Friday, February 27, 2015

What is She Waiting For? What are We Waiting For?

I had a handsome lunch date on Tuesday. After a visit to check out a preschool, Liam and I sat across from each other at a two-top at Chick-fil-A, swapped one grilled nugget for one fried (because I needed to at least TASTE the fried sweetness that is Chick-fil-A chicken), chatted about ketchup... it was noontime perfection!

As we pulled out of the parking lot, he noticed a woman standing in the grass holding a sign. The conversation went something like this:
L- "Mama, what's that lady doing?"
Me - "She needs help."
L - His response could fuel a political debate, "Why is she just standing there?"
Me - "Because she is waiting."
L- "What is she waiting for?"
Me - "For someone to give her money."

And before the words came out of his sweet little mouth I knew what he was going to say, "Why don't we give her money?" 

My response - "I don't have any cash." Lie. I had $2.

The truth was, I didn't want to give her my last two dollars- I never have cash! I didn't want to reach over to the other side of the car - What if I couldn't reach? That would be awkward. I didn't want to hold up traffic coming out of the parking lot - I don't want to make the people behind me angry!

I am full of it. Excuses that is. And they need to stop.

If I remind myself of the gospel of Matthew where Jesus says in the parable, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me., I would realize that Jesus is saying to me, Abby, you made a lot of excuses for why you didn't help me. A lot. 

When we make the excuses, we are basically telling God that those obstacles are bigger than him.

But I think my son's response is another great example of having faith like a child. He doesn't think of the obstacles. He doesn't make excuses. He sees someone in need and says: They need. We have. Let's do it.

What are we waiting for?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Spirit of Honesty

Graham, the puke-eater.
He's hungry. Again. 
In the spirit of being honest about parenthood, I'll confess that my son ate a thrown-up cat treat today and I didn't even budge to get it out of his mouth.

I shared that on Facebook on Monday and received more comments than any of my posts over the past few months. Why?

It made people smile, but so do funny memes and videos of us making bacon roses.

It was a cute kid thing, but c'mon. Facebook is dripping with cute kid stories.

I think it's because we want honesty. We are craving the comfort that comes from knowing we are not worse parents than the next person or that "worse parents" is even something that is possibly measurable.

I know, I know. This has been blogged about before. Facebook is just a highlight reel. Don't compare your life to the lives that are presented through photos and 180 words or less. Yadda yadda. But here's what I've learned: When all we share on social media is the perfection that is captured in the 24th photo we snapped, the stories of how Michael or Emily got the award for "Most saintly kid!", or (if I'm really being honest here) the rejoicing at how our relationship with God is so perfect (because sometimes, don't you really want to say- "I'm not feeling it today, God!") we miss out on the Spirit moving through us to our friends.

When I shared about my divorce on the morning show, I got so many calls and emails from listeners saying they love me and are praying for me. Several emails came from people who had been through it or are going through it and they felt comforted and connected. One call in particular resonated with me. It came from a woman who had called dozens of times before and we almost always exchanged a laugh, but that day she said, "If you hadn't shared about what you've been going through for the past 8 months, our relationship would've stayed at the surface. But now I feel like I can tell you that I've been through..." and she shared about her own struggle.

The pain we go through carves out a path like a river bed for the Spirit to flow through, but the facades put up a dam. Letting our guard down and sharing the hurt, the confusion and the struggle lets the Holy Spirit move. We are thirsty for this. Don't let your insecurities keep you from being honest. You have no idea how God might use that honesty to move in the heart of another.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Soooo Addictive!

I'm pretty sure the day we talked about a Candy Crush addiction recovery program on The Big Big House Morning Show folks in the cars could hear my eyes rolling. Seriously? There are people who are THAT into a silly game that this type of thing actually exists? "That's REEE-diculous" I said!

And then I downloaded Candy Crush.

Hello. My Name is Abby and I'm a Candy Crush-aholic.

Okay, maybe I wasn't that bad, but I understood the appeal of the game. It was downright fun and strategic and totally addictive!

