A Change of Heart

We were new parishioners at our church when our pastor started campaigning to raise money to build an adoration chapel.  I was in a different place in my faith life at that point.  I guess you could say God had not yet “called me on a smartphone”.  So, when I heard that our church wanted to build this pricey new chapel, I chalked it up to being just another crazy and wasteful expenditure that the Catholic Church was going to make.  How in the world were they going to get people to contribute the funds necessary to build something that seemed to be so frivolous?

(It pains me now to know that I had those thoughts.  As in other realms of my life lately, I need to eat my words or, in this case, thoughts.)

During the campaign, one of the priests claimed that this chapel would change people.  He promised that lives would be dramatically changed because of something called Eucharistic Adoration.  With a promise like that I was definitely intrigued, but also quite skeptical.  Despite my doubts and cynicism, within six weeks of making the initial ask, the priests of my church had secured enough pledges to fund the building of the chapel.  WOW!  I was shocked.   Within about a year and a half, our church had its very own adoration chapel.

During that year and a half while the chapel was under construction, I had started praying the rosary regularly and had also left my job to stay home with my children.  (See earlier post.)  Little by little my faith life was increasing but I was still looking for more.  I had witnessed some women at my church who had this unwavering faith and reverence for the Church’s teaching that seemed to bring them great peace.  I wanted that peace, but I was still a bit reluctant to fully embrace the Catholic faith.  Still, I had decided that if I was going to pass this faith onto my children, I was going to HAVE to fully embrace it because I wanted to be authentic.  I wanted to have the answers or know where to go for them when my children had questions.  Essentially, if I was going to pass on the faith, I was going have to SHOW them the faith.  And, if I was going to to show them the faith, then I was going to have to LIVE the faith.  I decided to go on a retreat to help me be authentically Catholic.

The weekend retreat ended up being an amazing experience.  But on the first night, an internal spiritual battle for my soul took place.  I fought the voices in my head that said “this is silly” or “who do you think you are?” or “you want to be one of THEM?”  (I think something evil was trying to block me from the Holy Spirit.)  Truthfully, I think there was a small part of me that was on the fence about being Catholic all together.

So, that first night I did as I was told by the retreat leaders and prayed for the Holy Spirit to open my heart.  And let me tell you, I could feel it closing up.  Like I said, there was quite the internal struggle.  But I just kept repeating to myself, “Open my heart.”  I had one specific area that I needed clarity and understanding on before truly moving forward with the Church.  I was convinced I would not receive an answer on this particular issue during this specific retreat.  CONVINCED.  In a way, I’d almost given myself an out.  I had set God up to fail.  Ahh, but I had forgotten that Love Never Fails.  And since God is Love, God NEVER Fails.

On the second day of the retreat, a woman gave a testimony that really spoke to me.  I felt like someone had warned her about me, with all of my doubts and questions, and she had been invited to the retreat to directly address my issues.  Her topic was totally not what I had expected to hear on an “all ages” retreat like this, but it was totally what I needed to hear.  I felt chills.  This was it.  God had heard my questions and was giving me answers through this woman.  The answers were not what I wanted to hear.  The answers she gave me meant that I was going to have to embrace some potential challenges if I wanted to follow the Church’s teachings.  (More on what those challenges were and still are on another day.) My point here, really, is that I had asked God to show me what He wanted me to understand about a particular issue and He did just that through this woman’s testimony.  It was enough to completely soften my previously hardened heart.

With my heart open and my mind less cynical, I became more willing to seek a relationship with Jesus and delve deeper into the Catholic faith.  I was ready to admit that I didn’t have all the answers and neither did any other earthly person.  I started to realize that Jesus and the Church he started really did have all the answers to my questions.  But where do we find these answers?  Well, one place to start would be the Bible.   Another option would be to consult the Catholic Catechism or even books written by the current and past Popes.  But there has to be an option that doesn’t involve reading.  For I believe Jesus is not an elitist and can certainly reach the least educated or illiterate person.  I learned on this retreat that one way to find answers is through Eucharistic Adoration.

My first time experiencing Eucharistic adoration, aside from mass, was at this retreat.  Initially, even though my heart was open, I didn’t quite “get it”.  You may be wondering what in the world I’m even talking about.  Well first, as a Catholic, I believe that Christ is fully present in the Eucharist.  During mass, that little wafer/cracker/bread, otherwise known as the host, and the wine become the body and blood of Jesus.  This consecrated bread and wine, in which Christ is fully present, is referred to as the Eucharist.  Yes, we believe that Jesus is totally present in the bread and wine.  During Eucharistic Adoration, one sits in the Real Presence of Jesus.  Jesus is in the form of the consecrated host which rests in a decorative Monstrance.

