I am the 8th grade teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Clovis, CA. While there are three other Catholic Schools in the Fresno area, we are the only Catholic School in the city of Clovis. I take my faith and my job very seriously, and I spent 45 minutes on Wednesday talking with my 8th grade class about the need for prayer, almsgiving, and service during the next 40 days of Lent.
We all spent the morning at Ash Wednesday Mass getting ashes placed on our foreheads. But what does this outward sign have to do with inward change?
Well, everything! As the ashes were placed on our foreheads, the volunteers said the phrase, "You came from dust, and to dust you shall return." The ashes are an outward sign of mourning, mortality, and penance. They show the world that I am a sinner, but I have the opportunity to spend the next few weeks in prayer, giving and sacrifice to try and repent these sins.
My oldest volunteered to altar serve at the 4 p.m. Ash Wednesday Mass. When did he get so mature and handsome? He's one of the "big" kids at school now, and it thrills me and saddens me to watch him grow! We are trying to instill in him a desire to volunteer and give back to his community and the world.
Ashes for my Catholic school boy!
*Ashes are not only a Catholic "thing" as I grew up Lutheran and attended Ash Wednesday services my entire life. It is one more bridge between my childhood and adulthood.
Wednesday afternoon with the junior high kids, I wanted to impress upon them the need to be aware of the blessings we all have and how we need to share these blessings with others. Each Lent at our school, we participate in a service project called The Magic of Change. Each week students bring bags filled with their extra pocket "change" and it is collected together and usually sent to help one of our Sister Schools in a less fortunate area of the world. This year we are trying to raise money to help a school purchase a vehicle.
After talking with the kids, I had them write about how they want to improve their spiritual walk this Lenten season, and sat I sat down to reflect and write upon my own walk with Christ for the next 40 days.
My Five Favorite Ways to Pray, Give, and Sacrifice During Lent
I wanted my Lenten journey this year to be more about simply "giving up candy," or any other item. The giving up, or sacrifice, of something is great, but I want it to have a deeper meaning. Prepare for the deepness ahead!
1. Growing a better me.
I plan to do this in a few ways. First, I am giving up soda. I did not say giving up caffeine, but giving up soda. I had a tea today at lunch. Giving up soda might seem trite, but for me, it is a pretty big deal. I CRAVE bubbles and carbonation, corn syrup and fizz. I can literally feel myself calm down when I swallow Diet Coke. The bigger/deeper meaning for giving up soda: this is the only body I've got. God gave me this vessel to wander around in, to do good works, to give Him glory and to take care of my family. I need to take care of it. Besides the giving up of soda, I will eat at least one fruit or vegetable each day; bad thing out, good thing in. BABY steps.
This particular concept of taking care of my temple is also very concerning for me because my husband and I are going through the process to have him undergo gastric sleeve surgery for weight loss. I will be his main supporter, and I can't do that if I'm not taking care of myself. You can read about this journey in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
One more aspect to taking care of my temple is through physical activity each day. Since I am still coughing and wheezing, I plan to start with 30 minutes of walking on my treadmill. I hope to build from there over the course of Lent and continue with it beyond that.
2. Providing Sanctuary in Our Home
I am not the best housekeeper because I am lazy. I do not enjoy cleaning, I do not enjoy the effort it takes to keep things organized, and I do not enjoy taking time away from reading, blogging, tv watching or any other mundane thing that I use to convince myself as to why I can't keep my house in order. However, I want to change this. I really do. I want our house to be a place of rest and renewal as opposed to mess and chaos. We all function better in an organized house.
I have to reframe my thinking to looking at housekeeping tasks as a way to glorify God in taking care of my family. My children deserve a clean toilet to pee into! My husband deserves a bedroom to relax in at night complete with a made bed and a dresser not filled with clothes waiting to be put away. I deserve to have rest and respite in this crazy world. Our house is our cocoon where the bad stays out. I want the look of the house to reflect this feeling.
3. Providing Time For Personal Spiritual Renewal, While Being Less Selfish in the Evenings
My prayer life needs work. Sure, I pray with the students in my class before school, before lunch, and before we go home. I pray the prayers at Mass. We pray together as a family before we eat dinner. But in mind, these are the easy prayers. They are the memorized prayers. They do not take a lot of effort or thinking to accomplish. Where I fall short is in personal prayer time with God. I do not give myself time to talk with God. It is uncomfortable for me. It is hard. I want to be better at talking and LISTENING to God.
I get up approximately an hour before the rest of the house, and use this time to read, look at the computer, enjoy coffee, and wake up slowly to be able to deal with the rest of the day. Rather than start with those other things, I am going to start with prayer. I am not placing any time limits on myself, but I will pray first. Time with God is first.
The second part of this goal is to be less selfish in the evenings with my time. The morning time is for my own renewal, so I want to be more present to my husband and children in the later hours. This means being more attentive to the boys and their homework, their questions, and their needs. This means talking to my husband without a computer being open in front of me. This means preparing lunches for the next day rather than being rushed in the morning. This means setting aside time to plan for meals so we can enjoy the company of each other in communion with our food rather than wonder what to eat. This means time spent simply holding my little ones, especially the smallest who wants nothing more than to sit near me.
