3 Things Lent Taught Me About Prayer

What we learn from LentPrayer is not something new to me. My Catholic resume has some pretty decent bones to it. Even so, I do believe we tread on dangerous ground when we feel like our faith cannot teach us something new. As a lifelong learner, I love when old “practices” can bear new fruit.

Sometimes simply making a few changes feels like opening wide the windows, allowing bright light and fresh air to pour in. Spiritual refreshment is an important part of our faith walk, otherwise we can experience pitfalls, such as mindlessly go through the motions or getting stuck in a spiritual rut. This Lent, my approach to prayer was different {read more here}. For 40 days, I prayed for 40 people and their at least 40 intentions — my 40/40/40 Lenten Prayer Pact.

It was a beautiful time of intercession, and I’m really grateful to all who participated – either through asking for prayer, or hosting your own. My heart swelled when my Sister-in-Law told me that she had her whole South Florida Catholic grade-school class doing the 40/40/40 for Lent.

What did I learn during the 40/40/40? Here are three things that Lent taught me about prayer:

1. Generosity and reciprocity.

My 40/40/40 in no way suggested to participants that anything may be expected back from those submitting their prayer intentions. This was not framed as, “Let’s pray for each other this Lent.” I told people that I wanted to pray for them, and that was that; yet I found that prayer begets prayer more often than not — reciprocity.

Many signup forms or emails were returned telling me, “I’m praying for you too!” Whether you call this show of generosity “Pay It Forward”, Karma, or the Law of Attraction — I know it was a blessing for all involved. Some of the intentions tapped into such a personal part of my own journey, so my heart was moved with compassion many times throughout Lent.

2. Outward focus begins in the heart.

If you do a Scripture search on “heart”, you will see from all the results that the Lord addresses the disposition of our hearts frequently in the Bible. As the central part of our person, that is intentional. Scripture affirms that our actions, thoughts, and words all flow from the heart. It follows that if we are to follow Christ’s example of Servant-Leadership, then our hearts need to be focused on others.

Prayer is a movement of the heart, so interceding on another’s behalf inclines the heart outward, which brings us to a frame of mind to be focused on others before self. When our heart, mind and prayer is not consumed by our own desires and thoughts, we become less self-seeking and desire to serve and help others more. I found myself participating in more ways than normal to support and help others that were in need.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” – Matthew 5:8

3. Prayers prepare your heart for the answer.

We all can relate to asking others to join us in praying for something that we want God to provide for us. Whether our heart is seeking a general provision, like God send me a spouse, or a specific provision, such as heal this person of Cancer, our hearts are set on the answer of YES. Should God provide another answer it can be painful.

This weekend God further reminded me of how we ask people to pray for one thing, but it can be at work in another way. On Friday night, my husband and I decided to drive to Austin to see some properties we were interested in touring with our Realtor. Everything fell into place (thanks to a friend, with 3 hours notice, that responded, “You’re staying with me!”) On Saturday morning, after viewing a few lemons, we walked into a beautiful home that felt perfect. We agreed — we could live here — felt excited, and made an offer on the home the next day. Considering that we weren’t the only offer, even though the home was on the market for only 2 days, we immediately began asking our closest family and friends to join us in praying that they would accept our offer.

There was no lack of prayer, yet several hours later we learned the news that our offer was their 2nd choice and the home-owners were going with another offer. I believe that my prayer and the prayers of others afforded the grace to receive the news and remain positive and open to God’s provision still. The home for us is still out there, exactly where we are meant to be. My heart was readied by prayer to hear and accept the news that I did NOT want in that moment, but answered the greater prayer of moving exactly where we are meant to be. Was it disappointing – sure – but was I devastated and thinking God had failed us, certainly not. Everyone’s prayers lifted us up, and are still at work for the overarching prayer.

When we pray, we must also be open to the answers of no or not yet.

A BIG thanks again to all my 40/40/40 participants. Know that as the Triduum began on Holy Thursday, I also spoke each of your names and petitions before the Altar, laying each of them there.

Even though I am a planner and like to get all my ducks in a row in advance, I was the one that suggested we travel to Austin this weekend on a moments notice. Everything fell together beautifully, in that we were able to still spend time with family (even family I had never met before!) and friends. Sharing a few of the sweet moments that we spent in Austin over Easter weekend:

Home Slice Pizza Austin Things to do in Austin St Mary's Cathedral Austin cowboy boots in Austin S Congress St Austin

Kirby Lane Breakfast

It may be blurry, but the flavor of Kirby Lane’s Chicken Biscuit topped with Eggs and Green Sauce is crystal clear in my mind.

With Bill Williams family in Cedar Park

What did you learn this Lent? Please share in the comments — I would love to hear!

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So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance!

powerball oddsTo my lotto loving husband, my Powerball pursuer, my dreamer — this is dedicated to you. 1 in 175 million, Babe, so I’m telling you there’s a CHANCE!

Our Powerball odds bring me back to that quintessential “Dumb and Dumber” moment where Lloyd Christmas famously asks:

Lloyd Christmas: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?

Mary Swanson: Well, Lloyd, that’s difficult to say. I mean, we don’t really…

Lloyd Christmas: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?

Mary Swanson: Not good.

Lloyd Christmas: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?

Mary Swanson: I’d say more like one out of a million.

[pause]

Lloyd Christmas: So you’re telling me there’s a chance… YEAH!

Play on, Hubby, as somebody has to be the 1 in the 175 million, right?!  

