Thursday, November 16, 2017

Taking Back the Holidays

It's been a while, but this post is on my mind and heart and won't go away. As I mentioned in my last post, I was struggling some with the end of summer. Then came the Fall, and it got even worse. I think the pressure of the holidays began bearing down even then. The thing is, you would think I would be used to the single thing in general and being single on the holidays in particular, but I don't know that that will ever happen. There is so much about the holidays that is difficult. Even when I am with my parents, siblings, and whatever other extended relatives, the singleness is somewhat emphasized rather than minimized because my family is not there.

I do put up a tree for me because I am worth the hassle, even if there's no one else to share it, and I love the lights of the Christmas tree on the dark evenings. But sometimes in the warm glow, I am stunningly struck by how much better it would be to share it with others. Sometimes in the worst of it, it makes me angry as well as sad, because what? Being single even takes away the joy of the holidays? I don't even get that?

(Side note: I recently read a post quoting Charlie Munger, and he had a friend that would have these cards for anyone who started to say anything that started to lean to self pity. They said, "Your story has touched my heart, never have I heard of anyone with more misfortunes than you." My sarcastic heart loves it, and I have started mentally giving these cards to myself when I start to notice that I am crossing the line from legit processing something that hurts to wallowing in self pity.)

Doing this for so long, I do have some coping mechanisms, some healthy, others not so much. Some of the good ones are to do something that I really enjoy to celebrate, even if it is not the picture perfect holiday that I would prefer. I have gotten to where I really enjoy cross country skiing on Christmas. Time in the mountains with friends? You betcha. I also take a nice long holiday break from social media. So lovely and so necessary.

This Thanksgiving will be visiting the extended family, but there are some landmines there. This is the first holiday that my MUCH younger sister is bringing her husband, and I don't have any idea of they're trying to start a family already, but it wouldn't surprise me, and I will be on edge waiting for some sort of cutesy pregnancy announcement. (Don't get me wrong, I will be very happy for a new niece or nephew if such a thing happens, but not sure I'm up for the in person congrats at that time.) It is the first Thanksgiving without my grandma, and my first time going to their house without her there and with a lot of her things already cleared out. Then, of course, there's the food. With traveling, I have a very hard time sticking with food that doesn't make me sick, and I really don't get to eat any of the fun stuff. Not to mention that there has been a lot of extra family drama in the last couple of years that promises to continue.

As for Christmas, plans are up in the air, but it's looking like there's a very good chance that there will be much time in the city and little time in the mountains.

My super elegant prayer as I was contemplating all this was:

"What. The. CRAP?!"

And, then:

"Right. So it was already hard enough and now You're taking the rest of it away. Seriously?!"

There are several options of what to do in the face of holiday difficulties such as these. One that a friend of mine often does is to treat it like another day and just ignore the holiday part. I get it, and to anyone that needs to do that, my response is, do what you have to do. I don't want that, though. On the other hand, I'm tired. I'm tired of trying to make it special when it's hard. Don't get me wrong, I have had some very special holidays that were even better because of working through the tough stuff. I have had some really hard holidays that were not all bad because of the extra effort. But this year, it feels like even the little I had is being yanked away, and I'm too tired to try to figure out a new way to make things special. But neither do I want to give up.

Then I had this revelation. Now, please don't think I'm an idiot for taking so long to reach an obvious conclusion. The revelation came in the form of a question: If everything is stripped away, what's left?

In Thanksgiving, if you take away the food, if time with family is full of various emotional landmines, what's left?

Gratitude.

Christmas, when you take away all the glitter and tinsel and fun family traditions, etc., what's left?

Emmanuel, God with us.

The essence of the holidays is suddenly distilled, and doesn't require in the slightest for the holidays to be fun or to look a certain way. They can be, but they don't have to be. It leaves room for the things that hurt. I don't have to fight the painful things in order to have gratitude, and if there is pain at Christmas, what better thing to contemplate than the fact that God is with us in the midst of all of it? That Christmas exists so that God can be personally present in whatever we are going through?

