Being Simon to Others

Image by from Pexels

“As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.”

Matthew 27:32

Recently, I came across an inspirational sign which caught my eye that read, “Slow down, happiness is trying to catch you.” Those words resonated within me and reminded me of my own need to slow down and to be alert and fully present in the current moment, instead of mindlessly forging ahead with whatever projects and goals I may have set for myself. So often we rush around, pursuing our own plans, instead of slowing down to listen to the Holy Spirit’s soft whispering. What we fail to realize is that peace and true happiness will only be found in God’s will, which, very often, we ignore or miss in our hectic pursuit of success and achievement.

The last two weeks have been challenging, as my second daughter, who has a diagnosis of ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, had a setback and has been home from school, struggling to deal with her diagnoses and the additional burden of depression. These two weeks I have had to let go of my routines and plans and slow down to a crawl to accompany her as she recovers and learns how to cope with life carrying all of these heavy burdens, along with her schoolwork and other responsibilities. I realized that I had been rushing ahead with my life, not fully aware of the extent of the hardships she faces from day to day, trying to survive in a world that is too fast and complex for her to keep up. Although we have tried to meet all of her needs at home and school, I realized she needs more intense care and support than we have been giving her.

This time with her has been a blessing, as I have found happiness and joy in spending quiet moments with her and have been able to appreciate the beautiful soul that she is, and to be thankful that God has gifted our family with her. I felt like Simon the Cyrenian, who was chosen to trudge slowly and painfully through the dust with Jesus as he carried his Cross. I wondered if Simon had to slow down prayerfully to respond to the promptings to the Holy Spirit that lead him to that fateful spot, where he was given his momentous task of assisting our Savior and providing relief to him as he walked the Way of the Cross. Surely, Simon had to sacrifice his own will and plans to assume the duty of carrying the Cross with Jesus. Similarly, we are called to surrender our will and our plans to the Divine Will so we can serve others and cooperate in God’s plan for our lives.

I am thankful to God for the opportunity to be Simon to our daughter, shouldering some of the burden of her heavy crosses for her and hopefully easing some of her pain and suffering. Each of us has the opportunity every day to slow down and find a suffering soul in need of a Simon to help – someone who needs us to lean on or to look to for comfort, aid, or companionship. So many people are suffering spiritually and emotionally in our world; how can we reach out to those around us in need each day? There are people all around us, in our homes, within our families, and among our friends, who are quietly suffering and need a helping hand or a warm embrace. As mothers, we have built-in opportunities to minister to our children daily and help each of them to carry their own unique crosses.

Mother Teresa told us to “find our own Calcutta,” where we can bring Christ to others. “Giving drink to the thirsty” can involve more than a cup of water. It can be a visit to the lonely, a word of comfort to the sorrowing, or simply lending an ear to listen to someone who is hurting. When we identify the suffering souls in our lives and reach out to them with love and care, we are serving as the hands and feet of Christ to them. This is true happiness and joy – not to acquire more money, possessions, status, or power, but to serve others and receive the grace that comes with imitating Christ in our lives. Who are the suffering souls in your life, and how can you be Simon to them today?

Worrying and the Laundry

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

If you are like me, managing all of the tasks and difficulties of each day can lead to tension and stress. I am usually not the calm, collected one of the family, and I often turn to family members for advice and help when I am overwhelmed with stress. 

My husband has a unique talent of coming up with appropriate and descriptive analogies. When there is a problem or a situation he wants to explain, he is always quick to create an analogy that puts everything into perspective and helps me to understand the situation better. Recently I presented him with a number of pressing problems I was dealing with. In typical overreactive fashion, I had become overwhelmed with the gravity of it all. He calls this lumping everything into one giant catastrophe the “snowball.” 

He asked me what the first thing I do when attempting to wash clothes is. I responded that when I tackle the laundry, the first thing I do is to sort the clothes. I started to see where he was going with this. When overwhelmed and anxious over life’s worries and problems, the best thing to do is to sort them out – to make a list of them and examine each one, one at a time, and come up with a course of action or a solution for each one individually. In this way, rather than become frustrated and hopeless about the enormity of the collective mess of difficulties, I can break it down into smaller, more manageable problems. 

This skill of compartmentalizing problems definitely doesn’t come naturally to me. I tend to become overly emotional and overwhelmed when life gets stressful. This lesson of listing problems and solving them individually has helped me to manage my stress and become calmer and more productive over time.

Following the laundry analogy, another step I take before washing the clothes is to find the really tough stains and pretreat them with stain remover. Prioritizing the more urgent problems is the next step in the problem-solving strategy. After making a list of tasks or problems, we can prioritize the ones that need immediate attention and set to work solving them first. Then we can move on to the less urgent needs of our families. The more difficult problems often require more time and effort, like the tougher stains. 

