Today I put my wedding rings back on.

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Today I put my wedding rings back on.
I took them off about 15 years ago when the grudge started.

The grudge was because I expected my husband to fulfil my every need. I had idolised him. I put him in the place of God.

My husband was my knight in shining armour when we got married, and I placed this insurmountable burden on him without even realising.

The fact is that I was expecting him to fulfill the parts of me that only God can fulfil. I had placed my husband above God. And because he couldn’t fulfill the God shaped hole in my heart, I unconsciously started to hold a very low level, almost unnoticeable grudge. Subconsciously I must have always been thinking “What am I getting out of this?” rather than “”What can I give to this marriage?”

Over the next 15 years this grudge effected my relationship with God because, without realising, I was not putting Him in the first place in my life. I was not recognising God as provider. I always felt this terrible separation from God, but I didn’t know why.

When my husband became ill 3 years ago, my earthly provider stopped being able to provide. And because I had put him in the place of God, I had no where to turn.

The fear I felt in those years is something only an atheist would understand. I couldn’t feel God near me, and I had no idea it was my own doing.

A few weeks ago it reached crunch point. I had already reconciled that I couldn’t leave, but I felt I couldn’t stay either. Who would provide for me?

It was after reading the ‘Healing of Families’ book that I realised I had been harboring this grudge, and that my relationship with my husband and with God was out of sync. I took all that to confession, along with a few other things.

I felt the fear lift. I felt the grudge go. I felt my relationship with God fall back into place. And I felt free to love my husband – agape Love, unconditional love, for the first time ever in our marriage.

He asked me “Why have you decided to do this now? I can’t provide anything for you right now.”
I told him “This is the perfect time, the FIRST time I have ever been able to love you unconditionally.” ūüėä

I now recognise God as provider, and the love in my relationship with God, and with my husband has grown immensely. I am now free to love. And my husband is free from the burden of being put in the place of God.

We travel by night…

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On Easter Sunday my husband and I had a conversation in which aspects of my past dawned on us both.
I was so ready to give myself away entirely into marriage age 20. I didn’t want responsibility for myself on any level, or should I say – I didn’t feel confident in myself in anyway. So my survival plan was to give it all to someone else to take care of for me. (Why he would want to take that on is another story we haven’t even discussed yet.)

So that is how things worked for the next 15 years. He looked after me like a dad. So when he got sick 2 years ago you can imagine how terrifying that was.
I had never had to stand on my own two feet in my life, emotionally, financially or in any other way. But it was something that needed to happen.

Even though he is doing really well now, long term illness in a marriage does change the relationship irrevocably. But this needed to happen. I no longer make my husband an idol by putting him before God in my life. No spouse can ever live up to those standards, and it is not fair to ever expect them to. I no longer cling onto him like an utterly dependent child.

The one I should be clinging onto like an utterly dependent child is of course Christ. But then that relationship had had to change too. Unlike my old relationship with my husband, Christ does not indulge me like a spoiled child. And even though He meets me where I am, He expects me to grow up and act like an adult.

Of course this is not the sort of relationship I want. I want a daddy to look after me and keep all the bad things away from me and fill me with endless consolations. I’m spoiled, and that’s what I’m used to. But Christ knows my heart better than I do, and He knows that deep down I don’t believe I can stand on my own two feet. I’m just a scared little girl in a big bad world.

On some levels I am meeting the challenge. I have started my own business that is doing really well. I am paying our bills. My marriage is much more balanced. But still, Christ is calling me to mature spiritually.

These last few days I’ve been doing everything possible to distract myself from the fact that He is calling me back into the desert, to be with Him alone. I know He wants more of me, and I’m reluctant to say the least!
But there is no escaping it ūüôā As a Carmelite the interior life is my vocation. It’s who I am! He made me that way – I can’t escape it!

So finally today I stopped struggling. I stopped the useless distractions that don’t even work anymore and I joined my God, my Love, my Father in the desert.

Through the dark night of my senses I can see His face clearly. He stares at me and smiles. I try to avoid eye contact. But soon, I hope I can find the courage to meet His gaze, and at least participate in this challenging game of interdimentional ‘stares’ ūüôā

We travel by night…

Happy Carmelite Birthday to me!

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Well, it’s been a whole year since this picture was taken just moments after I had been received into Carmelite formation on 21st Feb 2015. For those of you new to the blog, I am not a nun! I am a secular (3rd order) Carmelite. We are ordinary men and women who live in the world, go to work, sometimes get married and raise families etc. The difference is that we all have the vocation of Carmelites – that is to say that we feel an unquenchable pull towards Carmel, towards the interior life with Christ.

There are 2 branches of Carmel today, the O’Carm’s which is the ancient observance, and the Discalced who were reformed by Teresa of Avila in the 1500’s. I am a Discalced Secular Carmelite.