 

 

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Lent: My 40/40/40 Prayer Pact

lentAlthough this whole Lent deal is far from a new season to me, I somehow fail to properly plan until Ash Wednesday springs upon me in its dusty, stark, post-Mardi-Gras-glitz-and-sugar-hangover-way. This year I am working on being more intentional about starting my Lent with a sense of readiness. Nevermind the fact that an assortment of ideas and distractions ambush my brain while I sit at my desk attempting to do my business tax prep for my CPA, but this idea I knew was inspired…

But let me interrupt this inspiration banter with: This is your 9 DAYS until Lent starts countdown!

Now back to what the Spirit stirred up. This isn’t a give up chocolate kind of Lenten offering (and yes I love chocolate). I wanted to dig deeper in prayer, giving people the assurance that they were specifically being prayed for, their intentions, by name, during this Lent.

So, I am starting a LENTEN PRAYER PACT 40 for 40 in 40:

40 prayer intentions

For 40 people

In 40 days

Each of 40 days of Lent will be dedicated to one of the 40 specific prayer intentions from 40 different people. Whether you are a friend, or I have never met you, that makes no difference – sign up and you are on my 40/40/40 list this Lent and I will commit to praying for you. Note, I will never share or publish your prayer intentions, unless you want me to and give me express permission.

WHAT IS THE 40/40/40 LENT PRAYER PACT?

Over 40 days, I will be devoting a day to prayer for each participant and your prayer intention during my Lenten journey. A pact is defined as a formal agreement between individuals or parties, and I formally agree to pray for 40 people’s intentions over 40 days.

WHY DID YOU CREATE THE PACT?

There is such a power and gift in intercessory prayer. Offering prayers on the behalf of others is also a way to be focused on the needs of others. It reaps graces for those in need. My hope is that the 40/40/40 will help me focus on others more, create a positive prayer movement, and help others along their Lenten journey.

WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO HAVE YOU PRAY FOR ME?

If you’d like to be included on my 40/40/40, fill out the form below. The first 40 I will commit to pray for you by name, lifting up you intention – simple. If you are late signing up and the list is full (there are only 40 spaces after all) I may be able to coerce my husband to take you on🙂 Or, I would encourage you to do the prayer pact with your friends and relatives yourself.

SO, HOW DO I START MY OWN 40/40/40 LENTEN PRAYER PACT?

  1. Easiest way to compile your list is to create a sign up form, like the Google form I am using below. For help, here’s a YouTube Lynda.com tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IxFeVXBwaQ, then embed it or share it with others.
  1. Share information (you have permission to use my verbiage and graphics in this post) on the prayer pact with your friends and family. Share though email, Social Media, and a blog if you have one. You can use my 40/40/40 Graphic too.
  1. Begin your prayer challenge on February 18, 2015 (Ash Wednesday) and continue through April 4, Holy Saturday. To keep yourself on track, your participant signups through Google forms can be compiled in a Google document. Next just print out and either keep your list with your Bible, tape to your mirror, or wherever/however you’ll remember to pray for your 40 participants.
  1. This takes bit of coordination, but how nice if you take the time to remind your participants on the day that you’re praying for them. That could be an email, text, post-it note, Facebook message/Tweet/Snapchat/whatevs, or something to say, “I’m praying for you on this day of the 40/40/40 challenge” or send them my Ephesians graphic at the bottom.

It’s a pretty simple concept, but I am excited to invite 40 other people along on my Lenten journey through praying for your intentions.

UPDATE: FEBRUARY 13th, I have my 40/40 for my 40 already signed up, so my form is no longer accepting submissions, sorry! 

FREE DOWNLOAD – LENTEN PRAYER PACT CALENDAR!
Click link below to download & print. Fill in the names of your participants on each of the 40 days and hang in a good reminder spot!

Lenten Calendar 2015

NEED TO GET PEOPLE TO PRAY FOR? USE THIS GRAPHIC IN YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA WITH A LINK TO YOUR SIGN-UP FORM:

lent prayers

HERE’S A FACEBOOK COVER TO USE:

Lent Facebook Cover

HERE’S A TWITTER COVER TO USE:

lenten twitter cover

LET PEOPLE KNOW YOU’RE PRAYING FOR THEM. HERE’S A “PRAYING FOR YOU” GRAPHIC YOU CAN EMAIL/TEXT/SHARE WITH THEM:

lenten prayer pact

Invite other to join the prayer pact for their Lent.

Lent prayers

Finally, you can do something special like this for your participants to remind them of your prayers during the next 40 days:

40 days of Lent

 

 

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Grieving + Grief Support for Survivors of Suicide

TRIGGER WARNING: This is the second of two posts discussing the personal journey of a dear friend through loss and grieving as a suicide survivor.

NOTE FROM LISA: We continue our short series on grieving and ministering to the bereaved, delving deeper into the journey of guest blogger, Erin…

After a year of intense grief from my mother’s suicide, when I finally found myself able to seek out others like myself who had been through this sort of loss, I took part in a closed Loss by Suicide group offered by the Bereaved Families of Ontario. I truly found in that circle of friends some kindred spirits who “got me” if you will. After 10 weeks of attending, I told them that I had found my tribe.

Some practical advice I would give to those grieving someone’s suicide, as shared by my bereavement group would be as follows

grieving-tips-for-suicide-survivors

  1. Know you can survive. You may not think so, but you can.
  2. Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know “why” or until you are satisfied with partial answers.
  3. Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings, but all your feelings are normal.
  4. Anger, guilt, confusion and forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy – you are in mourning.
  5. Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself.
  6. You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do.
  7. Having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean that you will act on those thoughts.
  8. Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.
  9. Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone.
  10. Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing.
  11. Give yourself time to heal.
  12. Remember, the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence in another’s life.
  13. Expect setbacks. Don’t panic if emotions return like a tidal wave. You may only be experiencing a remnant of grief.
  14. Try to put off making major decisions.
  15. Give yourself permission to get professional help.
  16. Be aware of the pain of your family and friends.
  17. Be patient with yourself and others.
  18. Set your own limits and learn to say no.
  19. Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.
  20. Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as Bereaved Families or Survivors of Suicide Groups. If not, ask a professional to help start one.
  21. Call on your personal faith to help you through.
  22. It is common to experience physical reactions to your grief, i.e. headaches, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, etc.
  23. The willingness to laugh with others and at yourself is healing.
  24. Wear out your questions, anger, guilt or other feelings until you can let them go.
  25. Know that you will never be the same again, but you can survive and go beyond surviving.