The funny thing is that now I'm looking forward to the holidays again, and all I have to do is celebrate what the holidays actually are. I don't actually feel like I'm taking back the holidays, so much as I'm receiving them as gift, one that I probably should have figured out before this, but one that I am grateful to recognize now.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Laying It Down

I'm not going to lie, this summer, and especially the latter half has not been easy. Maybe it's me and I need to try harder, but also there are circumstances that mean that a lot of my social networks and supports have been drifting away. That's hard for anyone at any time. It seems like it's harder when you're single. There have been some really tough days. When you add that to this constant ache that we are not made to be alone in life and, yeah. Well, you've been reading this blog long enough to know how I feel about all of that.

What will probably not shock you, is that this leads me back to begging God to change things. At this time, praying very specifically as to what and when. I have done this many times over the years, but this feels different. My sister and I were talking about this, because she's experiencing something similar. We were trying to put it into words, but it's hard to describe.

My first thought about this feeling different is, "Maybe this is finally the time that God will change something!" Yet, while that could potentially be true, that doesn't feel quite right, either. So why is it that this time of praying and begging and specifically telling God what I think I want and need is different?

I think the difference is a little more subtle. I have always felt that it is important to tell God what we need, and to ask specifically, even though the answer may be "no". Whenever I have done this before, though I always added (and meant on some level) "Your will be done", I think that there was the flavor of a demand in the midst of my prayer. If You're a good God, go ahead and work this miracle already! And if You don't, please tell me what I'm doing wrong so that I can fix it, so that we can get on with life! It's that dynamic that I talked about here, where God's love equals the things He gives us. That what we offer God is our good deeds and then He does His part and brings forth blessings in our lives.

What I have been noticing lately about these prayers lately is that it is my smallness meeting His greatness. It is my pain and need and brokenness meeting His goodness and mercy and abounding love. The prayer is not about (or not mainly about) what His answer is, or when it will happen, but rather about the relationship that happens at the intersection of these things. I bring these very specific needs before Him, because it is who I am. And He takes care of them in His way and in His time because of who He is.

For many years, I have dreamed of being able to write a post about how God finally answered all my prayers. I even have had a number of different daydreams and scenarios of super cute stories of how we met. I certainly hope and pray that I have that story to tell someday, but I'm no longer sure that this blog is the place for it. In some ways, I think this blog is more about discovering the relationship in the prayer, even that prayer of petition, rather than whatever "answer" may come from the prayer. This is more about learning to rest in the intersection of who He is and who I am, come what may.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Meaning, Not Reasons

God sent me a birthday present the other day. Through Amazon. 

Okay, Amazon sent me an email that a book on my wish list was on sale for $1.99. Now, I had no intention of buying any books, because I am currently using that list to figure out want to read next from the library. I'm only buying books if I've read them and then want to refer back to them or read them again. Normally I don't even open emails when Amazon gives me a notice of a sale, but this time I did, and the book was "Man's Search for Meaning", by Viktor Frankl. Now that is a book that I've heard a lot about, and I had a few bucks left from a gift card, so what are you going to do?

I don't want to trivialize God's work in our lives by attributing divine sources to human actions, so please don't take it that way. Some powers that be at Amazon put the book on sale, and I decided to buy it. However, there are times where those ordinary actions come together to touch our lives in big ways, ways that feel very much like God's providential will. There are things in that book that reach out and directly touch the cries of my heart. Yes, Frankl wrote the book, but God has used that book to speak to me this weekend, as He has used in in the lives of millions since it was written.

I have to tell you, there have been a lot of times in recent years that when someone tells me something that God's doing in their lives, I try not to roll my eyes. I try to keep my jaded, cynical thoughts to myself. It's not that I don't believe on some level that He is at work in some of these small things, but I haven't been able to see Him or feel Him much myself, so it's hard not to dismiss what's being said. Especially when people use these things to prove the pet theory of "everything happens for a reason."  That's not  completely untrue in a way, but we often use it in a prosperity gospel context of "all these bad/hard things happened so that all these good things could happen." Used in this way, it can be launched into the lap of someone suffering and go off with the force of a spiritual hand grenade. Really, all that person needed was someone willing to be with them in their suffering. Coming at the wrong time or from the wrong person, it can be devastating.

Frankl says some things that almost echo that thought, but it sounds so different coming from someone who was facing loss of life, loss of family and friends, loss of personhood, loss of possessions and livelihood, really loss of everything in the abject cruelty of the concentration camps. He is not talking about all the reasons for these things happening (important to note that sin and people are the reasons for the concentration camps, NOT God). These things didn't happen in order for meaning to be found, or so that good could come out of them, but in a way, it's more like the reasons don't matter at all in order for us to find meaning in suffering. 