A good friend of mine who was also a carmelite gave me a few words of advice on preparing to enter formation: “Hold on – you are about to experience the ride of your life!” I had no idea what she meant at the time. I do now ūüôā

She wasn’t talking about some crazy lifestyle or mega exciting party season or other equally ‘exciting’ rubbish like that. No, she was talking about my interior life. You see, once you start taking steps into the interior life you very quickly realise how completely unprepared and totally inadequate you are. The more you learn about detachment, you realise how attached you are to everything. The closer you draw to God, you realise that your preconceived notions of Him are just ways of comforting yourself. My formation does not simply consist of following a syllabus of knowledge (although we do that too) but also is very much about observing our lived experience of Carmel. How is it affecting me? How am I changing? How is my relationship with Christ – and with those around me developing?

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There is nothing fluffy about Carmel. But without a shadow of a doubt I can tell you that it is home for me. The more I get to know the members of the Carmelite community – whether they be on earth or in heaven, I find myself being able to relate in a way I never thought possible. I spent so many years not knowing what this feeling was within me, and not being able to share it with anyone.

I always had this nagging feeling I should have become a nun. But being married and having 3 kids kinda ruled that one out!! And besides, I was happy being a wife and a mother. So you can imagine my amazement when I discovered 2 years ago that it was possible to belong to Carmel as a secular!

I think the highlights of my first year would be:

1. Beginning to grasp the notion that we cannot divorce our relationship with Christ, and our relationship with each other. I still have trouble putting this into practice btw!

2. Understanding what it means to be under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel:¬†I quite often forget to put God in the first place in my life ‚Äď even when I ponder/contemplate things in my heart.¬†I often ponder things from my own perspective, favouring my own wants and desires, rather than pondering them from God‚Äôs perspective as Mary did.

3. Through my carmelite connections I got to read a bidding prayer at the Vatican during the canonization Mass of Louis and Zelie Martin (parents of St Therese of Lisieux) and then chatted to their living relatives afterwards!

I love being a Carmelite! I am home, and I am happy. And I am lucky to be part of such an amazing family.

 

 

 

Faith In Our Families blog round-up 2015. Best year yet!

 

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2015 has been one of the most amazing years of my life. I’ve met some incredible people. I became a Carmelite. I discovered the Mass was not a re-enactment of the last supper – but that I am really at calvary during the ACTUAL crucifixion. ¬†I got sued by a priest who later in the year decided to quit the priesthood. My husband was instantaneously healed from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I started my new vestments business -Di Clara. I met the relatives of St. Therese, and St Louis and Zelie Martin of Lisieux, and I read a bidding prayer at the Vatican!

 

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In January I asked¬†How could I possibly have been so¬†dumb?¬†regarding the Mass. I also decided I was¬†not sure I was ever going to be able to give the sign of peace¬†again. After the tragic¬†Charlie Hebdo ¬†attacks I asked some serious questions regarding free speech¬†and highlighted¬†the violent collision between extreme secularism with extreme Islam.¬†I also ate some old cheese and had a really weird¬†dream.¬†Then I wrote my most popular blog post ever at over 40,000 hits when the¬†Pope outlined several new types of contraception for¬†Catholics.¬†I lamented at the social injustice as¬†2 Priests were denied joint gym membership, because they were not ‚ÄúIn a relationship‚ÄĚ!¬†And finally asked why we are sometimes too ashamed to¬†pray?

 

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In February¬†I realised that taking our relationship for granted with our spouse, or with Jesus, was a terrible trap to fall into when I wrote another boring Valentines day, Another boring¬†Mass.¬†I also was a bit cheeky when I beat a lowlife at his own game in a¬†Hilarious conversation between St. Therese of Lisieux and a Facebook¬†scammer!¬†We all had the privilege of learning¬†The Little way of Fasting ‚Äď by Fr. Aidan¬†Kieran.¬†I was also received into Carmelite formation ‚Äď and no, I did NOT just become a¬†nun!¬†We also heard the incredible testimony¬†From Gay Pride to True Humility: Joe‚Äôs amazing conversion¬†story.

 

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In March I did the 33 day consecration to Our Lady for the first time. I spoke about how How Tinnitus Prepared me for Carmel. I promised NOT to throw eggs at Tina Beattie when she tried to give a lecture at my parish about how awesome same-sex relationships and women priests are. The next day I was thrilled to confirm that due to my blog post she had cancelled her upcoming talk! This lead me on to thinking abut Feminist Rage and the Power of Meekness. With all the shady dealings and kurfuffle surrounding the family synod, I wondered: Imagine if we had Facebook at the time of Vatican 2. I aksed everyone to Please sign this letter in support of the 500 faithful priests, families and our Church. And we saw what it looks like when When God’s Love Hurts.

 

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In April absolutely nothing happened. Except a good friend bought me a couple of books on the history of ecclesiastical vestments, and suggested I should have a bash at making some ūüôā

 

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Fr Dan Fitzpatrick

 

In May I reported that a Catholic Priest Denies Burning Down 17 of the Ugliest Churches Ever Built. I tried to find solutions to being Too busy to pray? I went to visit the relics of Louis and Zelie Martin, and begged them to please help me with my marriage. Following the spineless attitude of the Bishops in regards to gay marriage I asked What is the future for the Catholic Church in Ireland? Then I decided to pull up a couple of heretics on their dodgy theology when Fr James Martin SJ and Fr Dan Fitzpatrick Tweet that the Holy Spirit is Female. How sad. Of course following this Fr Dan Fitzpatrick threatened to sue me! The story ended up going global and was even featured on Church Militant TV! After a good telling off from his Bishop, Fr. Dan published a letter saying he will now NOT sue me Рbecause he’s too poor.

