Why I Didn’t Get My Doctorate (And Some Tips for Being at Peace With God’s Will for You)

A lot of my friends with whom I graduated from high school are getting their PhDs right about now. Which made me ask myself–again–the other day, “Why didn’t I get my doctorate?”

The short answer? Because I had kids.

To be more accurate, it was because God had different plans for me than I had for myself. Story of all of our lives, isn’t it?

When I was in graduate school, I was at the beginning of my five-year plan—you know, the new five-year plan I had developed after the previous five-year plan didn’t work out. After graduating with my masters in theology, I would immediately enter a doctoral program, get my PhD (something the overachiever, straight-A, too-concerned-about-what-I-was-doing-and-not-enough-about-who-I-was-becoming student in me had always expected to do), and then teach. Of course, I wanted to get married and have kids, and I suppose that I assumed at the time it would seamlessly happen concurrently…or something.

I met my husband after my first semester in graduate school, was swept off my feet—and unpredictably swept out of state—and now find myself, five years later, looking back at the altogether different five-year plan that God accomplished during that time, which involved getting married, having two beautiful children, writing a book, moving several times, and dabbling in other ministry work in my “free” time (is that what you call spare and fleeting moments as a parent of little ones?). In other words, in the past five years, nowhere was doctoral work to be seen, and it doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the horizon…not as I see it right now, at least.

And I am absolutely at peace and happy with that. 

This peace and happiness is actually quite strange to me, considering I had never pictured myself at home with my kids singing the alphabet for the twenty-sixth time today, while simultaneously wiping drool off my shirt and laughing at my kids trying to poke each other’s cheeks. I thought of a future much more scholarly.

But, more times than I can count, God makes a point of demonstrating to me that His plans are always better than mine. His plans usually allow me to tap into my gifts more appropriately, bring me more joy, have a greater impact on others, produce less stress, and draw me closer to Him. His plans usually make me less selfish and more holy. His plans usually draw my attention away from myself and toward others, most especially toward Him.

Thankfully, in spite of my own (stubborn) free will, I often get diverted from the course of my own plans onto His path for me, and it’s often only in looking back that I can see the fruitfulness of it. I see that through prayer and openness, I sometimes intentionally and other times stumble onto the path of true peace of heart.

That’s where my tips for you come in. If you’re wondering how to find and remain in God’s will for you, try these simple but crucial practices:

  1. Pray. St. Rose of Lima says, “When God is consulted sincerely, He gives a clear answer.”
  2. Be open. Really, actually remain open to what God wants and not just what seems most comfortable or appealing to you at the present moment. It’s amazing how your heart molds to be in joyful conformity with His will when you let it.
  3. Consult logic, your feelings, and your imagination. Don’t just latch onto one of these without the others. They all play a role in peaceful discernment of God’s will.
  4. Seek guidance! Of course, God is the ultimate advice-giver in the process of discernment and finding and living within His will, but seeking counsel from spiritual directors and other wise mentors is not only helpful, but often necessary in the work of uncovering and being at peace with God’s will for you.

You know, I can’t imagine what life would be like right now if my nose was still perpetually in a book and my body in a chair in some classroom for the n-teenth year of my schooling (if you are in that phase of life right now, hoorah! God must have some amazing plans for you on that path). When I was in school, though I love and am always craving to learn, I was a rather anxious person. Now, I have so much more of that deep-down sense of peace and a constant appreciation for the absolute love I have for being in the thick of family life, with more scribbles now hanging on the wall than academic degrees.

Today, make peace with where God has put you right now. Or, if you are on a divergent course, find God’s path for you and start trekking on it, even if it feels scary or unplanned. There you will find His grace to meet you, and, as always, He will exceed all of your expectations.

How to Get Out of a Spiritual Slump

If only our spiritual lives were always as animated and forward moving as we’d like them to be. But most of us find ourselves repetitively moving in and out of spiritual slumps, riding tcht_series_medthe highs and lows of following Christ amidst the trials of the present world.

