ACTS Retreat: Over a Year Later

20 Dec

It has been over a year since I was active on my blog. I’ve had a lot of life changes, and for 2015 I want to make it a point to become more active. I had completely forgotten that I had ever blogged about the ACTS retreat over a year ago, and ironically, my husband just got back from the retreat this month. My husband is Catholic, but aside from Sunday mass, he was not very active in the church. Since coming back from the retreat, he has made friends at church and looks forward to going to events more. So now, after having had both of us go on the retreat, and having a year to reflect on my own experience , here are my thoughts:

PRO: You meet and become friends with a lot of people in the parish who you may have never otherwise had the opportunity to get to know. This means that you have “friends,” at mass and do not get lost in the sea of people rushing about. For the first time ever, we do feel like we are part of a community of believers.

CON: If you do not go on the retreat, you may never get this sense of community. That could lead a lot of people in the parish to feel “left out.” The ACTS community (where I live at least) could do a better job of reaching out to everyone, not just those who went on the retreat.

PRO: Because this is a retreat, you get the opportunity to pray and think about your relationship with God. You come face to face with your own sinfulness and are humbled by the experience.

CON: Depending on the group of people on your retreat, you may learn or hear more than you are comfortable with. I think that the retreat needs to incorporate more “joy,” and more talk about the redemptive act of salvation. That’s just my opinion

PRO: Because of the fact that the retreat is kept a secret, you feel “safe” talking to people and are able to let your guard down.

CON: When you get back from the retreat, you don’t know if you are still able to talk to people about things or there is no opportunity to do so. The community encourages small groups, but with many different schedules, it is difficult to maintain them.

To my visitors: What other pros and cons do you see after experiencing an ACTS retreat?

Reflections on ACTS retreats and Overcoming a really bad attitude

10 Aug

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After completing my Daniel Fast, I stepped away from the blog-o-sphere for a while. When I began this blog, it was with the intent of documenting my journey through the fast, and I wasn’t really sure to go after that. Truthfully, I am still not quite sure, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

For all of you Catholics out there, I am sure you have heard of the ACTS retreat program. Women and men throughout the parish leave usually on a Thursday night and come back for Sunday morning mass much louder than they were before and much more engaged in parish activities. If you have never been, you probably wondered what it is all about and what to expect.

If you have asked someone what it is about…they probably didn’t tell you. Before I went on my ACTS retreat, I dug around the Internet, asked parish members and still couldn’t find answers. “I can’t tell you exactly what we do, but I can tell you that you should definitely go and experience it,” was the canned answer I got from everyone.

Still somehow, when I saw the retreat advertised in the bulletin, I felt compelled to go. I registered, packed my bags and on Thursday night I boarded a bus of about 40 other women who I didn’t know and ventured off.

The first night of the retreat, I had the worst attitude you could ever imagine. Really. I felt like a cartoon character with a little devil sitting on my shoulder. “Why are you here? Don’t you have something better your could be doing? This is stupid. You’ve never been on a retreat, and you shouldn’t have come this time because there is no point. If Jesus wants to talk to you, he can do that at home.”

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Somehow, in the midst of this horrible self-talk, I realized that I was so busy listening to the voice of the enemy, that I couldn’t hear Jesus speaking through the noise if I had wanted to. I’ve heard it said that the devil doesn’t put much effort into those whose attention he’s already got, but rather he tries to distract those whose attention God has already got.

“Help me, God,” I prayed. “I am allowing my attitude to prevent me from opening up to you.” And help He did.

Though I have promised not to talk about the rest of my retreat or give away the secrets, this is what I will tell you about it:

  1. There was an amazing team of people who were there to help, guide, feed and serve us from a place of genuine love.
  2. I was brought into a much more regular practice of my faith that has continued. No longer do I “just go to mass,” but I have become an active participant. I find myself praying the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, reading the Magnificat, studying scripture and really engaging with God in a deeper way.
  3. I met people who were real believers, not just ‘cafeteria Catholics,’ but women with a real living relationship with Jesus Christ. These women were not perfect and many have struggles, just like me, but they were beautiful.

So, what happens at an Acts Retreat anyway?

I can’t tell you exactly what we do, but I can tell you that you should definitely go and experience it.

Daniel Fast Recap…What I have learned

9 Jun

ultimate-guide-small

During the past 21 days, I have diligently followed the guidelines of the fast originally undertaken by the prophet Daniel. I have had no meat, animal products (dairy), sugar or oils. Along the way, I have learned a lot about my spirituality, my body and health, and my life.