 

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In June I made a¬†Banana Flavoured Altar¬†Cake. I had a major¬†Silent retreat FAIL.¬†And I also retold the time I met Jesus face to face in¬†My Medjugorje Trip, Day 4 ‚ÄstAdoration. Following the gay pride march I discussed how true¬†Dignity comes from¬†God.¬†And as America legalised same-sex marriage and Facebook went rainbow coloured, I asked why everyone was¬†Unfriending each other.¬†Also,¬†Pope Francis formally approved Louis and Zelie Martin ‚Äď known for being the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux ‚Äď to be declared saints in October during the Family Synod.¬†They would be the first married couple ever to be canonized together.

 

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In July I launched my new vestment making business – Di Clara, and took a look at some of the most horrific vestments ever created in¬†Good vestments, bad¬†vestments.¬†I once again looked to Louis and Zelie Martin and learned about¬†Love and Suffering ‚Äď a practical¬†lesson. And then was very please to report that¬†Conservative Archbishop Leonard declares personal belief in¬†Medjugorje.¬†And with heavy hearts, me and my husband also started to make plans to live separately because the effects of long term illness on the marriage had become intolerable to live with for both of us on a day to day basis.

 

 

In August I began a novena to Louis and Zelie Martin in desperation for my marriage. I got hundreds of Facebook friends to pray with me as he started the Lightning Process treatment course. Half way through the novena, on the second day of treatment Р11th August (the feast of St. Clare) Nick made a sudden, unexplainable and full recovery from CFS and I was able to give everyone the amazing news that My Husband is WELL!!! The world also saw Over 320 Simultaneous international rallies against the butchers that call themselves Planned Parenthood. And we learned about the 4 different terms the ancient greeks used for the word Love.

 

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In September I started preparing for the year of mercy by recalling that 17 years ago I took the morning after pill. Today I went to confession. I also talked about what happens When your Baby makes you say Grace in Nando’s. We also learned the terrifying news that German Bishops break with Rome and inaugurate Dalek as their new supreme Pontiff.

I also lost one of my best mates¬†in September. I still have no idea why. I‚Äôm still completely gutted ūüôĀ I wish we could be friends again.

 

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In October I spoke about¬†Fidelity¬†in our relationship to Christ as a priest in Rome decided to publicly leave to be with his boyfriend at the start of the Family Synod. I talked about the indissolubility of the sacraments in ¬†So Un-Baptise me then‚Ķ!¬† We took a long hard look at¬†Caitlyn Jenner ‚Äď the golden calf of gender¬†theory.¬†And stated to realise that¬†The Time of the Lukewarm Church is¬†Over.¬†We also asked the apocalyptic question:¬†2017 ‚Äď Are you¬†ready?¬†Oh – and¬†I did a bidding prayer at the¬†Vatican¬†during the canonisation Mass of Louis and Zelie Martin! I also spent the afternoon chatting to the relatives of Louis and Zelie, and their famous daughter – my sister in Carmel – St Therese of Lisieux! That’s one conversation I am never going to forget ūüôā Thank you Louis and Zelie for surprising me and making more than one dream come true for me this year <3

 

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In November I showed how our family celebrates All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day. I also finished my Lily And Pomegranate Black 5 piece vestment set. I asked: Ok Jesus, so how exactly am I supposed to love ISIS?Following the second tragically sad ISIS attack of the year aimed at France, I asked some pretty serious questions regarding radical Islam Vs radical secularism in Would you die to protect Western values? I wouldn’t. I began to come to terms with the fact that western society, weakened by generations of cultural Marxism,  is simply not strong enough to cope with the influx of (at least) 60 million muslim migrants in Giving Everything. I finished the month by visiting the Mosque near me that was recently arsoned.

 

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In December I learned that¬†Fr Dan Fitzpatrick had decided to leave the priesthood following a meeting in which his Bishop had unsuccessfully put forward the case for married clergy to the other Bishops of England and Wales. ¬†I also found out about the shocking things that had been going on at Ushaw seminary in¬†The silent problem within priestly formation.¬†I also took a good look at¬†Celibacy and the¬†Priesthood.¬†Then I began to understand that the Christian influences Muhammed was exposed to were Christian heretics in:¬†From Santa Claus to Islam: An Arian¬†Triumph.¬†I was honoured to feature a guest post written by Dr Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass society:¬†Catholic Bishops ask Rome to change Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews ‚Äď because it is not politically correct¬†enough.¬†And then I spent some time¬†Gazing at my¬†Father.¬†Finally this year I spoke about how I knew a miracle was going to happen regarding my husbands health in¬†‚ÄúThe air feels soft ‚Äď like Christmas.‚Ä̬†and was delighted to announce that after 2 years at home, my husband will be returning to full time work in the new year ūüôā

 

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I will never be able to thank you enough for your intercession this year, beloved St’s Louis and Zelie Martin.

