Friday, February 27, 2015

7QT: Seven Quick Takes (Volume VIII)

I'm linking up with for Seven Quick Takes.


It's SO cold here this week.  And today, the heater at work went out.  Normally, we have pretty mild temperatures where I live (at least, when it's not summer).  But it's been truly cold the last few days, and now the heater's out!  I feel frumpy in all these layers, and still cold!!


So far, Lent is going swimmingly.  I am trying to work on some down-sizing and organizing, in the spirit of simplicity.  I also made it to Stations of the Cross last week, and it was awesome.


Sometimes I hate it when people talk constantly about work or how busy they are.  As a friend of mine said, he doesn't want work to be his "life," so he rarely talks about it.  To that end, I literally have no idea what he truly does for a living (and we're close friends).  However, for something I spend 40 hours per week on, and at least 10-15 hours per week driving to/from, it does tend to occupy a lot of my mind.  I read a marriage advice column that suggested you treat your spouse all the time as if he/she is probably having a bad day - with compassion.  I am trying to do this with my annoying coworkers.  It has helped my attitude.


Schindler's List.  

I know I'm almost 20 years behind on this one, but my husband and I watched Schindler's List recently as a meditative/Lenten/spiritual movie.  I was blown away and moved to tears.  I have to say, it has really stuck with me for a few days.  I woke up thinking about it several times.  It made me want to be a better person.  The scene in which Schindler broke down (at the end of the war) and realized that trading in his car could have saved 6 more Jews, that trading in his Nazi lapel pin could have saved 1-2 more...that was haunting.  It reminded me of judgment day.  Have I done all I can with all that I have?  Have I used my resources and money to help others or just for myself?  Did I serve Christ in the hungry, naked, homeless, thirsty, helpless?  Lord have mercy.


Doesn't everyone hate eating noises?  I have very sensitive hearing.  I listen to music at work or put in ear plugs when it gets really loud.  I have to change the radio station when I can tell that the host has food or a cough drop in his/her mouth.  I just thought I had sensitive hearing, due to my music training and introverted/easily irritated personality.  Turns out, there's a name for the raging, homicidal tendencies I feel when I hear certain noises, like my coworker eating lunch 30 feet away or my husband swallowing water.  The only way I can describe it is that these noises become so loud to me that they overshadow everything else - conversation, background/white noise, my thoughts - the irritating sound drowns everything else out.  Anyway, I still need to practice the virtue of patience and kindness, but there really is something wrong with me!  The New York Times says so!  Also, St. Therese apparently had the same affliction.  Pray for me, St. Therese!

The New York Times wrote about misophonia this week:


This Lent, I've been focusing on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius.  Father Timothy Gallagher has been a really great help in this.  He has written tons of books on the mater, and you can find YouTube videos or podcasts from his appearances on EWTN and other interviews he's done.

I've learned - when you first turn to God, the devil will tempt you with what you'll be missing out on, and the Holy Spirit will "prick" you, make you uncomfortable, and lead you to repentence.  However, once you're past that stage and trying to grow in holiness, the opposite occurs.  At that stage, the devil will try to discourage you, "prick" you with regretful thoughts of the past, and tell you you'll never be what you want to be.  Whereas, the Holy Spirit will console you, encourage you, and bring you peace.  Such a simple insight, but it really helped me see that what I often thought was "good" guilt or truth, was actually the devil discouraging me.

Reminds me of the quote about, "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Depending on what stage we're in, you have to know which voice to listen to.


Conversion Story. 

I decided to write out my conversion story.  I've attempted to do so many times, and I don't know that this is a very good or in-depth version of it, but I wrote a lot of it down in a four-part blog post series.  I have been so inspired by hearing the stories of others' conversions (or reversions, etc.)  I may go back and add to it and edit over time, but here are the links: part I, part II, part III, and part IV.

Peace be with you.  

My Conversion Story: Part IV

Over the next several months, and until now, I can only describe what grace must feel like when it comes to work in one's life.  There is no other reason or explanation for the strength I had to resist sin, the courage I had to go back to confession again and again, and the sheer distaste for what used to be "me."  It was as if, overnight, my humor had changed, my spirit had changed, my tastes had changed.  I don't know if anyone noticed but me, but notice I did.  I'm not saying I'm a saint now, not by any means, but just the step of inviting God in - really inviting him into my life - for possibly the first time - made a huge difference.

For one thing, I stopped being sarcastic.  I used to have the most sarcastic, biting humor.  Sure, it revealed how clever and quick-witted I was, but it came from a place of deep bitterness.  The bitterness simply disappeared, and with it, the sarcasm.  I found a new compassion for others that was not there before.  Rather than jumping in to say something clever at every chance, I was able to hold back and see how unkind those instincts had been.  Nowadays, if I ever slip up and decide to say something sarcastic, people don't "get" my jokes anymore.  That tone is so unfamiliar to my new way of speaking, that they usually get confused and don't realize I'm joking.