Have you ever noticed that in the reviews under an app the understood indicator of a good game is the phrase, "Totally addictive!" or "So addicted!" You can even search "addictive games" in the iTunes app store (for those of us who aren't in denial). Or when a new series hits TV if no reviewer says, "I was addicted after one episode!" then as a collective viewing audience we assume it's not that good.

In other words, if I am not rendered powerless by this thing I'm engaging in then it's not worth my time. Sure, it's really just our way of hyperbolically saying  - this show/game/app is really good, but why do we see addiction as something to be desired?

Is it for the same reason that we sit in front of the TV with a pint of ice cream and mindlessly eat, paying no attention to the fact that we are one spoonful away from consuming over 1000 calories in a single sitting? (hypothetically speaking, of course) Or we head to the mall and engage in some retail therapy taking a breath of fresh air with every cute shirt or pair of shoes we try on?

There is so much vying for our attention that we find solace in the ability to tune the rest out and just zone- could be with a game, a ice cream binge or a shopping trip. We want to avoid reality, the problems, the chores, the bills so we allow ourselves to get pulled in. We lose control. We let the things that turn off our brain become the things we crave - that we are "addicted" to. The addiction comes from the need to not think, not worry.

But is turning off and tuning out the way that God wants us to spend so much of our time? And yep, I'm going to say it- What if we took some of that time that we would normally scroll through our Facebook/Instagram/Twitter feed and sit & listen to Him. Sit in silence. Read the Bible. Meditate on one verse.

Lent starts in less than 48 hours. What if, over the next 40 days, we attempted to be more mindful of those moments when we feel ourselves slipping into zombie-land and cut it off before it take us over, before the addiction grabs us and zaps the time that we can give to God.

And on a side-note, I would love, just once to see in the reviews under a Bible app, "So addictive!" Truth.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Do I Still Get Dessert?

My guys love food. Shocker, I know. The other night, Liam ate 3 fish sticks, then asked for two more. So I slaved over the hot microwave and gave him two more. Yeah, not only do I serve them fish sticks, I microwave them instead of bake them in the oven. Don't hate! He said he was still hungry, so I gave him one more. His dinner consisted of 6 fish stick in all + haricot verts (he doesn't eat green beans but if we call them haricot verts he gobbles them up) + tomatoes + polenta, which in the same vain as the green beans, we called "rice" to get him to eat. His little brother ate almost as much, but only managed to put away 4 sticks.

After all this food, Liam asked if he was getting dessert. How could I say no? He did such a great job with dinner.  But there was a back story on this dessert - for their afternoon snack, the boys had pudding. I told them they could have that instead of fruit or pretzels (the normal snack) but that meant nothing crazy-sweet after dinner. We settled on pudding at 3:30 and planned for mango after dinner.

After dinner & bath my boys got bit by the energy bug and would NOT STOP MOVING! That's normal but man, they were amped up on something this night. I kept trying to get Liam's attention to get on with the post-bath process- "Liam, go grab a pull up." "Put your foot in your jammies." "Come here." "Stop running" "Settle down" "Don't clothes-line your brother". I said each of these phrases a number of times and each time - no exaggeration - he asked me, "DO I STILL GET DESSERT?"

Annoyed, I grabbed his face (I'm getting better but I'm still working on patience) and told him, "I don't lie. I told you you're getting dessert but you need to stop asking me that." And because there was something about the way he was looking at me each time he asked "Do I still get dessert"  that led me to believe he was testing me, I then said to him, "Why does it feel like you are trying to do as much misbehaving as you can up to the point where you get dessert taken away?" Maybe I didn't say it in those exact words, but that was the gist. And I know it went over his head, but I had to say it anyway.

The "event" ended there. The boys sat and watched Curious George and ate their diced up mango in silence. Side note -  I might name my next child George as an homage to that monkey because I am so grateful to him and the Man in the Yellow Hat.