So, since we believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, during adoration, you sit in the physical presence of Jesus.  (He just has the form of a little circular wafer.)  At first I found this to be strange and awkward.  But after a couple times it felt incredibly peaceful.  Soon after the retreat I started taking my children to a weekly adoration hour just for children.  My daughter, who was three at the time, knelt before Jesus without even being told to do so.  I just couldn’t stop myself from capturing such a sweet moment as evidenced below.  This was a very telling moment for me.  I believe children can see the truth so clearly because they are so pure.  She knew there was someone there to adore, but she couldn’t articulate it.  She didn’t need to explain what she was doing for you could see it in her actions.  I went to a retreat to help me be able to show her faith, and here she was, showing ME faith.

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After attending the children’s hour for several weeks, I finally “got it”.  I was hooked on Eucharistic Adoration and I wanted more so I signed up for a weekly holy hour.  I wanted to be able to spend an hour in the evening with Jesus without having to watch after my children.  I wanted to be able to be quiet and start listening to what God wanted to say to me.  In life it’s often too hard to find quiet.  Signing up for an adoration hour meant that I would have at least one hour of silence per week.

It has been one year since I started my weekly adoration habit.  I think back to what the priest at my church said a couple years ago, about this chapel changing lives.  I can honestly say… He is so right.  It would take too long to list everything that has transpired in my life and in the lives of others related to me during this past year, so I’ll just share a little.  Someone dear to me, for whom I prayed weekly, returned to church after a long absence.  I conceived and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  My relationship with my husband grew stronger.  And last but not least, I developed a true love for Jesus and finally found that much sought after peace in my heart.

When I sit in silence during Eucharistic Adoration, I truly do hear answers from God.  Sometimes the answers come through scripture.  Other times an answer presents itself in the form of a persistent thought that runs through my head, urging me to take action on something.  One such thought that I had during adoration was, “Write this down and start a blog”.  It may sound silly, but I did feel like I was being told during adoration to share my faith through a blog.  It took months of hearing this in the chapel for me to build up the courage to obey.

My desire to go on a retreat came only a month or so after the completion of the adoration chapel.   At the same time I was also praying the rosary more frequently.  With all of the rosary devotion, I have no doubt that Mary was praying for me to grow closer to her Son.  But, I cannot help but wonder if there were others praying for me as well.   Perhaps someone who attends my church was praying for me in that chapel, praying that I would go on that retreat, praying that I would have a change of heart.

Lives are changed in that little chapel.  Catholic or not, if you are trying to find peace, start by stepping into an adoration chapel.  Sit in silence and see what happens!

The retreat I went on at my church is called Light of the World. You can check out this website to see if there is a Light of the World retreat near you!  http://www.lotwem.org/

A Tithing Experiment

April 15 has come and gone.  Did you get your taxes filed on time?  Have you received your refund yet?  In the past, I would get really excited about how our tax return refund was going to be spent.  We would purchase some fun items or go out for a special dinner and then use the remaining amount to bump up different savings goals.

This year I got excited that the refund amount would be approximately enough to cover our property taxes.  I write approximately because I do not yet know the exact amount of our 2015 property tax bill.  However, based on our 2013 bill, it should be enough, if not more than enough.  (You may recall from a different post that the tax return we received last year was saved for our 2014 property tax bill, a bill that we will receive later this Spring.)  You might be thinking, in a sarcastic tone, oh wow, how exciting.  Well, I truly do feel overjoyed because it means that I get to continue staying home.

Preparing your tax return may provide you with the opportunity to review your year.  If you’ve seen the Turbo Tax commercial, you may know what I’m talking about.  Did I get married?  Did I have a baby?  Where did I work?  How much money did I give to charity?  When I filed our taxes this year, I noticed something really interesting.  This past year, 2014, was the first full calendar year that I did not work.  Wait, let me rephrase that.  It was the first calendar year that I did not work outside the home.  We all know it’s hard work staying home with young children!!  (If it’s not hard work, you’re doing something wrong or you have a screw loose.)  But, I digress…

What did I observe while I was doing our tax return?  From 2013 to 2014, our income decreased by 30%, due to my exit from the workforce in November 2013.  Obviously that decrease was no surprise.  The surprise came when I compiled our information for the charitable contributions section of our filing and I observed that we gave more in 2014 than we did in 2013.  In fact, the amount we gave in 2014 was almost DOUBLE the amount we gave in 2013.  We had less money, but we gave more.  How could that be?  We were more generous when we had less to give.  I was stunned at this beautiful truth.