All of this advice was truly what saved me especially during the first few years of my grieving process. Counseling and spiritual direction were an incredible support as well. Recognizing the magnitude of the loss that my family and I individually had suffered was so important.

Some advice that I would also give to people who are trying to support someone who had lost a loved one to suicide would be:

  • Please be gentle with your friend in mourning. Know that their emotions will likely be more intense than may seem “reasonable” due to the stress of the grief they are undergoing.
  • Try to let them know that you are here for them, even if you do not understand what it is like to be in their shoes.
  • Don’t wait for them to call you or tell them to “call if you need anything.” The truth is that while in this type of grief you have no clue what you need. Some days it may be an accomplishment to simply get out of bed. As a mother I had no choice but to care for my young children, but I would have been so grateful for offers of grocery delivery or more childcare help so that I could nap with my new baby. I personally could not brave the grocery store for months and months after losing my mother (my husband did the shopping).
  • Grief is exhausting. Offer help in tangible ways to those who are grieving. Bring food and leave it on the doorstep, or offer to come over and tidy up the house a bit, put on a load of laundry, or do some dishes.
  • Offer prayers, but do not stop there. The Mass cards and prayer offerings are appreciated, but so is the offer to lay hands upon the grieving and pray together in person. Avoid saying, “You know, your ______ was mentally ill. God doesn’t hold it against them.” Catholics, please don’t bring up condemnation – that God doesn’t condemn their beloved to hell. I would like to think that this is generally understood not to be Catholic teaching, though practices in the past have confused people into believing so.
  • Beyond the above mentioned, do not shy away from this out of fear of what to say. Trust in the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Let your grieving friend speak of their dead. Let them share their story if you are comfortable.
  • Offer to watch their children so they can go to counseling appointments, or offer to go with them.
  • Bring flowers on an anniversary or for no reason at all.
  • Offer to go to the cemetery with them. Know that even the simplest act of kindness means a tremendous amount to one in mourning. This is truly a spiritual work of mercy to comfort the sorrowful.
  • Try to avoid simplistic explanations and clichés. Telling your friend that, “They look so well” or seem to be doing great when they are seen out in public can inadvertently be very hurtful. Those grieving will certainly pull themselves together to go to work, church etc. Just because someone is groomed and dressed nicely doesn’t mean that emotionally they are fine. It is so important to look past externals.
  • Offer compassion without trying to explain away the suicide. Be aware that holidays are also likely to be difficult now with the absence of the person who has died. Offer friendship during this time.

Finally, I invite others to change the language we use around suicide from saying that someone “committed suicide” to simply saying that they “died by suicide” or “completed suicide”.

These are the phrases now used in bereavement groups and by those who study suicide and work in the mental health field. It does not negate the fact that the individual who died carried out the act of suicide, but it changes the way we look at the intentions of the person.

When Robin Williams died in 2014 suddenly everyone became an expert on suicide. I was grateful to see the topic being discussed so openly in the press and in the blogosphere, but I resented the fact that so many tried to project their own understanding of suicide onto his decision. One blogger wrote something along the lines of, “Robin Williams didn’t die because of depression, he died because of his choice.”

It is true that he did ultimately make the decision to take his life, but we must always understand with suicide that we do not and will never be able to understand the depth of one’s pain at the moment they choose to end their life. To say they committed suicide is to imply that they did something almost criminal. From a moral standpoint, we know that it is objectively a completely rejection of all that is good, even life itself, to end one’s life, but we cannot see into someone’s heart to see a rejection of goodness. We have to trust that the sickness that brought such mental and emotional turmoil into their life was never something that God intended.

For those who are suicidal, all they know is pain and darkness. If losing a loved one to suicide can have any redeeming qualities, perhaps it might be in helping us as survivors to grow in compassion for those who suffer. Rather than passing judgment, perhaps we can expand our hearts to seek to be more authentic with others in our daily walk. To survivors of suicide, telling them to trust in God’s mercy for their loved one’s soul is a beautiful gift, but please know that just as much they need to hear that you are sorry for their pain and that it is real. Even Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane and we too embrace our humanity when we walk through the valley of tears with our Father during times of grief.

I am amazed at how others have opened up to me in this past few years, sharing their own stories with me and trusting me with their pain. It has been an honour to know that despite this horrible grief that I have endured, somehow God can use even this for His glory. It is a mystery to me that it is possible, but somehow He brings it all to good in His merciful plan.

The other blogs in this series are:

Suicide Survivor Shares Her Journey Through Grief, Part One

Bereavement: A Call For Greater Support to the Grieving

IMPORTANT NOTE:

If you or a loved one is battling through grief as a suicide survivor, and have questions/thoughts that you’d rather not share in a public forum, please send me an email directly –> Send Email. I can get all questions directly to Erin, the survivor and author of this guest post, for personal follow up with you. You are not alone – God’s peace be with you!

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Suicide Survivor Shares Her Journey Through Grief (Pt 1)

suicide survivorsTRIGGER WARNING: The next two posts will discuss the personal journey of a dear friend through loss and grieving as a suicide survivor.