The next morning I was thinking about the evening's happenings and realized I do the same thing with God that Liam was doing with me. In my heart, when I choose to sin, I am saying, "If I do this, do I still get dessert?" Can I still get to heaven? Is this sin really that bad? Can I get away with this and still be okay?  For those parents of teens and young adults they might be saying: How far can I go physically in this relationship and still be "in good standing". It's this silly gamble that we take. I know it's not necessarily theologically sound, but you get my drift.

What I wanted my three-year-old to understand is that I had a wonderful treat ready for him, not because he earned it by eating 87 fish sticks and half the produce aisle, but because I wanted it for him. I wanted him to obey and be "a good boy" not so he could maintain his dessert status, but because he loves me and wants to honor me as his mother.

I guess tonight I should treat him to dessert for teaching me another lesson...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Here am I, Lord?

I had to laugh. The Responsorial Psalm at mass yesterday from Psalm 40 was "Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will." Imagine this: I have the little one on my lap and he was so wiggly that not once but twice, he threw his head back and popped me in the mouth. Felt GREAT! Then the big one was not happy not getting my full attention and was fighting to push shut the book that I was "reading" to the little guy. It was not a banner day. On days like this, the best I can do is try to catch every few words that the priest says and glean something worth hanging on to. On days like these I find comfort in the words of a dear friend, "Your kids are your prayer right now".

Still, when I started singing along to "Here am I, Lord" I thought, "God is probably laughing at me and asking- Where are you?" My mind just happened to focus on the mass for that moment and I chose to participate, but seriously, was my heart really speaking the words my mouth was saying? Nope. Then I got to thinking about all the distractions we have in our lives and how even when I don't have two toddlers vying for my attention, I'm still a pretty sorry example of attentiveness.

Thankfully, God knows our hearts. He knows when we want more of Him but are pulled in two or three other directions. He knows when we are just babbling and when we are really sharing the desires of our hearts. BUT (and here's the kicker) we can't rest on that. We can't say, "God knows I WANT to spend more time with Him so it's ok if I keep this same routine and keep giving Him the last five minutes of my day or one hour on Sunday."

From today's Mass - Mark 2: 22, "Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins." When we feel the Holy Spirit inspiring us to go deeper or devote ourselves more fully to our faith, we can't continue the same habits and lifestyle. The good news - small changes can make a difference. Set that alarm 5 minutes earlier (It's not going to kill you!) so you have a chance to start your day in prayer or read the psalm for the day. Start praying before every meal, not just dinner. Try to make it to daily mass one more time per month. Join in a Bible study or download one onto your phone. If the wine is new on the inside, change the skin on the outside!

Friday, January 2, 2015

$20 vs Mud

That's my friend, Renee. On New Year's Eve she found $20 on the ground. She posted the photo to social media with the declaration, "2015 is going to be a great year!" Friends chimed in with words of congratulation and agreement. I asked her (not trying to be a pessimist), "Since you found it before midnight, are you sure it isn't an exclamation point on the end of a good year?" She poo-poo'ed me.

Whether it's hitting every light on the way into work or getting a run in our tights, we often let one incident set the tone and our level of expectation for a day or sadly, even a year. It's great if we allow this to make us optimistic and hopeful, but I think more often than not, we tend to focus on the negative.

Renee thought that $20 was just the first in what would surely be a year of good things, but what if she had,instead, at the same spot on the sidewalk, gotten splashed with mud by a passing car? Is 2015 destined to be rotten?

I am guilty of doing the backwards version of this. 2014 was a rough year for me and it all started on January 1st. New Year's Day. 3:30pm. So as the year drew to a close, I said more than a few times, "I'm ready for this year to be over" as if the calendar determines how things will unfold.

The days, months and years will unfold how we allow them to. God is continually molding and shaping our lives and our hearts. If we have a hardness, like dry clay, what can He do with us? Holding on to an attitude of, "Today is going to be a bad day" or "This month is just awful. I can't wait for it to be over." will put up a wall where God might want to come in. We could miss out on opportunities to see $20 on the ground or silver linings on the clouds. So here's to 2015 and what each moment holds!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Roses in the Winter

Today is the feast day of St. Juan Diego. Appropriately, this Friday, December 12th is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have to admit that when it comes to the image of Mary that I connect with, Our Lady of Guadalupe has never been at the top of my list, but lately, it has been growing on me!

