Name Change?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

–Juliet (Act 2, Scene 2 of “Romeo and Juliet”)

Names are interesting things. Long ago, a person’s name was believed to express that person’s essence–the very core of their being. For that reason, among some cultures, names weren’t given until a child was older or it might be changed later in life. If you’re familiar with the Bible, you know that God changed people’s names when He gave them a new direction or purpose. When He promised Abram a son and descendants, He changed his name to “Abraham,” which means “father of many” even though he was an old man with no children at the time.

Names can be a source of enjoyment or disgust, compliments or jests. When Nolan finished college, but before we moved to Montana to begin ministry, we moved in with a man named Dick (we were waiting until after our baby was born to move). Dick told us that when he went to enter the Army at eighteen, he’d discovered that his real name was “Dickie.” Knowing the trouble that would cause him in boot camp and beyond, he legally changed his name to “Dick” before signing the enlistment papers! I’m sure anyone who has served in the military would heartily agree with that decision!

When I originally started this blog, I wanted to a place to tell our story where anyone who knew us could go read about it without feeling they had to directly ask us. Anyone who knows me personally knows I have a lot of trouble giving fifteen-second soundbites, so this was also a more pain-free option! 🙂 But, it wasn’t too long afterward that I realized I felt pigeon-holed into the topic by the name of my blog, “Catholic4aReason.” It sounds like an apologetics blog and that’s not really what I had in mind (there are way better places for that info. on the ‘Net).

For a long time I’ve wished I’d have named it something else. So, I’m wondering how difficult it would be to rename my blog something that better reflects my purpose? Which also leads to re-thinking the purpose of my blog. Why write?

Well, first, I write because I like it. Although I haven’t done a lot of writing here, I write in my journals and Bible study notebooks. I also am constantly writing in my head (which is a real bummer when I get a good storyline going, but then get interrupted and forget the punchline!).

Second, I write because I have been told that people enjoy reading it. People have been so nice sending me appreciative comments either through text, e-mail, or a note on their Christmas letters about the Christmas letter I sent this year. It was a lot of fun to write and it’s satisfying to know someone enjoyed reading it.

Third, I write because I want to make my little corner of the world just a bit brighter. Whether it’s something funny, educational, or just a beautiful photo or piece of artwork, I want to make people sit down, relax, and enjoy it. I write about my faith because it’s the center of my life, but also because there are times something sparks my thinking about life and eternity. I want to share that with others who might want to think about those things, too.

So, I’m open to suggestions about what to rename this little blog. I’m thinking something life “Tracy’s Musings” or something along that line. But I could just put my name on it, though that seems rather businesslike. Any ideas out there?

On the Second Day of Christmas–the Feast of St. Stephen, First Martyr

“The Stoning of St. Stephen” by Annibale Carracci

Merry Christmas on this second day of Christmas! What? Second day? Wasn’t that on December 13th? Well, no, it wasn’t. The Twelve Days of Christmas actually start on the First Day of Christmas, December 25th. The Christmas season goes until Epiphany, which is when the Wise Men showed up. So, Merry Christmas! If you didn’t get your cards or letters sent out, there’s still time and you won’t be late! 🙂

Today is also a feast day because on this day we celebrate St. Stephen’s martyrdom, recorded in Acts chapters six and seven. Why are we celebrating the first martyr on the day after Christmas? After all, Christmas is about the Baby Jesus in a softly lit stable, all snuggled up in the manger. And today we celebrate the brutal death of St. Stephen? Who planned this out in the liturgical calendar?! Well, the Church did, and for a very good reason.

You see, although the story of Christmas is amazing (God became flesh) and beautiful (angels, shepherds, wise men), Jesus came to die. He chose to enter our lives as one of us so we could not only be saved, but also know that the life He calls us to live is possible. After all, if He’d simply appeared with a cape flying from His shoulders, we would have been awed and grateful. But when He asked us to take up our cross and follow Him, we’d be protesting that we didn’t have capes and superpowers. So, He came as a weak, helpless infant in need of every kind of care a baby needs. Yet He didn’t come just to be approachable and have credibility with His requirements for discipleship. He came to die. And He calls us to do the same.

Tomorrow will be the feast of St. John the Apostle. St. John is an “almost-martyr” because he survived his tortures and eventually died of natural causes (after suffering exile, too). Most of us don’t suffer the martyrdom of Stephen, but rather the long, slow path of life like John, learning to lay down every desire of ours in submission to the will of God. And isn’t that exactly why Jesus came? He came to do the will of the One who sent Him. He came out of love for us, but He also called us to follow Him, even to death.

Williston

The front of our townhouse.