NOTE FROM LISA: In my journey through grieving and ministering to the bereaved, this God-fearing woman has taught me a great deal. I’d like to warmly welcome my old friend and oh-so-talented writer, Erin, as CDOW’s premier guest blogger!


Lisa and I go way back to our college days at Franciscan University of Steubenville. We both belong to Little Flowers Household and I have always seen her as a person filled with light and joy. Though we haven’t seen each other in probably fifteen years, we have kept in touch, and when she contacted me recently about writing a blog post on suicide and grieving I decided I would take the plunge and begin to share a little of my story and journey with this very sensitive topic…

Suicide isn’t a word we discuss in polite company. It is a word generally whispered in hushed tones, and something most of us, unless touched by it personally, know very little about. So it is natural that when we discover that a loved one has made the decision to end their lives in this manner, we find ourselves completely overwhelmed with all the details. There are the immediate funeral proceedings and burial, but also the process of grieving a death that in most circumstances is both shocking in its timing and traumatic to those left behind. I hope that by sharing a bit of my story of survival in the past two years, others who have struggled with a loss similar to mine may find hope and healing.

My mother ended her life by an intentional drug overdose on October 3, 2012. It was five days after my fifth child was born, a sweet and lovely little daughter whose diaper I was changing when I got the call late in the evening right before I was about to settle in for the night. My older brother contacted me from his home in Vancouver with the news that our mother had died that evening in Toronto.

Truth be told, this was not our mother’s first suicide attempt, and so to say we were surprised wouldn’t be accurate. I felt helpless, as I lived four hours away from her and was recovering from giving birth and caring for a new baby. My involvement in the planning of her memorial service was minimal, and all I was capable of doing was getting to the city and showing up with my husband and children.

My mother, Cynthia, was a mother of five, and a woman who struggled for many years with bipolar disorder. She fought bravely to find a way to manage her illness through medication, spiritual growth, writing and art, finding beauty in animals and nature and gave of herself at times to a fault, putting others needs above her own. She was creative, charismatic, a great conversationalist, often open to new adventures and yet she struggled daily.

I don’t know when precisely her struggles began, but I do know that her teen years were difficult and the scars she carried upon her skin of attempts to numb her pain frightened me as a child. I think her children all lived in a sort of fear of where her pain and depression might eventually take her. Her drug and alcohol addictions complicated matters as well. But the truth is, we all tried to love her for who she was, broken, like the rest of us, searching for the good in a path that most of the time we found difficult to understand.

Suicide loss is a whole different type of grief. It truly is the cruelest of deaths in a sense, because often there is no preparation and usually the trauma of the actual event is something that leaves those left behind in tremendous shock. The family and friends who have lost a loved one to suicide are called survivors of suicide. The normal stages of grief occur, but with them are the added burden of a whole slew of emotions like guilt and anger, coupled with the shame and stigma attached to this sort of rarely mentioned form of death in our culture. The grieving process is more intense because one is left with so many unanswered questions and confusion.

I remember the early days of mourning my mother’s loss. I often found myself doubled over in pain as though I had been punched in the gut literally. The pain of grief made my body ache and life became physically exhausting. As I had a newborn to care for, I had no choice but to keep going and put one foot in front of the other, but I believe my little one instinctively knew something was not right as breastfeeding brought me to tears so very often when I gazed upon my sweet baby who looked so much like me as an infant.

I thought of my mother caring for me in the way that I cared for my child and felt a strong connection to her as a woman. My older children needed answers that were age appropriate and we sought spiritual counsel in how to discuss the suicide with them. My wise spiritual direction put it to me simply, “It’s like sex,” he said. “Either you tell them the truth when they ask, or they’ll find out later that you lied and resent you for it.” We didn’t want our children learning about their grandmother, whom they loved so dearly, and her death, from anyone but us.

What makes suicide grief so different from all other forms of death? Because of the nature of the person’s passing, it becomes very difficult to talk about the person who died. Normally when someone dies, we remember him or her in photographs, mementos, and ceremony. Looking at images of a loved one who ended her life for me became a source of pain, not of comfort in the early days. When I would hear others speak of their mothers, I grieved that mine was gone. It was difficult to remember the good times. The emotional landscape was bleak for some time to come, and even now, two years later, I still struggle when the tears flow at awkward moments. I miss my Mama.

I found myself especially sad on the third day of each passing month in the first year. As we reached six months and then a year and so forth, I found myself torn between being grateful for the passing of time and the slight lessening of the intensity of emotional pain. Yet in another sense I struggled with wanting to keep her memory alive, not to forget her voice and face and smell and presence in my life.

I believe many of us have an illusion that grief is a linear journey; but the truth I have found is that suicide loss brings waves of grief like the tide flowing in and out. All sorts of experiences can trigger memories that bring tears and unprepared for emotions. In the early days I found myself unable to go out in public except for rare occasions.

Because of my mother’s sudden death, people would often ask how she died. I didn’t feel comfortable answering those questions with those who were not close friends. And yet I know many people were aware of the circumstances, but didn’t want to mention it to me because, let’s face it, talking about suicide isn’t something we know how to broach with a survivor. People don’t want to upset you, and even if they know that you are likely thinking about the loss on daily basis, it is uncomfortable.

I remember once having a friend call on my mother’s six-month anniversary of death. She wasn’t aware of the date and when I told her that I was having a difficult day she said, “Oh, I’m sorry! I hope things get better as the day goes on.”

I told her frankly that it was unlikely, and that it was okay that the day would be difficult. I learned to let people know that they didn’t have to make things better or avoid talking about the suicide. All they had to do was listen and sometimes commiserate with a simple, “Man, death sucks!” Or to say, “I’m so sorry you are suffering like this!”