Scripture tells us to “have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”(Phil 4:6-7) This is not always easy to do. We often worry when we feel out of control of a situation. Jesus repeatedly offered his disciples peace and told them to be not afraid. He offers us the same peace and freedom from fear if only we learn to trust in him and to give up trying to control every aspect of our lives. As St. Pio of Pietrelcina advises us, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”

Jesus never promised that the vocation of motherhood would be without challenges and problems. However, he did promise to remain with us and help us through any difficulties that arise. He gives us our husbands to help and guide us in our journey as mothers. I am thankful that my husband always provides me with a helpful analogy, or even a hug and a kind word, when I need one. I know with his help, and the help of Jesus, our Blessed Mother, and the saints, I can sort through all of the difficulties of family life and conquer any challenges that arise. 

Lessons from Toy Story 4

Toy Story fans will enjoy the latest in the series, Toy Story 4. Several weeks ago, we took our children to see the movie when it was in the theater and we all enjoyed it. In the movie, the toys have been passed along to a new “kid,” Bonnie, who becomes attached to a makeshift toy she creates on her first day of kindergarten, forgetting the rest of her toys.  Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the gang encounter adventure on a road trip with the family, finding meaning and hope and rediscovering an old friendship with Bo Peep and making new friends along the way.  Built into the plot are ample lessons for young and old alike.

Buzz Lightyear and the Inner Voice

When summoned to find and rescue his friend Woody, Buzz Lightyear hesitates and becomes unsure how to help. The answers come when he remembers to press the button on his space suit which activates his voice box, which directs him on which steps to take.  Throughout the movie, Buzz is instructed by his “Inner Voice,” which leads him to come to the aid of Woody and the other characters.  The “Inner Voice” is like our own conscience and the subtle voice of the Holy Spirit which guides and directs us when we remember to attend to it.  Instead of rushing ahead without contemplating the consequences, Buzz remembers to consult with his conscience, and the Holy Spirit, as we should in all circumstances. Do we often forget to pause and ask God for direction and guidance before forging ahead with our first instinct? Buzz’s attentiveness to his “Inner Voice” is a lesson for all of us to pray for the counsel of the Holy Spirit before all of our decisions and actions.

Following the Narrow Path

The instructions he receives are not always easy to follow and choose.  In one scene, Buzz is told to leave Woody, who stubbornly refuses to listen to reason.  Not wanting to abandon his friend and hoping for a different answer, Buzz presses his button over and over again in search of an easier solution, but the voice continues to tell him to return to Bonnie and the other toys.  At times, God asks us to do difficult things, to give up people or habits which draw us away from him. The road of Christianity requires us to take the less-traveled path. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matt 7:13-14)  If we ask for direction in prayer and through good spiritual direction, and are obedient to the “still, small voice” which is God directing us, we can be confident that he will lead us on the right path, as challenging and sacrificial as this path can sometimes be.

God’s Not Finished with You Yet

Throughout the movie, Woody struggles with no longer being the “favorite” toy and finding meaning and purpose for his life. Being overlooked by Bonnie, he distracts himself with continually rescuing Bonnie’s new “favorite” toy and returning her to Bonnie. We may often feel like Woody in life: overlooked, abandoned, rejected by others. We should remember that Jesus never said this life would be easy and that we would not be loved and accepted by all when we choose the narrow path of discipleship. We may flounder around, searching for meaning in our lives when relationships change and we are replaced or find ourselves as outsiders. We can trust that God is always with us, guiding us, and watching over us as the apple of his eye. He loves each of us as if we are the only person on earth with an love unequaled by any human. “I have loved you with an everlasting love and so I still maintain my faithful love for you.” (Jer. 31:3) When we deepen our relationship with him, we experience his support and compassion and realize that his is the greatest love of all.

A Mission for Everyone

Woody reunites with his old friend Bo Peep, and, although their lives have taken different paths, they help each other to discover happiness. The lesson for Woody and for us is that we are all special and loved by God, and he has a mission and a purpose for each of us, if we are open to finding and following it.  This lesson is especially relevant for those of us who are getting older and leaving youth behind, especially parents whose children are leaving home.  We can wonder what our purpose is once the nest is empty, but God assures us that he can use each of us to serve him and others if we are open to serving and following his will for our lives.  We are never too old or too far gone for God to use us.

Lessons in Love

In Toy Story 4, Buzz and Woody, the main characters are not the A-list celebrities they once were. They have aged and are learning new lessons in life and love. They teach us about loyalty, compassion, self-giving, and love and friendship.  They also teach us about humility and sacrifice, as they work to give of themselves and help the other toys. The movie is primarily for children but is heartwarming and entertaining for all ages.

Image by cleber true23 from Pixabay 

Making Time for Play Time

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

Our family attended the One Faith One Family Conference held near Mobile, our hometown, this past weekend. It was a wonderful day to be together, enjoying each others’ company and learning more about how to strengthen our family life while growing in our faith as well. The speakers were Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, popular speakers and hosts of More2Life Radio. Dr. Greg Popcak is also the founder and Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.

One of the subjects of their talks that most impressed me was the need to incorporate adequate play and recreation time together into family life. I realized that at this phase in our family’s life, we have put relaxation and play time on the back burner. We are so focused on prayer, work, and study, that we often forget to relax and have down time. Our society in general is often overly fixated on the end results of success and achievement and fails to remember the importance of the journey. Even in sports, there is so much focus on training kids to become winners that we lose sight of the fact that they are still kids, and these are games that should be fun for them and help them to learn teamwork, camaraderie, and good sportsmanship.