In case you aren't familiar with the story of Juan Diego, I'll give you the lightning-round version. Dec 9th, 1531, just outside of Mexico City on Tepeyac Hill, 57-year-old Juan Diego was walking to Mass to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception when he heard music playing and saw a beautiful woman. She called out to him, "Juanito". She told him to go to Bishop Zumarraga and tell him she wanted a church built on that site. He followed orders, told the bishop about his encounter with the Blessed Mother and the bishop said he'd reflect on it. Juan Diego returned to the site and Mary instructed him to try again.

The bishop listened again, still did not comply but asked for proof from Juan Diego that it was indeed the Blessed Mother he was speaking with. Cutting to the chase - Mary instructed Juan Diego to go to the top of the mountain and pick some flowers. The top of this mountain was dry and while cactus could be found, no flowers would grow there. Yet, Juan Diego found roses that are foreign to Mexico. He gathered them in his tilma, a garment like a poncho. He brought them to Mary who arranged them and said to take them to the bishop. He returned to the bishop (it's now December 12th) opened the tilma and not only did the bishop see all the beautiful and rare roses, but also the image of Mary we now know as the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church was built by Christmas! Talk about fast construction!

What I love about this encounter is the unlikelihood or even the impossibility that the roses would be found at that place, at that time. Not only was it December, but these roses didn't grow in that part of the country at any time of the year. It was an unexpected sign of the presence of God.

As women, we like to plan. We HAVE to plan! We know how we want things to unfold. We think we know what's best. And if life is not going as smoothly as we want, we wonder where God is and why He isn't hearing our prayers.

God, I didn't expect my child to get sick. I didn't plan for my marriage to crumble. This job loss was not the way I saw things playing out. I'm feeling lost and alone. Where are you? What are you doing with me?

But in Isaiah 40 verse 3 we read, "A voice cries out: In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord!" Note the punctuation. The voice is not crying out in the wilderness. The voice is proclaiming TO cry out while in the wilderness.

When you're feeling dry in your faith, alone in your marriage, overwhelmed by your obligations, unsure of your job as a mom - cry out to God for blessings. Those that come in the difficult, arid times are such precious gifts and when you can share with others how GREAT God is while you are in the thick of it, that is a powerful witness.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Grandma vs Jason Derulo, Guest Post from Arleen Spenceley

Arleen, who learned very little of
what she knows at Spirit FM
I'm a proud mom! My former intern, Arleen Spenceley is releasing a real, live book! You'll read all about Arleen waaaaay below, but I want to invite you to our next Mom Squad event- the book release party for Chastity is for Lovers. It's December 6th from 1-3pm here at Spirit FM. (Well, it's on the second floor of the building where are studios are located -The Mary Martha Center at Christ the King on S Dale Mabry.) Arleen will read an excerpt from the book and take some questions. She's also hosting a release party in Spring Hill on December 5th in Xavier Hall at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church. To RSVP to either party, visit arleenspenceley.com/party. Okay, enough from me. On to the real author! 

If you aren’t sure whether your children’s favorite songs are good for their impressionable minds or precious souls, there is one foolproof way to find out: dance to them with my grandmother.

She is 77, and moved to the US from Italy when she was 10. She can and will cut a  rug, and she doesn’t care who knows it, or where she is while she’s proving it. (You’re welcome, all the people at Red Lobster that one time.) What my grandmother will not do, however, is let a single song lyric slide if it’s off-color.

You haven’t known scandal until you’ve seen what her face looks like upon her discovery that the title of the song she’s dancing to is “Sexy and I Know It.” Nary a body, a booty, or a b-word (yes, that b-word) goes unnoticed in lyrics, which fascinates me – a 28-year-old woman (29 next week!), who has grown up as part of a generation widely unfazed by what shocks my grandma.