I have a dear friend who lost her mother to ovarian cancer almost a year later than my mother, and even though losing our mothers took on such different forms, we still have been able to share together in the journey of loss. We’ve seen how there aren’t really any words at times to say, but just to be there, to comfort with our presence and to let others know with a simple phone call or visit, that it is okay to not be okay. That it is what it is and that grief is simply a part of life and of being human. We all will go through it at some point or another.

I am grateful for my husband and the circle of close family and friends I have who were open to me speaking freely when I needed to; but, as a survivor of suicide, you do reach a point where you feel like “Debbie Downer” talking about your grief too often and tend to isolate yourself so as not to burden others. Grief drains so much of your physical energy and many days I would find it difficult to accomplish my daily tasks. Inviting others into my home or going out socially was something I only did when I felt strong enough, and always with an escape clause if you will if things got difficult.

There is a fine line between knowing that the only way to end the stigma of suicide is to open the discussion up with others about mental health and suicide, and yet at the same time one has to find the inner strength to be able to have those discussions without being sent into an emotional tailspin.

I have come to discover that the best strategy is to choose to share my story with those who have earned the right to hear it, a quote I love from Dr. Brene Brown, author and shame and vulnerability researcher.

Now that it has been more than two years since losing my mother, this journey of grieving has shaped the person I now am. I believe that loss by suicide is an event that is truly transformative. Things I used to take for granted I cannot anymore. Even though my relationship with my family is far from perfect, there is a desire for closeness and connection that we had perhaps neglected, especially since I come from a broken marriage from my early childhood. And yet for me there is also a sense on a general level that living on a superficial plane cannot endure. That is something I learned from my mother during her life.

So I do speak of her suicide frankly now when I share my story with others, I do not apologize for it, or whisper it in darkened corners. I tell my story because I believe that others may find freedom from the stigma that mental health struggles are something of which to be ashamed. Depression and all other illnesses of the mind deserve the same recognition in our culture as cancer and other physical ailments. When one continually feels so isolated and a burden to others in their sadness, suicide appears to them as their only solution.

Sadness is epidemic in our culture, and unfortunately suicide does nothing to alleviate the pain felt collectively. It leaves in its wake so many who are burdened by the loss of one who, even in their struggles, brought value and purpose and joy to so many other’s lives. I invite others to find a place to share their story too because in weakness—when our hands are empty—is truly when we are able to receive the comfort that others can bring.

Join us for a continuation of Erin’s personal journey as a survivor of suicide tomorrow. The next post will contain valuable practical advice for grieving someone’s suicide based on her personal experience and what she gained from her bereavement group.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

If you or a loved one is battling through grief as a suicide survivor, and have questions/thoughts that you’d rather not share in a public forum, please send me an email directly –> Send Email. I can get all questions directly to Erin, the survivor and author of this guest post, for personal follow up with you. You are not alone – God’s peace be with you!

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Bereavement: A Call for Greater Support to the Grieving

grieving processOne of my older brothers is going through a Master’s program in Theology currently. “Spirituality of Death and Healing” is a class he is attending, which has produced fodder for some riveting conversations. Having lost our dear Mom four years ago today, we have lived through more than I thought I would in my 30’s: Her initial Cancer diagnosis, months of treatments, remission, Cancer re-diagnosis, more treatments, Hospice, her death, and then bereavement.

In the beginning of this past December, my brother texted me something “random” (my use of quotes is due to the fact that if you know me, then you know that I don’t believe that anything is random). In the message, he thanked me for the “tremendous sacrifice” that I made four years ago to stay with my Dad in the last weeks of our Mother’s life. I share this in all humility, as it’s hard even for this writer to share something of that intimate nature into a public space, let alone unpack it’s meaning. But since I know that there are many, many others who have done the same – or will do it, I wanted to use this as means to affirm your choice of caring for and ministering to the dying. There is no other experience that I find comparable to this inexplicable time of suffering, preparation, grace, and indescribable love.

We do what we are called to do, and His grace is always sufficient; yet it can take months, actually years, to work through the aftermath. It was that unexpected text which blessed me in a way that I didn’t know I needed. It was a message to help press on amidst the intensity of what has been swirling around us.

This blessing came after four unplanned experiences of ministering to families of the dying or deceased last year, and right before two more. Without fail, these experiences always reveal new areas of my heart that need Christ’s healing – so it’s a process where I am being ministered too as well. God…He knows how to get things done!

Our own journey has revealed what I view as a deep deficiency in support during the grieving process. My brother and I discussed how the Church is often good at preparing a soul for death (i.e. Chaplains, administering Sacraments, etc), but can fall short in supporting the loved ones after the funeral. As my Mom was dying and right after she passed, many poured out their support – it was beautiful. But people had to go home, as is the case, and get back to the lives. And that’s when it gets tough, as you stumble through the “new” way of life that was not of your choosing.

Looking back, I think I resented that at the time. I was newly engaged, but did not have my Mom at such a time that we had waited and prayed for, for years. Beyond that, a girl naturally wants to plan her wedding with her Mom. Things continued to move forward for everyone else, but our family would never be the same.

I had this form of anger, that I wanted others to understand what the world had lost when my Mom died. That I was coming into a time of my life when I needed her so much, but she was gone.

But things got busy and life had to keep moving. I was sometimes surprised to receive support from the most unexpected people and didn’t know what to do when I felt support lacking from “expected” people in my life. It was a time in my life that I am glad is behind me.

Even four years later, I haven’t gotten over the grief – I’ve just reached a different state with it. Yet the lessons I’ve learned will always stay with me. People need people to show their love and support, to be there, long after the funeral. I believe the lack of this occurrence may have something to do with our culture, and also with the awkwardness of what to say or do to family in the grieving process. Prayers are so important, but mourners need more than that, undeniably.