After over five years apart, the rest of the family followed Nolan and, on December 17, 2018, we moved to Williston, ND.

To give you an idea of the change this has been for us, let me put it this way:

Langdon — population of 1,738 nice folks of German and Norwegian heritage, 110 miles from Walmart (an all-day excursion), largely rural and ag-based economy. Traffic–riding lawnmowers allowed on the streets of town! (Those are the old guys who can’t pass the senior driving requirements, but won’t give up their independence!)

Williston — population 27,096 at last estimate from the Census Bureau (Most believe it to be much higher due to all the people who live and work here, but keep their out-of-state resident status.). Walmart is a five-minute drive! Oil-based economy with a lot of ag, too. Traffic is a lesson in speed, agility, reflexes, and the ability to see around gigantor pickup trucks, most with lift kits and more headlights than anyone would ever need. Note: The car in the photo above is what I drive. (I would like to piously claim such conditions have improved my prayer life, but most of the time it leads to reasons to head to the confessional!)

The other huge change is where we are living. After fifteen years on three acres a mile and a half from Langdon with our nearest neighbor a quarter mile away, we now rent the townhouse above. This is our neighborhood:

We live on the left side of this photo in the second row of townhouses. The first row faces a street. We face their backdoors.

This is our backyard:

What I refer to as our “postage stamp of a backyard!”

Obviously, we have gone through some drastic changes! We laugh about the first time our dog, Bonita, saw the yard. She looked back at me as if to say, “You’re kidding, right?!” Not only is it tiny, but we are very limited in what we’re able to do with it due to mowing being included in our rent. We can’t put up a fence for the dog (the one in the photo is now gone from the neighbor’s yard), plant into the ground (planters are ok), etc. In other words, nothing permanent. I’m rather daring with leaving up the bird feeders, but try to get the birdbath out when I see the lawn guys coming. (Why the rock is there I have no idea as each “yard” has one.) It’s okay, though, because this is only temporary and, besides, under that pretty layer of grass is a couple inches of dirt and then gravel for, most likely, several feet.

However, the best part of Williston for us is the parish, St. Joseph’s. Our priest, Fr. Kovash, is a man of deep prayer with a love for Jesus that is evident. He calls the congregation to go deeper with Jesus through prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments, urging us to avail ourselves of all the graces Jesus offers. The parish has grown in the eight years he’s been here and “life-ers” tell us his ministry has brought many people back to the practice of their faith and help to deepen the life of faith in the rest.

So, this is where we are now and where the newest part of this adventure we call “life” has led. It’s wonderful to be living close to John and Emily again (they share a house across town) and to have the hours to Daniel and Alee’s down to nine (drive-able in a day). How long will we be here? Who can say? We don’t believe it will be a long time. But, for now, it’s okay and is perhaps the best stepping-stone to what’s next.

Perseverance

As I have been looking through my “started” list of articles, I found this one that was originally started on December 9, 2018–a year and a half ago. We’ve been in Williston six months now, but I’ll do a another post for that update. ~Tracy

One year ago today I woke up with my right side going numb.  Eventually even my scalp was numb from the center of my head all the way down on the right side, like when you get a shiver and it feels like your scalp shrinks. It was weird, annoying, and starting to get creepy because a similar thing had happened two years before on the left side.  As my readers know, this led to the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) on December 28, 2017.

A year.  A lot can happen in a year.

After my diagnosis Nolan and I decided we would move the family to Williston; we are finally doing that this week.  We have a buyer for our house–the home we’ve had for the last fifteen years and the place we’ve raised our children.  Although we thought (and hoped) it would sell sooner, we’ve actually needed this whole year to adjust to the reality of moving, of letting go, of trusting that this next step is the will of God.   It’s a good thing we are convinced this is His will because this move is going to be quite the change!

Our home since August 2004

We live a mile and a half (technically only 1/2 mile from the northern edge) from a town of 2000 people on three acres. We have a chicken coop, a little barn, a small shed, and a half-finished guesthouse (something we’ve dreamed of since staying in Uncle Don and Aunt Kathy’s guesthouse in Washington years ago).  We’ve raised chickens and pigs, had dogs, cats, and rabbits for pets, and cared for bottle lambs some years.  We’ve had a huge garden that people would drive past just to look at how it was coming along.  Over the years we’ve added trees and bushes to block wind, absorb excess water, provide food, and just for their beauty.

This house is where our six children have most of their memories and, for the youngest three, all of them.  Fort-building (both inside and outside), wagon rides, sledding, mattress sliding on the stairs, sword fights, real arguments, dolls, hammocks, zip line riding, biking, frisbee, and star tipping. There have been the homeschooling ups and downs. They’ve all taken piano lessons (and guitar for a couple), participated in Missoula Children’s Theater, worked part-time jobs, and been active in church.

