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|Posted on August 23, 2015 at 3:48 PM||comments (4)|
My husband, my daughter, and I embarked upon the journey of a lifetime early this summer from June 13 through June 23, 2015. In celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary, we set out to walk the last leg of the Portuguese Way of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The route began in Tui, Spain with its destination ending in Santiago de Compostela, traditionally the location of the crypt and remains of St. James, the Apostle. This segment of the Camino is approximately 100 kilometers.
The history of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela dates back well over 1000 years with Christians making this pilgrimage since the Middle Ages. Today pilgrims can walk, bike, or take to the path on horseback with a variety of objectives in mind, particularly spiritual. A minimum of 100 kilometers by is required to obtain a “compostela” or certificate in Santiago. Proof is obtained by having a credencial stamped along the way.
My reasons for undertaking this journey were largely spiritual but also for enjoyment and celebration of my marriage. Some of my own personal insights gained along “The Way” include:
The key to accomplishing anything is perseverance. It is not about being the best, the fastest, the smartest, the nicest looking, or even good enough; the key to success is simply not giving up. The fastest person doesn't always finish the race. A slow and steady pace is particularly relevant for the long haul. One can quickly lose steam along the first few kilometers and deplete reserves needed to last the entire 100 kilometers. Drinking up all of the water and eating all of the granola at the first leg doesn’t get one very far. I have often heard of individuals in counseling say to me that it took them “a long time” to accomplish something. I am always quick to add, “But you did it!”
So if it takes several years to get a bachelor's degree or even a doctorate; so if it takes a long time to get a promotion at the job; so if it takes forever to clean through your living space; so if it seems like it is takes forever to find a soul mate. Whatever the situation might be-- don't give up--persevere. I always say, if at first you don’t succeed: Pray, cry, and try again!
Don’t fret falling down but more importantly learn to get back up and carry on. Don't get discouraged at the prospect of a fall, but be encouraged at being able to get back up again. I didn't actually fall on the Camino but the fear of falling definitely slowed me down. There were many slick surfaces, rocks to climb, and paths to maneuver. Life in itself has its series of slippery slopes that need to be conquered. The classic mark of a procrastinator is the fear of failure. These types often do not even get past the starting line. But the fall isn’t the problem nor the worst part of it. Remaining face down in the mud is. The challenge with most addictions is being able to stay the course even after a relapse. A cupcake binge should not get one permanently derailed from a diet. Get back up, shake the dust off, and then proceed the course. And if it happens to be an issue of a sinful nature, Catholic Christians have recourse to starting anew through participation in the Sacrament of Confession. The old saying goes that Christians are definitely not perfect, but they are forgiven. Isaiah 40:31: They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall walk and not be weary. They shall run and not faint.
It’s just as hard going downhill. The hills on the Camino were definitely challenging. Some went on for a couple of miles or so. Climbing a hill can be extremely exhausting especially when the temptation to turn back presents itself. But just as in life, there is no turning back. One thing I quickly discovered is that no matter how tough it was going up, going downhill was not any easier. It is a joy to arrive at the mountaintop. But all roads do not end at the summit. What goes up must inevitably come down. I quickly discovered that a different set of leg and knee muscles were required to make the descent. Life has its peaks and valleys. We are presented with unique challenges in each scenario. Perhaps there are many uphill battles. But it’s never all uphill. And we don’t necessary gain momentum going downhill. Some of the worse crashes occur at the foot of a mountain. Lives can sometimes snowball when we don’t know how and when to put on the brakes. I remember in my days traveling in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee there would be sand banks along the side of the road for runaway tractor trailers. The descent must be made at a slow and steady pace.
It’s not only all about me. One principle taught in running a business as well as learned in walking the Camino is that any group is only as fast and efficient as its slowest member. In our little walking trio-- the holdup would be me. My 52-year-old pace served as a ball and chain for my 17-year-old and even my husband. However later on in the journey another’s upset stomach or someone else’s toe blisters became concerns and affected our progress in other ways. One has to learn to be concerned with the disabilities and shortcomings of each other on the same journey. If one of the members of the group only has the capability to walk 10 kilometers a day, then the maximum for that group is only 10 kilometers a day. Productivity becomes a team effort. If one wins, we all win. If one is incapacitated, we all become incapacitated. It’s in everyone’s best interest to look out for each other.