This became more apparent when I had something to compare it against. My brother shared the Jewish customs concerning death and mourning that he has learned about in his class. The Jews are obligated to recite what is called Kaddish, (Aramaic, lit. “holy”); brief prayer recited by a mourner or by the chazan. “It is part of the mourning observances for a parent, sibling, offspring or spouse for one month, starting immediately upon burial. For parents, the mourning continues through the rest of the year because of the obligation of ‘honor’ in addition to the mourning.” [Source: chabad.org]

The Kaddish is not a prayer for the dead, but rather is meant to help those who mourn.

Think about that. The community surrounds the grieving family and supports them from the funeral, through the first week, month, and year that follow. This is much more than a ritual — it is providing necessary support by bringing the community together on an ongoing basis for those who grieve.

I strongly believe that there is much that our culture can take away from these Jewish practices. I’m intrigued to learn more about “How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, and Mourn As a Jew”, which can be found in the recommended book, “Saying Kaddish.” It’s on my reading list, and then from there, how to apply it will be the takeaway.

This concept is so critical: To stay, pray, and care for the grieving. Not just for the day, but the Jews stay with them for days, and have set “checkpoints” beyond that. Shloshim, the first thirty days, the Jews exempt mourners from responsibilities of social, business, and religious life. It’s not take the rest of the week off and then back to the grind.

Reaching out to grieving instead of have them find their own way – and to do that in the days, weeks, and months ahead — I believe it would profoundly impact our culture. How much dysfunction can be traced back to the loss of a loved one from which another never recovered?

Personally, I know that there are grieving groups that I could’ve joined at Church, or I could’ve gone to Counseling; but at the time when my Mom died, I just couldn’t initiate or do “one more thing”. It honestly took all my energy to try and make it day-by-day at work and get through 5 months of destination wedding planning. I felt like diving into the loss of my Mom around other people grieving would just open the wound deeper and make me cry more, and I wanted anything but that.

I think friends tried to avoid the topic . I’ve been on both the receiving and giving end of the awkwardness that comes from loss. While this should be an obvious point, I will give a bit of advice: Saying too much is often what will makes things awkward. I know that people are 100% good-intentioned when they try to console, seriously; however, when you’ve just lost someone who meant the world to you, having someone say things like, “Well, s/he’s in a better place” or “at least she’s not suffering anymore” just did not feel comforting.

This coming from someone who whole-heartedly believes in Heaven and is working out my salvation daily in “fear and trembling.” God, I prayed that she was in a better place– but when grief had a fierce grip on my heart, it just felt, well — to me, it felt something someone should say.

Honestly, death and dying are moments when words often fail. I think that PRESENCE is what really matters. Being present to the family/loved ones is what they need. I honestly can’t remember what many people said, but the people that were there, or that made gestures to show their support across the miles – that I certainly will never forget. Maybe the distance is too great, but a phone call, card, text, social media message, or email, any gesture can be a beacon amidst the darkness of grief for someone.

Sitting with someone and letting them share memories, tell stories, or just say whatever they want to in the moment is the gift of being present that means more than anything. Let someone just be, whether it’s sad, pensive, laughing or crying through memories — and believe me, the emotions will be up and down — that’s a gift to the mourner.

Reaching out to that person also means a lot, as many folks may think someone grieving will initiate contact. Sometimes they may, but many can’t remember who told them, “Call me if you need anything.” That’s so vague at any rate to someone overwhelmed by loss. I’d venture to say not to expect someone who is nursing a broken heart to readily call you, wanting to talk about it. Often times grieving brings depression, which means people want to withdraw. So it takes a friend to know when someone has gone deep into the isolation of depression and needs help reconnecting with the land of the living.

There are no hard and fast rules to grieving – it takes on a myriad of approaches. You don’t even know until you are in it how you will deal – and even then, it’s hard to determine what is best for yourself in moving forward. Sadly, many folks are just trying to survive.

I believe it simply comes down to love.

Love is what rescues the lost and brings them back to a safe place to reveal what’s in their heart.

There is undoubtedly a reason that comforting the afflicted is one of 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy. I know that my soul would’ve wrestled with the loss like it was falling into a black abyss without the context of my faith to place it within, and the comfort of those who love me. My experiences certainly haven’t been void of comforters, but they have caused me to issue a call for greater support to the grieving.

Paul Coakley, a young man that I went to University with, passed away this week from Cancer. A 30-something-full-of-life-and-faith man died a few weeks after his diagnosis… Lord have mercy. Even though I didn’t know Paul well, the witness that he and his wife have been profoundly moved me to the point that when I learned of his death I sobbed. Amidst the loss of a young shining light and true adventurer, it has been beautiful to see the community rally around his pregnant wife, young children, and loved ones. I pray that the support will continue to span the months and years to come, as that is when they will really need it.

That is what we are called to – comfort the afflicted. One way to do this is to be present to those who are in mourning, love them, and be attentive as to how God may want to use you to minister to the dying and their loved ones. Reach out to them. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, but even a small, “I’m thinking of you” could be a light to them in their time of need. Don’t be afraid to speak about the person they lost – share the good memories and things you loved about them too!

This post is the first in a short series on grieving and loss, including the next post by my first guest blogger on her experience with grief after suicide.

P.S. For a beautiful gift to those mourning as a reminder that your love remains, visit Songs of Consolation.

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Merry Martinez Christmas Card & Annual Letter

With the passing of another year, it’s my favorite time to reflect and capture some the highlights of the year.

Sharing blessings begets more blessings – so since my mailing list has limits, but my blog does not, l’d love to share our Merry Martinez Christmas Card and Annual Letter.

So, from our heart and home to yours…. 