But enough from me, how about some quotes?

~Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.

~Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except for one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.

~Dostoevski said once, "There is only one thing that I dread: Not to be worthy of my sufferings"... It can be said that [the martyrs in the camps] were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom- which cannot be taken away- that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

In trying to keep other prisoners from killing themselves, they had to learn, ~it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.*

~When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.

In the last part that I just read, Frankl tells a story where he had an opportunity to speak to an entire hut full of his fellow prisoners at the camp and helped them to find the meaning of their suffering in that moment. The thing is, many of them didn't have time beyond that moment. Their suffering wasn't going to lead to anything but death in the gas chamber, or from typhoid or from any number of other things. It wasn't going to lead to all things being restored to them and a new life from the ashes, at least not in this life. Sometimes suffering does directly lead us to things that we have most wanted in life, but sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes there is nothing that fixes the suffering. No matter what, that suffering can have meaning and worth.

*Italics in the original.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"As a Mom..."

I have to say, this has not been the worst Mother's Day in the world, but crap. It's hasn't been exactly the best, either. Now, let's make sure we're all on the same page here. I think that honoring our mothers is a good thing. Motherhood is incredibly hard, and often thankless. I do not begrudge mothers some well-deserved thanks and appreciation! In no way does my frustration negate the need for and goodness of something like Mother's Day.

It's just... This particular Mother's Day won't die. It started early and seems to be dragging on until kingdom come. It started with someone asking me, "Are you a mother?" and then awkwardly trailing off instead of wishing me a happy Mother's Day as they had obviously intended to prior to that. That was about a week ago. I tried staying away from social media for a few days, which is usually enough, but my news feeds have been incredibly insistent that I see everyone's Mother's Day posts even days later. For some reason, work was a tough one this time, too. All of my coworkers were wishing each other a happy Mother's Day; at least those that were mothers. Somehow this year being left out of those greetings was just a culmination of being left out of all things motherhood and  therefore (seemingly) all things womanhood.

Okay, in a world that gets offended by all the things, let me say again. I am not offended. It is good and right for people to honor the mothers among us. I am not asking to be included, because I am not a mother. I am not saying that I also deserve some sort of recognition here. Not at all. I'm just saying that it hurts. Not that anyone did anything wrong, but that this is life and life hurts sometimes.

Thankfully, Mass (the one that I dread for weeks in advance) was not too bad. It was simply Mass. At the end, the priest did a blessing for the mothers, and while it wasn't one of the most inclusive ones the the world, it was fine. I don't mind a single blessing. It's when everything revolves around Mother's Day and you get beaten by it through the whole Mass that it's especially difficult. This was okay.

The topper this week was that there was a friend of mine that was having some pretty intense struggles with one of her kids. All of us were concerned and wanted to help, but one of our mutual friends kept saying, "as a mom, I can't even imagine..." "as a mom, I'm so worried", etc. Right. As a not mom, I can't understand the worry in the slightest. As a not mom, I barely care at all.

Look, I get that there are things about motherhood that I will never fully understand unless I become a mother some day. There is a transformation there, and, yes, the mutual friend did have a perspective that I did not. I do not think that the mutual friend meant to negate my own feelings of concern, but that's how it made me feel. We all felt a kick in the gut, but my kick in the gut was apparently of no importance as a not mom. Am I over reacting? I definitely think so. It's a sensitive area for me, and I don't have the distance for true perspective here. Not to mention that this is a complete side issue and of no real importance to what was going on (which is thankfully better now).

What I realized about all of this, is that it may be partly how the world sees me, but it's more about how I see me. I feel "less than" because I do not feel that I am living out the fullness of my calling in life. I feel "less than" because I am not a mom. I realize now more than ever that it may not ever happen for me, and somehow I have to face that feeling of "less than" that may be a permanent part of my life. Logically, I can argue with that feeling, but it is an emotion, and it doesn't care about any of my logic.

If I can address my own feelings of "less than", then what others may or may not think will probably be less hurtful, but I do think that there is also a tendency for people to dismiss women who don't have children as being somewhat selfish or career-driven, or less caring. In this world of ART, AI, etc. I am sometimes seen as not being a mother because I choose not to be a mother. Trust me when I tell you, this state of things is not my choice. Yes, I choose to avoid those avenues because I do not feel that they are in line with the dignity of children, but I do not avoid them so that I can sleep through the night and so that I can travel. (And if I do sleep through the night and travel, well, every cross has a silver lining.)