In their talk, the Popcaks emphasized the value of family play time as a mechanism to help teach a healthy relationship to fun. Life is not all work; even in monastic communities there is scheduled time for recreation and relaxation. Families need to rediscover the art of “wasting time together,” according to Dr. Greg and Lisa, and recapture the fellowship and companionship that flourishes when they enjoy games, play, and other recreative activities.

The whole conference had an emphasis on play time as necessary for family life, with the title of the conference being “The Family that Plays Together Stays Together.” One of the contents of the parting gift bag that we received was a simple deck of cards, which has provided lots of fun for our youngest daughter and me, as we have been challenging each other in card games since the weekend. Last night, we all settled into an impromptu family game night, complete with popcorn, which was a welcome respite from the daily grind and much needed as the children prepare to return to school next week.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that Sundays are an ideal time to retreat from the usual activities of the day and enjoy play:

Just as God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,” human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2184)

Whether it is playing board games, going for a walk or a bike ride, or just enjoying each others’ company, let’s remember to make time for family play time this and every week.

A New Path

I am so blessed and honored to begin writing for in August! In addition to my column at Patheos Catholic, I will be contributing articles to the Catholic mothers’ website. I have enjoyed articles, tips and ideas from the site over the years and can’t wait to become a contributor. is an excellent source of wisdom from women who desire to live out their vocation as mothers by leading their families to Jesus and, ultimately, to heaven.

Now that two-thirds of my children have entered a new phase of life, that of the teenage years, I can look back over the past fifteen years of motherhood and see the victories and defeats, the triumphs and the challenges. I have learned so much from other, more experienced mothers who have helped me along the way. I hope I can share some of what I have learned with others.

The road of motherhood is not an easy road. It is paved with sacrifice and sometimes anxiety and hardship, but it is a most joyful and rewarding path to take in life and one I am so blessed and thankful to be on. I have certainly not done it perfectly so far and will not be a faultless parent in the future. I only know that I have tried to give 100% to my husband and three daughters over the years and continue to put forth that effort each day.

Leading us on the road is Our Blessed Mother, who was the perfect mom and who intercedes for all of us mothers in our needs and struggles. By entrusting our families to her loving care, we can have confidence that we have the protection and care of the greatest mother ever, one who is so close to her Son Jesus in heaven that she is the most powerful intercessor with him for all of our needs and desires. When we give her our cares and worries, she brings them to Jesus and obtains blessings and favors for us in line with his will.

Each of us have managed to make it this far in this unpredictable quest called motherhood. With the help of Jesus and Mary and all of the saints, and under the guidance of our Mother the Church, we can complete our mission of getting to heaven and bringing our families with us. All it takes is faith, hope, and a whole lot of love.

Welcoming Spring at the Festival of Flowers

The theme for the 2019 Festival of Flowers is Dutch Gardens. A colorful, azalea-lined canal and windmill serve as a striking centerpiece for the scenic landscape.

Where do you find a blogger who loves flowers as much as I do on the first week of Spring? At the Festival of Flowers in Mobile, Alabama, of course! Every variety and color imaginable are crafted into elaborate and fragrant displays.  This year’s theme is Dutch Gardens, a picturesque array of azaleas, hydrangeas, weeping willows, and of course, tulips set in a colorful Dutch countryside scene, complete with winding canal, 24-foot tall windmill, and working water wheel.

This is the 26th year for the festival, hosted by Providence Hospital Foundation each year as a fundraiser for the hospital.  The first show was held at Spring Hill College in Mobile by a nun and a group of men, and continued there until it moved to its present location at the Providence Hospital Campus. The proceeds this year will help to purchase defibrillators for the hospital’s cardiac unit.  Not only does the fundraiser benefit the staff and patients of Providence Hospital, but this year lead designer Catherine Cannon Arensburg has incorporated a project to involve at-risk youth in the creative effort of the show.  Young artists from NEST of Mobile and the Strickland Youth Center were able to tap into their creative abilities and contribute their talents to design and paint a large mural that is a beautiful attraction at the festival.

Festival of Flowers Lead Designer Catherine Cannon Arensburg (center), Marian Lormand (right), and me pictured at the NEST of Mobile Mural

Catherine says the preparation for the festive was a nine-month collaborative effort between the designers and all other participants.  The hard work definitely paid off, as the colorful showcase is delighting visitors with the floral displays and events for people of all ages.  Featured speakers will conduct seminars throughout the weekend, vendors are present for shopping and concessions, and awards will be presented on Saturday for the Photography and Art Contests.  The weekend will conclude with a Family Fun Day on Sunday.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Festival of Flowers, accompanied by my dear friend Marian Lormand, who happens to be the sister of lead designer Catherine Cannon Arensburg.  She gave us a semi-private tour of the gorgeous landscape and answered all of our questions about the setting and particular flowers featured in the exhibits.  The weather was perfect, and it turned out to be a lovely way to welcome the season of spring.  I would definitely recommend making a visit to the festival if you are in the area of Mobile in March! 

Dutch floral market display with an array of flowers for viewing and purchase