Martinez Christmas Card

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
– Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Dear friends, family, and CDOW community,

This time we ushered in the New Year differently. Coming from a South Texas Christmas enjoyed with Mike’s family, we took a couple of days for a planning retreat in a place we had talked about for years, Fredericksburg. The Old Rectory was the name of our Texas Hill Country B&B, which served as the inspiring ambiance for partners in life and business to begin the work of 2014. Enchanted Rock was the perfect nature escape on our way back to Dallas, right before some Cooper’s BBQ. Yes, Texans love old time pit barbecue.

We whisper prayers, some for years and others only once, never knowing what form the outcome will actually take. “Expand our territory, Lord,” Lisa prayed. Within a couple of weeks, by no effort on our part, our small business was in discussions with two international organizations — one in Rome and one in Southern Arabia. With only illuvint’s logo stuck on our landing page, in February we submitted our first international bid to work with the Catholic Church in Oman, Yemen, and UAE. In April, we were officially awarded the bid for their rebranding project! This has also fulfilled Lisa’s (Tolkien geek) dream to speak to a Gandalf in real life, as that is the name of the Capuchin Priest that serves as the Bishop’s Secretary.

Another great blessing came on the feast of the Assumption, March 25th, in Halifax, Nova Scotia: Nicole, a dear Canadian friend and former roomie from Lisa’s Ave Maria College working days, married her long-awaited Helpmate, Brian. With a rescheduled business trip planned in Virginia a few days later, Lisa trekked solo to the Nuptials in the Great White North; but was warmly welcomed by gracious friends of the couple. The wedding was a beautiful celebration, born out of the community truly pulling together for the Newlyweds. Thankfully, new friends Mark, Maria, and Luke did not mind their houseguest crashing for a few extra days when Lisa’s flight got cancelled on account of getting snowed in.

It was rough…eating Lobster and making Snow Angels with little Luke, but such is life. What a joy, to celebrate marriage and make new friends!

illuvint’s team went through an expansion this year as well. We brought on new partners to collaborate with us, and are grateful for the ways that Monica Hildebrand, John Clem, Erika Higgins, Gerry Whitney, and our first intern — Maddie Stigler, enriched our lives and business. Joining with a startup is not an easy task, so we are grateful for them, and our original partners who have labored alongside us in this digital effort. We were particularly tickled to finally launch our company website in June, illuvint.com!

June brought our 3rd Wedding Anniversary and a few Graduation celebrations – including Simon, Mike’s Godson. His parents, our dear friends Trish and Joseph, had been planning his Graduation present for 3 years, and we were honored to be a part of it. A small group of us hiked up Pike’s Peak in August, inspired by the transformation – physical and otherwise – of our friends. You can read all about this amazing journey at: Joseph’s blog, www.fourteenthousandonehundredten.com, and at CatholicTourist.com where Lisa Hendey featured Lisa Martinez’s travel blogs. That incredible three-week trip included Pike’s Peak, Telluride, Las Cruces (NM), Alpine + other West Texas towns with great friends.

Back in July, Lisa traveled to be with her Dad in Florida during the first of what turned out to be a series of leg surgeries to clean out his veins. That gave a great excuse to leave a day early to spend the night with her brother, Jeff, Annette & kids — vacationing at Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando. Dad pulled through the surgery like a champ, and Lisa was grateful to visit with two of her Uncles who had been very ill. Congrats to Mike who started a new position at Experian at that time, in Information Risk Management. We also enjoyed a visit from our old friend, Sugar, and crew.

After 7-years in Texas, Lisa finally attended the State Fair of Texas with Mike in September. They enjoyed all things fried (including the renown Corny Dog), watching the Hog Races, and Mike nailed the Ford Fusion car simulator like a boss. The following week, Mike was thrilled that one of his favorite musicians, Scottish singer/songwriter Justin Currie’s tour brought him here, so we enjoyed that intimate show at the Kessler Theater.

October was busy. A highlight of that month was to reconnect with some good friends back in Dallas at the UD Ministry Conference. Some important brainstorming meetings happened there, and there are some grand future visions that we’re drilling down behind the scenes. As partners in life and work, we’ve been deeply discerning some big next steps in life and business – 2015 should be quite a ride!

November brought more road tripping. Lisa joined colleague/friend, Monica, at a Healing Retreat in Georgetown; Mike joined buddies, Tim and Bill, for a guys weekend in Austin. Afterwards we relished a few days with our cousins, Thomas and Claudia, and met with an Austin realtor to discuss possible surrounding areas to relocate next year, God-willing.

From Austin, we roadtripped to New Orleans. There, we finally met Holly & John, our clients/friends, and their fab group of San Diegans for two great celebrations: The launch of Holly’s new company wickednot.com, that we’ve supported since meeting through mutual friend/Co-Founder Tim Foley; AND John Carney’s (a 23-year NFL kicker) induction in the Saints Hall of Fame. The spectacular events, fun, and new friendships formed will always be remembered fondly. From NOLA we trekked 11 hours to San Benito, Texas, to spend Thanksgiving with family and visit Mike’s Uncle, in critical condition in the ICU. Thankfully we were able to share time with family during very precious hours.

WOW, what a year 2014 has been!

Thanks, and a special blessing to all of you who have been a part of it in one way or another! Merry Christmas!

Love,

Mike & Lisa

The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His Presence.” (unknown)

©2014 Lisa Martinez, Christmas card design + letter, which appeared first here at closeddoorsopenwindows.wordpress.com

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Advent Meditation

Patience quotes

As we begin our Advent journey, this is the message I have been given to meditate upon.

“Patience with others is LOVE. Patience with self is HOPE. Patience with God is FAITH.” – Adel Bestavros

Ever since I was a little version of myself, I have thought, acted, and spoke quickly. Mover and a shaker – I’ve been called that a time or two. It’s how I was created to be, to get things done. But it can flip to become my biggest weakness – impatient!