Be open to the kindness and advice of others. One encounters a lot of strangers along the Camino that become friends along the way. Fortunately these days it is much safer than back in the Middle Ages where pilgrims were often attacked, robbed, and left for dead (thus necessitating the building of the Reyes Catolicos centuries ago in Santiago which began as a hospice to help those who had been injured). Over the course of several days we encountered many familiar peregrines. It’s important to be willing to accept help from others, to be willing to ask for directions, and to be willing to give assistance. But there is one caveat: Be careful about asking directions from a cross-eyed person in a foreign country who doesn’t speak your native tongue. We were trying to locate the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua when in Portugal and almost became lost trying to find the patron saint of lost things! Something got mixed up and lost in the translation and we found ourselves going in the opposite direction. So the lesson here is to exercise prudence in discerning good advice. On the other hand, when we were in need of a taxi on another afternoon and asked a restaurateur to call one for us, he volunteered to take us himself and he even tripped on the pavement on the way to his vehicle. Upon completion of the journey he refused to accept any form of payment. We were very grateful for his generosity.
We heard all sorts of advice about preparing and going on the Camino. My advice: it is all relevant and helpful. Just like in life those who have gone before have something to say to us to help along the journey. It is prudent and wise to take their insights into consideration.
Small things matter. For instance see how long one can walk with a tiny rock in a shoe. Paying attention to detail is very important along the journey: the weight of one’s daypack is can make a significant difference. Someone I know on the journey decided to bring three books along the daily walk. After a day of lugging all of that extra weight, that same person decided that only one book would suffice.
Be prepared but also be willing to embrace the unexpected. Getting lost once in a while is part of the journey. The best laid plans can run amuck. Fortunately most of our journey was under sunny skies and the paths were well marked. But we did have to contend with a heat wave that hit throughout that part of Spain and dealt with temperatures that approached near 100 degrees F. We carried extra rain ponchos in our packs but never had to use them along the Camino. Most of our meals and lodging were planned ahead of time but we did have occasions when it was difficult to find a place to have a bite for lunch and dinner was often past 9 pm when we were used to eating at 5 or 6 pm at home. I have often heard that the most successful people in life are those who are willing to roll and adapt to the curves and changes in life.
Don’t expect to lose in 7 days what accumulated over 7 years. One hope in walking 100 km was that I would lose a lot of weight. But the Camino is like in life. A temporary change in one’s physical activity might cause a temporary weight change but permanent results don’t occur unless there are permanent changes. This can apply to whatever changes one wants to make in life. We have to be committed for the long haul.
Have a goal. Figure out what motivates you. Having a goal and dividing it up into smaller accomplishable tasks is helpful. We would walk so far in the morning and then have a pre-determined amount of distance to go in the afternoon. Often as the morning dragged into the day, I looked forward to stopping along the way to have a cappuccino or charcuterie at a certain milestone. Taking small breaks along the journey is important. We often would pop into Churches to cool down, admire the architecture of the buildings along the way, take in a breathtaking view, or engage in a water break under a shady old bridge.
But finally don’t forget that the process of the journey is just as important as the destination. For some reason the Camino brought back memories of my pregnancies. I carried two healthy children to term. Although each pregnancy was not easy and was full of challenges, I enjoyed each moment of the process. Thanks be to God, at the end of those two pregnancies I experienced the full joy of giving birth to my beautiful children. But at the same time I experienced some nostalgia at the remembrance of the precious time of carrying them in my womb. I felt the same way about the Camino. With my Compostela in hand, I was excited to have reached the final destination but simultaneously was a little bummed that the journey had come to a conclusion. There were so many sites, experiences, and friends that were encountered along the way. I actually wouldn’t mind going on another Camino!
The Good Walk. There is a manner in which Pilgrims greet each other along the Camino: “Buen Camino!” Which in Galacian translates as” have a good walk” or can even take on deeper meaning in signifying, “follow the right path.” Fortunately it was a very good Camino indeed! Much can be said about discerning the good path and following God's will in our lives!
|Posted on June 21, 2014 at 1:30 PM||comments (5)|
What does a Carmelite nun who lived during the late 1800s in France have to do with overcoming the obsession thoughts and/or compulsions that are symptomatic of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? St. Therese (1873-1897), whose writings composed the beautiful autobiography “The Story of a Soul”, died of tuberculosis as a young adult, yet her message endures to this day. She was declared a Doctor of the Catholic Church in 1997 because of her simple yet profound approach to the spiritual life. Her concepts can even be utilized by those who struggle with the neurobiological effects of OCD with amazingly successful results according to a book by Dr. Ian Osborn a Christian Psychiatrist.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
OCD is a disorder of the brain and behavior that causes severe anxiety and interferes with a person’s ability to carry out the activities of daily life. It can be described as the mind getting stuck on a thought or image that replays over and over like a broken record. The brain is biologically tricked into thinking that it is experiencing danger. “OCD has become the 10 leading cause of disability in the developed countries”(Reichenberg, DSM-5 Essentials, 2014). The DSM-5 (the professional guide used by mental health professionals) defines OCD as being significant for “the presence of obsessions, compulsions or both.”