For most of these years, we’ve had the Vandal family living across the road and the kids have met at the end of their long drive in the spring to play in the water-filled ditches. Vandal’s have been like cousins and the fun the kids have had over the years are sweet memories. The boys worked hard to make a trail through the slough and used it year-round for bikes, sleds, four-wheelers, and anything else they could think up. They would pull old mattresses (and once a couch!) behind the snowmobile! I’m sure I’ll hear some stories years from now that were the, “Don’t tell Mom!” ones.

It’s been hard to leave all that behind and move to what I encouragingly told the kids, “It’s like the Tardis–it’s bigger on the inside!” We’ve gone from three acres to a postage stamp yard with neighbors who share walls with us. It’s been a big change and we’re learning a lot about ourselves. And, really, that’s what happens when life has to change–we change and discover things about ourselves we never knew. But we know that, as James reassures us in 1:2:

My brothers and sisters,[b] whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

We are trusting, and are sure, that this move will do just that for each of us. I look forward to the time when we’re able to look back and see, as God is able to see clearly now, that this move was a blessing to all of us, even through the tears.

Giving Glory to God

I will sing of Thy steadfast love, O Lord,[a] for ever;
    with my mouth I will proclaim Thy faithfulness to all generations.
For Thy steadfast love was established for ever,
    Thy faithfulness is firm as the heavens. (Psalm 89:1-2)

What does it mean to give glory to God? How, exactly, is that done? Do I have to wait until Heaven to truly give Him glory? I can praise Him in worship and in song, but how does my life give Him glory?

I wish I could give proper credit for this quote, but I heard it in a homily and don’t remember the source. But when I heard it, it not only convicted me, but also excited me:

“When we fail to tell people what God is doing in our lives, we rob God of His glory.”

It convicted me because, flashing through my mind, were all the lost opportunities I have had to give God glory, but held back for fear of being thought uber-religious, naive, pushy, or saying it awkwardly. There have been times I was afraid that by saying something I would make the Christian life seem pollyannish to the listener.

It excited me for two reasons. First, as those thoughts were flashing through my mind, I realized they were signs of pride in my life. Such pride is a sin. If I want to be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48), then sin must be rooted out so that His perfect love can fill me. I can’t confess a sin I don’t realize is there. Score! Found another of pride’s hiding places! 🙂

Second, it thrilled me with the realization that I am free to say all that God is doing because it will bring Him glory! Even if someone would think less of me, God will be pleased! He will be glorified!

Jesus said we need to be like children when it comes to turning to the Father. Children don’t worry about how the other person is going to receive their excitement; they’re just excited! Sometimes that embarrasses us as parents (or at least it did when I was a younger parent). It doesn’t need to. Childlike excitement over the pure and the good is refreshing to the soul and reflects back on the source of the excitement. In this case, when I tell of what God is doing in my life at opportune times, it is reflecting the glory back to Him. And when that happens, I am more blessed than before. What a glorious catch-22!

A Pencil in the Hand of God

Long before I thought of anything Catholic, I heard of Mother Teresa. After all, who hadn’t? The diminutive nun in the distinctive sari with the blue stripes with the most wrinkled face I think I’d ever seen, yet radiating love, concern, intensiveness of purpose. Such a small woman, yet such a powerhouse of ministry to the poorest of the poor, she inspired people of all religions. I was intrigued enough that I ordered a book about her around the time of Princess Diana’s death and her own (Diana died Aug. 31, 1997 and Mother Teresa on Sept. 5). When the book arrived, I read it all, but was disturbed by a comment she made that she didn’t try to convert anyone. Her only purpose was to serve the poorest of the poor in whom she saw the face of Christ. (I learned later she saw everyone that way.)

The idea of not trying to convert anyone struck me as wrong. After all, if she was a Christian (and I wasn’t sure since she was obviously a Catholic), then why would she not seek to bring the Gospel to anyone she could, especially considering her influence on the world. I put the book away and chalked up my reading to new information learned and went on.

However, that quote would come back to me every once in a while and I still couldn’t make any sense of it. People obviously did convert due to her ministry, but she didn’t make that her focus. I learned later that if a person was a Hindu or Muslim or whatever faith and was in danger of death, she would call whatever religious leader that person required for their end-of-life rites. Why would she not call a priest and perhaps have a deathbed conversion opportunity? Over time, however, I realized that she respected that person’s free will to choose and have that choice honored, even at death. And I had to admire her as I thought of how I wouldn’t want to be in danger of death and have someone refuse to call my pastor and instead bring in their own religious leader who would pressure me in my last hours to convert. There were plenty of people who did request a priest because after they had been cared for by the Sisters they desired that, but it wasn’t (and still isn’t) pushed upon them.

