Thursday, March 20, 2014

Coming to Terms

There's a logic that many people cite when looking back on their childhood - "I was spanked, and I turned out okay."  To that, I say, "Congratulations.  You support assault and battery of an innocent, helpless child.  That child is you."  I was spanked, and I did not turn out okay.  And, if I had to guess, you really didn't either.

I'm tired of the justification.  I'm tired of hearing that it's good to "break the spirits" of children so they will learn obedience.  I'm tired of hearing that children need to learn to "submit" and bow down to authority.

I have come to believe that there is no such thing as tough love.  That's not love.  Love shouldn't hurt.

It took me until I was in my early 20s to realize that what my parents did to me was wrong.  And even then, I still thought the spanking part was okay, but that the other types of hitting were not.

It took me years into my first serious romantic relationship in college to stop flinching when my boyfriend would touch my face - to realize that it could be a gesture of love, not someone trying to slap or hit me.

It took me watching the beauty and innocence of the children in my life to realize that they are not bad.  They are not broken or fundamentally flawed.  They don't need breaking.  They don't need tough love.  They need love.  Gentle, patient, consistent, real love.  Humans are not animals that need their spirits broken into ultimate submission.  They are infuriating, sure.  They make mistakes, yes.  But, the only thing to heal our wounds is love, not more wounding.

Lord, deliver us and forgive us for the profound sins against one another, especially against those who are most helpless and innocent among us.  Protect your children.  Heal all of our wounds so that we may stop wounding one another and live in the peace of Your kingdom.    


Monday, March 10, 2014

A Gentle Lent

Okay, so I know Lent started last week, but I'm just now getting around to writing about my resolutions.

I gotta be honest here and just say it...I hate Lent. 


I didn't grow up with Lent.  I grew up Protestant/Calvinist, and there was tons of self-loathing year-round, but no Lenten resolutions.  We didn't fast, we didn't tithe, we didn't give alms.  That was all too "legalistic" and Lent was too close to that man-made Catholicism.

Fast forward a few decades, and here I am, a Catholic, trying to sort out Lent.  I've been Catholic for a few years now, and honestly, I feel like I'm just barely grasping what Lent is, what self-sacrifice is and what it is NOT, and what it means to offer things up.  I can't just white-wash my Protestant tendencies and go on a 40-day self-loathing binge.  That would actually be far too easy, and that is not what God or Lent is calling me to.     

It is really really hard for me to do Lent.  I want to fix all my problems in 40 days with fasting from everything, praying for everyone, building all new habits.  And, life just doesn't work like that.  I can't fast from eating meals due to health concerns (I can fast from delicacies, or certain foods, but not skip meals, doctor's orders.)  So, I'm left to my own creative devices for Lent.  In the past, I've given up television, Facebook, swearing, coffee creamer, salt, and other "creative" things.

This year, I'm just so weary.  Weary of the self-hatred.  Weary of hating Lent.  Weary of not really knowing how to fast or offer things up or be authentically Catholic.  I don't live like a monk, but I don't feel like there's much more I can do without.  So, what kept coming to mind this year was taking something on, not giving stuff up.  And, also, taking stuff on in a disciplined, yet kind, way.  Establishing a habit.  "Leaning in" to prayer or daily mass.  No beating myself up.  No wildly unrealistic expectations.   No self-loathing.  God is gentle.  Lent should be a gentle reminder. 

Here's what I've come up with:

This year, I'm going to try washing my dishes and making my bed every day.  (makes a big difference in a studio apartment without a dishwasher)

This year, I'm going to try to attend mass once during the week, in addition to Sunday mass.  (emphasis on *try* and emphasis on *once* per week, not every single day)

This year, I'm going to try to pray with more intention.  I'm going to pray during my commute (got a prayer CD to use), I'm going to offer my intentions as I pray.  The structure of formatted prayers, such as the rosary, is a huge help to my wandering mind as I pray.

This year, I'm going to try to go through my drawers and doors and closets and get rid of excess.  Not go crazy, but go one drawer or area at a time and make sure I am being a good steward and not wasteful of what I have.

This year, I'm going to try to give up meat on Fridays for Lent.  I already messed up last week on Friday, but I did manage to go without meat on Ash Wednesday.  I have to be honest, it was hard, but definitely do-able.

This year, I'm going to try to go to confession once a month (already a resolution from my birthday).  I've already been once this Lent.  It is a gentle reminder that God is mercy.  He desires to heal us from our sins, not beat us up.  If I keep this in mind, I can do Lent.

This year, I'm going to try to participate in Lenten practices that are new to me.  Last week, I went to Stations of the Cross for the first time.  

Maybe I don't hate Lent after all.  Maybe I just need to learn how to really practice it.  Maybe I only hated my warped perception of Lent.   

Thanks, EE, for the reminder and link up.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014


It's funny - the things we hold on to. The scraps of paper that contain someone's handwriting, the phone numbers of those whose voices we will never hear again, the pictures of moments we have shared. The stuff of life. My priest always talks about how Catholics have "holy stuff."  We bless water, statues, animals, houses. We use oil, bread, wine, water, hands, incense, music, and more to convey our faith. It's truly an incarnational religion.  It envelopes our senses.

I used to think my stuff bogged me down. Sometimes I still do. But, I also long for more stuff. More tangible memories. More evidence of the good times. More touches of people I love and miss.  I want a shrine.  I want something to see, smell, look at.  Something to hold on to that reminds me that you were real.  You are real.  You loved me.  That love was real. 