 

Like I said, this really has been one of the most amazing years of my life. And I cannot express enough how much it means to be able to share what is going on in my life and in my heart with all of you. Of course I do not share everything¬†that goes on in my heart – some things are just for me, but I do share 95% of what goes on in there ūüôā and I hope in some way it can begin to alleviate the isolation that so many of us feel. And besides, this blog is basically my diary – and writing it saves me hundreds of pounds on would-be therapists!!

 

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I love Jesus. I am His child. My whole life is for Him. Without the unceasing help from our beautiful mother Mary I would not know how to follow Him. She guides me on, fully aware of my hopeless limitations and inadequacies. You see, luckily for me God is not looking for perfection, He is looking for us to trust in Him and let go of ourselves. And when we do, our tiny insignificant ordinary lives suddenly become extraordinary, and as we begin to find God in the pots and pans (Teresa of Avila) we suddenly find He is using our prayers and our obedience to move mountains in other peoples lives – usually those closest to us.

Thank you for all your support of the blog this year – you know this is the best Catholic blog out there ūüėČ and I look forward to sharing 2016 with you!

Clare x

 

When you feel used…

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I have experienced many negative emotions over the course of my life, but the one that leaves me with the most bitter taste in my mouth is that of feeling used. I am not a resource or an object to be utilised at the whim of the user. I am a human being, a child made in the image and likeness of God. And I deserve to be respected and treated as such.

Be it through disingenuousness, naivety or just plain old wishful thinking I believed I meant more to that person than I actually did. It hurts. It hurts a lot. And it makes me feel very, very angry and very stupid.

But I guess these things happen hey?

Never mind. Forgive and move on. But just before I do…

It is worth just reflecting on whether any other relationships I have are (in the words of Plato) utilitarian relationships – user relationships. After about 5 seconds reflection on this matter, to my horror, I discovered that most of the relationships I have in my life have some sort of utilitarian aspect to them. Either I am being used or I am the user. That was an unpleasant discovery.

Be it my kids, my husband, my parents, friends, whoever… there is always a risk that I could be using or allowing myself to be used. This is not to say of course that we should not be generous in our time or resources to¬†each other, it is just when that delicate balance of giving and getting become, well, taken for granted I suppose.

A priest told me today how he always asks his marriage prep couples why they want to marry their fiance. 9 times out of 10 he said that the answers were “Because she makes me happy” “Because I feel comfortable with him” “Because he makes me feel ‘whole'”. It was all about what their fiance could do for them, rather than what they could do for their fiance. I’m sure I displayed this exact same utilitarian attitude 16 years ago when I got married. Ha! They’ll learn! Lol!

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St. Teresa of Avila

Remember that disastrous silent retreat I went on last June where the silence drove me to cigarettes? You know – the one where the fire alarm went off all night. Yeah – that one. Well, the one thing that I really remember from it was that Teresa of Avila teaches us that our ‘horizontal’ relationships are credible indicators of the ‘vertical’ relationship we have with God. She tells us¬†that ‚Äúwe cannot know whether or not we love God, although there are strong indications for recognizing that we do love Him; but we can know whether we love our neighbor‚Ä̬†– (5th Dwelling Place, Interior Castle).

So if pretty much all of my earthly relationships have a utilitarian element to them, then what does that say about my relationship with God?

Yeah.

Feeling small. Feeling bad.

I guess if I honestly examine my verbal prayer life, it is all “please can You” this and “please can You” that. I just want stuff. I want to feel better. I want so-and-so to be better. I want, I want, I want. My gosh it’s all about me. It reminds me very much of the relationship my children have with me. They are always asking me for stuff! Actually I was having a conversation with¬†a seminarian today in which he told me how he was preparing himself for Fatherhood by getting used to the fact that being a priest, like being a parent, is usually a pretty thankless job with a bunch of ungrateful children. I felt sad about that, but I understood what he meant. It made me think about the last time I had thanked my priest for the wonderful job he does. Have I ever thanked him?

Coupled with that, I never realised how one-sided my relationship with God was. It’s probably because i’m a spoiled princess who expects everybody to adore her. The fact that I am very secure in the knowledge that God does actually adore me does add a little bit of confusion to the mix! But I guess the point is that I should be adoring Him as much as He adores me.¬†He gave up His life for me, even though I didn’t deserve it.

I need to dwell on that fact more.

And the more I dwell on that divine generosity, and the more I let it penetrate every aspect of my being Рand doing Рthe more I will allow it to transform me.

So from now on I will continue to give and not to count the cost (St Ignatius of Loyola) but perhaps I might be a little more discerning about my motives for giving, and the attitude of the receiver.

Silent retreat FAIL.

So I’ve just come back from my first Carmelite silent retreat. It was awesome.

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With 3 kids and a sick husband i could only commit to going for 24 hours so I was determined to make the most of it.¬†Of course my alarm didn’t go off the morning i was going, so I arrived late and unfortunately i missed the first talk.