After I became Catholic I began acquiring books about Mother Teresa herself and ones taken from her writings and speeches. I’ve found her to be a fascinating woman, realizing she was a holy, determined woman who accomplished much, but also had a sense of humor and could embarrass some of her friends by her directness. (Such as when she insisted a priest accompany her into the Vatican to see John Paul II when he hadn’t been approved beforehand. The disapproving looks of security did not deter her at all and she ended up having the priest concelebrate Mass with the Pope!)

How could one woman achieve so much? The answer lies in the quote above—she saw herself as simply the pencil in God’s hand, writing the story He desired of her life. Does a pencil tell the writer what to write? Of course not. What does a pencil do when the writer pauses? It stops writing. The pencil is perfectly docile, doing only as the writer wills.

That was the secret of the life of Mother Teresa—she desired only to will what God willed.

When she began new foundations, she knew that if it was the will of God, He would make a way. If He didn’t, then no matter how good of an idea it was nor how ideal the location, it wasn’t His time to establish a mission there. She accepted that and went on to other work.

This challenges me to ask myself how often I keep pushing on doors that won’t open because I’m so convinced this is the right way? It also comforts me because there are times I look back to decisions and wonder if it they were right and am reminded of all the ways God brought things together at just the right moment.

I long to be a pencil in the hand of God, writing my story according to His will and for His glory. After all, who better to write it?

Kicking the Camel in the Nose

Recently I was listening to a speaker discussing St. Ignatius’ Discernment of Spirits.  One of his illustrations has really stuck with me and I’ve found the visual quite helpful.

Apparently, camels are rather “nosy” creatures and they try to get into a tent by nosing under the edge, then pushing their way in.  Now, a camel is a large animal and, as I’ve been told by those who know such things, they are a nuisance.   A friend told me the camels in Iraq are dirty, smelly, and rather disgusting as they roam all over at will, spitting and farting!  (Who knew?!)  They are also rather determined animals, which is a problem when they get in your tent because once a camel is in, it’s very difficult to get it out.  Therefore, it is important to pay attention when camels are around and when (not if) one starts pushing his nose under the edge of the tent, kick him in the nose!  Don’t let that creature get his head in or the rest of the body will follow and then you’ve got problems!

Sound familiar?  

“You sure screwed up that relationship by…”

“Royally stuck your foot in your mouth that time, huh?”

“If you’d just done ________ five years go, it would all be different now.”

“You idiot.”

Ever heard that voice in your head?  You realize it’s not the voice of God, right?  It’s the voice of The Accuser, the Father of Lies, the Devil.  How do I know?  Because while it might be true that I’ve messed up stuff and certainly had my “coulda, shoulda, woulda” moments, God is in the business of bringing good out of my failures, not continually reminding me of them.  After all, the moment Adam and Eve sinned, God was there to say, “Yep, you messed it up and there are consequences, but here’s how I’m going to fix it and it’ll be glorious!” (the Tracy paraphrase)

“What shall we say then?  Are we to continue to sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?”  (Romans 6:1-2)

We are not to continue to sin or to blow off our sins as if they’re no big deal, but we are also not to wallow in them.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (I John 1:9)

God is in the business of redemption, cleansing, and healing.  That’s why Jesus, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, came to earth as a baby, lived to manhood, and died for our sins–to redeem, cleanse, and heal us from that sin of Adam and Eve.  He’s been planning all this from the very beginning!  And He had my sins and yours in mind when He did it.  Don’t lessen Christ’s sacrifice for you by wallowing in past sins for which you have asked forgiveness.

I have two suggestions for your kicking technique:

  1. When the accuser accuses, agree!  “Yes, I should have ______” or “Yes, I can be very arrogant.”  Then praise God for His forgiveness and all the work He’s doing in your life.  Thank Him for reminding you how far you’ve come by His grace.  (By the way, never speak to the devil.  Resist him, but don’t talk to him.  The point here is to ignore him and use every accusation to turn your thoughts to God.)
  2. When the thoughts tend toward sins you struggle with, visualize yourself kicking that nose at the tent edge!  I find this very helpful because it brings me awareness of what’s going on before my thoughts get too far.  And, sometimes, I realize that I actually really like that particular camel, but know that allowing that sin entrance into my thoughts is a sure way to misery.

So, be aware of your camels and when one of them starts pushing his nose under the edge of your thoughts, kick him in the nose!