One is the lessons that is still the hardest for me to embrace is staying still, quiet — not acting – and simply being patient.

Maturity in life and in our spiritual journeys demands patience. The majority of life happens in the “waiting” and if we are always trying to rush through it, then we will miss out on much of the golden nuggets buried in life.

I am preaching to myself right now, but I pray that this will bless another soul too.

My husband and I have been in a time of deep discernment about many big life things. While my natural tendency is to “Haste, haste”, I know that the Lord is slowly unveiling His plan as He moves each little piece of His Will bit-by-bit into place.

If you share my tendency to hustle, I’d invite you to sit with this meditation for some quiet time as well. See what wisdom it wants to speak to your heart during this Advent season, as we wait and yearn for the birth of our King. This season of waiting has been given to us a gift, not as a punishment. We are to prepare our hearts, not just our shopping lists!

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Prayer for the Strengthening of Marriages

Prayer for Marriages

A sweet friend recently sent me a “spiritual toolbox” with some specific items that she picked up for my husband and I while traveling in Medjugorje, Assisi, San Giovanni Rotundo, and Rome. Included in those was this small devotional to Our Lady Undoer of Knots – a once obscure 300-year-old sacred image by master painter Johann Schmidtner. According to this Steubenville Press booklet pictured here, this is quickly becoming the fastest growing Marian devotion in the world today.

The story behind the painting is one of a real family that struggled through marital disunity, yet through prayerful intercession, there was a powerful reconciliation. It is said to be a favorite devotion of Pope Francis, and I can imagine as the Synod on the Family continues with Church leaders, he is asking for Our Mama’s help in these very trying times concerning issues with marriage and the family.

It’s a beautiful prayer, and I am quite certain that if not you, someone who is deeply struggling in their marriage will benefit from it. So please, share!

One quick note before the prayer, as some may wonder (like myself at one point many years ago) “Why pray to Mary?” Good question. Simply: Christ gave us the gift of His Mother from the Cross to be a powerful intercessor on our behalf. As Catholics, we do not worship Mary – we ask the vessel that brought us Our Savior to pray with and for us.

Speaking from personal experience: If you struggle having a relationship with the Mother of God, ask her to help you. I did when I was a college student, and it opened me up to the most beautiful example of purity, womanhood, spiritual motherhood, etc… Mary has answered many prayers and requests of mine through the years, including leading my dear Husband to me (another story for another day), so believe me when I say, this Jewish Mama will hook you up!!

Prayer for the Strengthening of Marriages

Blessed Mother, take into your hands
the knots that affect married couples,
and with your long fingers of love and grace
undo these knots for the glory of God.
Visit married couples with your grace,
renew their sacramental covenant,
increase God’s love in them,
and strengthen their bond of peace
so that, with their children,
they may always rejoice in the gift of your blessing.
Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for us.

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Allergies & Best Gluten Free Oatmeal Cookies

gluten-free-oatmeal-cookies

My husband and I try to eat healthy, but we’re definitely not all gung-ho gluten free. I must admit I’ve had a long-standing love affair with nearly all things “bread”, and particularly pizza. Next week I have to go for 3 days of allergy testing (insert head slump here). I must admit that my fear, despite everything that could show up in the results, is that my allergies will include gluten, wheat, and dairy. I know that  a lot of people have it (including some dear friends), and that they learn to manage it, and there are many great recipes and dishes, and so on and so forth.

There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth if my Dr. says bread and cheese are off the Lisa-friendly list of foods. #justsayin #sorryinadvance

Ok, I just had to get that out, thanks.

My Dad’s side of the family is riddled with allergies. I have had allergy & asthma issues probably all of my life, but I have never managed them well. Finally sick and tired (literally) of feeling so bad day-in-and-day-out, and having developed skin allergies last year, I made an appointment with an Allergist in July. During our first meeting he said,

Your allergies aren’t bad. They are HORRIBLE!

“Well, that’s why I’m here, Doc!” I thought to myself.

So, the next step in this process is allergy testing. My Doctor likes the more reliable old-school skin-prick test. Oh boy, this will be three days of fun that launch into a series of life changes, I’m sure. But if feeling better is the result, then it’s time for a change.

So, in honor of what may or may not be gluten-free days ahead, I found this recipe on my bag o’ Rolled Oats this morning, and thought, “What the heck, let’s give it a go.” Also, as we usher in the fall season (although it doesn’t feel like that in Dallas yet), baking Oatmeal Cookies just feels natural.

I’m glad I did – gluten free or not, I would not only eat these cookies, but gift them! My picky husband loved them too – and didn’t believe that they were gluten free. The peanut butter, walnuts, oats, and chocolate chips are such a well-balanced blend.

As my Mom taught me, pull your eggs and butter out of the fridge first a bit before you back so that they temp out.

Enjoy these delicious (and more nutritious) gluten free cookies!

 

Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Oatmeal Cookies

Yields: Approx 48 cookies (depending on thickness)

Ingredients

1/4 c. butter

1 1/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 c. sugar (I used “Sugar in the Raw”)

3 c. Trader Joe’s Rolled Oats

3/4 c. brown sugar

6 oz. chocolate chips

2 eggs

1/2 c. sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts (I used walnuts)

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. peanut butter (I used natural honey peanut butter)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar and butter and beat until creamy.
  3. Add eggs, vanilla and baking soda and mix well.
  4. Add peanut butter and mix.
  5. Stir in oats, chocolate chips and nuts.
  6. Place teaspoon full of dough on a lightly greased cookie sheet about 2″ apart.
  7. Bake 10-12 minutes until lightly brown around edges.
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