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When I did get there I suddenly realised that i had completely forgotten to reply to the original email so there for i had forgotten to book a room, and it seems they were fully booked.

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Thankfully, one of the other seculars was leaving that afternoon, so they allowed me to stay in her room. I apologised, and thanked her – in silence.

Actually the silence was exactly what i needed. I was tired from my stressful morning and 2 hour drive and so the first thing i did was to make a cup of tea and go and find a nice spot in the beautiful grounds to sit quietly on my own. Of course at this point it started raining.

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Never mind. There was some benches undercover, and the chapel was open 24/7. So i had a little explore round silently on my own.

After about an hour i started getting restless. An hour of silence is a complete luxury for me. In fact i would go as far as to say it is completely alien. I have 3 screaming kids and an unemployed husband. My home is NOT a quiet place. I’m just not used to it any more. I didn’t realise how noisy my life had become.

But the real issue was the fact that the silence was making me aware of all the internal noise going on within me. It was actually making me extremely uncomfortable. Ironically, at home, the constant screaming and shouting actually serves to distract me from what is going on inside me. But now i was in a situation where the silence was forcing me to confront the things inside. It was ugly. I didn’t want to admit a lot of stuff. I needed to find a distraction.

So i got my phone out and went on Facebook. In silence.

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When I had finally summed up enough courage to instruct my friends to block me for the next 24 hours because i was on silent retreat (because i have no will power AT ALL) I finally found myself alone. With God.

I couldn’t take it! I just COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!! So i started talking to myself. Out loud.

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Thankfully at this point it was time for the second talk which focused on Teresa of Avila and how she described our own personal relationship with God as something that is inseparable from our relationship within our own communities, and how we need great humility to be able to live this active/contemplative life of prayer. And even though the talk was excellent and hit exactly the right chord – this was pretty much the last straw for me.

I had to face the ugly fact that i had been using prayer as a distraction from my responsibilities as a wife and a mother. The truth is that i’m not particularly enjoying my vocation at the moment. It feels like i am completely trapped in a life of screaming kids and “conversations” about the fact that we have not had an income for 18 months and what the hell we are going to do about it. ¬†My home feels like a prison. God is the jailer and my¬†sentence is marriage and family (God forgive me for saying so…)

To admit the fact that i am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted and heavily resenting my vocation is something i had been avoiding admitting to myself for a long, long time. Besides – when you are in the situation of constant noise and relentless activity, the exhaustion becomes, well, normal. It is only when faced with silence, real silence, that the external and internal distractions start to melt away and I find myself alone with God. This is Carmel.

“Ok.” I said out loud. “If i’m going to have to face this with You then I’m going to need a packet of Cigarettes.”

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“WHAT???!!!” I hear you say – “A Catholic mother of 3 smoking???!!! On retreat???!!!” ¬†Yes, I’m afraid so. I spent most of the rest of the evening sitting outside in the rain smoking, and and polarising between being extremely angry with God, and begging Him for help. In fact I stayed out there so long into the night, I actually found myself locked out of the retreat centre. In the rain.

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So eventually they let me in and I went to my room to dry my tears and lay down in the silence – until the fire alarm went of at 1am and proceeded to “BLAH!BLAH!BLAH!” until 4am.

Awesome silent retreat. Awesome.

“Dear Louis and Zelie, please help me with my marriage.”

Zelie & Louis Martin

When I heard the relics of Louis and Zelie Martin were coming to the UK I immediately knew I had to go visit them. Their youngest daughter – St Therese of Lisieux was the one who guided me into Carmel. She has become one of my best friends (yes – some of my best friends are actually dead ūüėČ ) and to be able to ‘meet’ her parents was a very special honour for me as a secular Carmelite. They had 9 children,¬†4 of whom tragically died in childhood. They were married for 19 years until Zelie died from breast cancer when little Therese was just 4 years old.

Their relics were on display at Portsmouth cathedral UK. Bishop Egan said Mass and gave a superb homily reminding us all that no man has the authority to change Christ’s teaching on marriage.

There was also time for quiet reflection. And I found myself praying the only prayer I could think of: “Please help me with my marriage…”

Next week Nick and I will have been married for 15 years. The last 18 months have been really, really hard. Nick was diagnosed with CFS¬†when our 3rd child was just 4 months old, and has not been at work since then. We have no idea when or if he will recover. We do not have an income. I now take the kids on holiday on my own. I didn’t chose this and neither did he.¬†I cannot stand to watch him suffer.

But it’s not all bad…

How many fathers do you know who get to spend everyday with their baby? How many fathers do you know who are their for their kids everyday when they get home from school, eat dinner together everyday, read bedtime stories everyday? (I must just add that as husband and wife, being together in close proximity 24/7 has its um… challenges – like refraining from¬†killing each other ūüėČ )

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“Please help me with my marriage…” I would like to think that after 15 years of wife-ing, I was getting pretty good at it. But I’m afraid I still struggle with my vocation every single day. And so does he. It’s not always a bed of roses.