So how do we get out of those trying spiritual ruts? Here’s a quick list of hacks to get your spiritual life moving again:

  1. Pray. Prayer is, of course, the first and best answer to just about every problem we have – first and foremost the spiritual ones. Pray to God to help you out of your spiritual slump, to increase fervor and persistence in your spiritual life, His grace working along with your cooperation. Start your day or prayer times with simple, pleading words such as “Lord, change me” or to mimic St. Peter, “Lord, save me.” Jesus loves to shake people out of their spiritual ruts and normal grooves. He does this all throughout the Scriptures; remember the woman caught in adultery? I’m thinking she had a pretty different spiritual life after allowing Christ to turn her in another direction. Jesus has no less desire to come into our spiritual lives and do some tune-up work, too.
  1. Seek guidance. Don’t feel like you have to tackle a phase of spiritual dryness alone. Seek counsel from a spiritual director, a priest at your parish, a trusted and wise friend, or even from a good spiritual book (for example, Dan Burke’s Navigating the Interior Life). Fr. Jacques Philippe’s beautiful book, Thirsting for Prayer, has lifted me out of many a prayer slump.
  1. Act. This is such an important step in climbing out of a spiritual rut and, sadly, a step that is so often forgotten or not given priority. If you want to move forward in your spiritual life, praying about it, talking about it, and planning to grow all have their proper roles in the process, but you must actually do something! Choose a devotional and commit to it. Don’t start next week or at the beginning of the month; start now. If you are going to read Scripture more, set a reminder to pick up your Bible first thing when you wake up in the morning. Want to take advantage of the Hour of Mercy? Pray the Divine Mercy chaplet today in the 3 p.m. hour. If you are going to practice charity so you can see Christ more easily in others, do a work of mercy right now. Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish a sinner, bear a wrong patiently, forgive willingly, comfort the afflicted, or pray for the living and the dead today. Then repeat. But, whatever you do, don’t overdo it. If you make too many spiritual commitments at the onset of your journey toward improvement, you’ll likely follow through with very few (if any) of them. Start small and focus on moving forward in baby steps, rather than giant leaps.
  1. Change things up. When it comes to physical fitness, doing the same form of man on mountainexercise every day can eventually put you at a physical standstill. The same thing happens in our spiritual lives. So mix things up a bit. For example, go outside to pray in nature or go out of your way to pray in the adoration chapel if those aren’t traditional prayer spots for you. Count your blessings at the beginning of your prayer time, as opposed to skipping straight to petitioning God for your needs.
  1. Have patience and trust. Look for lessons in the “dark night” or spiritual dryness that you are experiencing. How is God trying to work through this difficulty rather than solely in spite of it? Many were surprised to learn after her death that Mother Teresa experienced years of spiritual dryness…and yet look at the great devotion she had in the midst her own “dark night”! Have patience that God is working in your life, and trust Him. Do not lose faith, even amidst confusion, trusting that faith in Jesus is even more important than understanding His methods.

St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote, “In times of dryness and desolation we must be patient . . . putting our trust in the goodness of God. We must animate ourselves by the thought that God is always with us, that He only allows this trial for our greater good, and that we have not necessarily lost His grace because we have lost the taste and feeling of it.” So pray, ask for help, do something (even something different than you’re used to), and never lose hope that God is always with you, in times of spiritual fruitfulness and in those slumps, too.

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6 Simple Resources to Amplify Your Prayer Life

“What the world most needs today is prayer.  It is prayer that will give birth to all the renewals, healings, deep and fruitful transformations we all want for society today.  This world of ours is very sick, and only contact with heaven will be able to cure it.” –Fr. Jacques Philipe 

Furthermore, any great transformation that we wish to see in ourselves thrives on the commitment and strength of our prayers.

Sometimes, though, praying can be a bit of a struggle. What to pray, how to pray, when to pray, being faithful to prayer when distractions and busy schedules get in the way, persevering in prayer when your spiritual life seems dry – all of these “obstacles” to prayer sometimes leave me in a bit of a prayer rut. That’s when I turn to some outside help to give my prayer life the kickstart it needs to keep going.

Of course, the best outside help is God Himself, who longs to draw closer to us and deepen His relationship with us through prayer. Asking God to give you the grace to move forward in your prayer life is a prayer that He no doubt loves to hear and answer.

Here are a few other resources I use to motivate me in prayer:

The Liturgy of the Hours: I feel like the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the most underutilized prayer gems by lay people in the Church today. The Laudate app is usually my preferred tool of choice for praying the Liturgy of the Hours in spare moments I can grab throughout the day, and it is such a helpful guide to calm me and connect me to God, the Source of all peace and transformation, through beautiful prayers that countless others around the world are also praying that day, too.