But what might shock you is what else once shocked her: my virginity.

It’s true: I turn 29 on Nov. 7 and I have never had sex. That’s because – as a person who practices chastity – I believe that sex is a sacred physical sign of the commitment spouses made to each other on the altar where they were married. I’m not married, and you can put two and two together.

My grandmother learned I’m a virgin by reading about it in the newspaper (if you’re already thinking my family can and should have a reality show, at least a fourth of us agrees). She wasn’t shocked because of anything I had ever said or done. She was shocked because I was in my 20’s and she – though offended by suggestive song lyrics – knows perfectly well that it’s normal for people my age to sleep with the people they date.

We grew up in a culture in which the world’s voice was louder than the Church’s, during an era in which sex was a taboo topic in too many homes. The sex talk for lots of my peers both started and stopped at “don’t do it” or “do it ‘safely’” (if the talk ever started at all). That meant their initial conceptions of sex came from sources that scandalize my grandma – pop music and movies and TV.

The media says sex can or should be for fun, or for deciding how much you really like a person, or for expressing your love for him or her. Somebody who thinks that’s what sex is for thinks somebody who says “don’t do that until marriage” is crazy. But somebody who says “don’t have sex outside of marriage” and doesn’t define sex is somebody who unwittingly amplifies what no Christian ever should: the world’s voice. But there is a way we can begin to undo the damage done:

Get louder.

For my grandma, that means scolding Jason Derulo songs for talking about talkin’ dirty. For me, it means writing a book called Chastity Is For Lovers.

What does it mean for you?


Arleen Spenceley is author of the book Chastity Is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, to be released by Ave Maria Press on November 28th. She is also a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times who blogs about love, relationships, and sex from a Catholic perspective at arleenspenceley.com. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ArleenSpenceley.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"I Watch What I Do To See What I Really Believe"

I think inspirational quotes are overused and therefore often become ineffective. We've heard so many that life seems to be turning into one big cat poster: "Hang in there!" But every now and then one pops up that really speaks to me and this is one of those:

I watch what I do to see what I really believe.

Those are the words of Sister Helen Prejean, a leading advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. Her name might sound familiar. She's the subject of the movie Dead Man Walking starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Her ministry started in her home-state of Louisiana where she spent most of her time in a white, middle-class neighborhood. But one day she felt Jesus challenging her to go deeper, to love the outcast, the criminal. So she moved into a housing project in an African-American neighborhood in New Orleans.

She went from praying for the criminals to living among them (That's not to say there are not criminals in white middle-class neighborhoods. There most definitely are.). She heard gun-shots at night, mothers crying out for their children and she realized she had to roll up her sleeves and get in the fight. That lead her to her death row ministry. 

She realized that praying for the outcast was one thing, but if she really believed they are loved and treasured gifts from God, she should do more. Hence the quote.

I thought about how those words should guide me as a mother. They are kind of a twisted opposite of the phrase I more often find myself thinking, "Don't do as I do. Do as I tell you." 

We want our children, whether they are toddlers, teens or young adults to choose right. Whether "right" means to pray, make responsible financial decisions, avoid drug use, speak kindly to and about their friends and enemies. But do we want this because we have heard it's right or because we know it's right. And if we know it's right, then are we doing it ourselves?

I watch what I do to see what I really believe. 

I really believe that I want Liam to pray when he is angry at his little brother, but is that what I do? I really believe that if I found out my child (obviously this is a few years off) had gossiped and hurt someone's reputation that I would be furious and disappointed, but have I eliminated gossip from my conversations? 

This is more than just, "Be a good example". We can use this thought as a mirror of sorts to see what (if anything) is truly valuable to us. If you don't like what you see, make a change. Choose ONE thing and give yourself concrete ideas on how to improve and then follow up with another look in that mirror down the road. God WANTS us to like what we see and I believe we will like what we see when we do what we say we believe.