That little observation encouraged me to open my heart to something that had been weighing on my mind for quite some time; TITHING.  As I understand it, in its simplest terms, tithing is giving back 10% of what you have been given.  Most priests and other religious people would suggest that you break up the 10% into three parts.  Give 5% of your income to your church, 1% to your diocese and 4% to any charities or causes that you choose to support.  (Little side note: I assume that “income” means your take-home-pay.  Someone let me know in the comments if that’s not the case!)

I admit, we have not been tithing the full 10%.  Do we give to our church on a weekly basis?  Of course.  Do we give to different charities?  Yup.  However, I don’t think that the amount we’ve given in the past couple years would amount to 5% of our income.  In our first year living on one income, I was too scared to give that much away.  We had already cut our income by so much, doing what I thought was God’s will, that I just didn’t think we had any more to give.  I expressed these concerns to one of my small groups during a retreat.  One of the men in my group told me that he thought we were already tithing enough by giving up one income and having me stay home.  Of course, this man is not the authority on tithing, but it did make me feel better.  Is he right?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps it was enough at that time.

A couple of weeks ago, our parish hosted a four-day evening retreat that they called our Parish Mission.  A very vibrant and engaging priest, named Father Larry Richards, gave some very interesting talks.  The topic of one of his messages was sin.  He literally stood up and rattled off a list of sins.  As he went down the list, there were really no surprises, just reminders.  Then he started talking about something that I hadn’t really thought of as a sin before: “not giving to the poor and the Church.”  Now, I believe the sin comes into play when you give away nothing.  I’m not sure if giving less than 10% is sinful, but it is certainly recommended that you give away at least 10% of what you are given.  (Once again, someone please let me know if I do not have the correct understanding.)  Father Larry went on to challenge our congregation to start tithing 10% of our income if we were not already doing so.  He suggested that we merely set a goal to tithe for just six months as a sort of experiment and just see what happens.  He, not so gently, reminded us that God would not be outdone in his generosity.

God will not be outdone in his generosity…

When we got home from the mission that night, I told my husband that the talk about tithing had really made me start considering whether or not we were being generous enough.  I told him that it had actually been weighing on me for a while, but I thought that maybe we just didn’t NEED to tithe since I wasn’t working.  But, in my heart, I just knew that this wasn’t true anymore.  Perhaps in the beginning, when living on less was brand new, we had a grace period in regards to true tithing.  But, with more than a year under our belt, I thought it was time to try this tithing experiment.  He agreed that it was something that was weighing on him as well.

That evening I set up a little tithing spreadsheet to help me calculate what we would be giving each month.  My husband’s income fluctuates because of the nature of his work.  As such, the amount that we give will vary from month to month.  I was strangely excited to move forward with this experiment.  I decided that on each payday, I would immediately take 10% of that income and put it into a checking account that we don’t use daily.  Essentially, it would be almost as if we never had the money in the first place.  Then, any donations that we would make that month would come out of that separate checking account.

As I mentioned earlier, I felt a weight lifted off of me after my husband and I agreed on this plan.  If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you know that I recently had a baby.  I’m working at getting that baby weight to go away little by little.  (I have a long way to go!)  I weigh myself weekly as part of an online Weight Watchers adventure.  Coincidentally, the day that I created my tithing excel spreadsheet was a “weigh-in” day.  Soon after explaining to my husband that I had felt a weight lifted, I stepped on the scale and found that a weight really had been lifted off of me in the literal sense.  After having some slow weight loss weeks, I had a huge loss.  And the same thing happened the following week.  It was kind of wild.  Was God’s generosity coming in the form of weight loss so that I would be able to start fitting into more of my old clothes and avoid buying new clothes?  Perhaps…

I will admit…I had already made another plan for how God would outdo our generosity.  And, that was a mistake.  Why do I always forget that God makes the plans, not me?  My husband was up for a promotion and competing against 13 others to get it.  I figured that since we were now tithing, he would of course get this promotion, right?  I mean, this was certainly how God was going to outdo our generosity.  Well, as you may have already guessed, my husband did not get the job.  It was disappointing, to say the least.  The “old me” might have thrown in the towel on this whole tithing experiment since God had not shown me his generosity in the way I would have expected.  Instead, I decided that perhaps this was a good thing.  Maybe the job was really not the right fit for my husband and our family as a whole.   Who knows!   And in the end, tithing is about GIVING without worrying what we’ll get in return.  Plus, my family and I have already been given so much.

About a month has passed since we decided to accept Father Larry’s tithing challenge.  So far, so good!  Really, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.  Once again, I have to remind myself to “be not afraid”.  Abandoning fear certainly has been a reoccurring theme in my life.   Have you picked up on that?

I’ll keep you posted on how our tithing experiment goes in about 5 months.   In the meantime, let me know what you think about tithing.  Are you starting your own tithing experiment?  Do you already tithe?  Are you a little scared to give that much like I was?  Let me know!

God bless!