Friday, September 18, 2015

7QT: Seven Quick Takes (Volume XXV)

I'm linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum to bring you seven quick takes from my world this week.  


It may be after Labor Day, and the kids may be back in school, but it's still summer here!  It was 100* when I got into my car the other day after work.  Yipee.  Once it cools off a little bit, we'll be experiencing the best part of living here - "not summer" seasons of "fall," "winter," and "spring." You cannot discern between the three of them, and it makes the rest of the year bearable because of our amazing tepid temperatures during "not summer."


Perhaps this deserves its own post, but I went home last weekend for the first time in about 10 years. Here is my reflection on the trip, which left me very, very emotional.  It was a good trip.

"Leaving after a weekend in my hometown and college town, I have only gratitude now. For all the stuff that went on there. For the fun, the abuse, the stupidity, and memories. God had a reason for placing me in the family he did and for giving me the friends he did. It's funny, I'm known there as a musician, primarily, whereas in my new city, it's my husband who is primarily known as a musician. It was nice to see many loving people from my past, and it was so bittersweet to be reminded of so much. Sweet because even the negative parts seem surmountable. They are all a part of the journey, of my story. I can embrace them all - being told I look exactly like my mother, cringing at mistakes I made, remembering the intensity and conflict of childhood. I'm starting now to truly "see it all as gift." For growing up in a beautiful place, in the middle of nowhere, with amazing opportunities for the arts and a good education...we didn't have much money, but I was given so much. For all of it, I am so grateful."


We went to my hometown because a college friend got married last weekend.  (My college town is about an hour from my hometown.)  It was wonderful to see her get married.  He's a great match for her. 

They had a Christian ceremony.  She's Presbyterian, he's Episcopalian, and they had a ceremony in the Methodist church.  I was really happy to hear the Bible readings and to sing a hymn, and hear prayers.  I was left with the impression that their faith is somewhat important to them, but not necessarily the most important thing.  I say that with no judgment.  I'm thrilled they had a Christian wedding.  

I wonder what will happen to the next generation, though.  Her parents are definitely more devout than she is.  She is devout in a Jesus=social justice kind of way.  And, I wonder how they will raise their children.  As beautiful as the ceremony was, I wonder if it is one generation from religious indifference/agnosticism.  Of course, we cannot control our children or force a religious experience on them.  We all must experience and find God for ourselves.  

It made me wonder - is God truly the most important thing in my life?

So what?  Now what?

We finished the Symbolon series in our Wednesday night group.  Now it's on to Father (now Bishop) Barron's The Mystery of God.   Symbolon ended with a review of Catholic Social Teaching.  It was very convicting to me.  We are told how we will be judged - by what we did to the least of these.  I feel sure I am not doing enough. 

So, to that end, I did one small thing this week.  I donated to the Catholic Relief Services refugee fund.  That is one worldwide crisis in which I feel totally helpless.  CRS is a reputable organization, and we can do one small thing by donating to them.  It's better than inaction. 

I have also resolved to carrying around water and granola bars in the car (at a friend's suggestion) in order to pass out to the homeless.  I always feel so torn when approached.  In a big city, you're approached often.  So, this is something I can do.  

As I wrote about previously, I'm really trying to figure out what to do for the Year of Mercy.  These are small things I can do for now.  I hope to add to this.  


My husband and I are looking for new Catholic friends, specifically couples.  We successfully went to dinner with one couple from church a few weeks ago.  And, then the other day I got the phone numbers of another couple from church.  As much as it's a little awkward putting yourself out there (if feels like asking someone out), both gestures were well received, and we hope to have either both couples over for dinner sometime or to go out as a group.  I'm so happy that this may turn into something.  It's an answer to prayer because we really need to feel that we are not alone in our Catholic identity in this new stage of life.  Fingers crossed, and thank you Jesus.


Here are links to some articles I found interesting:

Why We Procrastinate

How to Be Emotionally Intelligent

What is Truth

Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God Has a Radio Show!

Women, Time, and Feminism

St. Augustine.

I came across this quote from St. Augustine last night.  God is ultimate beauty, goodness, and truth. None of us know how much time we have on earth.  May we make the most of our days by loving him fully.   

"Late have I loved you, O beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you!"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This week, it's on my heart to pray for the repose a friend's mother who died and a different friend's father who died.  Also, to pray for a close family member in crisis and an aunt facing physical challenges.  
That we may all seek God with all our hearts, even amidst the trials of life.  
That those who have faith in the resurrection may be comforted in times of grief. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Year of Mercy

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has announced that this coming year will be the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  It will last from the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 2015) until Christ the King Sunday (November 20, 2016), basically one liturgical year, lasting the majority of the calendar year 2016.