How it is possible for us to have got married age 20 with 1 days preparation, and then keep that marriage together through thick and thin in every possible scenario for 15 years I just don’t know. I can only put it down to the fact that Jesus is present in our sacrament of marriage. We have tried to split up a few times but we just couldn’t do it ūüôā

On one occasion I remember desperately wanting to leave but wrestling with the fact that if I left, I would have to deny Christ – and I just couldn’t do it ūüôā In the end it wasn’t feelings towards my husband that kept me in my marriage, it wasn’t even the fact that I believe children need to grow up with their mother and father present, but it was the fact that Jesus had given His whole life for me on the cross, and now He was asking me to give my whole life for Him by staying obediently in my marriage vows. It was at that moment about 8 years ago that Christ became first place in my marriage.

Louis and Zelie were terrific examples of this. They had Christ in first place in their marriage from the very start. They obviously adored each other, but crucially they did not idolise each other. Christ came first.

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Gosh! What a lesson this is for us today! How many people idolise their spouse, putting them above God? Many, I would say. And it’s not fair, because when you put your spouse first (above God) you are burdening them with a role they can not possibly ever live up to. Your spouse will NEVER be able to fill that God shaped hole in your heart. And it is completely unrealistic and unfair to expect them to. And when you begin to realise that your spouse is not ‘fulfilling’ you like you would like then you actually begin to blame them for it! Crazy isn’t it?!

Personally I’m convinced that this is the reason that so many marriages are failing now. People are expecting their spouse to fulfil the parts of them that only God can fulfil.

By putting Christ first in their marriage, Louis and Zelie kept their marriage holy, and also set the example for their 5 surviving daughters who all went on to become Carmelite nuns. What an amazing couple. What an outstanding example.

Dear Louis and Zelie, please help me with my marriage.

Too busy to pray?

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My Carmelite formation director has asked me to share a few ways in which prayer is part of my ordinary daily life:

“Our charism is very focused on prayer, with Mary as our model in prayer and meditation. Our Carmelite constitutions tell us that ‘Mary preserves in her heart the life and actions of her Son and meditates on them, this is contemplation’. I would be really interested to hear any thoughts you have on prayer and contemplation, because for someone with 3 kids who hasn’t a moment to herself, you would have to be even more creative than the rest of us to be able to do this! – and yet it is possible.”

So lets have a think…. Hmmmm…..

What is Prayer?

Well I guess the first thing is to make very clear what prayer is. St Therese tells us that “Prayer is the raising of ones mind and heart to God.” And it really is as simple as that. At any time, in any situation, I am able to raise my mind and heart to God – either in thanksgiving and praise, contrite and sorrowful, anger and frustration or just simply resting in His peace.

Do not prepare to pray – Just do it!

I think it’s important to say that I don’t prepare to pray. I just pray. I think a lot of people make the mistake of waiting until they are in the ‘right’ frame of mind before they pray. This is a complete waste of time. If I am angry and frustrated then THAT is the time I need to talk to God. He wants me at THAT very moment. I don’t try to hide my negative emotions from God! I Don’t try to present myself during prayer as being on my best behaviour! God sees me ALL the time. He knows my every thought – so why not go to Him just as I am? I cry, kick and scream, I tell Him it’s not fair. I beg Him for His unending mercy. I open my heart to Him, because it is only when I let Him in to my heart that He can actually work with me. Be honest – He knows you are not perfect and He doesn’t expect you to be.

I usually have one of these prayer tantrums at least once a day. I’m a drama queen – what can I say?!

Tell Him you love Him – and mean it.

During a trip to Medjugorje in 2005 I had a very powerful encounter with Jesus during Adoration. He came from the Eucharist and stood beside me and placed His hand inside my chest and onto my heart. He said to me “Clare, you need to come to me everyday and tell Me that you love Me.” He was referring to Himself in the Eucharist.

Now this may sound easy, but to be honest – it’s not. Because for me to say “I love you” I have to mean it. There has to be nothing separating me from Him. There have been some days where I have really struggled to say it. There have been days where i have been unable to say it – and this has illuminated the sin that is separating me from Him. Quite often I say it almost begrudgingly – all too aware of what He is asking me to give up, to leave behind, so that I am able to say it to Him. But there are also the days when it is easy to love Him. And i rest in His love like baby in her Fathers loving arms – and I could literally stay there all day!

Go to daily Mass.

I started going to daily Mass about 10 years ago. It changed my life. The end.

I am able to get to the 9am Mass on my way home from the morning school run. If I have the baby with me we sit with my parents, or sometimes out the back if she is noisy. I have the mass reading downloaded onto my Kindle from Universalis¬†so even if she is screaming i can still follow what is being said. Also, having the responsorial psalm on your Kindle means that it is almost impossible to forget the response after the first time you have said it! (It’s early! My brain doesn’t wake up before 10am!)

Divine Office

As a secular Carmelite I am expected to say at least the morning and evening prayer of the Divine Office each day. But with 3 kids that is not always straight forward. There are days where I simply do not have 20 or even 10 mins to sit quietly to read it. So instead I use divineoffice.org and listen to the prayers instead of reading them. Morning prayer gets played in the car during the school run. A by-product of this is that my 8 year old has started joining in with it! He is listening to the psalms and he knows how to join in with the responses!