Health Lessons Learned: 

  1. I have one body during this lifetime and it is my responsibility to take care of it.
  2. There is no excuse for making poor food choices. A few minutes of planning can go a long way.
  3. No matter what anyone says, it is important to know where our food comes from and what is in it.
  4. It’s not rocket science: eating healthier makes us feel and live better.
  5. By eating healthier foods, I am setting a better example for my children and husband who were also motivated during my fast.
  6. Trying to meet our emotional and spiritual needs with food does not work.
  7. Controlling the food that we put in our mouth is a conscious decision and it makes making other conscious decisions a little bit easier.
  8. If I am fat, un-healthy or not as healthy as I could/should be, then it is no one’s fault but my own.

Spiritual Lessons Learned: 

  1. I am called to treat my body like a temple so that God can use me for service.
  2. A spiritual fast must be called by God if you want Him to give you strength.
  3. Little temptations can lead to bigger ones and usually lead to sin.
  4. Confession must come before supplication. In other words, if you want God’s help, confess and repent first.
  5. The more disciplined we become in our bodies, the more disciplined our spirit becomes too.
  6. If we aren’t careful, we can turn something good into something self-serving.
  7. God sometimes surprises those who are faithful.
  8. Fasting is not about food. It is about service to God. Not I Lord, but YOU.

 

 

Beginning next week, I am going to embark upon another journey. This one will be 30 days in length, and I am going to call it the “Great Clean-Up.” I am going to focus on the “possessions” portion of the book “7:An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.”  I will be focusing on reducing the “things” that clutter my life, my home and my mind by cleaning, organizing and donating. It is going to be an exciting journey, and I am super excited!

If you would like to join me on the “Great Clean-Up,” just leave a comment and we can begin together on Monday.

 

 

Daniel Fast Day 19…A letter from God

8 Jun

love letter envelope

I stubled across this on the Internet today, and I LOVE,LOVE, LOVE it. It is a love letter from God to each of us. I’m not going to add to much commentary because it speaks for itself. To see the original site visit: www.fathersloveletter.com

My Child,

You may not know me,
but I know everything about you. 

Psalm 139:1

I know when you sit down and when you rise up. 
Psalm 139:2

I am familiar with all your ways. 
Psalm 139:3

Even the very hairs on your head are numbered. 
Matthew 10:29-31

For you were made in my image. 
Genesis 1:27

In me you live and move and have your being.
Acts 17:28

For you are my offspring. 
Acts 17:28

I knew you even before you were conceived. 
Jeremiah 1:4-5

I chose you when I planned creation. 
Ephesians 1:11-12

You were not a mistake,
for all your days are written in my book. 

Psalm 139:15-16

I determined the exact time of your birth
and where you would live. 

Acts 17:26

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. 
Psalm 139:14

I knit you together in your mother’s womb. 
Psalm 139:13

And brought you forth on the day you were born. 
Psalm 71:6

I have been misrepresented
by those who don’t know me.

John 8:41-44

I am not distant and angry,
but am the complete expression of love. 

1 John 4:16

And it is my desire to lavish my love on you. 
1 John 3:1

Simply because you are my child
and I am your Father. 

1 John 3:1

I offer you more than your earthly father ever could. 
Matthew 7:11

For I am the perfect father. 
Matthew 5:48

Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand. 
James 1:17

For I am your provider and I meet all your needs. 
Matthew 6:31-33

My plan for your future has always been filled with hope. 
Jeremiah 29:11

Because I love you with an everlasting love. 
Jeremiah 31:3

My thoughts toward you are countless
as the sand on the seashore.

Psalms 139:17-18

And I rejoice over you with singing. 
Zephaniah 3:17

I will never stop doing good to you. 
Jeremiah 32:40

For you are my treasured possession. 
Exodus 19:5

I desire to establish you
with all my heart and all my soul. 

Jeremiah 32:41

And I want to show you great and marvelous things. 
Jeremiah 33:3

If you seek me with all your heart,
you will find me. 

Deuteronomy 4:29

Delight in me and I will give you
the desires of your heart. 

Psalm 37:4

For it is I who gave you those desires. 
Philippians 2:13

I am able to do more for you
than you could possibly imagine. 

Ephesians 3:20

For I am your greatest encourager. 
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

I am also the Father who comforts you
in all your troubles. 

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When you are brokenhearted,
I am close to you. 

Psalm 34:18

As a shepherd carries a lamb,
I have carried you close to my heart. 

Isaiah 40:11

One day I will wipe away
every tear from your eyes. 

Revelation 21:3-4

And I’ll take away all the pain
you have suffered on this earth.

Revelation 21:3-4

I am your Father, and I love you
even as I love my son, Jesus.

John 17:23

For in Jesus, my love for you is revealed. 
John 17:26

He is the exact representation of my being. 
Hebrews 1:3

He came to demonstrate that I am for you,
not against you. 

Romans 8:31

And to tell you that I am not counting your sins.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled. 
2 Corinthians 5:18-19

His death was the ultimate expression
of my love for you. 

