Thursday, May 26, 2016

7QT: Seven Quick Takes (Volume XXXVI)

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


Those who can't - cant.

I'll be cantoring at mass this weekend.  (get the joke?)  Say a little prayer for me.  I used to do it regularly for about 8-9 years.  It never, ever got any easier to sing in public.  As in, when you hear me sing, you'll know I'm a trained instrumentalist.  Yes, it's in tune and the rhythms are correct.  That's about all I can say.  I know bad cantors are a dime a dozen in the Catholic Church (unfortunately), but G-d sure is funny when I ask Him how I can be more involved in music and in my parish.  


I think I've come full circle on the modesty debate/issue.  As a kid, women were "less than" men, and seen as the source of/responsible for all male temptation.  Not only was fashion pretty unflattering in the '90's, but I didn't know how to make myself look my best.  Looking back at pictures, I realize I was never as fat/ugly as I thought I was.  I just didn't know how to dress and do makeup well.

Fast forward to college, and I lost a little bit of weight, fashions slightly changed, I was away from my parents, and modestly generally went out the window...not to the extent that it could have due to my self-hatred and incredibly low self-esteem, but looking back, I cringe.  I enjoyed the male attention I got, and I used myself and others physically.  I was okay with drawing immodest attention to myself in some contexts - like when there was drinking involved.  (a really bad combo)

Now, here I am, having gone through a conversion and reversion of sorts - first to Catholicism, then to a deeper understanding and practice of the Catholic faith.  I'm now married, and I feel very drawn to dressing more modestly.  My senses feel assaulted by what others wear (I work on a college campus, so this is a regular occurrence).  I don't want to dress like a frump, but I've pretty much gotten to the point of never wearing sleeveless, layering so as to avoid cleavage, and wearing longer and longer hemlines of skirts.  I've even stopped wearing heels for the most part.  My swimsuit last summer (which was the most comfortable I've ever been) was a swim shirt and swim trunks.  I don't feel any shame in this.  It's not like I think I'm tempting others by my rabid attractiveness.  I don't feel like I'm responsible for the thoughts of others, so much as I feel less and less comfortable showing that skin.  I want to look "normal," but I am actually more comfortable the more I cover up.  I have joked with my husband that I will simplify my wardrobe and get more and more "modest" to the point that I'll be wearing a habit one day...even though I'm married.  I see the beauty in covering up.

I'm still on a journey about what this means for me.  Will I become one of those "no pants/skirts only" women?  Will I keep my hair long?  Will I start looking frumpy?  I don't know that there's any one answer or hard and fast rules.  Height, age, etc. often affect rules about length, for instance.  I don't judge what others wear.  I pray for them when the outfit distracts or tempts me to lust.  I just know that I'm on a journey to understanding modesty, in the context of my vocation to marriage and to chastity as a virtue.  I think there is a lot to be said for looking relatable, attractive, and yet, modest.  

Dawn Eden has a lot of good thoughts about this in her book, The Thrill of the Chaste.  I also found this article (cited in her book) as a balanced discussion for a starting point.

In this crazy society, where anything goes, anyone can see anything at anytime, and liberation is seen as license.  It's hard to know how to be relatable to others while still being as modest in clothing as I feel called to.

If the Shoe Fits...

This article contains some vulgarity, but it makes a great point.  Are high heels sexist?  I'm only 35, and I'm 5'3".  I've worn heels since I was 12 years old because I'm so short.  Especially in the workplace, I've always worn heels to be seen as more authoritative, professional, to be taken seriously, and not be treated like a child.  I've worked on college campuses for several years.  Wearing professional clothing and heels has helped distinguish me from being a college student.  I always cited the statistic I heard once that the majority of CEO's are over 6 feet tall, and height (plus being a man) helps in the workplace.  However, in the last few years, I've had to do a lot more walking just to get to-and-from my bus stop and/or car.  I can't do the heels anymore on those long walks.  They are excruciating, impractical, and I refuse to carry two pairs of shoes around all the time in order to walk in one and wear the others at work.