Obsessions are (1) “recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or impulses that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress. (2) The individual attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, urges, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action (i.e., by performing a compulsion).”
Compulsions are defined by (1) “repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. (2) The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety or distress, or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent, or are clearly excessive.”
Of additional note: “The obsessions or compulsions are time-consuming (e.g., take more than 1 hour per day) or cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” The symptoms are not attributable to the use of a substance, medical condition, or another mental disorder.
Traditional Forms of Treatment for OCD
Traditional forms of treatment for OCD include cognitive-behavior therapy in addition to medications such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Jeffrey Schwartz in his book Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive Compulsive Behavior (1996) suggests a 4-step approach to cognitive therapy for OCD which has been effective for some clients. The steps include: (1) Relabeling by recognizing that the thoughts and behaviors are the result of OCD and not from realistic worries. (2) Reattributing it to being caused from a biochemical imbalance in the brain. (3) Refocusing by doing a meaningful activity other than trying to stop the obsession, and finally (4) Revaluing the need to perform the obsession which in itself causes it to weaken.
Therapy of Trust
According to psychiatrist, Ian Osborn in his book, Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (2008), “in therapy of trust the emphasis is shifted. It is not the rationality of an obsessional fear that is questioned, but rather who should take responsibility for it (p. 161).” The responsibility is shifted to God. His three-step method for Christian OCD sufferers includes:
1. Recognize obsessions when they strike. According to Osborn: “Obsessional thoughts are
intrusive, repetitive, completely unwanted, and recognized (at least in a moment of quiet reflection) as being inappropriate to be thinking. They possess a unique quality that psychiatrists refer to as “ego-alien”: It is as if they come from outside one’s normal sense of self.” These thoughts pose themselves as having an unrealistic feel of urgency.
2. Transfer responsibility to God. Obsborn further states: “…Individuals suffer from obsessions
because of an excessive sense of responsibility for harm to self or others. The tormenting thoughts can be put to rest when the responsibility for harm is transferred to another person.” In this therapy responsibility is transferred to God.
3. Prove your trust; resist compulsions. According to Osborn: “OCD sufferers need to make a concerted effort to lessen their performance, because they consume time, cause embarrassment, injure health, and in the long run cause obsessions to become even stronger. For religious individuals, there is yet another reason to limit compulsions: to prove their trust in God…Devout individuals with OCD must work to resist compulsions. In doing so they demonstrate or prove, both to God and to themselves, how much they trust Him and love Him.” OCD can actually be viewed as an opportunity for spiritual growth. This is where the Little Way of St. Therese comes in. As we can see that trying to “trust God” is potentially wrought with its own set of scrupulosities.
What is “The Little Way” of St. Therese of Lisieux?
According to the Society of the Little Flower, the Little Way by St. Therese was based on the two ideas that (1)God shows love by mercy and forgiveness; and (2) one cannot be perfect in following the Lord in this life. Her understanding of being a disciple of Christ stems from seeking holiness in the ordinary and everyday life. Her “Way” is one of complete trust and surrender to God like that of a little child. It is complete abandonment to God believing that no matter what happens, God is in control. In the Therapy of Trust for OCD, the sufferer transfers the responsibility to God. According to Obsorn who has been challenged with OCD in his own life, this shift has been a tremendous source of healing.
Self-empowered vs. God-empowered
A lot of focus in traditional secular therapy is on self-empowerment. The fact that one transfers responsibility outside of oneself can be a source of criticism from some in the psychological arena. Therapists generally try to make clients more and not less self-reliant. According to Osborn personality responsibility plays a huge role in perpetuating one’s obsessional thoughts and compulsions. However, employing the tactic of transferring responsibility to God makes sense in the context of religious faith.
|Posted on May 2, 2014 at 9:33 AM||comments (2)|
Do you face an impossible situation that appears to be hopeless?
Do you have feelings of desperation, depression, and even thoughts of giving up?
Situations crop up in many people's lives that appear to have no relief in sight. However you are not alone, there is a saint in the Catholic Church that endured multiple lost causes. Although her experiences occurred hundreds of years ago, her methods of overcoming are still applicable for us today. And they are quite simple with help from God.