I am so grateful for this pope and this focus on mercy.  I think it takes a deep understanding of sin to understand mercy.  It also takes a deep understanding of justice to understand mercy.  Until we truly see how wounded we are and how we have hurt others, we don't see the need for mercy.  And, until we get to heaven, I don't think we will understand the extent to which God's justice is merciful and also His mercy is justified.  It is a great mystery.

As St. Benedict reminds us in the Rule (chapter 4) "Never despair of God's mercy."

For this year of mercy, I have resolved to finish reading the Diary of St. Faustina.  I have begun this book.  It's long, but it's been lovely so far.  I just am waiting for a revelation of the deep love and mercy of God.  I know that St. Faustina can lead me there.  I have heard of so many others who struggle with their image of God and struggle with sins of their past find healing in the Divine Mercy.  I know it's there for us all.

I have resolved a few years ago, after my re-conversion, to go to confession at least once a month.  I also resolved again to do that on a recent birthday.  I haven't been religious about that, but I have gone regularly.  For the year of mercy, I want to make sure to go to confession at least once a month. It is a sacrament of healing.  I know in my experience, no matter the sin I'm confessing, no matter the priest, no matter how long it has been since the last confession, I have always always found mercy and healing in the sacrament.  God meets me there in a way I cannot describe.  It is deeply healing.

Finally, I resolve to practice mercy in my everyday life.  What does that look like?  I'm not sure.  I just know I can do better.  First of all, it starts by giving others the benefit of the doubt when they offend me or wrong me.  That includes offering patience and withholding judgment.  Secondly, there are the corporal works of mercy: 1) feed the hungry, 2) give drink to the thirsty, 3) shelter the homeless, 4) clothe the naked, 5) visit the sick and imprisoned, 6) bury the dead, 7) give alms to the poor and the spiritual works of mercy:    1) admonish the sinner, 2) instruct the ignorant, 3) counsel the doubtful, 4) comfort the sorrowful, 5) forgive all injuries, 6) pray for the living and the dead, 7) bear wrongs patiently.  I know I can do better in each of these areas.  I'm not sure how to do this in an intentional practical way, but I want to make progress during this year of mercy.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."  - Matthew 5:7

The Morning After

I came across this story from someone who took years to realize that the morning-after pill was something to take to the confessional.

I have my own story about the morning-after pill.  It's the reason I say that I broke all 10 commandments before age 25.

I was 19, a college sophomore, and had begun a non-romantic, yet still sexual, relationship with an older guy.  He didn't know I was a virgin, or that it was my first time.  I didn't know what I was getting into, but I was actually proud of myself for losing the V-card before I turned 20.  10 days before, to be exact.

I guess it was part of the college rebellion, shedding the strict upbringing of my parents.  Sex was never really explained or described to me, just mentioned in the same breath as "neverdoituntilyouremarried" every single time it was mentioned.  I knew that it needed to be "safe" for more than one reason, pregnancy prevention being one of them.  The female body was somewhat abhorred in our house growing up.  Not to be too TMI, but just to explain how extensive this attitude was... I never even told my mom the first time I got my period.  It was something to be ashamed of, something to never speak of, even to your mom.  I was 12.  I had to walk to the drug store, buy things with my own money, and deal with it.  Oddly enough, my first thought was that if I were to get raped, I could become pregnant.  It felt like the end of my childhood.    

When I went to college, I wanted to have my cake and eat it too.  I attended church and enjoyed hearing about how God was good and that God was love.  It was a breath of fresh air from my Calvinistic childhood, and the pendulum swung to the charismatics for a while.  At the same time, I was also discovering the beauty and reverence of the liturgy in a high church Protestant setting.  All of this was in the context of a secular, private college.  I didn't want to be one of those people, so I also partied each weekend while attending church most Sundays.  In some senses, we were safer than most college-aged partiers.  We could drink on campus, and my friends and I looked out for each other.  In other senses, I was playing with fire and playing Russian roulette with my fertility, my sexuality, my life, my so-called freedom.

Everything's fun and games until the condom breaks.

I assured my not-boyfriend that I would "take care of it."  I went to Planned Barrenhood Parenthood the next day and got emergency contraception.  It consisted of two pills, taken a specific number of hours apart and within a certain window of time from the sexual act.  I remember my hands shaking as I washed down the pill with a water bottle at a gas station.  Then, I promptly put it all out of my mind and went on with life.  I felt a deep sense of shame walking into Planned Parenthood.  I was a scholarship recipient.  I knew better.  I got good grades and worked my way through college.  But, nonetheless, I felt I had no other choice.  I never told anyone, just the not-boyfriend that it had been "taken care of."

