My life is an open door

Lent is a busy time for a Catholic newspaper, all sorts of events to cover. So I’ve been to my share of retreats, conferences and talks over the last six weeks covering them for The Compass newspaper. It’s always a trick to record what is going on, get interviews done, take photos and yet still try to capture the essence of the event for myself. Many times it requires going home, writing the story, sending the story and pictures to my editor, and then sitting down to think about whatever gold nugget caught my attention during the event and pondering how I can implement that bit of wisdom into my life.

On March 14 I covered the Feminine Genius Conference held at St. Pius X Parish in Appleton. The speakers, including Rose Sullivan — executive director of the National Conference for Diocesan Vocation Directors and a USCCB consultant to the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, Father Mark Toups — pastor of Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and who also works with the Institute for Priestly Formation,Teresa Tomeo — author, syndicated Catholic talk show host, and motivational speaker, and Sister Maris Stella of the Sisters of Life who works in the Hope and Healing Mission, a work providing retreats and accompaniment to women who are suffering after abortion, were all outstanding.

Here’s the interesting thing, the one thing that I heard that has stuck with me since that day wasn’t some profound line from one of the keynote speeches. In fact, it wasn’t from any speech at all. It was actually from a conversation I had with Fr. Mark Toups after he finished his presentation. I was able to catch him in the lobby as people were milling around, looking at the various vendor booths set up for the day. Father and I were having a conversation about our busy lives between working, traveling and doing presentations (the bulk of my traveling and presenting is for my mission of sharing Kangen water) and balancing everything we both have going on.

As we were concluding our conversation, Fr. Mark asked if he could pray for me. I never turn down the opportunity to be prayed over, so of course I said, “Absolutely!” He started out the prayer saying, “I pray that the Lord opens the doors that need to be opened in your life.”I was really touched by that because that is really something I’ve been praying for as well, he certainly could read what was on my heart. If the prayer would have concluded right there, I would have been at peace with that. However, it didn’t end there and his finishing request was actually something I really need (even though I won’t always admit it).

“And may the Lord close the doors that need to be closed in your life.”

Wow! I was speechless. Boy oh boy, did I need to hear that.

There are so many opportunities that I could take advantage of in my life, with more coming my way every day, and each one could be so wonderful in its own right to pursue but I cannot continue to spread myself so thin or I won’t be doing any opportunity justice. This is something I really need to ponder in my life so I can discern between all the doors open before me. It’s somewhat mind blowing, that’s for sure.

I can’t thank Fr. Mark enough for his prayer over me. I have thought about that every day since and really consider it as things continue to come my way. It’s causing me to narrow my focus so I can be better at the things that are my absolute priorities right now. I will continue to write newspaper articles (but keep that number down to one article per week), I will work harder and smarter sharing the message of living water, and I will complete the manuscript for the book I’m writing. Now I just have to work on saying no to some people and opportunities so I can say yes to the things that matter to me the most right now in my life. Easier said than done, but I’m determined to stay the course!

Happy Easter everyone!

Confession…

When I say I’ve got a lot on my plate and I’m striving to keep my life in balance, I’m not kidding. I can’t get over how busy this year has been so far. There have been so many events to cover for The Compass newspaper that most of my weekends have been spent going to churches, schools and other venues to listen to speakers. Between that and writing for The Business News, my writing plate certainly has been full. It’s all good though because every event I attend, I meet more wonderful people and have the honor to share their stories with the world, so it really is gratifying.

I had the privilege to be assigned to cover the Women Celebrate weekend in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin on Valentine’s Day weekend. It really was a blessing because I had wanted to attend for years and this was the perfect opportunity for me to do that. It was a bit hectic for me because not only was I an attendee and doing my best to absorb all that I was exposed to and take in the wonderful speakers and worship music but I was also busy writing notes, taking photos, getting interviews and to top it off, when I was between things, I was selling and signing my book, A World Such as Heaven Intended, in the hallway.

The weekend was incredible. I always say if you go to an event and can walk away with just one gold nugget, then it was worth your time. That’s exactly what I experienced when I was there. Throughout the weekend they had various presenters who had moving and meaningful messages to share. The keynote speaker was a young woman speaking on the topic of sex trafficking and how prevalent it is in our area. It was an eye-opening talk, given by a person who had been forced into that world herself.

There was a lot of fun mixed in as well. We had a chocolate fountain to enjoy Friday night, Saturday was a pampering session (and what busy woman doesn’t need that?), and Saturday evening we got to enjoy an ice cream sundae bar. We were wined and dined all weekend (the sponsors didn’t provide the wine but there was plenty available as many of the gals brought wine and treats from home to share in their hotel rooms).

We had time for reflection and prayer as well. There was a prayer chapel set up that was a quiet refuge from all the other happenings throughout the weekend. Plus groups of women took time Saturday afternoon to pray over woman who needed spiritual support.

Our spiritual director for the weekend was Fr. Dave Pleier from St. Francis Assisi Parish in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. He kept everyone laughing with his stories and jokes but he also had some wonderful lessons to share. On Saturday afternoon we could go to breakout sessions and I chose to go to Fr. Pleier’s session on questions about the Catholic Church. One lady asked about confession (otherwise known as reconciliation). She was an older lady and said she hated going to confession. Father addressed her concern and said he finds that a lot of people seem to fall into two groups — they either go to confession on a regular basis and feel like they don’t really have anything to confess or they go to confession with something they really need to get off their chest but feel like they didn’t adequately confess their sins to the priest. For the second group, Fr. Pleier said that when you go to confession and are truly sorry for your sins, whether you tell the priest all the details or don’t even say out loud the sin that is burdening you the most, God forgives you for everything. Your slate is wiped clean!

That just really hit me. Wow, it was exactly what I needed to hear because, being the perfectionist I am, I was never quite sure if I was confessing properly or completely.

Later that afternoon seven priests were at the conference conducting confession privately throughout the ballroom where the main events were held. There were probably about 100 women sitting in chairs waiting to go to confession. When you got tapped on the shoulder you went to whichever priest was available. I sat there waiting and hoping I’d get Fr. Pleier because I really wanted to talk to him about what he said. It was meant to be because sure enough, he was the open priest when my turn came.

I went over to the spot where he was seated and sat down with him face-to-face. I started our session with the traditional, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” but then immediately struck up a conversation with him about confession. It was then that Father shared a story from his own life and said something so profound that it will stay with me forever. He said that even though he went to confession and had been absolved of his sin, he had a hard time forgiving himself because what he had done was so out of character for him. I felt like Charlie Brown in the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon when he’s meeting with Lucy the psychiatrist and she discovers he has a fear of everything and he yells, “That’s it,” and she goes tumbling off her chair.

That truly was it for me! I tend to beat myself up over things that happened years and sometimes decades ago. Even though I’ve been to confession many times through the years, because some particular things I’ve done in my life were so out of character for me — a person who really does her best to be the nicest person she possibly can be at all times — I couldn’t forgive myself even if God had forgiven me.

Talk about the weight of the world being lifted off my shoulders. When I was given the final blessing after my confession and was told to, “Go out and sin no more,” I really took that to heart. It’s definitely a work in progress but I do strive every day to be the best version of myself and to stay on the path of never-ending improvement.

If you have an opportunity to take a retreat, I’d highly recommend it. You never know how your life can change. Or if you really want a life-changing experience, go to confession. It may seem uncomfortable at first, especially if it’s been a long time since you’ve gone or if you’ve never gone, but it feels so good to have someone say out loud that you are forgiven and can start your life anew. What better time to experience this rebirth than the Easter season?