the saints - and their rough patches are often darker than most. Pick a saint, any saint. Read about his or her life. You will discover that the saints, most of all, have experienced dryness in prayer and spiritual attack. It makes sense. Satan wants to tear down the holiest followers of Christ - it's a bigger "win" for him if he successfully tempts someone so holy away from God. Yet, it also makes sense that the deeper we grow in our relationship to God, the more He wants us to continue to mature in that relationship. Often, this means wandering through the arid desert - as Christ did - rejecting temptation, and continuing to call upon the Lord.

My spiritual director has pointed out to me multiple times that while suffering is not something to which we look forward or seek out, it shows us how much God loves us, by allowing His holiness to shine even brighter in our lives. Living the Catholic faith and following Christ means taking up his cross, which is all about suffering, but we have confidence in the fact that we are joined with him in this suffering. Therefore, we are most definitely not alone, because Christ is carrying the burden of our dryness right alongside us.

10. Ask God for help
Hey, is God available?
Psalm 145 sings that "the Lord is near to all who call upon him." Maybe I've been dialing the wrong number, but especially in a dry spell, it doesn't always seem like He is near, even when you cry out for His help.
However, it is important to never stop asking God for help. Not sure where to even begin? Sometimes just trying simple prayers can be a good starting point. I know that I spent months where my daily prayer consisted of "Thy will be done" or "I'm not sure what plans you have for me, but please keep leading me down your path." Constantly repeating these, while feeling them with your heart, will help you continue to seek God in everything you do, even if you don't feel His presence.
It is just important to ask God for help. You can even beg and plead if you have to - we've all been there! Have open and frank conversations with God, just like you would with a person sitting right in front of you (although I recommend having these conversations in your head if you are in the presence of other human beings). It's even alright sometimes to question God - as in "What are you doing?!?!" - when things get really rough. However, as my spiritual director advised me recently, while it is okay to question and "raise your voice" with God, it's important to always be respectful. We may not always understand what He's doing or why He's not answering in a way we can comprehend, but we still must give Him the reverence that He deserves.
Asking God for help may seem like a silly tip, but it has helped me in little ways through these past few months. Sometimes, God is just waiting right around the corner, waiting for you to ask Him in again when you've pushed Him away. Like the parable of the lost sheep, God will come searching for us, but we also have to make the choice to ask Him to carry us back home to the flock.

Have you ever been in what seems like a never-ending dry spell in your spiritual life? How did you eventually pull through?

For other great blog posts about spiritual dryness, check out these great series by Julie at The Corner with a View and Jen at Conversion Diary.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Future me? Who knows!
I have always been frugal with my money. I have always tried to live within my means, only spending money that I actually have. I'm not even close to the level of extreme couponing (yet), but I hardly ever buy something that isn't on sale or if I don't have a coupon (and usually both!). I also like to take time to make larger financial decisions, so I will thoroughly research products before making a big purchase (and by "big" purchase, I'm talking more than $20... that's how frugal I can be).

I also am a big saver. I was raised in a household where a certain amount of any money I received, whether it was an allowance, a gift, or hard-earned money, was put into a special savings envelope. I eventually grew up into a savings account at the bank, but that's where I started. Thankfully, I saved enough money over the past few years that I could put a down payment on a house, buy a car, or put on a wedding - at least those are things I said I was saving up for.

This was all when I had a steady income, and could afford to be a bit frivolous with my money.

And then the time of no-job came about. Since my last substantial paycheck from graduate school, I've had to cut my costs enormously. I'm talking cutting my credit card bill in half - which is not an easy feat. Despite being frugal with my money, I do like to shop the sales. So I had to make some drastic changes. No shopping, unless I absolutely need something. No eating out, which I used to do multiple times a week (I'm a single gal, it's tough cooking for one!). Only travel somewhere when necessary, and combine my trips when I can in order to save on gasoline expenses.

And I was successful. I cut my credit card bill in half for three months.

And then I hurt my back again. Hello, crazy doctor bills.

And then my roommate decided to move out. Hello, doubling the rent.

Don't let him get your bank account number!
All that money I had been saving up for something great suddenly began to quickly vanish before my eyes. It's like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named broke into my Gringotts account to try to steal the Sorcerer's Stone!