A few years later, when a similar situation happened with a different guy, it was that much easier to get emergency contraception again.  This time, the shaking and shame weren't really there.  I also began to go to Planned Parenthood to get discounted birth control.  I remember wearing the scuzziest clothes I had, including a hoodie.  I didn't want to be spotted walking in and out of there. Yet, I still felt I had no other choice.

At the time, I had bought all the propaganda, hook-line-and-sinker.  I told several friends that no one was really pro-abortion, just pro-choice - where else would desperate women go?  I also extolled Planned Parenthood for offering pre-natal care and birth control.  I convinced one friend to be "pro-choice" based on these arguments.  I convinced another to stop using condoms and take the pill.  I didn't discuss with either of them that I had used emergency contraception, just that women needed to have these options.

I have taken the birth control pill a few times off and on.  Once for a year after college.  At other times, it was prescribed by my doctor to prevent acne.  By the end of my twenties, I had learned that it was a carcinogenic.  It was that fact, not the abortifacient properties, that really made me want to stop taking it.

Finally, by the grace of God, I not only became Catholic, but I stopped the sexual sins a few years later and had sort of a re-conversion.  Unlike the lady in the article linked above, I immediately thought of the times I took emergency contraception and confessed them, along with the birth control usage, along with the sexual activity driving the use of those drugs.  I knew it was wrong when I did it. With confession, I was finally free.

I'm not sure if those pills ever prevented a fertilized egg from implanting.  I guess I will find out in heaven.  I do know that I deeply regret it.  The intention to take a life (if it existed or not) was why I took those pills.  That, my friend, is a mortal sin.  I deeply regret the rebellion of my youth.  For as difficult and uncomfortable as my parents were with "the talk," they were right about trying to tell me not to have sex until marriage.

I've tried the world's ways.  I lived the Sex and the City lifestyle for the majority of my twenties.  I also tried the Protestant ways.  While the conclusions of Protestants are often similar to Catholics on moral teaching, the view of the human person is vastly different.  I found more in common with secular humanists and with reformed Calvinists than one would think at first glance.  You see, in both cases, the body is unimportant.  To the secular humanist, the body is meaningless, you assign the meaning.  And usually, pleasure wins out.  To the Calvinist, the body is the source of sin and shame, the home of your totally depraved self.  They forget that if we are truly people of the resurrection, we must not forget the body.  It was not until I discovered the Catholic teaching, especially Theology of the Body, and initially as explained by Christopher West, that I realized my body was good.  So good, in fact, that it deserved even more dignity, respect, and honor.  Our sexuality was a gift, not a taboo, or a no-no.  Not something to be taken for granted or toyed with.  Something to honor.  I was not a soul living in a body, I was an embodied soul.

Even now, 9 years after becoming Catholic, and a few years into my deeper re-conversion, I am still learning so much more about this topic.  I am married and practice NFP now.  I also still ponder the mystery of the body and of our sexuality.  With the attacks in our culture on the body, on marriage, on sexuality through every imaginable vice, I really think these teachings are key to understanding the human person and therefore, to understanding God.

I still don't know the role I'm supposed to play in this, but I know that I am called to pray.  There is a better way.  You don't have to repress your sexuality.  It is a gift.  However, you don't have to indulge in it to the point of addiction and hedonism.  It has to be understood in context.  There's a better way.

Where I'm At...

I know this title has wrong grammar, but I feel the need to explain "where I'm at" right now.

Sometimes you can feel the change a-brewin', and I think now is one of those times for me.  I can't explain it or put my finger on it, but I sense it.  Yesterday I rearranged the entire living room, rotated the rug, put the couch, loveseat, and two chairs in every possible configuration, before putting it all back where it started.  (It truly is the best arrangement, I just had to see if another one worked better.) I used to rearrange my furniture when each new semester started at school.  For some reason, it helped me with a clean slate.  I know that I'm about to have a clean slate because this urge is surfacing.  It seems superficial, but it points to a greater itch that I'm longing to scratch.