Thirsting for Prayer by Fr. Jacques Philippe: Having loved so many of Fr. Philippe’s other writings on the spiritual life (my favorite is Searching For and Maintaining Peace), I was eager to dive into this treatise knowing that it was no doubt going to be one of my favorite resources on prayer. Sure enough, I couldn’t stop highlighting everything as I was reading, and it has already deepened my prayer life. You can read the intro to the book here.

HH Meme13What Every Couple Should Know About Marriage and Prayer by Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen: This great CD/MP3 download continuously reminds me of the treasure that prayer is to my marriage. It’s also by one of my favorite saints, and I pretty much hang on every word he says. This particular talk does not disappoint.

Pray More Novenas: This great email service delivers novena prayers straight to your email inbox. It’s easy, it’s free…and most importantly, novenas are such a fantastic practice in enhancing your prayer life by capitalizing on the beautiful devotions and saintly intercessors that can help us grow in our spiritual lives.

Scripture: The Psalms, the Gospels, Paul’s letters…you name it. It’s hard to get past a few verses without finding something so rich to stop and meditate on. Yet we often completely forget to make the Bible a part of our regular prayer routine. I like to have the EWTN app on my phone to use the Bible feature when I’m on the go or not near my printed Bible.

Chapter 4 in Head & Heart on “Prioritizing Prayer”: The couples I interviewed whose stories, tips, and brutal honesty about their prayer lives made it into chapter four of this book continue to inspire me when I need it most, and I often refer to the other reflections and resources in that chapter to get me back on track when I start to lose focus in prayer.

*If you like these resource ideas, make sure you have a copy of my free Catholic Resource Guide, a great tool to use to help you grow in faith this new year!*

5 Things To Do With Your Catholic Child(ren) Every Day

5 Things to Do With Your Catholic Child Every Day - CatholicKatie.com“So everything that goes on in your home has a good or bad effect on your children. Try to help them with your own good example. Try not to hide your piety from them.” -St. Josemaria Escriva

Here are 5 things you can do with your kids every day to help make faith a more integral part of their lives and to strengthen their connection to Jesus and to you:

  1. Pray. Start the day with prayer, before your usual routine or school time begins. An Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, the Morning Offering, or a free-form prayer are all good options. In the evening, a decade of the Rosary, a chaplet, the Guardian Angel or St. Michael the Archangel prayers, or prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are powerful and simple prayers to say together after dinner or before bedtime.
  2. boy reading bibleRead the Bible. Get a hold of a great children’s Bible (or age appropriate Bible for your child) and read a story from it every day. The Bible has been such a routine part of my 2-year-old son’s day that he regularly requests Gospel stories and spends LOTS of time flipping through the pages himself in his own free time. When children are exposed to the Bible on a regular basis, they come to love it.
  3. Tell them how much God loves them. Make sure you remind your child(ren) every day–if not multiple times a day–how much Jesus loves them. A good time to remember to do so is when you are telling them you love them. “I love you! Do you know who else loves you so, so much? Jesus!” The older they get, the more important this message becomes, as they brave the ups and downs of growing up: God loves you more than you’ll ever know.
  4. Do something nice for someone else. Model for your kids this great practice of doing one simple, concrete act of charity or mercy for someone else each day, and encourage them (or physically help them depending on their age) to do that “something kind” for someone else, too. Ask them about their good deed at dinner or at night.
  5. dad and son runningSpend quality time together/Give your child(ren) your undivided attention. Discipleship comes through relationship building. If you want your children to really learn the faith from you and to become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, invest intentional time in them. Make sure that every day, your child(ren) get some of your undivided attention, where you spend time talking with them, reading to them, playing with them, attending their extracurricular activities (and watching rather looking at your phone), cuddling them, or doing whatever connects you with each other and strengthens your parent-child bond.

Bonus one: Take them to daily Mass! It’s pretty much the best way to combine all of the above into one awesome, faith-building activity that you can do together. If you have the ability to go to Mass together on a non-Sunday day of the week, do it. Over time, you won’t be able to live without it! Never underestimate the power of the sacraments to work wonders in the lives of you and your children.