Secondly, I didn't have an appetite for alcohol or getting drunk anymore.  I used to brag that I (a very petite female) could drink anyone I knew "under the table."  I could "hold" my liquor well, I could drink with the best of them, and I drank to get drunk.  I enjoyed the high, the inhibitions coming down.  I understood on a deep level the fundamental despair of addicts and partiers.  I wanted to numb the pain so badly.  I would do anything to make it go away.  I wanted a break from my competitive job and cut-throat atmosphere.  I needed something to escape - and alcohol worked for me.  I will never forget the first time I was at a party after my conversion experience of going back to confession.  My friend was having her bachelorette party.  For the first time...possibly ever... I remember thinking that I could take or leave the alcohol at this party.  I did drink that night, but without the desire to get drunk.  I think I had 2 glasses of wine over the course of the evening.  I was definitely more coherent and enjoyed myself more than most that night, for sure more than the bachelorette herself.  This was all God's doing.  Since the day I went back to confession after 6 years, the taste for alcohol to numb the pain has left me because that pain has left me.  I'm not running and hiding from God or myself anymore.

Finally, and this I can't really quantify, but I began to feel hope again.  I thought, maybe it was possible, with God's grace, to stay in a state of grace.  Maybe I could not only have the grace to refrain from sin, but the grace to want to go to confession regularly.  I began to see that the Church's teachings were not there to oppress, but to give hope.  I lost my cut-throat ambition to get the highest paying job at the top of my field, and I thought about Rosalind Moss's question all the time - was I living as selflessly as possible?  The answer was still no. [And it still is.]  But, I knew I wanted to try.  I also knew that it was not too much to ask for the Church to put forth her teachings on sexuality.  I knew I could continue to live chastely and purely, by God's grace.  I knew that my gay friends could too.  It wasn't until I tried to live the life I was called to, that I could see the value in those teachings, that I could have hope that it was possible, and that I could believe God's laws were for our good.

See parts I, II, and III of My Conversion Story.

Here is a little bit about my encounter with Theology of the Body and Natural Family Planning.

My Conversion Story: Part III

About 6 years into my Catholicism, not much had changed.  Yes, I had deeper and deeper knowledge and inner conviction of the faith, based mostly on theological, biblical, and doctrinal issues.  But my heart was as hard as ever.  I continued to commit mortal sins without confession.  Outwardly, I was a "good Christian girl," and yet inwardly, I was in rebellion, I was stagnating, I was making no progress.  I remember being so irritated at the change of the Latin translation that took effect in 2011 that I thought about becoming Episcopalian.  I had so many gay friends that I didn't know how I could be in a Church that didn't "support" them.  I felt like conservative Catholics were taking away my Church and splitting hairs.  Basically, I was using a small issue [the new Latin translation] to be an "excuse" for my greater discomfort.  The discomfort came from my sin, not from anything else.  I didn't understand the Church's true teachings on sexuality.  I figured, I wasn't able to live up to them, why would I tell my gay friends that they had to live up to them?

In the meantime, my life was falling apart a little bit.  I had a series of losses in my life.  Within the span of 15 months, 5 people in my life had died.  2 were elderly, after long illnesses, but 1 was not.  It was a horrible, surprising death.  Way too young.  And the remaining 2 deaths were murders of a couple - and to make things worse, I knew the murderer.  It rocked me to my core.  I wasn't that close to the murdered couple, but I knew them well enough to have been a small part of their lives.  We saw each other weekly at church, occasionally shared a meal afterwards, attended a Bible study together at one point, and were friends to the extent that we exchanged cards and gifts at special holidays and prayed for one another's families.  While I was mad at the Church for being so conservative, their deaths really forced me into a little better place, morally speaking.  I call it "white knuckled sobriety."  I refrained from several of my serious sins after their death, not because I had gone to confession or had a true change of heart, but because I was scared of hell.  I knew I shouldn't be doing those things in the first place, and I was reminded that death could happen at anytime, to any of us.  In the midst of all this death, my brother was going through a divorce, the only divorce on one side of our family for generations.  It was hard on all of us.  My sister was getting married amidst major drama and disapproval from my parents.  And, at work, I was being sexually harassed.  Needless to say, it was a stressful time.  As a result, I developed insomnia for the first time in my life.  I know it's silly, but I would have nightmares about the murder of my friends.  Their home was constructed in a way that was very similar to my home.  I would see their dead bodies in my home in my mind's eye, as if it had happened there.  I would sleep for a few hours at a time, then wake up with a racing heart beat and a racing mind.  I would be sick to my stomach.  I would have major anxiety about what the next day held at work with my harasser.  It was awful.

During the insomniac phase, I had a habit of listening to Catholic radio or Catholic podcasts to pass the time.  I would leave the lights off, close my eyes, and rest, but not sleep.  I figured, at least these radio shows or podcasts wouldn't disturb me further.  And, falling asleep to them, if I did sleep, would put something good in my mind for a change.

One night, I was doing just that.  I was listening to Catholic Answers, and the guest was Rosalind Moss (before she became Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God).  The caller was asking something about whether or not she should be single or married, and how to know God's will.  Sister Rosalind's answer was basically that, no matter what vocation we are called to, we are called to give our lives away completely.  To live as selflessly as possible.  That might mean being a wife and a mother.  That might mean joining a religious order or consecrating one's singleness to God.  It didn't really matter which vocation it was, it was how we lived it.  There was something about the way she said it, and what she said, that caused me to sit up in bed.  In the middle of the night, with the lights off, in the middle of my insomnia and insanity, I started to cry.  I cried tears of mourning.  It's as if I realized in that one instance that I had been totally selfish with my life.  I had used my intellect and drive to collect everything I could for myself, to make my life as comfortable as possible, and to "achieve" in the worldly sense.  I had pursued worldly pleasures with an outward guise of religiosity, but no real devotion to God.  I took for granted that these were my choices to make, my life to live.  That caller and Rosalind's answer brought me back to the Catholic Church.  I hadn't really left, at least physically, but my heart was far from God.

