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finding your glorious poverty

Dec 6, 2021

“This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

I like to be around lots of people. I attribute this to my God given temperament and my large Catholic family. As the last child of eight kids, I literally experienced life at every age whirling around me from my earliest memories.

When I was 7, my sisters and brothers were 10, 13, 15, 19, 20, 21, and 23. We lived in the same town as most of our relatives. The dining room table was a daily altar of sorts where much bread was broken and many hearts gathered spilling stories of ordinary life.

Our thoughts determine our lives.

In his book, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, Elder Thaddeus says, “The ordinary man is the most important to God.” Well then, God’s army of the most important people rounded our table most weekends entertaining me with the tales of their lives. I was watching Reality TV before it was a thing.

Sisters and brothers were dating and one was already married by the time I was in first grade. My siblings were a good-looking bunch. Their lives were like fairy tales to me. I remember when handsome Eddie, freshly graduated from Notre Dame, whisked Babs away in his new convertible Triumph TR-6 one summer day. Her long blonde hair was tied up in a scarf and waved wildly behind her as they sped away on their next adventure. I peered through the bay window of the living room—just imagining the day that my husband would speed me away to the life of my dreams in a little white sports car.  That same year, my sister Kathy and her husband gifted our family with the very first grandchild. I was so little and my niece was so tiny and we were just 7 years apart.

I saw every high and low of my parent’s Catholic life. Great joy and great sorrow. Grandchildren born. Grandparents dying. It was this life that taught me to dream, work hard, value relationships, and the importance of staying close to the Sacraments. It is good to imagine the future. It is great to dream. These are the things that hope is made of. And, I thank my family for that gift.

Between the extremes is most of life.

It is also good to be present and appreciate all that just is. Between the extremes is most of life. It is ordinary and beautiful and fraught with poverty. Poverty is simply the struggle in life that we feel and want to run away from. We don’t need to run. We can notice it and deal with it through examination and the Sacraments. To notice a fault is the way to humility and we may have to do some work to find the source of it. We all have a different sort of poverty and it changes with life.

It can be difficult accepting the present when negative emotion comes around like the feeling of loneliness. This is a feeling that I can experience with our kids living miles away from us all of the sudden. I can place this feeling in the Model and get curious about it. In the Model, our thoughts cause our feelings that cause our actions. I can put loneliness in the Feeling line and interrogate the thought that is causing the emotion. I use this process to sort out all the associations, past memories, and images that could be causing the thought causing the feeling. The Model is based on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

I did discover the thought causing the feeling of loneliness. You probably guessed it: “I need to have lots of people around—especially my kids.” I am choosing different thoughts, so I no longer have that feeling, but it will come around again when the kids visit and leave. Our neural pathways are strong and it takes time to change them. Now, I can simply shift my thoughts about it before taking action.

What I have learned through spiritually fasting off food is that it is simply in the most uncomfortable, hungry, and lonely times of our lives that we really learn the most. It is in this space that we see what we are really made of. This space is where our poverty lies—where we are most uncomfortable. The Lord loves this space of poverty within us. He loves it, because it is within that space that He can reach us the most deeply, because we can call out to Him there for healing. And, he heals.

The more I learn about spiritual fasting the more I realize how much I need the grace of the Mass, Adoration, and Confession with the intercession of the Holy Angels, Saints, and Our Blessed Mother to stay on track. I have all I need to seek Him who is always within me. I am never alone. I never have to feel lonely for long. I can choose.

He will transform that poverty.

My prayer for you this Advent is that you find your poverty, feel it, and deal with it. Get curious about it. This is the first step. Where do you struggle? What makes you overeat or overdrink?

Invite Jesus into that very space through the Sacraments. Let him love you there. If you let him, He will transform that poverty. You’ll have to put in effort, too. This work is usually cultivated slowly, but this is the glorious purification work of our earthly lives.

My amazing big Catholic family still teaches me how to really live this ordinary life. We all experience the aches and pains of growing in virtue. My sisters and brothers are near to me and we are still close. I am thankful for them.

I choose to think of all the days that our kids will visit often and we will visit them. I also choose to enjoy every present moment of the ordinary days in between our visits with my amazing husband. We haven’t purchased that little convertible sports car yet. But the night is young and there are many dreams yet to be had. God has it all worked out.

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