Evening prayer usually gets played on my laptop while i am making the dinner or feeding the baby. Prayer and house work go together perfectly in my opinion, proving that it is entirely possible to be Martha and Mary at the same time. Sometimes it is difficult to concentrate, but i always get one or two lines that touch my heart. And to be honest – that is enough for me.

During night prayer (my favourite) i sometimes just sit on the sofa and listen, and sometimes when i have some energy to do stuff in the evenings, i like sewing. And I can tell you this – there is no better past time for contemplation than sewing (other than perhaps jigsaw puzzles – but i only do that on the nights when i am feeling really rock and roll ūüėČ !!!!)

Contemplation in Motherhood

35¬†For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36¬†I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.‚Äô37¬†Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‚ÄėLord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38¬†And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39¬†And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?‚Äô 40¬†And the King will answer them, ‚ÄėTruly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,¬†you did it to me.‚Äô – Matthew 25: 35-40

It is not always easy to see Christ in one’s kids! But the fact is He is there present in each of them. It is even harder to see Christ in one’s husband! But He is there too! This in itself is contemplation enough for one day (my goodness!). I’ll tell you something: You do not know what it means to keep watch with Christ until you have a little one who is teething and just wants to be held, every night, until 3am. Poor little sausage!

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I also try to say the Rosary every day as part of my promise to wear the brown scapular. Again – this is a good one for the car. I have the interactive rosary downloaded onto my phone, so i can play that wherever I am. I even have a speaker in my bathroom that sticks onto the wall so that i can listen to the office or the rosary while i am in the shower!

So there we go. A few ways i am managing to make prayer part of my normal daily life. I don’t manage it everyday – sometimes it is just impossible, but i do manage it most days. And to be honest – it’s just become second nature. It is possible.

If the desire to pray is there, then you will find a way.

How Tinnitus Prepared me for Carmel.

Tinnitus

I was recently sent a rather snooty message by a diocesan priest who used to be a Trappist monk. He was telling me that it was basically impossible for me to live a contemplative life in the context of a family home. He told me¬†my children would not¬†find¬†my ‘requirement’ for silence much fun. He also told me it was impossible to be a contemplative without silence. I decided not to reply. But I do hope he reads this blog post.

The Lord began preparing me for contemplative life at home 5 and a half years ago – two weeks before Annabel was born – by giving me Tinnitus.

It was nothing other than torture. It was 9 months before I began to have even brief periods of not noticing the noises. At its worst it was louder than the phone ringing. In my left ear I had (and sometimes still have) a Morse-code style beeping. In my right ear there was a high pitched whistle. In my head there was a low pitched rumbling, and every so often I would get a really loud pure-tone that would drown out ALL other outside noise. So I would go completely deaf for a few seconds which was absolutely terrifying.

The worst part was that my brain was registering the noise as an outside threat, which meant that I would experience high levels of anxiety during the day and insomnia at night. I would lie awake at night listening to the noise. I had a new baby which meant that when I did manage to fall asleep, I would soon get woken up again by the noise of a crying baby. Then I would feed her, in the silence of the night, all alone in my prison of noise. Then I would take sleeping pills to knock me out. In the morning I would wake up, and the noise was still there. It never went away.

My husband couldn’t hear the noises going on inside my ears. No-one could hear it except me. It was so loud. I was so alone. I am not over dramatising this – tragically, earlier this year a 47 year old woman chose Euthanasia¬†because she was unable to cope with her Tinnitus.

It was too much. I knew I couldn’t die because I had kids to raise, so just accepted that the rest of my life would be filled with a cacophony of beeping and whistling and rumbling.

As I began to accept and improve, my tinnitus therapist kept asking me if my tinnitus was holding me back in any way in my life. After careful consideration I told her “No, I can still still do everything, but… I would like to be able to pray.” She suggested¬†mindfullness. Initially I found this to be life-changingly helpful. It did help me accept the intense suffering I was experiencing in a calm way, but it soon became apparent that there was a fair bit of *wacky* stuff that accompanied it. So I dropped it. But it did lead me into how my own faith viewed suffering. I kept remembering a line I must have read years before, something about “Joy in suffering”. It took me back to the saint who had claimed me for her own 11 years previously – St Teresa of Avila. I didn’t know why she was making an appearance in my life once more, but all I can tell you is that I felt her with me very strongly throughout that time of noise.

As time passed and my life continued in a strange sort of way. I accepted the noise. I cried because of the noise. I masked the noise with the TV and radio and found relief from the noise in my crying baby and my raucous 3 year old son. I couldn’t pray – or so I thought. I cursed myself for wasting all those quiet moments I had previously. I cursed God for giving me tinnitus. I cried and screamed at Him because I was at my wits end and I couldn’t think because of the noise. I told Him I didn’t understand – that there was no point to this. It wasn’t achieving anything. I begged Him to take it away. But He didn’t.

Usually I feel God very close to me, but at that time it was like He was withdrawn to a distance. I felt as if God had abandoned me, like He was enjoying torturing me. I wanted to hate Him, but I loved Him too much to hate Him. I thought about all this a lot.