Is eschewing the high heel part of the next wave of feminism?  I admit, I feel dorky and frumpy in many of my flats, but my feet thank me.  I don't think I have the ability to move up in this current job, so I don't care that I'm not wearing heels and asserting myself physically.  I'd love to stay committed to this as a lifetime cause, but I still wear my heels for special occasions.  I look at the shoes men wear, and they are just comfortable, practical.  Aside from men having slightly large and wider feet, why aren't women's shoes the same as men's?  Can I wear a comfortable, practical shoe without feeling less feminine?    

There are laws in England which require women to wear heels.  It was recently protested.  As part of the uproar, some men wore heels for a day to see what it was like.  Watch the video here, it's rather humorous and absurd to see men wearing heels, yet it's completely normal for women to do the same.

I have to say, even in Catholic circles, this seems to be a problem.  I was going to join a Catholic young professionals group in my city until I read some of the dress code requirements for networking events, which included heels for women among the description of what is "business casual."  Maybe that is the standard professional definition.  I doubt there is dress code "bouncer" at the door, but it's disappointing to see it in print. ::Sigh:: - I give up.  

Currently Reading. 

The Thrill of the Chaste by Dawn Eden

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo


I am happily married, but a few short years ago, this article by Matt Fradd would have resonated on every level with me.  It's slim-pickins' out there for Catholic women (men I'm sure, too, but I'm not a man, so...)  I don't want to be a smug married person.  I truly understand how hard it is out there to be single, to feel called to marriage, to feel like there are zero prospects unless you change who you are or lower your standards.  I can say from observing some people close to me that it's far better to remain single than to marry the wrong person.  Similarly, as Matt Fradd points out, there is a cross in every way of life, including marriage, even if that's what vocation you're called to.  


The butterfly is my personal symbol, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote my favorite book, One Hundred Years of Solitude.  In reference to a fictional event in one of his books, mourners brought hundreds of yellow butterflies to the site of his burial in Colombia.  I love it.  More here.

Quote of the week:

“Spiritual living is accepting reality at any cost” - Simone Weil

Friday, May 20, 2016

7QT: Seven Quick Takes (Volume XXXV)

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

Coming Home.

As I mentioned yesterday with fear, trepidation, nervousness, and excitement, my conversion story is now up on the Coming Home Network website.  Check it out here, if you'd like!


Going Home. 

I just got back from a trip home to see my family.  I have a sibling who is in the states for a limited time, home from an overseas deployment.  It was good to see everyone.  We also caught up with some friends while we were in town, and there was no family drama to speak of.  All in all, a good trip home.  


So, my home office/study is to a crazy level of insanely unorganized.  You'd think I was a hoarder. I'm not exaggerating.  The funny thing is that I'm generally clean and organized, but I just can't seem to stay on top of (or even get on top of) the incoming mail and paperwork I need to deal with.  I joke with my husband that we should just burn the house down and start over...not that funny.  Last weekend I spent some time unsubscribing to things and getting on the "opt out" lists for credit card offers, insurance offers, etc.  I'm hoping that helps.

Currently Reading.

The Sleep Revolution by Ariana Huffington

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenowith

What I've learned: get more sleep!  Also, there's no business like show business.


Our trip home this week was marked with unusually long wait times with the TSA.  I had heard about this, but I thought we would be exempt from it, traveling on off/non-peak hours, not travelling from/to places like NYC or Chicago.  I was wrong.  Let the traveler beware.  We waited longer in line than our first flight lasted, and if it hadn't been a delayed flight, we would have missed it.  People were running to gates, cutting in line, and generally becoming irate and restless.  It was awful.  Bonus, we ran into Sister Miriam James while in the long line.  I act like such an idiot around some people, so I said something stupid about following her on Twitter, rather than something meaningful like, "Thank you for your book/your ministry/your witness."  I will say, having a nun and a priest nearby made me have better behavior than I might have otherwise.

(This book.  It's wonderful, check it out.)  