1 John 4:10

I gave up everything I loved
that I might gain your love. 

Romans 8:31-32

If you receive the gift of my son Jesus,
you receive me. 

1 John 2:23

And nothing will ever separate you
from my love again.

Romans 8:38-39

Come home and I’ll throw the biggest party
heaven has ever seen.

Luke 15:7

I have always been Father,
and will always be Father.

Ephesians 3:14-15

My question is…
Will you be my child? 

John 1:12-13

I am waiting for you. 
Luke 15:11-32


Love, Your Dad
Almighty God

Father’s Love Letter used by permission Father Heart Communications 
©
 1999-2013 http://www.FathersLoveLetter.com

Daniel Fast Day 18… “Hanging” out with Absalom

7 Jun

This week, I am wrapping up my study of David from the book of 2 Samuel. Prior to this study the only thing that I knew about David was that he was a king, he knocked out Goliath when he was a boy with a slingshot and he danced through the streets. I have learned however, that his life was so much more than that.

Yesterday, I finished reading about the story of David and his son Absalom. I read Faulkner’s “Absalom! Absalom!” back in a college literature class and I vaguely knew that it was related to the biblical story, but Faulkner’s writing (run-ons anyone) was difficult to make it through and I didn’t really study the parallels.

Absalom Absalom

However, as I read the story…I became captivated. David’s life was better than reality tv and the story of him and his son was so full of conflict, emotion and action that I literally thought to myself “you can’t make this stuff up.”

Here is how the story goes… (short version of course):

Amnon and Absalom, were two of David’s sons. They had a beautiful sister named Tamar. Amnon was in love with his own sister and raped her. Absalom, being the protective brother that he was, was horrified at his sister’s victimization. He allowed Tamar to move in with him and even named one of his own daughter’s after her.

David found out about the rape, and he was furious that this happened. However, he did nothing about it. So, Absalom let his anger over-take him and he killed his own brother and fled. A couple of years went by before David saw his son Absalom again, but he did eventually receive him and hug him after Absalom devised every way possible to get his father’s attention.

Absalom’s bitterness toward his father continued to multiply until he finally decided to take his father’s throne. He turned some of David’s people against him and David and his men literally left town.

When Absalom’s men came after David’s men, David instructed his soldiers to not harm and ‘be gentle’ with Absalom because he was his son. As Absalom was riding in to the battle on a mule, his hair got caught in a tree and he was left hanging trying to get free (I told you that you can’t make this stuff up!) and in his anger Joab, the leader of David’s men, killed Absalom while he was still hanging.

Absalom Hair Caught

David, as Absalom’s father, was of course devastated. He wept and mourned the loss of his son even though his son was guilty of treason and murder. Before he died, Absalom had built amonument to himself which you can visit today (maybe not the same monument, but tradition has it that it is in the same location). 

Absaloms Monument

What I really liked about this story, and what really ‘spoke to me,’ during this time of fasting, was how Absalom took something that was good (his protection of Tamar, his disbelief that his father refused to punish the crime) and turned it into something bad.

  • How easy is it for us to do the exact same thing?
  • How easy would it be for me to turn this time of fasting into just another weight loss attempt?
  • How easy to turn my interpretation of right and wrong into judgement of someone else?
  • How easy to give ourselves credit for God’s work?

Let us remember that nothing we have is of our own doing, but everything is a gift from God. Let us not let bitterness, ego and self-righteousness drive our decisions, lest we too be left hanging by our hair from a tree.

Not I, Lord, but YOU.

I will exalt you, Lord,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
Lord my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
you spared me from going down to the pit.

(Psalm 30:1-3)

Daniel Fast Day 17…on Sin and Cupcakes

6 Jun

I have never stuck to a diet, an exercise regime, even a plan to wash my face every night before bed. This is the first time in my life, that I have actually made a commitment to a lifestyle change and stuck it out….

Almost.

I work full-time Wednesday through Sunday which leaves my days off as Monday at Tuesday. Tuesday morning, me and my little bug (4-year-old daughter) went out on the town to celebrate the last day of 3-year-old preschool. We had a girls day, complete with manicures and pedicures.

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After being out in the Houston heat all day (95 degrees!!), and still being about a 45 minute drive from home, we decided to stop by Barnes & Noble. Immediately, I was captivated by the smell of coffee, and if you remember from the beginning of my fast–there is nothing I love more than a grande white mocha with extra whipped cream, nothing I tell you!

Now, I know that I am fasting and at that point I had made it past 2 weeks without so much as cheating even a little bit. But, my daughter wasn’t fasting….

“Hey baby bug, would you like to have a snack from the café?”

“Sure Mommy! Let’s go!”

So off we went to the café. I was resolved. I was determined. I was not going to cheat even though I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast and we were going on 2 o’clock.