Still, it took a few months to get me into the confessional.  I had such a nagging sense that I needed to go to confession.  I went once, when converting to Catholicism, at age 25.  From then on, I would go to the community penance services at Advent and/or Lent, but I never went to individual confession.  I really wanted to go behind a screen, and I really wanted to go to a priest who didn't know me.  I was scared of those things.  But, I also really didn't want to change my life, and I used all of these as an excuse not to go.

One day at work, not long after hearing this radio show with Rosalind Moss, I went to a lecture about academic honesty.  Keep in mind, this was in the midst of my "white knuckled sobriety" phase (refraining from serious sin, simply out of sheer will power, not due to grace).  The lecture stated that by simply posting things like the 10 commandments in public places, people behave better.  They are reminded of greater principles and what is right and wrong.  Even if they don't know the 10 commandments, by displaying them (or something similar, such as a list of rules), students cheat less.  Part of the lecture involved an exercise in which we were asked to list as many of the 10 commandments as we could.  I remember entering into a discussion with my Protestant co-worker about how Catholics and Protestants divide the 10 commandments differently (and NO, it's not because Catholics want to have permission to worship idols).  Somehow, I kept that piece of paper with the 10 commandments on it.  Over the next several weeks, I kept looking at it, thinking with regret that I had broken all 10.  That piece of paper gradually became my first, true examination of conscience.  And yes, I had broken all 10.  I had taken birth control pills for a few years, not knowing their abortifacient properties.  Not only that, but I had taken the "morning after pill" several times, knowing that it would "prevent" a possible pregnancy.  I could have been responsible for the deaths of several conceived babies, who never had the chance to be implanted or born.  God only knows.

Thanks be to God, I finally sought out a priest who would hear my confession behind a screen - a priest I didn't know.  I took a modified version of that list of the 10 commandments and explained to him how I had broken each and every one.  I explained that it was my first confession in 6 years.  Speaking the things aloud that I had done brought me to tears.  The jig was up.  Despite outward appearances, I was ultimately a proud, selfish, sinful person.  His gentle voice told me that I could always begin again, that God was delighted in this, and that it was the perfect time (Advent) to prepare anew for the Savior.  And, with his words of absolution, I was finally set free.

See parts I, II, and IV of My Conversion Story.

My Conversion Story: Part II

Perhaps it's odd to those who were raised in more moderate households, but I didn't tell my family of my conversion to Catholicism.  I remember feeling a false guilt as I entered a Catholic church each week for RCIA - "if they could only see me now," I would think.   God bless my parents, but I knew they would stop at nothing to keep me from converting.  Nothing.  This includes kidnapping, taking away my car (which was a gift from them), barring me in my apartment in order to prevent me from attending my own confirmation, and possibly causing a huge scene if they were to attend the confirmation.  I'm not exaggerating.  I know this because I saw what they did to another beloved family member who wanted to become Catholic.  They sat her down for hours and had a one-sided lecture.  They traveled across the country to intercept her unexpectedly and confront her again.  They harassed her with letters upon letters.  They berated her, called her character into question, involved the Protestant leadership at her church.  They firmly believed she had "never really been a Christian" and that she was deceived.  She was dragging her family to hell and must be stopped.  So, based on their past reaction to a family member more distant to them than me, their own daughter, I opted not to tell them.

The experience of my first confession was something I will never forget.  I was scared to death.  I had a concert to play really quickly after the penance service.  My RCIA director was there, noting who did and who did not participate in their first penance.  Intellectually, I was convinced of the necessity of this sacrament by this time.  (Thanks in large part to Leonard Foley's book Believing in Jesus).  I understood it as making amends for our sins, which affected the whole church.  Therefore, we must "apologize" to the whole church.  This is close to actual Catholic teaching on Reconciliation, but it doesn't fully grasp all that it is meant to be.  Frankly, I loved the concept, but I didn't want to tell a stranger all that I had done, especially not to his face.  I really wouldn't have done it if it weren't required as part of being confirmed.  The devil really tried to keep this from happening in so many ways.  One was that the line was moving quite slowly, and I had to play at a concert in a short time after.  I was going to be late if I didn't ask to cut in front of some people.  Graciously, they let me go ahead.  The priest was really surprised when I said, "This is my first confession."  At one point, when he said a prayer (of absolution, I'm guessing), he held his hands out to pray.  Quickly, I grabbed them, and held his hands as he prayed.  I know now that holding hands with the priest during confession isn't exactly correct form, but he was so kind.  I was so shocked that "that was it."  I had just dumped 25 years of sins on this man, and all I had to do was say a few prayers.  The mercy was overwhelming.  I left for the concert.  I remember wondering if I looked different.  I certainly felt different.  That night, I slept better than I have slept in my whole life - before or since.  I had a feeling of lightness, a feeling of true freedom and God's love.  It was so foreign.  I did quickly lose that feeling again, after getting back into sin, but the experience was so real that I will never forget it.  