Elizabeth Esther has a similar background to mine, and has introduced me to the concept of Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS).  It can be seen as a form of PTSD, related to faith or religious experiences, often occurring in people who leave cults or abusive religious environments.  I'm pretty sure I have this.  For instance, I have had panic attacks before listening to Catholic radio when the caller was an anti-Catholic and the apologetics show turned into a screaming match.  Also, anytime a rain or thunderstorm wakes me up, my first thought is that it's the "rapture," or the end of the world, and I've been left behind.  I know this isn't true, but that's my first thought upon waking.  I then have to calm down to go back to sleep, which doesn't always happen.  Anyway, RTS explains the inner-workings of people like me.  We feel misunderstood a lot.  We are invalidated a lot by people who mean well.  What I like about Elizabeth Esther's take is that 1) we have a similar upbringing, 2) we both became Catholic, 3) she's able to be a person who still has faith, while also maintaining a healthy balance of recovering from this stuff.  The woman who coined the term RTS, for instance, was raised Christian and is now atheist.  While I respect everyone's journey, I appreciate the insights EE has as a person who is overcoming the abusive aspects while also retaining belief that is balanced and healthy.  If you haven't already, check out her book too.)



That's all I got, folks.  Keep the faith.  Have a lovely weekend.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Coming Home

My conversion story is now live on the Coming Home Network's website here.  It's called "Forgiveness on the Path to Faith" and uses my pseudonym, Ari Mack.  The CHN version includes a little more detail than my story as published on this blog, along with some editing for content, clarity, and length.  It's kind of like my whole life story, as it pertains to religion and faith.  

     [You can the version on this blog here: Part IPart II, Part IIIPart IV if interested]

I'm excited and nervous.  I love stories, particularly conversion stories.  I think that hearing someone's story and experience often is more meaningful than hearing a doctrine or theological argument (as important as those can be).  We can learn from others, and I am 100% not perfect.  I pressed on in submitting this to the Coming Home Network because they have a much larger platform than I do, and if my story can help one person, then praise be.  I wrote it, submitted it, and now I have to let go and work on living a life of virtue and love.  My faith is very much a work in progress, and I love the idea of "practicing Catholic" - I am practicing, but have not yet arrived.

I love the phrase "coming home," don't you?  The idea that the Church is our true home, that it ushers us to heaven, our eternal home, that we can rest and be at peace within her walls, that we can travel this journey with others in the family, that we share a meal at the banquet table with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I can think of no better image or story of this reality than that of the Prodigal Son.  If only we knew how much God loved us, we would come home, running into God's open arms.

To those who have become Catholic, welcome home.  To those searching or questioning, to those who have left for whatever reason, come home.  We aren't perfect.  We don't have all the answers.

But Christ is in our midst.


Friday, May 13, 2016

7QT: Seven Quick Takes (Volume XXXIV)

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

The Mundane. 

I never thought I could be so excited about a stretch of highway, but due to mother nature's work on April 18th, we have been unable to use several major thoroughfares near our house for nearly four weeks.  This has made my already long commute (1-1.5 hours each way) into unbelievably long (2-2.5 hours each way).  So, I'm back to spending 2-3 hours per day in the car, rather than 4-5.  I'm back to getting up at 6 am rather than 5 am.

I'll take it.  My bosses graciously let me work from home a few times the last month.  I wish that would be a permanent arrangement, but it won't.  I'm just glad to have the convenience back.  


Mother's Day. 

I wrote about Mother's Day here on the blog.  A tough holiday for some.


I will be traveling next week to see my family.  My brother has been overseas with the military for about a year.  We haven't seen him since August, and he couldn't come home for Christmas.  My parents graciously paid for my husband and me to join in the celebrations next week.  So, I'll be headed to a little family get together.  

Fr. Anthony

My husband is a member of a Lay Cistercian community.  Their spiritual director died this week.  I met him three times while on retreats with my husband.  He was a rare gift to the world.  Very humble, wise, funny, spunky, honest, loving.  It's hard to quantify how a simple monk could have such a profound impact on so many, but he did, myself included.  I was looking forward to seeing him again on our next retreat.  As sad as it is to lose him, I'm grateful for him and his life.  His was a life well-lived.  He knew who he was, what he was called to do, and he did it - all for God.  We'll miss you Fr. Anthony.  Please pray for us.     
Friday the 13th.