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The More Margin for Peace Challenge: How to Honor the Lord’s Day

tcht_series_medMany of us know the Third Commandment given by God to Moses: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the sev- enth day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; . . . therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex 20:8–11).

Unfortunately, knowing the commandment doesn’t mean it is well practiced. Full schedules, sports events and TV, open restaurants and shopping malls, and a general cultural habit of working too much and playing too little make it easy to let Sundays pass us by as just another day of the week. And it is not just another day of the week. If we want more peace in our lives, we need to reconnect with God, rest, and pursue leisure on the day made to recharge our peace: Sunday.

Take back your SundayTips for “taking back Sunday” as a day for peace in your life and home:

  • Prioritize Mass: Plan your whole day around the Mass, making it the “high point” of your Sunday. Read the readings before you go, dress up, linger to pray, and discuss and reflect on what you got out of Mass later that day.
  • Minimize distractions: Don’t allow errands, shopping, chores, overconsumption of media, and other distractions to hijack your Sunday, leaving you little time for the things that restore your peace and help you reconnect with God and family.
  • Plan rejuvenating, fun, and restful activities: Go for a day trip, read for pleasure, take a nap, watch a movie as a family, read the Bible together, spend time outdoors, celebrate a feast day with a craft or food related to the feast, say a family rosary, visit a distant or sick friend or relative, do a volunteer or ministry activity at your parish or in the community.

Make a plan this week to make the most of your upcoming Sunday, and the rest of your Sundays this month.

In his masterful work, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper contends that leisure requires con- stant affirmation by our practice of it and leads us to an inner joyfulness that lasts. “This is why the ability to be ‘at leisure’ is one of the basic powers of the human soul . . . the power to be at leisure is the power to step beyond the working world and win contact with those superhuman, life-giving forces that can send us, renewed and alive again, into the busy world of work.”

***Don’t forget to post a note or set a reminder on your phone to follow through with your plan to Honor the Lord’s day this week!***

If you aren’t getting these weekly challenges sent to your email inbox, you can sign up to have them sent to you each week here, and get a free resource guide in the process!

Your Mid-Lent Boot Camp

Mid-Lent Boot Camp imageNeed a little spiritual shot in the arm half way through your Lenten journey? Our goal during this season of Lent is to draw closer to Christ through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent isn’t about being miserable; it’s about transformation – becoming more like Christ Himself, which can be challenging, no doubt, but the transformation we seek is purifying in a good way. Here are some good ways to step up your game over the next week or to get back on track focusing on these three pillars of Lent if you feel like your current journey hasn’t been real transformative so far.

DIRECTIONS: This is a 6-Day Lenten Boot Camp activity. I recommend you print the chart below and choose/circle one activity/practice for each day (prayer OR fasting OR almsgiving). Over the course of the whole week, try to select two choices from the “PRAY” column, two from the “FAST” column, and two from the “GIVE” column. (For example, on Monday and Thursday you can do something from the Pray column, Tuesday and Friday from Fast, and Wednesday and Saturday from Give…but you can do them in any order depending on which ideas appeal to and challenge you!)

 

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Lenten Prayer Postcards

Postcard frontHere are some Lenten Prayer Postcards you can print and use to let people know that you are praying for them during this holy season! (A pack of postcard paper from an office supply store works best, but you can also print on regular paper and place in envelopes.)

*The postcards are meant to accompany this Lenten Prayer Challenge.*
Postcard back
I always wish I would send more mail to people (who doesn’t love to receive fun mail amidst bills and unwanted mailers?) and this is a great way to pray for others AND let them know by sending them a nice Lenten-themed postcard!

How to Make Your Home a “Church in Miniature”

church cropped“Pope Francis has said, ‘Families are the domestic church, where Jesus grows.’ The idea of the domestic church or ecclesiola — ‘little church’ — the church of the home, dates back to the early Church, where Christians made their own homes sanctioned places to grow in holiness and discipleship. Still today, Catholic families make their homes ‘churches in miniature,’ imitating the actions of the larger Church in family life.” Read more from my recent article in the National Catholic Register, Fostering Holiness: Families Create Domestic Churches.