After I was confirmed, I still retained many of my other more liberal beliefs.  And by retaining them, I was, in essence, a "cafeteria Catholic."  I justified this to myself by thinking things like, "God knows my heart," "I'll never be perfect," "I believe the essentials."  And also, I didn't really know ONE Catholic my age who practiced the faith in areas of sexual abstinence, refraining from being drunk, etc.  Despite my intellectual conversion and belief in the Real Presence, I still had this one prejudice and bias against Catholics.  It was, "No one really follows Catholic beliefs anyway.  Why should I?"  Oddly enough, it took me years to recognize the flaw in this reasoning, or to even realize it was there.  I did get to know many, faithful, wonderful Catholics who strove to follow Church teaching.  Many of them were much older than myself, but gradually, I saw that many do follow Church teaching.  It was I who didn't.  And, besides, that which makes a teaching true is not "how many people follow this teaching," but, "is this true or not."  I had professed and agreed to following Christ and His Church, yet I still rebelled.  

See parts I, III, and IV of My Conversion Story.

My Conversion Story - Part I

I became Catholic in 2006.  I would say it was mostly an intellectual conversion.  I had been raised in a very fundamentalist, very Calvinistic church in which my dad was the pastor.  While I remember at a young age, I disagreed with my parents, I retained a Christian identity throughout my life (thanks be to God).  In college, I worked hard and partied hard.  I was able to keep it together as far as GPA and outward appearances, although I was playing Russian roulette with my life and my soul.  God protected me anyway.

In 2003, I read the book "Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic," by David Curie.  It chronicled his journey from a fundamentalist background (much like my upbringing) to the Catholic Church.  Curie addressed all the issues that a typical fundamentalist would have with the Church (praying to the saints, sola fide/scriptura, transubstantiation, etc.)  Scales fell off my eyes.  While it would be 3 more years before I became Catholic, I began to regard the Church as Christ's true church.  It was no longer "other" to me, but rather Protestants were "other" to her.  I understood and defended Catholic teachings, but didn't feel the urge to convert.  While I had already rejected much of my parents' faith, I still had some of the same misconceptions about Catholicism as they did.  (Theirs was more right-wing criticism about the Pope being the anti-Christ and liberalism in the Catholic Church, mine was more left-wing criticism about women's rights and birth control.)  I could basically proof text Catholic answers to typical objections after reading that book.  I could at least see that Catholicism made sense and offered equally reasonable answers to theological questions.  I began to attend an Episcopalian church, so that I could receive communion weekly and have the liturgy.  This worked well with my extremely liberal viewpoints at the time, while feeding the beauty and tradition I also loved and longed for.  I had come to see the Eucharist as central to worship.  I loved the reverence of the liturgy - that it didn't depend on the pastor's personality, whims, or charisma.

While I had been raised in a very conservative Protestant/Calvinist home, I rejected it at a young age.  I remember in 2nd grade thinking that something was amiss with our religion.  I dared not speak something like that aloud, but doubts were planted somehow.  To this day, Calvinism doesn't make logical sense to me.  Things didn't make sense if you followed our Calvinist beliefs to their logical conclusions.  By 6th grade, I had a best friend of Hindu persuasion.  It really didn't make sense to me that this beautiful, wonderful person would go to hell by default, and I would not, just because I was raised in Christian home and had "accepted Christ."  By the time I left for college, I was a combination of new-age and Christian beliefs.  I wanted all to go to heaven.  I believed the supernatural was real.  I dabbled intellectually with atheism and agnosticism, but they were too devastating for me.  If God did not exist, I literally saw no meaning in life.  I was (and still am, to an extent) a Christian existentialist.  If it's not true, then why resist suicide?  (Not exaggerating.)  As much as the liberal/new age side of me wished to reject Christianity, there was this pesky Jesus fellow whom I could not shake.  So, I held on to him and loosened my grip on the rest of my conservative Christian background.  

My secret love for Catholicism and my political liberalism worked well in the Episcopal church.  My current priest uses the term "spiritual vomit" to explain that when we have been fed poison or toxic beliefs, we must spit them out and shed them.  It takes a long time after being sick to eat real food again.  I had shed the toxic beliefs of my childhood.  I threw almost everything out with the bath water.  I was letting in a few Christian beliefs, slowly over time.  I could not shake that Christ was an unusual figure in history, whose life and purported resurrection changed the world.  However, there came a day when I was very dissatisfied with the Episcopal church.  Their priest denounced the resurrection from the pulpit one Sunday as being symbolic.  He also said something along the lines of, "when we say the creed, we are putting the "I believe" portion in quotation marks."  Basically, it's not literal belief, we don't have to believe any of this, especially the resurrection.  For someone wracked and plagued with doubts already, this was alarming.  While I longed to be a full-fledged liberal who eschewed religious miracles as either natural phenomenon or spiritual realities only, I could never let go of my belief in the resurrection.  This preaching seemed like the opposite of what a religious leader should say.  I remember thinking, if it's all symbolic, then why bother?  As Flannery O'Connor said about the Eucharist, "if it's just a symbol, then to hell with it."  Why even use the Christian terminology, ritual, gestures, etc.?  Why not just be Unitarian Universalist?  I needed my religious leaders to uphold a standard of belief that challenged me, that asked me to rise to that level, that dared me to believe.  Not one that told me my doubts might be true after all, and what does it matter if it's all wrong anyway?