I know relatively little about Our Lady of Fatima, but I do know that on May 13 is when she first appeared to the children of Fatima.  I recently learned a little more about all of it via the Divine Mercy series (which is available on Formed dot org for a limited time).  I highly recommend the series.  Our world needs mercy.  It's beautiful to see the progression from the Sacred Heart to St. Therese to St. Faustina and Pope St. John Paul II.  Clearly this is a message for our time.  

Working Weekend.

I work in higher education.  Near graduation time, we are always called into the office one weekend to get everything ready.  It went well last weekend.  It just cracked me up to see my boss in a t-shirt reading "TGIF - This Grandma is Fabulous" and another co-worker (also a grandma) wearing a t-shirt that said "sexy" on it...maybe there's a reason for those dress codes on the other days of the week.  


In an effort not to drown in despair, I simply implore us all to pray for our world.  Whether it's culture wars, the next election, public bathrooms, persecution of minorities in other parts of the world, ISIS, or our own futures, there is much to fret about.  But, we aren't called to fret.  Pray, do penance, and trust in God.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

Here We Are

I was going to link up with This Ain't the Lyceum to bring you Seven Quick Takes from my world this week....but last Friday turned into today (Monday), and 7 quick takes turned into random ramblings on Mother's Day.  So, here we go.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. I have to say it's a difficult day for me. I love my mom, but we aren't that close. She did the best she could under difficult circumstances. But, the emotional temperature of our relationship is like what I would guess a distant great aunt is like or something.  It's hard to honor someone when the way you're expected to honor them is dictated to you by society and by parental expectations.  [I literally received a message instructing me on what I should post on Facebook regarding Mother's Day.]  Most people adore their mothers, consider them best friends, have warm fuzzy feelings toward them...  

The sting is not as deep this year.  I am learning to feel more of God's love than ever before.  I am trying to cultivate a relationship with Mary.  I'm more secure in myself and my boundaries.  It's easy to recognize the crazy and quickly dismiss it now, more than ever before.  But, those of us with abusive parents have a hard time with Mother's Day (and Father's Day).  As an adult child, it's hard to know how to honor and respect them, how to forgive them, and how to keep good boundaries without becoming hard-hearted or falling back into the familiar dysfunction.    

Not to give my mom too hard of a time.  After all, she did apologize last year in an unprecedented move.  She basically said she was sorry for so much of our childhood pain.  And that was deeply healing.  (See: The Day I Thought Would Never Come)'s complicated.  There's not a hallmark card that says how I feel, nor should I necessarily express all that comes into my mind and heart.  I just struggle sometimes with why.  Supposedly God only allows things into our life that will bring about a greater good, that will bring about His will.  I should be grateful.  Yet, in this life, it's hard to see - why did He pick them as my parents?  why did He allow the abuse?  why did it have to be so hard?  I see the broken lives of my siblings and the struggles I have had.  I feel like my entire childhood was a cross to bear, and I ask - there's more?  more suffering ahead?  You mean, the entire Christian life is about crosses?  I digress.     

Then there's the nagging question - when and how will I ever be a mother?  People mean well, but they can be insensitive.  Much like the sting of Mother's Day, the sting of "are you pregnant yet?" or "when is it going to be your turn?" hurts a little less now too.  I know they mean well.  I don't have the emotional energy to give to each and every drama that could be, each and every remark, each and every assumption.  I can "let it be" a little more easily than in the past.  But, suffice it to say, when you look at another person's life circumstances, things may not be what they are for the reasons you think.  Many single people would love to be married.  Many childless people would love to be parents.  As each day, month, year slides by and time flies and marches on, I do wonder what life will hold for me.  For me and my husband.  For me and my womb.      

My comfort is that we have a spiritual mother.  As foreign and mysterious as she is, I know she's also very close to me, that she probably helped bring me into the Church, and that if I could only receive her love, I'd receive more of God's love.  If I could follow her way, I'd find The Way.  

"Lovely Lady, dressed in blue, teach me how to pray."