As Pope Paul VI noted in Evangelii Nuntiandi, “there should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church.” What are some of those various aspects? In what ways does the domestic church mirror the actions and life of the entire Church? Here are some important tips for making your home a domestic church, imitating some of the actions of the greater – big “C” – Church:

  • Evangelization: The Church exists to evangelize, and so does the domestic church. Both within and outside the walls of the home, spiritual leaders recognize that their chief task as baptized Christians is to share the gospel and the love of Christ with their own family members and with everyone they encounter in the parish and community.
  • Sacraments: As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life” (CCC 1210). Spiritual leaders keep themselves and their families close to the sacraments, making the practice of them a habit that gives “birth and increase, healing and mission” to their families over the course of their lives.
  • Adornment of the church home: If you were to walk into the homes of many of the spiritual leaders I interviewed for this book, you would know you were in a Catholic home right when the front door opened and you crossed the threshold into the foyer. Like the Church is adorned with beauty that lifts one’s heart and mind to God, so do these domestic churches remind you of God’s presence in the church home.
  • Sacramentals: “Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life” (CCC 1677). Through blessings (which hold a pride of place among sacramentals) and other forms and articles of popular piety (like crucifixes, rosaries, icons, statues, and holy water), the domestic church is enriched in its family life and grafted more fully into the life of the Church.
  • Tithing: Whether or not we like to face the fact, Jesus spoke a lot about money in the Gospels. Just read the parables. Giving of one’s “first fruits” to God is critically important for spiritual leaders—through the tithing of their treasure, talent, and time. readingThe domestic church is made a more active cell within the greater Church by generously giving a portion of what they have been blessed with by God.
  • Prayer: Strong spiritual leaders are dedicated to prayer as the Church is dedicated to prayer, especially through the celebration of the Mass, the pinnacle of the Church’s prayer life. Prayer animates everything that the Church is and does, and so spiritual heads and hearts try to grasp that same animating prayer life in their own lives and families.

If a friend spent time in your home and then spent time in your local parish church, would they see a resemblance of activity and lifestyle?

7 Rosary Tips for Catholic Families

rosary in hand_redI came across this article the other day and I thought it served as a great foundation for a quick list of Rosary “hacks” for Catholic families:

The first three ideas are taken from Fr. Cole’s advice (article linked above), followed by a few I’ve added, which, through personal trial and error and through hearing what other families do, have proven to be additional useful tips for giving the Rosary a more regular place in family life.

  1. Pause before each mystery to reflect. Mention the mystery before you start the decade, and pause a moment to reflect on that mystery, reminding you to think of that moment in Christ’s life (maybe even through the perspective of Mary!) as you pray the following Our Father and Hail Mary’s.
  2. Offer up each decade for a specific intention. Have someone in the family (or everyone) mention an intention they’d like that decade to be offered for.
  3. Split it up. The Dominican priest, Fr. Cole, recommends that people consider praying a decade of the Rosary at different times throughout the day, allowing more time to focus on each one. He recommends this as a far better alternative to “rushing through an entire Rosary” just for the sake of praying it all at once.
  4. Pick a set time. In our family, we usually pray a decade of the Rosary after dinner, since we are all gathered together then anyway. Warning: If it’s too close to bedtime, you’ll have sleepy pray-ers. Having a routine location is helpful, too.
  5. Rotate voices. Maybe dad prays the beginning of each prayer and the family completes, for example. Give children the chance to lead, too.
  6. Ask for the intercession of the saints. Have each family member ask for one favorite saint’s intercession before or after the Rosary or decade.
  7. Set the atmosphere. Make a holy atmosphere around the place you’ll pray. Perhaps you can have a picture or icon of Jesus and the Blessed Mother nearby, and/or light candles.

“Many in the world have lost the sense of contemplation, but if it is recovered, prayer could greatly strengthen individuals and families….If it [the rosary] is done correctly, wow it can really strengthen a marriage. Because in a marriage [and family], you have to face trials and difficulties. You need patience and kindness – graces that the rosary offers us are there.” -Fr. Basil Cole, O.P.

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For more tips on prioritizing prayer in family life, check out this book.

Moving Forward in Ordinary Time

rosary in hand_red“Ordinary Time is not a stagnant or unimportant season; like all other seasons in the Church year, it is an ordered time for growth and a time to strengthen one’s spiritual life and be Christ to one’s neighbor, making Ordinary Time more extraordinary.”

Read more from my recent feature in the RegisterMaking Ordinary Time Extraordinary: How to Prioritize Prayer, Joy, and Works of Mercy Year-Round.