About a year after that distasteful Sunday, I found myself working in a Catholic Church.  This was perfect, I could be around what I had come to love, but not have to be one of them.  I could outwardly appease my Catholic-hating parents, because I wasn't Catholic, I just worked there.  I could participate (except for communion) in the best this Catholic religion had to offer, but not have to subject myself to the crazy teachings like being pro-life, anti-gay, or Natural Family Planning, etc.

After worshiping with Catholics for about a year, I entered RCIA.  You see, when you are around something, when you see something, when you meditate on it, you begin to become that thing.  I loved the Catholic faith.  And, every week when I saw the host raised with the priest saying, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world..." I believed that it was real.  I could resist no longer.

See parts II, III, and IV of My Conversion Story.

Friday, February 20, 2015

7QT: Seven Quick Takes - Lent Edition (Volume VII)

I'm linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes this week.  


So, I love being Catholic, but Lent has always been a struggle for me.  It calls to mind self-hatred, down-in-the-dumps, funeral dirges that seem to be a faith I don't want.  I don't think that's really Lent, at least not a true Catholic Lent. We didn't celebrate Lent growing up as a Calvinist pastor's kid.  That was way too liturgical and "Catholic."  However, we seemed to have the self-hatred, down-in-the-dumps feelings year-round.  I think I have confused holiness, humility, and spiritual discipline with this self-loathing.  Repentance and conversion are possible.  God's grace is real.  Lent doesn't have to be 40 days of torture.  When I set myself up to change everything and fast from everything, I end up failing.  So, this year, I'm really attempting to do Lent differently.  Like, really this time.  I'm writing down the resolutions so that I'll actually remember and stay accountable.  But, I'm easing into it.  I'm taking some things already in progress, listening to my heart, and I'm going to finish up and follow through with these things already in progress.


This Lent, I am going to try to streamline my schedule and my surroundings to what matters, what can be accomplished, what needs to get done.  If you knew me well, this might crack you up because some people find me to be a minimalist as it is.  I go through phases of purging in which I get rid of tons of material possessions (my husband calls this the "Franciscan phase") - clothes, movies, decor, etc.  But, I'm taking this simplify idea to be over-arching.  Is it necessary?  (this possession, this commitment, this technique of doing things)  I will take the simplest approach when I can.  I will stick to a schedule of doing laundry on Tuesdays, cooking on Sundays, etc. in order to simplify and give myself some free time.  When in doubt, simplify.


Similar to #2, I am going to downsize.  We just got married, haven't even been in our house a year, and we are still combining stuff.  However, I want to downsize.  What clothes do I keep, but never wear?  What jewelry do I need/wear?  With this new house, what decor just doesn't fit anymore?  Of our wonderful wedding gifts we received, what don't we need?  What things are a duplicate?  Who could use this more than I could?  I've been driving around for at least 2 months now with clothes in my trunk.  Clothes I was going to get rid of.  I didn't actually get rid of them yet because I was going to go through my closet again.  By the end of Lent, I will be rid of the stuff.  Closets, dressers, car trunks, etc. will be streamlined, simplified, and down-sized to what is useful, necessary, and used.  No, we aren't moving to a smaller home, but we are downsizing the stuff within our home.  

De clutter.

Okay, a theme is really developing here.  The first two points really have to do with stuff like clothing, decor, kitchen items.  This really calls to mind our study.  There is unopened mail, including bills and important stuff.  There are boxes of wedding invitations that I'm keeping for "the scrapbook."  I will only need a few, but I haven't decided how many.  I have tried to switch to online bill-pay whenever possible, yet, I still receive some paper bills.  I have a "to do" and a "to file" inbox.  Both are over-flowing.  My goal by the end of Lent is to go through all this junk.  To make small and reasonable goals for dealing with the wedding paraphernalia, to file all bills, shred/recycle the paperwork I don't need, to truly go all online when possible for bills, to make the "to do" inbox something actionable.  


Jenny over at Mama Needs Coffee really hit on this earlier this week in her post, "Margin for Error."  I am in the same boat.  I wouldn't be so cranky over breakfast with my husband or get road rage at perfect strangers who take their sweet time if I didn't push snooze 3000 times each morning, leave for work at the last possible minute to make it in time, and not go to bed until after bedtime on weeknights.  I would love this Lent to leave myself room to breathe in all areas of my life, mostly my time.  Leave early for something, for a change.  Go to bed before it's painfully late.  Wake up with time to spare.  Refill the gas tank before I'm on fumes and praying I'll make it to the gas station.  Follow my budget so that the balance by the end of the month doesn't cause me panic and buyer's remorse.  There has GOT to be a better way to live.  I can blame it on traffic, work, everything I want to, but the truth is, I am not doing all I can to make the most of my moments.  I don't mean that in the over-achiever, cram everything possible into the schedule way.  I mean, I need to say no - to myself, to obligations, to others - when necessary.  I need to refuse the guilt when I take a day off, when I relax, when I rest and recharge.  I need to refuse laziness when it really is time to get out of bed, get laundry or dishes done, leave in plenty of time for something.  I think in this area, I am both too hard on myself and not hard enough on myself.  I tend to beat myself and spiral into self-hatred and false guilt when I fail.  On the other hand, I tend to make excuses for myself, procrastinate to the last possible second, and rationalize/justify bad decisions.  This reeks of the flesh, doesn't it?  Room for error, margins, breathing space.  That's what I want this Lent.  