The removal of silence from my life changed me. I had to concentrate on not becoming overwhelmed by the noise. I got very good at this. It’s amazing what you can do when you are pushed to the brink. As my anxiety began to decrease I used to experiment by sitting down and facing my noise – instead of trying to run away from it. I would actually sit and listen to it – develop a relationship with it almost. But in hindsight what I was actually doing was finding the deeper silence within myself, the silence of my soul. Teresa was guiding me, I could feel that, but I didn’t quite know how.

No-one on the outside could hear my noise. In fact here were only 2 people who could hear my noise – me and God. And when I would sit and listen to my noise, God would be there too. I began to realise that there must be purpose in all of this, but I didn’t know what that was. I allowed Him to sit with me while I explored my noise, and the place inside it was directing me to. He was in that place. My noise had driven me into the desert. Only me and Him were in that place. I was at the core of who I was in Him, and I found peace there. Not audible peace, but spiritual peace.

I began experimenting with this ‘place’, this desert. I began going there more often. I was not afraid there because He was there. Pretty soon I was finding myself in this place all the time throughout the day. It became totally natural to be in this place of extreme calm and inner silence, while I carried on with looking after the children – with the noise was still ringing in my ears.

As I began to recover from the tinnitus I did begin to experience times of real silence once more – something I thought would never happen again. During these times of real silence I would sit and just listen to the silence. Beautiful silence. I would let the silence surround me and go in me and through me and touch my heart in a way I didn’t really understand. It was if the peaceful desert my tinnitus had lead me to was now on the outside too. I felt the silence, and God was there.

It was another 5 years before I had any indication whatsoever of why God put me through that period of suffering. But in hindsight it is now obvious to me that there was no better preparation for the life of a secular Carmelite than this. To be a ‘contemplative in the world’ meant I would most likely be surrounded by noise all the time – which I am. I have the noise of the hoover, the children, my husband, the car etc. Are these bad noises? No! They are beautiful noises – they are the sounds of my primary vocation. “Doesn’t it distract you?” No! How can they distract me – they are the point of my focus! “But when do you get time to pray?”¬†I am praying all the time. I can be here in my kitchen making the dinner, and at the same time I am in my desert with my Lord and Creator. And when I do get quiet periods during the day I sit and enjoy the silence – perhaps in a way you cannot understand if you have not had tinnitus. You could be a Trappist monk for 50 years, but¬†I don’t think you really understand or appreciate silence¬†until it has been force-ably taken away from you. Teresa will tell you that.

Last month during our Carmelite studies, I laughed out loud when I discovered that during her life Teresa had tinnitus too!

St Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

St Paul, pray for us.

St Louis de Montfort, pray for us.

Today I was received into Carmelite formation – and no, I did NOT just become a nun!

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Today I was received into Carmelite formation. Really – I couldn’t be happier! ūüôā It seems as if my whole life has lead me up to this point. Now I am part of a family where I will have the space and the resources to discover and develop a part of myself that has been screaming to get out for a very, very long time.

I have been asking people to pray for me on Facebook regarding this over the last few weeks and to my great amusement, there were quite  a large number of people who congratulated me on becoming a nun! This got even funnier when they realised I was married with 3 kids!

Let me explain…

In the Carmelite (ocds) order there are¬†the First Order – the friars (who are active/contemplative), the Second Order – the nuns (who are cloistered) and the Third Order (or ‘Seculars’)¬†–¬†laypeople who continue to live in the world, and can be married or single, and diocesan priests.¬†I am becoming a Third Order (secular) Carmelite.¬†¬†The seculars are fully part of the Order, taking similar promises to friars and nuns but related to their lives as lay people.

The first part of my formation lasts 1-2 years. At the end of this time I will make my First Promise. Then there is a second period of formation lasting 4-5 years. At the end of this time I will make my Final (life long) Promise. After this I will become a fully fledged Carmelite.

The charism (or spiritual focus) of the Carmelite Order is contemplation.¬†But a very important point is to understand that¬†Carmelites understand contemplation and action to be complementary, not contradictory.¬†This is a particularly important point to grasp because¬†I am living the Carmelite charism within my vocation as a wife and a mother. The two actually fit together hand in hand beautifully, and is perfectly described in the famous quote for Teresa of Avila “God is found among the pots and pans.”

The Carmelite Order is considered by the Church to be under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and has a strong Marian devotion. ‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel’ is the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelite Order.

We wear the Brown Scapular (which is basically a tiny habit!)

We say the Divine Office morning, evening and night prayer.

We follow the rule of St Albert.

Some famous Carmelite saints you may have heard of are¬†Teresa of √Āvila,¬†Saint Th√©r√®se of Lisieux,¬†Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Saint John of the Cross,¬†St. Simon Stock¬†and many more…

It is a way of life. A spirituality focused on the interior life – prayer from the heart, relationship with God.

I am really just scratching the surface here! And lets not forget I’m just a beginner! But I hope this goes some way to explaining what I am doing in my life now and the fact that even though I have just been received into formation, I have not just become a nun!

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