So, I've been trying to budget even more. Thankfully, I have parents who help out where they can (hello, crazy doctor bills!), friends who feed me for free (even if it's free packages of cookies leftover from Girl Scout meetings), and a temporary position that is guaranteed for a couple of months. The pay for this job would be more than enough to get my through the coming months... if I didn't have these surprise additions I mentioned above added to my monthly expenses. Now, it basically covers my rent and internet bill, with a bit of spare change leftover for everything else.

So, I've started seeing dollar signs in terms of food and gasoline. Here's an example scenario:
Me: They withheld $35 in these taxes, when I filled out the tax exempt form...
Someone else: It's not a big deal, it's $35...
Me: $35? That's my food budget for a week! The cost of gasoline in the car for ten days! $35 means I either don't eat for a week, or I take even more money out of my secret Gringotts vault. $35 is a big deal!
My new best friend.
Yes, I have turned into that much of a money pincher. $35 has even been known to be the cause of mini-breakdowns. I feel like the long lost Weasley cousin amongst the Harry Potters of the world, staring longingly at the mound of chocolate frogs that the young Harry Potter just bought from the trolley lady with his sack-full of galleons.

Because of these empty pockets, it also means I am unable to tithe with regular financial contributions to the church and select charities. I have tried to find ways to tithe with my time, but this has also proven difficult. Not many people want volunteers who can commit for the next week or so, and then go from there. Since I don't know when and where I'll get a job, that's about as far in advance as I can plan, and so as much as I want to be able to commit, I can't make any long-term commitments. Right now, my tithing of time consists of baking delectable treats for my weekly Bible study, playing with the concert band at community events once a month or so, and being a good listener to a friend in need. But it's not enough - it doesn't feel like enough.

All of this has me feeling like I'm unable to make decisions to go this way or that and a bit useless - I feel like I'm stuck in this constant state of stagnantly waiting.

For a job.

For a new, innovative way to make money (No, MetroExpress, I will not go to the "dancer" auditions that will make me $500 a night...).

For a way to volunteer my time without being required to give a long-term commitment.

I do not mean to give off the impression that I am so poor that I am driven to searching the couch cushions for spare change and on the verge of living in a cardboard box. I have many blessings in my life, including a substantial amount in my savings account that could allow me to live very frivolously, if I chose to do so. However, being me, I am finding it difficult to balance continuing to plan for the future and meeting my needs of today. This Sunday's epistle speaks a bit of knowing both abundance and need:
I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me...My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 4: 12-13, 19)
Sure, St. Paul. Your life was sooooo easy... at least, sometimes I feel like he leaves out a lot of details that really show how much of a struggle it can be. Did he just wake up each day completely trusting that God would provide for him, or did he struggle with it as we all tend to do? I'm not sure, but I wish I could better emulate St. Paul, who trusted God to care for all of his needs:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil."  (Matthew 6:25-34)
Where are the wormies?!
Dependence on God is a constant theme throughout Scripture, but especially in the materialistic world in which we live today, it's not always easy to trust that God will care for our material needs. Sometimes, I feel like a sparrow flying around searching for worms, but the ground is too hard and rocky to find anything fulfilling.

It was about a year ago that I made the decision to switch from the PhD to the Master's program, thereby "leaving" graduate school by graduating this past May. I was scared. I had no idea what was in store for me, but I knew that I was not supposed to continue with school at this time in my life, and so I placed my complete trust in God, trusting that He would take care of me since I only sought to follow His lead.

Yet, every path I've felt like I've been led down since then has quickly and suddenly turned into nothing. I trust that all of these paths didn't work out because that's not where I am supposed to be, but I have to wonder why I am in this state of getting my hopes up, only to have them dashed away in a heartbeat. It's come to the point where I don't know where to go, because if all these previous paths have been wrong, then what (or whom) was I following?

I have not lost complete trust, because I still trust that in the long run, things will work out (as people constantly remind me). It just has been a long, uphill (both ways! in the snow! without my snow boots!) battle, and now that I've gotten to the point of becoming such a penny pincher that I worry what I'm going to do without $35, I'm not sure how much longer I can continue in whatever direction I am going. To say the least, wandering around feeling lost is a stressful burden to carry - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I just long to seek God and His will for me. I've been told that's all we need to say - Thy will be done - and maybe this all is His will. I just sometimes wish I knew what it meant, and where it will eventually lead.

Until then, I have to keep trying not to worry as much about tomorrow as I have been recently, but instead work to keep my heart constantly seeking Heaven. Since I trust that Christ always spoke the truth, I know that God has His eye on the sparrows in the sky as well as His eye on me.

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