Then she ordered a cupcake. Not just any cupcake either. A strawberry cupcake with cream cheese filling.

Oh. My. Heavens.

I ordered a nice bottle of Fiji water and then took a bite of that cupcake.

“Would you like to share with me Mommy?”

Who can say no to that?

I ate half a cup cake, right there in the Barnes & Noble café. Yes I did.

And it was not nearly as good as I had hoped. Afterwards, I was sad and I had a stomach ache. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had let myself and God down. I felt awful.

Which led me to this post. Everything that happened was a perfect example of the Christian struggle with sin:

  • We do not prepare to face temptation or occasions of sin.

“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. Luke 22:46

  • We are tempted.
  • We do not turn to God when we are tempted and ask for help.

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Mark 14:38

  • We put ourselves in a situation which is a near occasion of sin.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

  • We rationalize, use other people and look for reasons that what we are doing is okay. (I am hungry, she ordered it-not me.)
  • We try to minimize our sin.

Taking this one step further, we then have two options:

1.) Confess and acknowledge our wrong doing and turn away from future sins.

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (Acts 3:19)

2.) Feel ashamed, embarrassed or even afraid of God. Refuse to acknowledge the sin and keep on sinning.

God, help me to choose the first. Help me to recognize my sins when I commit them so that I am aware and can turn to you instead. Hopefully, if I can overcome the small with your help, then the big things will be easy too.

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 1 Timothy 6:9

Daniel Fast Day 11…Finding Extra Baggage

31 May

I am officially through with half of my Daniel Fast journey. 10 days down, 10 to go! I know that in the beginning, I told you that I would not be weighing myself. However, the temptation to take one quick look was overpowering because my clothes are fitting so differently and I feel lighter. The result: during the last 10 days I have lost 10 lbs of extra baggage that my body was lugging around. I still eat 3 meals a day and 2 snacks, but the elimination of sugar (goodbye Dr. Pepper), the added fiber (hello vegetables) and removal of all animal products has done wonder for my body. No wonder Daniel was healthier at the end of his fast than the rest of the king’s men.

And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies. Daniel 1:15

weight loss veggies

Before you begin to believe that it has all been easy, let me tell you the truth. The beginning was very difficult. I didn’t want to blog about it up front because I didn’t want to discourage anyone else from embarking upon a fast if they felt so compelled.

Day 2 of the fast left me with a massive headache. I was moody, mean to my husband and kids, and had to take a mid day nap. Day 3 I had tension in my neck and shoulders. I whined all day about my misery making those around me miserable also.  By day 5 though, I could feel my body adjusting and now that I seem to be completely detoxed I have energy and feel great. For someone with a healthier diet, the beginning may not be so difficult. Prior to the Daniel Fast, the only fruit I ate was on top of a sundae and the only vegetables were fried at McDonalds or served along something like a deep friend chicken fried steak. Now, however, my refrigerator is stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables galore.

The fact that I lost 10 lbs so easily, has led me to really think about the extra ‘baggage’ that I am carrying around with me. Not only on my waistline, but also in my life. The primary objective of 7:An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess   is to find this extra baggage in your life and get rid of it. Get rid of the possessions, the time suckers and the stress facilitators in your life and replace them with God and the things that keep you in His will.  During the last 10 days, as I have prayed and become more self-aware, I have found so many things that count as excess baggage:

  • Too many emails
  • The stress of waking up late
  • A play date that I don’t really want to go to
  • Books that I have already read, will never read again but allow to take up space in my home
  • Toys, toys and more toys
  • Food that has been sitting unopened in my pantry (2 year old alfredo sauce anyone?)
  • Clothes that have not fit since 7th grade
  • Pants that are not hemmed
  • Junk Mail
  • A broken lawn chair that is upside down in my backyard
  • Never taking time to get myself a dental checkup
  • Loose change that just sits on the counter or entry table
  • Chargers and plugs for phones that I have not owned since they still had antennae’s

The list goes on and on and on. AND THESE ARE JUST MATERIAL THINGS! This does not take into account the emotional baggage of fear, expectations (self imposed or otherwise), responsibilities of child rearing, etc, etc, etc. All of this stuff fills my days, but it does not fill me up. It is more and more that drains me and leaves me with less and less.

baggage

When I think that I should sit to pray or read the Bible, but I am distracted by the pile of photos I have yet to put into an album or the ten thousand dishes piled into the sink what has won: God or the things? Has the baggage that I have filled my home and my life with become an idol that I use to replace God?

The answer is yes. Throughout the remaining 10 days of my fast and going forward with my own 7 experiment, I will look at these things and eliminate them one by one.

What is one thing YOU can get rid of today that keeps you from allowing God to fill your life and your mind with Him?