Big kid relaxing after dinner.
Letting go of some of my selfish tendencies is a huge goal for myself. I (hope) don't display my selfishness on the outside very often, but there are times when I am genuinely irritated at being interrupted from a tv show to help answer a homework question. I do it. I help. But I want to let go of the selfish pings going on inside of me when I'm being asked to give of myself. I want to give freely without the irritation of "having to" help others. Just writing about this sin shames me. But it also gives me hope to be a better person both inside and out.
4. Finding the Joy in the Students I Teach
I love my job. I have been a Catholic School Teacher for 15 years. I have served at my current school for 12 years. I love what I do. I get to TEACH! That is pretty awesome. But as any teacher knows, the day to day slog of lesson planning, correcting papers, dealing with discipline, dealing with administrative requests, dealing with parents, and trying to bring joy to sometimes unwilling students can be TAXING! Teaching is not for the meek or weak! Even though we had a long Christmas vacation a month and a half ago, this is the time of year when my enthusiasm starts to falter a bit. The weather is getting nicer, kids are getting antsy, we are heading into our last trimester, and expectations are high. This year is especially hard with items to check off the To Do list because we are going through a large accreditation process that happens every six years.
I want to retain my joy for what I do through the busy season. The best way I can think of to do this is in two ways: plan plan plan and find the good in each student. I have to stay on top of my lesson plans and then follow through with them. I always feel better about upcoming weeks when copies are made, plans are written, and supplies are bought.
My gorgeous new 31 bag is filled with papers and my lesson plan book. Now to pull the stuff out and work on it!
The second task for school is to find the good in each student. This is easy. I teach amazing kids! I'm thinking of taking it a step further and emailing parents with stories and tid bits about what I find great about their kids. I know that I always appreciate it tremendously when a teacher takes a moment to share something positive about my kids. It's such an easy gesture for me to do.
5. Showing Unconditional Respect to My Husband and Unconditional Love to Our Boys
I finished reading a book this week called Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs. It has had a profound effect on my thinking during the process of reading this book. We all know about giving and receiving unconditional love. In fact, we come to expect and demand unconditional love...you know, the idea that you deserve love no matter what you do. However, this book takes it a step further to talk about unconditional respect as well. Women's primary need is love, but men's primary need is respect. As women, we would never stand for our husbands saying, "I'll give you the love you deserve after you give me the respect I deserve," but we easily slip into that mindset in giving ultimatums to our husbands. I'll respect you after I get your love. Doesn't work that way.
Giving unconditional respect gives you love in return. Getting love makes you want to give respect.
I feel like Eric and I have a great marriage, but there are always ways to make things better, stronger, happier, and safer. It helps to have a better understanding of how Eric thinks and feels. I want to treat Eric with this idea of unconditional respect. It sort of feels funny to say out loud some of the things that I respect about him to his face, but it doesn't make the sentiment or feeling any less real. This Lent, I plan to shower him with respect (and love) and show him just how much the boys and I appreciate all that he does for us. In doing this, I hope to model for my boys the type of behaviors both a husband and wife should display to their spouse. It is my prayer that the boys grow up to find women who will respect their position in a family as a leader.
Here are just a few things that I respect about Eric:
1. He gets up early to be at work by 7 a.m. He works out of town which requires a 50 minute commute...one that he would never dream of having me do. He works extra hours each day to have every other Friday off. It would be nice if he could just lounge and enjoy these Fridays, but often what happens is he spends that day off running errands, getting to-do lists completed, and spending time at school with the kids for assemblies or sports.
2. He shows great compassion for all members of our family, including the dogs. Harry fell and hurt his ribs the other night, and Eric has spent much time at night awake and caring for the dog. He has such compassion for his family and the creatures living with us.
Here he is covered in kids and dogs.
3. Eric is taking serious steps to change his health. I admire his courage and respect his choices to be healthier.
4. He spends so much time selflessly volunteering with the boys' soccer club. He manages both of their teams as well as serving on the Club Board as treasurer. At times, I know he gets overwhelmed with the many details he has to attend to, but I admire his willingness to give so much of himself. He spends far more time than I am willing or wanting to do! In fact, it encourages me to be more a part of the day to day details of the soccer world instead of just cheering at games.
5. Eric supports our faith and the boys' education. When we got married and I switched jobs to here in town, that would have been the point to move to public education rather than private. More money. However, Eric has always supported me in what I feel called to do. Neither of us attended Catholic school, but we both see the value in the education we are providing for our children. Could that money be spent elsewhere? Um, yeah, in soooooo many ways, but we have decided that we will never look back and regret giving the boys what we feel is the best education. Eric makes sure that we take care of tuition payments and provides a great living to make private education possible.
I could go on, but then I'll give away all my respect ideas before I have a chance to share them with him privately!
If you are still reading at this point, God bless you! I know this was long, but I had many things on my heart that I need to pour out onto this page. I am so far from perfect that it's laughable, but I thank God that he continues to give me motivation and desire to be better. And that's all I can try to do.