Empty, Open Hands

Well it sure has been a while! I’ll admit, this break was not necessarily planned or intended. It just sort of happened. I try to make this blog as close to God speaking through me as possible. So if I’m inspired to write, I write. If I’m not, I try not to force the issue. I’ve been inspired off and on during this impromptu hiatus, but haven’t found the motivation to write about it.

Until today. And I hope it sticks. Because I have some exciting news to share at the end.

This morning, Ben and I got the kids up early for daily Mass. You may recall that we moved back in January. Our new parish is a very active, welcoming community. There is a school attached to the parish and the students attend Mass throughout the week. Each grade/groups of grades go once a week. On Wednesdays, as today happens to be, the youngest students attend Mass.

When the older kids go, they are the ones who lector and serve. The little ones, however, are not old enough yet. Therefore, the homeschooling families traditionally handle these duties on Wednesdays. I love this inclusion of the homeschool families. Of course, we signed up to participate.

On this particular morning, Rosie (age 9) and John (age 10), had prepared to lector and served respectively. However when we arrived we were told by the custodian that Father was away, something had come up, and there wouldn’t be Mass. The kids were disappointed and understandably so.

The lights were off in the church. Only the tabernacle candle and the prayer intention candles at a few statues along the walls were lit. It’s October and we were still early enough in the morning for light to be faint and mysterious. Instead of going home, I suggested we go into the darkened church.

We went in and sat down. After a few minutes of not silence, I started a Rosary. Conveniently, I noticed that we have 4 main statues surrounding the pews – The Blessed Mother, Joseph holding the Child Jesus, a version of the Infant of Prague, and Jesus’ Sacred Heart. We did our first decade in the pews facing the tabernacle. We then began a traveling Rosary, stopping at each statue for a decade.

Our final stop was with Joseph. I was leading again, but standing behind the kids. Clare (age 7), was in front of me, using her hands to keep track of the Hail Mary’s. As she got to the 5th, instead of closing that had and moving on to the next, or just starting over, she kept it open. Then, when she reached the 10th, she kept both hands open and extended for the duration of the prayer.

I was so struck by the simplicity of her posture, yet it’s profound message. I wish I could have taken a picture. Here was a young girl, praying, with hands open and empty, ready to receive the graces bestowed upon her. She did not feel the need to work for the grace, she wasn’t proving she was good enough or worthy enough. It was a very St. Terese of Lisieux moment.

After we finished, Clare came up to me. “I liked that Mommy,” was all she said. I hope she keeps this attitude of prayer. The emptiness, the openness. What a witness to me and my own feeble attempts at proving my worth or being concerned over my accomplishments. God doesn’t need those. He just needs my hands to be ready to receive His gifts.

Speaking of gifts, I’m excited to share that Advent Journals are back and nearly finished! This year we are shaking things up with a brand new format I was inspired to create (truly inspired – I heard this phrase on a knitting podcast of all places and it became a fully fledged Advent journal. Only God can do that!). Remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from when you were a kid? This is going to be similar. The key phrase is “Embrace Your Own Pace.” I’ll be sharing more as I get closer to pushing publish. These will continue to be completely and totally free, as usual. So get excited and please share the good news with your friends, family and parish!

Choosing our Feelings & A New Method of Fasting

Lent is on the way. I know this because my fingers have been frantically typing to finish up the Lenten Lectio Divina journal for this year. It ought to be ready and posted by this weekend, so for anyone who is looking for it, it’s on the way! 

I had a revelation a few days ago that I wanted to share. A little update first. As I sit here typing, I am almost 35 weeks pregnant with #6. My sister-in-law and I have been walking the pregnancy journey together, which has been so much fun. She, however, is a bit further along than I am and that day I spent thinking she was at the hospital getting ready to meet her first child. I was so happy for my brother and his wife. This is their first baby and has been a long journey. Pregnancy and pandemic are not the easiest combination.

And yet, while I was genuinely happy and excited for them, I felt off all day. I blamed it on ligament pain, general pregnancy stuff, etc. But as I woke up the following morning (it turned out I had it wrong and this was the day of the inducement) I was struck by this rather ugly thought:

“Yesterday I was jealous that she was going to have her baby and I’m not there yet.”

It hit me hard too. All day, I was harboring this jealously so tightly within me that it’s tendrils reached out to effect my entire day. I wasn’t patient, I struggled with motivation, I didn’t even want to cook dinner or plan out the meals for the week because it involved too much work. I felt exhausted even though I hadn’t done much. I was frustrated with myself for my failings and that surely didn’t do anyone in the house any good. 

Because of this revelation, the actual day of the birth of my very first nephew, was noticeably different. I still had the same ligament pain, same pregnancy stuff. But I acknowledged this struggle I am having, prayed about it and it makes all the difference. While writing this, two of the girls asked me to play a game with them. I very much wanted to get it finished this afternoon during the few precious hours of quiet time while Gabriel, now 18 months, is asleep. The day before, I would have probably snapped at them for interrupting me and sent them to play on their own. This day, I closed my laptop and played Go Fish. 

Instead of letting my jealously rule me, I chose to rule it.

Any program for addiction will tell you that you have to own the feelings and thoughts you are having. You have to acknowledge you need help, that you can’t go it alone. By naming how we are feeling, we are acknowledging the feelings for what they are. From that place, we can choose to indulge them, dismiss them, or change them. I am so thankful that God revealed to me my jealous heart so that I could greet my new nephew with a heart full of joy and love.

With Lent coming up, this is a great time to consider what feelings we are ruling, and which ones we are allowing to rule us. What actions or activities do we feel we cannot live without, and what can we let go of without too much complaint?