The month of May observes May 22 as the observance of the Feast Day of St. Rita of Cascia, otherwise known as a saint for impossible causes and desperate cases. She lived from 1381 to 1457. She endured many things that otherwise seem quite impossible to most of us.
1. Domestic violence
At twelve years old, St. Rita endured an arranged marriage to a wealthy and violent man named Mancini. Her young adulthood was characterized with physical and emotional trauma. He had frequent anger outbursts and she was mistreated and abused for nearly 20 years. Mancini was described as a corrupt person and was despised by the community. He made a lot of enemies. For these reasons abused women traditionally sought out the intercession of St. Rita.
2. Unfaithful spouse
St. Rita dealt with years of infidelities from her husband. However she counteracted this with patience, love, humility, and kindness. After much prayer, fasting, and frequenting the Sacraments, St. Rita experienced a changed husband. Mancini repented of his ways and asked for her forgiveness. Her home then became a haven for peace, but unfortunately this lasted for only a short time.
3. Loss of spouse
Due to his violent past, Mancini’s life was cut short when he was stabbed to death by enemies.This occurred right after his conversion. St. Rita became a widow at a young age with two children.
4. Loss of children
Her two young sons became enraged with the murder of their father and vowed to carry out revenge once they became young men. St. Rita discouraged this for fear that they would lose their souls. She prayed to God for an end to the violence. Both her sons ended up contracting disease and died in a state of grace before they were able to carry out their Vendetta against their father’s slayers.
5. Thwarting of life goals
St. Rita wanted to enter a convent during her youth, but her parents discouraged it and had arranged her marriage at a young age. Once she was widowed, she applied to the convent but was rejected. The nuns at the monastery were afraid to be associated with her due to the scandal caused by the murder of her husband. She persisted in her application and eventually they let her stay. It is claimed that she was miraculously aided by Saints John the Baptist, Augustine, and Nicholas of Tolentino to enter the locked and bolted convent at night. She ended up living out her life by the Augustinian Rule in Cascia, Italy.
6. A wound that would not heal
She contracted an open wound on her forehead that festered and produced a stench which made it difficult for others to be near her. She likened this to a thorn that had inflicted the head of Christ. It is reported that after her death the sore emitted a smell comparable to roses. This is why prayer cards and images of St. Rita are often depicted with a wound in the middle of her forehead. She is also shown with a rose which represents her ability to intercede on behalf of lost causes.
During her early years at the convent, a superior wanted to test St. Rita’s obedience and required that she plant an apparently dead piece of wood. St. Rita was ordered to water and tend to this stick on a regular basis. Eventually the twig grew into a grape vine which bore fruit. The centuries old plant is reported to still be on the grounds of the convent today. Its leaves are crushed into a powder and given to the sick around the world. It is an example of her help to lost causes.
8. Bee stings
St. Rita is also associated with bees.The day after her baptism, white bees swarmed around her face while she was in her baby crib. These insects went into her mouth without causing her any harm. Some believe that these bees foreshadowed her beatification by Pope Urban VIII whose family coat of arms featured the bee.
9. Physical decay
The body of St. Rita is noted to remain incorrupt.This means that her flesh is still intact after centuries even though her body wasn’t properly entombed nor preserved. When her crypt was first opened for her beatification after 150 years, her skin was still its natural color. A church in Cascia, built in her honor in 1945, became a basilica in 1955. Her body, which is only slightly discolored, can still be viewed by pilgrims in a glass case at the basilica. Some say that her eyes have opened and closed on their own and that her body shifts from time to time.
Her bizarre circumstances still make her a saint for modern day
It must be emphasized that it is never advocated that a person stay in a violent and dangerous situation. However we can look to the example of St. Rita to find clues into how to cope with a difficult situation. Her life is a testimony to the power of prayer, fasting, and frequenting the Sacraments when seeking help with situations that appear to be unbearable. Throughout all of her challenges she remained diligent, humble, and faithful. She was deeply trusting in God. She endured some issues that were cultural specific, such as being forced into marriage at a young age, however her challenges are not quite unlike what some people have to deal with today.
Prayer to St. Rita
Dear Rita, model Wife and Widow, you yourself suffered in a long illness showing patience out of love for God. Teach us to pray as you did. Many invoke you for help, full of confidence in your intercession. Deign to come now to our aid for the relief and cure of [name of sufferer]. To God, all
things are possible; may this healing give glory to the Lord.