So, my body is very sensitive to sugar and caffeine.  I know this, or at least the sugar part, I have known for about 10 years now.  In preparation for the wedding, I was really good about avoiding extra sugar, carbs (which when they aren't burned, turn into sugar), and taking some awesome vitamins.  Well...I have fallen off the wagon a bit.  Since the wedding, I no longer have the pressure of a looming public appearance in a white dress and pictures for posterity.  Not only that, but with the constant UTIs since we got married, I have not been able to exercise as much.  (Not just generally feeling cruddy, getting sick, or getting over a sickness, but one of the antibiotics I was on made you susceptible to tendonitis, and exercise was discouraged.)  I also haven't been able to take one of my amazing multi-vitamins because it interfered with antibiotics.  That really helped regulate my appetite and energy, and its absence has been sorely missed.  All that to say that I have GOT to get back on the low/no sugar diet.  It helps my sanity, my energy, my weight, everything.  There's no excuse now.  I've been UTI free for the longest time since we got married (almost 4 weeks), so I can start taking the multi-vitamin again, and exercising even more.  I just have to remember how great I feel when I eat less sugar.  Lent is the perfect time to get back on the wagon.     


Yes, similar to #6, my body is very sensitive to coffee and caffeine.  I managed to make it through college without a coffee addiction (this was before Starbucks was all the rage).  I made it 2/3 of the way through graduate school before coffee became a daily necessity.  I quit in 2007 due to a kidney stone, then went right back to it.  I quit again in 2013 because I just felt an urge in my spirit that I needed to.  I felt wonderful.  Well...this has also creeped back into my life.  I had this weird notion that since I was failing in other areas (sugar, for example), then to heck with it, why not fail in this area too.  Also, even though caffeine and alcohol can exacerbate a UTI, I figured, "I'm taking an antibiotic right this second...what more could happen?"  So, I would have a cup of coffee here and there at work.  Well, that turned into every day.  Then, it turned into twice a day.  Then, it turned into adding creamer and sugar in the coffee.  And this week, I found myself cranky, shaking, and ANGRY because I NEEDED my coffee.  It tastes so good.  For the first few weeks, it gave me a much-needed boost.  Then, the crashes and lows started coming.  Now, I'm fully addicted again, but without the highs.  I love the taste, I love the heat and warmth.  I do not love the anxiety, panic attacks, shaking, and headaches that inevitably come later.  I just really am not a person who needs to drink coffee or consume sugar...much less do BOTH in one fell swoop.  I am quitting coffee again.  For real.  For good this time.  I just need to remember how I feel a few hours after coffee in order to resist.  Lent is a great time to get back on track and reset.  

In all of these resolutions, I am reminded of what our priest says, "Don't give up something stupid for Lent."  God wants our hearts, our minds, our wills, our bodies, our time, our talents, our treasure.  He wants a relationship with us.  How are we best building that?  How are we living out our vocations?  How do we order our lives to be reminded that "we are dust, and to dust we shall return"?  This Lent, I hope to simplify, downsize, de clutter, leave room for error, and get healthier by reducing the sugar and coffee.  In all of that, however, I hope to get back to the basics, the truth, the fundamental meaning, purpose, and reason of this life: to love God and to love my neighbor.  I can be a better steward of my time, my body, and my stuff.  Here we go!  


Monday, February 16, 2015

I Can Do All Things...

Most of us (Christians, at least) know the verse, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." - Philippians 4:13

People seem to quote it when running a marathon, battling cancer, finishing a PhD, or some other amazing accomplishment.

Well, I recently heard a presentation by Kimberly Hahn on this verse that totally changed my perspective.  (See here if you're interested.)  She says she used the verse throughout her life to say, "I can do laundry through Christ who strengthens me," and, "I can stand in this long line through Christ who strengthens me," and other daily things like that.  I guess I just used this verse as another guilt trip in the over-achieving, perfectionistic, self-hatred vein - ALL THINGS.  All the things.  Everything.  All the time.  All virtues, all accomplishments.  Now.  Hurry up already, you're supposed to be able to do them all through Christ.

Life, in fact, is lived moment by moment, day by day.  It's those little moments like laundry and standing in line that we sometimes need the most help to endure.  And, this ties into the spirituality of Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower.  Therese is not my official patron saint, but I have taken her on, or rather, she took me on.  Why didn't I connect that little way with "all things" before?  "I can do all things (made up of many small things) through Christ who strengthens me."  I think Kimberly Hahn really hit on something so true and profound here.  

I can endure another traffic jam through Christ who strengthens me.

I can smile at my annoying coworker through Christ who strengthens me.

I can pick up my husband's towel off the bathroom floor through Christ who strengthens me.

I can forgive through Christ who strengthens me.

The possibilities are endless because our lives are made of these small things that, in turn, make up ALL THINGS.  It's the small moments that contribute to the marathon, cancer treatment, or the PhD. Even if your life is not spent jumping from grand accomplishment to grand accomplishment, it's the small moments that contribute to life, where most of us live most of the time.  We are called to holiness.  Holiness comes in ordinary moments.  Small moments.  Moments in which we have a choice.  Do we redeem those moments of laundry and waiting in line, or wish them away?  We can claim them through and for Christ.

It reminds me of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about Christ's death on the cross, in paragraph 605 (link here if you're interested), that Christ died for all of us, without exception.  "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer."  Christ died for ALL.  But he died for each of us, individually.  If we were the only ones who lived, he would have chosen to die for us.  In making that choice for all persons, across all time, Christ died for all.  