I've lived in this city for about 2.5 years now.  On the one hand, I'm very grateful for my job, without which I couldn't have moved here.  It's a beautiful campus, and one of the top research institutions in the US.  What I was hired to do is finally off the ground, for the most part, and about to enter into maintenance mode.  In my interview, they mentioned that this would be about a 3 year process.  That doesn't mean I'm out of a job at the end of those 3 years, but it just means that the nature of my job will change in the next few months.  I can sense that coming, and I'm open to other employment opportunities when that time comes.  Mainly, because I don't feel like I'd be leaving them in the lurch.  Secondly, because of the elusive work-life balance.  Since getting married, I really long to spend more time with my husband, to have kids one day, and to have a shorter commute.  Maybe it's not possible in this city.  Living closer to work would be financially impossible.  We live in the suburbs, and I commute.  But the commute is draining.  2-4 hours/day draining.  I'm not sure if working from home or working closer to home would be an option, but I'm open.

Speaking of work from a different angle, I wonder if I should stay where I am or look for employment in the arts again, the area of my training and education.  I do miss music, and having music in my life regularly.  I'm not sure what to do about that.  I have done some administrative work for a non-profit arts organization.  I have also performed a few times since moving here.  That has been gratifying.  I don't know if I should be seeking more or keeping it limited like this.

Spiritually speaking, I know that something is missing.  I have felt the call to more prayer and scripture study.  With my background, I struggle withe PTSD in relation to scripture.  (Seriously.)  It was beaten into us, sometimes literally.  I struggle with pride, thinking I know the Bible already.  But the truth is I only know one interpretation of the Bible.  I haven't studied it in-depth or allowed it to really resonate on a deep level since becoming Catholic.  Now, as a Catholic, we hear almost the entire Bible being read in the course of the 3-year Sunday liturgy cycle.  So, I have heard that probably 4 times now.  And, in our young adult group, we have studied topics or books of the Bible in-depth.  That has been very healing for me, to hear a new interpretation, to understand the Bible differently.

However, it's time now for me to study or read it on my own.  The only ways I can really hear the Bible without it being a traumatic/PTSD experience for me are 1) in the liturgy, or formally proclaimed by someone else, 2) in lectio divina - contemplative, slow reading, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me about specific passages or even one word in a passage, and finally 3) slow reading in my own voice, outloud. These three ways overcome the negative memories I have of the Bible being shouted at me in another person's voice, or being manipulated or flung awkwardly into conversation.  I feel called to do this, especially for the gospels.  We fixated a lot on the writings of Paul in my childhood religion.  Paul was almost more important than Christ himself.  The theology informed their reading of scripture.  I'm eager to read the gospels and see Jesus differently, in a real way, to hear his voice in a new way.  I know I need to do that with studying scripture on my own, and I'm ready for that now, I think.  As my husband reminds me, when something is difficult in scripture, you should spend more time with it, not less, until you have peace with the passage.  

As for prayer, I have always loved monasteries and silence and tradition, even as a child.  I love the fact the there are monks, nuns, and hermits who have dedicated their lives to pray for the world. However, I too feel called to pray.  Now, more than ever, I feel this call.  There are certain groups of people near to my heart:
     - my gay brothers and sisters,
     - ex-Catholics,
     - those who are searching for God and truth,
     - and those who struggle with sexual sin.

Maybe because I have seen the havoc that sexual sin can wreak, and experienced it myself...
Maybe because I cannot believe that the faith I had to fight for, every step of the way when I joined it, can so callously be disregarded and abandoned by those raised in it...
Maybe because I know the longing and confusion of searching for truth, searching for God, and knowing there is an answer, but not having the answer yet...

For these reasons, these specific groups of people call to me for prayer each time I think of them, and I know I must be more intentional about it.  Fasting, praying, doing the liturgy of the hours. Something must change, and I must answer the call to prayer.

Lastly, as far as spiritual matters go, I am really interested in Ignatian spirituality lately, "finding God in all things."  I learned so much about consolation and desolation from Fr. Timothy Gallagher.  Now I'm reading The Ignatian Guide to (Almost) Everything by Fr. James Martin.  This continues to speak to me, and it ties in so well with The Little Way.

Physically speaking, I'm on a de-clutter, organize, and minimalist kick.  I've read a lot about this lately, and I long for my home to be a place of peace with more routine for those nagging tasks.  This is a work in progress, but I am making progress.  I've also begun a lifestyle of eating little-to-no carbs.  Just in the last 2-3 weeks, this has made a huge difference.  Exercise continues to be a priority too, and I always notice a difference when I exercise regularly.

So, as for the life makover/overhaul, this is where I am at now.  Progress, not perfection, I remind myself.  I have made progress.  I have more ideas and inspiration.  I'm fighting the idea that someday I will "arrive" and have it all figured out.  I know lots of this is continual work, but I look forward to making some processes more automatic and simplifying so that it's not so overwhelming.

One step at a time.