I'm sick of burning bridges and dumping stuff. I want to hold on. To remember these moments. To smell the smells and hear the bells of life. I miss the sound of your voice. The smell of your perfume. I miss your spirit and your care. I miss your essence. Your being. I miss you.

I'm starting to know too many people on the other side of the veil. I hope for heaven in a different way than I used to. I'm no longer "assured" of salvation. I do hope for it. I long for communion with all, all at the same time. I long for the joy and the peace of those empty spots and holes in my heart to be bound up. Forever. Unity in community. Union. Communion.

Til we meet, til we meet, til we meet at Jesus' feet. Til we meet, til we meet, God be with you til we meet again.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

February in Review - Love Is Kind

Well, first of all, where did this month go?!

Secondly, I have to say that this was a very difficult month, and I wish I had more time to explore Love Is Kind. Of course, I have the rest of my life, but all month, I kept thinking "oh, there's time to implement that," and there wasn't time. It didn't happen. What really happened is that I lived my life as usual with the nagging reminder that "Love Is Kind."  It usually reminded me at my worst, most unkind moments.

 I wish I could tell you what one kind thing I did for myself every day, or what one kind deed I did for another person each day. I wish I could tell you that I picked up a new habit of smiling at strangers, always holding the door, or changing my tone of voice to "permanently kind" voice. I didn't do any of those things. I barely made it through the month.

This short month, I have been sick for about half of it. I started feeling bad about 2 weeks ago, then finally got a full-blown illness last week, and this week I'm still recovering. I took only one day off work. I forced myself to. I wasn't getting enough sleep, much less the extra sleep one might need when fighting off an infection. I went to the doctor. I consider both of those an act of kindness to myself, although there was much inner protesting. I would never treat another person the way I treat myself...why don't I take care of myself?  Why am I so unkind to myself?  Why do I feel guilty taking time for me?  Growing up, we were really poor and never had insurance. Yearly checkups with the doctor are not anything I did as a kid. I went when I had chicken pox as a kindergartner. I went maybe 2-3 times between then and graduating high school. So, forcing myself to do yearly maintenance is difficult, but it's part of self-care, self-love, and kindness that I need to do without guilt.

The other thing that happened this month is that I had a dramatic, unexpected confrontation with someone in my life. She's pretty dramatic and confrontational in general. I'm surprised I made it this long without such an interchange, but it was very stressful. I talked to my therapist about it, and she helped me navigate the waters. I can't say I handled it perfectly, but I also feel like I did okay. Could have been a lot worse, and I didn't allow it to manipulate me or change my priorities. I made peace and moved on.  A year ago, I probably couldn't have done it. I would have rewarded the tantrum by appeasing this dramatic, confrontational person, but this year, I just don't have room for that. Ain't nobody got time for that. I wasn't especially kind or unkind to her. I believe I was seen as unkind because of her interpretation of me, and I did apologize for that. I do think that standing my own ground (even if it was just barely), that I was kind to myself.

One other giant thing that happened this month is that I found out someone VERY close to me was unfaithful in their marriage. It was shocking. They are already divorced, but the ex-spouse who was cheated on is absolutely devastated. In related news, the cheater also lost their job, due to misconduct at work (related to the infidelity). And now, the whole family has no monetary support. This is a really hard time for all of them. I was told this all in confidence, which has made it even more difficult. I guess, as an outsider, it's a lot easier for me to see (and say) that G-d wants to give BOTH of them healing. I grieve for the spouse who was betrayed. I also grieve for the person who makes poor decisions that lead to adultery. There, but for the grace of God, go I. I'm not excusing the behavior, I just know that only a broken person does this stuff. The cheater hurt him/herself just as equally as s/he hurt the ex-spouse and the third party ("the other lover.") When will we all know that we are loved perfectly?  When can we stop hurting ourselves and others?  When will our brokenness stop overflowing and helping us lash out at others?  Since I'm not the direct victim in this case, it's easy for me to pray for healing for both parties. God loves the perpetrator and the victim equally.  I should be so kind to those who have hurt me.

So, in this Love Is Kind month, I have learned that I am very unkind, just like I learned in January that I'm very impatient. And I'm still impatient. And, yes, like last month, I know God is kind and God is kind to me, but it didn't hit me as hard as the realization that God is patient with me. I have a long way to go. I am selfish and brutal in my words and thoughts. I am arrogant and unkind in my judgments and assumptions. I am rude and unkind in my gossip and words and self-righteousness. But I'm going to keep going.  I'm going to lean in.  I'm going to attempt progress. 

The Hidden Power of Kindness by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik is a wonderful book I have read. It really goes through all the types of unkindness. It's like an extended examination of conscience with practical suggestions. It leads me to nooks and crannies of my personality and thought-life, and it reveals many an unkindness. I am going to add "unkindness" to every confession I make from now on. (I was advised by a catholic psychologist to go ahead and add pride and selfishness to each confession because it's something we all struggle with.)

Life is such a journey.  I am trying to find the balance between being good to myself and challenging myself to move to a higher level.  As Gretchen Rubin says, accept yourself and expect more of yourself.  

Lord, have mercy on us all, and in Your kindness, hear and answer us.

Stay tuned next month for Love Does Not Envy.