Sometimes it is much more meaningful to understand the larger concept ("all things" and Christ dying for all), by understand the smaller concept.  I can do all things - every, little thing, big and small, important and seemingly insignificant - through Christ who strengthens me.  Christ died for all - every person, every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or ever will live.  

On that note, I can finish my Monday through Christ who strengthens me.  I hope you can do the same with a renewed sense of peace that Christ is with you, and you can do all things.    

Friday, February 13, 2015

7QT: Seven Quick Takes (Volume VI)

I'm linking up with for this week's 7 Quick Takes on my slice of the world.

I do.  

We got married a little over 4 months ago, but finally got our wedding DVD last week.  The day was such a blur, so many intense emotions, that there was a lot I didn't remember fully or get a chance to take in.  It was awesome to watch it again.  At the risk of sounding narcissistic (I think weddings can be one of the most narcissistic times in life), our wedding was beautiful.  The church, the music, the flowers, the reception.  In watching it, I thought to myself that it was exactly what I would have wanted my wedding to be.  It was so full of meaning for us personally, each reading, each song, each person involved.  It was classy and elegant, but fun and celebratory.  What a lovely memory.  Here's a link to one of the most beautiful songs in existence that was sung at our wedding, Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart - hail, true body.  Amen!

6 out of 7

Last Sunday I received the sacrament of the sick (anointing of the sick?) at church.  I've now received 6 of the 7 sacraments (and all 6 that I'm eligible for!).  Since we got married, I have been sick almost non-stop.  I don't want to complain, and I kept thinking it would go away, but I have been to the doctor 10 times in the last 4.5 months.  Just when I get better, another infection hits.  I have had repeated UTIs (urinary tract infections).  Sorry if that's TMI for anyone.  I know it's the "newlywed illness."  Yes, I get the connection between certain activities and certain sicknesses, but this has been excessive.  I don't even want to count up how much money on medicine, co-pays, x-rays, etc. I have spent.  I know it's not life-threatening, but it's exhausting.  I have gotten fearful of enjoying intimacy with my husband because every time, without fail, I have gotten sick.  I have followed every single wives' tale out there from vitamins to cleansing rituals to eliminating caffeine and alcohol, etc.  The first 4 times I went to the doctor, I think she sort of wrote me off like "you're a newlywed."  Finally after 2 more months of suffering and 2 more infections, she sent me to a specialist.  Nothing is actually wrong, which is good, it's just frustrating.  I also wonder if there is a connection between NFP and UTIs.  I blog pretty anonymously, so I'm comfortable talking about this online, but I know no one in my "real life" who practices NFP, much less is having chronic UTIs and would care to discuss a possible connection.  All that to say, we brought in the big guns last Sunday.  I know there is so much worse going on in the world, but this has been quite an ordeal lately for us.  


Speaking of the big guns, we also had our house blessed last weekend.  It was a joyous occasion with our priest friend and a few others joining us for dinner and a blessing.  Not to be paranoid or superstitious, but we really do believe in the power of sacraments and sacramentals (holy water, etc.) My husband and I had to fight lots of opposition in preparing for marriage (everything from a near death car wreck for him to anti-Catholic parents for me).  Since we got married, I think the attacks have subsided somewhat, but what more would the devil love than to discourage practicing Catholics?  (See #2).  We want to let the world know (and the spiritual, invisible world to know too) that our house is claimed for Christ. 

Here is a link to some of the liturgy we used.  

"O God, protect our going out and our coming in; Let us share the hospitality of this home
with all who visit us, that those who enter here may know your love and peace.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.


Are Catholics supposed to celebrate Valentine's Day?  Is it just a made-up holiday with commercialism behind it?  I don't know, but my husband and I "celebrate."  (We did when we were dating too.)  I think we view it as one more way to express our love, and yet realize that all year long, we should look for ways to care for one another.  What do you do?  What do you think about the subject?  

Appreciation and Acceptance.

I read this interesting article about relationships that stated that love isn't enough.  I've always believed that, too.  "All you need is love" seemed hollow to me.  What does love mean?  What type of love?  Another article made its way around the internet recently that stated that kindness and openness to your spouse (their ideas, doing new things, etc.) were what made a relationship stick.  This article states that appreciation and acceptance of your spouse is a surefire way to express your love consistently.  This rings true to me.  Coming from a psychologist, this also seems researched and sound.  Maybe all you need is love, as long as you find a way to express that love in a way your spouse can receive.  I'm working on presence, intention, listening, etc.  I need to work on appreciation.  What do you think of the article?    


Ugh.  No.  Are we already back at Lent again?!  I have had such a hard time with Lent since becoming Catholic.  Each year, I think, "this will be the year that I fast, go to mass daily, give everything I own to the poor, and come out the other end of 40 days as a great person."  That has yet to happen.  All kidding aside, I need to figure out how to celebrate Lent in a balanced, non-self-hating way that expresses both penance and hope.  I'm going to be thinking long and hard about what to give up or what to take on, what to do differently.  I need to pick something that challenges me, while also picking something do-able that will remind me of what this is all about.  Maybe this will be the year I don't hate Lent.


That's all I got.  Happy Friday the 13th, Valentine's Day Eve.  