Since the start of the year, I have been trying something new. Instead of one big New Year’s resolution (which I usually fail at by now) I have chosen a weekly fast that changes with each week. Sundays are “off” days and simultaneously discernment days. No fasting, but discerning the upcoming week to see what I will be fasting from. Some things I’ve fasted from already include:

  • Desserts
  • Instagram
  • Social media scrolling (I check in once a day because important announcements for Ben’s squadron are often posted on Facebook but I did not allow myself to sit and scroll the newsfeeds)
  • Games on my phone

I have repeated a few and have found some to be harder than others. Desserts were hard all week long and I found myself reluctant to bake anything because I couldn’t have it. This is something to work on for sure since my whole family wasn’t fasting from dessert, just me. Social media wasn’t as hard as I expected, though I did notice that I just played more solitaire or word searches so it wasn’t necessarily a reduction in screen time. I plan to fast at some point from using my phone after the kids are in bed, like a digital sunset if you’ve heard of that. This week happens to be phone games and I am noticing a reduction in screen time. There’s only so much Instagram scrolling I’m willing to do, which is new information for me about my phone tolerances and habits.

Usually for Lent we choose one thing to fast from. I’d like to offer an alternative, especially if you were planning on fasting from something you habitually do each year, like pop or chocolate. Take some time and look at your calendar for Lent. What might you fast from each week that would bring either meaningful change to that week, or could reveal meaningful information about you, your habits and feelings? Maybe you only pick two things and switch back and forth (there are 6 weeks including Holy Week so you would fast an even number of times). Each time you revisit the fast you could tweak it, adjust it, so that you continue to grow and stretch yourself. Here’s an example:

Week 1: Fast from saying “I want.”

Week 2: Fast from chocolate.

Week 3: Continue your fast from Week 1 and include delayed gratification practices. If there is something you want to do, buy, eat, etc., wait a specific amount of time before doing the activity (Personally, I would not count main meals in the “I want” category.) 

Week 4: Continue your fast from Week 2 and include no desserts of any kind.

Week 5: Continue your fast from Weeks 1 and 3. Challenge yourself to fast from whatever was the hardest thing to wait for in the previous weeks.

Week 6: Continue your fast from Weeks 2 and 4. Challenge yourself to eat no dessert or snack between meals.

Do you see how the fasts grow upon one another, building your stamina over the course of the whole Lenten journey? This is just one idea of course, there are so many good practices and methods of fasting. 

What are you planning on fasting from? What do you think of the idea of trying a gradually building fast over the course of Lent? 

Don’t forget, the free Lenten Lectio Divina journal for this Lent will be out by this weekend! This is a totally free resources to download, please feel free to share the blog post link when it is up.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Bringing Our Best

As we continue to move closer to Christmas, I find that more and more of our focus turns toward Mary. This makes sense in many ways, she is the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Her “yes” to God’s plan is one of the main reasons we are all here, all waiting the blessed day of our Savior’s birth. However, I happen to be in a unique season of life that has me thinking a lot about St. Joseph and the sacrifices he had to make in this adventure.

We are a military family and as it happens, the military has planned for us to transition to a new state in the early weeks of January. Our holiday season has already looked a lot different (even outside of the coronavirus limitations and sacrifices). We don’t have a Christmas tree this year, we have really only put up Advent decorations and minimal Christmas ones. We have had to ask our family to refrain from sending their gifts until after we move so that we don’t end up losing critical LEGO pieces or doll accessories between Christmas Day and a few days later when the serious pack out begins.

I am both a preparer and a celebrator. I like to make plans, get gifts early, make lots of cookies, decorate and leave everything up for the fullness of the Christmas season. This whole notion of emptying the freezer so it can thaw instead of filling it up is very backwards in my frame of mind for this time of year. Though we know little of St. Joseph’s personality from the few passages he is in in the Bible, I believe he and I have some things in common, our affinity for preparation for one.

When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he immediately set out with plans — plans which would have protected Mary to the best of his ability. When the angel appeared to him, his plans clearly changed. But I believe his instinct to protect Mary, and by extension her baby, would have carried on and he would have immediately began planning for this new child. Imagine the cradle a carpenter would make for his son or daughter. Imagine the little stool or bench by the door sized for his toddler. Imagine the toys, trinkets or other baubles he would have made in the evenings by firelight as he awaited the birth of his child.

Now, imagine the pain he must have felt when they received word about the census and he calculated the timing. All of these things he had lovingly and carefully prepared had to be left behind. Imagine how his pain increased when the angel again appeared and told him not to return home to the home he had built, but to flee to Egypt. Sacrifice topped on top of sacrifice. But just because what he had built with his hands had to be left, didn’t mean that Joseph didn’t bring his best along for the journey. Joseph brought his love, his protection, his faithfulness, and his steadfastness.

This year has been fundamentally different. It was not what we planned. Sacrifice on top of sacrifice has brought us to this Advent season. However, we have been gifted an opportunity to choose to approach the coming days with the same spirit of St. Joseph. Christmas Day might not look like what we had planned, but that doesn’t mean we are bringing less than our best. Regardless of how many people are around our table, the child Jesus is with us. No matter how we find ourselves, in our pjs all day or Sunday best, Mary invites us to come and worship her newborn babe. And, regardless of our location, St. Joseph is among us, reminding us that it matters not what we brought or bought. The spirit of Christmas lies in the manger, awaiting not our gifts but our love, our faithfulness, and our devotion.

This post was published first at CatholicMom.com