XOXO.  May love abound in your world.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

7QT: Seven Quick Takes (Volume V)

I'm linking up with for 7 Quick Takes, Friday edition!


It's coming up on 2 years since I made a big move in my life.  I left my home state, some of my immediate family, a house and a job I liked, and moved to one of the largest cities in the US to be with my love.  We are married now, but when I moved, we weren't even engaged.  Some people thought I was nuts, others encouraged me to follow my dreams and my heart.  As difficult as it sometimes is to live here (I believe I said just last night in an emotional meltdown that I "hate it"...)  er ... I'm still glad I moved because Love Wins.  Jobs, houses, cars, etc. are all negotiable, but being married to my love is the most important thing.  

Village Elders.

I've been blessed throughout my life to have people fulfill the role of grandmother, grandfather, godmother, godfather, caring adult, mentor, etc.  We weren't that close geographically to our grandparents growing up.  We made a concerted effort to see at least one side of our family 1-2 times per year, but by the time I'd graduated high school, my mom's parents had passed.  And by the time I graduated college, my dad's parents had passed.  Thankfully, there always seemed to be family friends and church folk who were so kind to us as kids and filled that role.  I have somewhat of a strained relationship with my parents.  And, although they did their best, it was so helpful to receive love from some really dear people without the drama and family dynamic that sometimes comes with parents.  Later, when I worked in a church, I had many friends who were little old church ladies.  I love (and loved) them dearly.  Some of them have passed on.  They had seen it all and had the wisdom of many years of life behind them.  I was just starting out, and they were always happy to tell me how to do things.  In general, we shared meals, a community bond, our faith, and a sense of family.  Since I moved, I really don't have anyone in my life that's like that anymore.  I really miss it.  I think I need it.  I don't have any elder family members nearby, and I haven't tapped into that demographic at church.  But, for those whose love was so instrumental in my past, I always try to write down the "life lessons" they taught me or things they said to me that I don't want to forget.  I really cherish their memory, and feel them around me, even if they've gone to their eternal reward. As the daughter of one of these friends told me at her funeral, "She taught you how to love."  Yes, she did.  And I have such a long way to go.    

House blessing.

We are getting our house blessed this weekend by our priest.  I'm really excited.  I've only been to one other house blessing in my short life as a Catholic.  Not to mention that we really need it!!!  Just this week we had a pipe burst and damage our ceiling, in addition to warranting MAJOR repairs.  The day after we got married, there was a poisonous snake on our front porch that tried to bite my husband.  (For real, you can't make this stuff up!)  I don't want to seem superstitious, but I have to say that all through our wedding preparation, my husband and I both felt attacked.  He was even in a major car accident that came within inches of killing him (hit on 2 sides by 3 different cars).  My well-meaning but anti-Catholic parents tried to prevent the wedding.  Every part of it seemed like a struggle.  Now that we are married, we just really feel like we need the extra blessing from our priest.  We have anointed the house with holy water and prayed over every room, but this will be great.    

The Resistance.

Speaking of the devil...  I guess it's hard to know when something you've lived with your whole life isn't normal.  I have always been one to worry and have anxiety, just by personality.  It wasn't until last year that my therapist helped me realize that I had actually had panic attacks my whole life.  And I just thought it was, you know, another Tuesday morning.  Some of it has to do with physical stuff (like hormone and blood sugar imbalances).  However, some of it is spiritual.  With this in mind, I realize that there is a WHOLE LOT in my life that is not from God.  Thoughts that I have, really dark and horrible and self-hating thoughts that I thought everyone had to combat.  Turns out, that's not the case.  Anyway, I have started to resist this and recognize that these unloving thoughts are NOT from God.  I call the devil "the resistance" sometimes because it's like a feeling I have that things are harder, like pulling teeth or dragging someone along as they resist when the devil gets in a situation. Sometimes he manifests himself by being a resisting force in a situation, when that situation would be good, or just to steal your joy.  (See #3 above - our wedding planning was full of a "resisting" spirit).  And sometimes, in my fight against him, I have to resist and stand firm.  "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."  (James 4:7)  I don't want to blame the devil for my own sin, for the regular difficulties in life, or for blood sugar imbalances, but I have to say that since I have starting resisting The Resistance with the name of Jesus, sacramentals, and other prayers, I have noticed a huge difference.  If you read interviews with exorcists, you'll realize that the battle is real, and we should just be on guard to do all we can to stay faithful, to fast, and to pray for our intentions and for those we love.    


I have decided that reading comments on the internet is a really fast way to lose all faith in humanity. People are SO cruel, ignorant, argumentative, etc.  So, I have made a concerted effort to leave positive comments whenever I can to counteract that presence.  And to IGNORE and not even read the trollers.  


I don't even know the Coakley family, but I have been so touched (and heartbroken) by their story over the past few weeks.  If you have any spare change to give this beautiful new widow and her four children (3 + 1 on the way), please consider doing so.  We are the body of Christ, and she is in need.  You can donate or read more at this link:  or follow the developments on Facebook  Every day is a gift.  

Going the way of the do-do-bird?

Are blogs becoming extinct?  Why are some of my favorite bloggers doing more podcasts than blogs now, or drastically reducing their blogs?  It's so depressing to me.  I can't listen to podcasts at work, but I can read a blog so much more easily.  If they really are going extinct, like most things, I tend to catch on right about the time it's too late.    

T G I F and happy weekend!