Honestly, I don't really know where this post is going. Nowhere fast, it appears. Maybe I just had to get a few things off my chest. Know that I have been praying for all who have been struggling with Mother's Day for so many reasons.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

May

I sit here on April 30th, and May is just hours away. I don't know if you ever do this, but occasionally I stop and wonder what the month will bring. Clearly, it often brings more of the same as each day slips by so fast that you wonder where the month went. But sometimes it's fun to stop and bring a little more awareness to the day. If I let it just slip by, it will. If I take a moment to decide a few things, I can help guide pieces of it. I can't control it, but I can make some decision about the direction that I want to go. I can make it be something more than just another month.

The question is, what do I want to work towards this month? I have a couple of bike rides in mind. Neither actually in May, but May can be some of the much smaller rides to lead to the bigger ones. There's a 62-miler that I may be doing by myself, but I'm committed and I'm going to do it. It's an organized ride. I also want to do more climbing. I'm not sure that I have enough space to commit to that, given the time that I need to spend on the bike, so we'll see on that goal.

I also just participated in a work performance summit. It was a lot of days of watching a lot of online videos, but it was inspiring. I have a few takeaways that I really appreciated, some for work, some for life in general. But I want to strike while the iron is hot, so May is the perfect time to try to implement some of the things that I learned.

A couple of the things that we've all heard before, but that were interesting to hear from different perspectives, and sometimes with the neuroscience, etc., as to why these things are important:

- Focus on the positive. (Super simple sounding, perhaps, but our brains only have room for so much. More on the positive means less space for the negative.)
- Never complain. (Wish you could have heard all the rationale behind this one. I know it's not a great thing to do, but looking at all the downsides makes me want to commit more to this one. I can be whiny!)
- ABI (Assume best intention; if someone is doing something and we don't know why, most of the time it's not actually because they're a jerk.)
- Whatever it is that you want to change, track it. (This one came up over and over and over again.)
-Remember that our brains can only focus on so much, so 3-5 items on the to-do list is usually best. (More is easy enough to add if you get past that, but that's a great place to start.)

Many of the guests were also authors, so now my reading list is even more insanely long that it was, but that's a great problem to have!

Also, more snow this weekend, so maybe May will bring a touch of Spring? And also maybe a touch more winter. It likes to do both out here!

Have a wonderful week and a wonderful May!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Beautiful Days

The last few days have been gorgeous. Perfect temperatures, sunshine. I think the world is celebrating Easter. How was your Easter?  Mine was quiet, but super nice. Of course I realized just after my last post that there would be no Adoration for me, because that is not available until Easter Vigil! But turning off my computer- and not just the computer, but the modem- was fantastic. It did give me time to take moments to spend with Him. I did spend a lot of my Thursday and Easter in the narthex (my allergies are much better this year, but I still can't handle the incense!), but it was fine. I still didn't go to Easter Vigil. Too much smoke and too little place to hide for the longest (and most amazing!) Mass of the year.

I have to say that I enjoyed the lack of social media so much that I didn't really return to it on Sunday. I'm not giving it up entirely (I still like it too much for that), but I did realize that my simple Easter Sunday is fine when I'm just focused on enjoying what is. The comparison of what is not in my life becomes all the more stark when wandering through all the pictures of everyone else's Easter. It isn't that I didn't feel the lack, but I didn't feed it, so it was more tolerable. It's funny, because in some ways I love all the Easter photos of everyone's families, and I'm so glad that they are there, filling up my feed with that joy, even if (as pathetic as it sounds) I can't actually look at them. I did get on long enough to see the photos of my niece and nephew, and that always makes my day. I sure wish those little boogers lived closer!

I had a fantastic dinner (bacon ranch potato salad may become a summer staple around here!) Also, I have to say that having the time away from all the distractions gave me some more reflection time, which may lead to a post or two. I know that I've seen that some of you had a good Easter; hope that was the case for all of you!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Into the Quiet

I'm kind of frustrated with myself. This Lent, like so many the last few years has not really been what I think it should be. Of course, there are those times where it is exactly what God thinks it should be, and nothing like what we have in mind. Yet, I don't think that that's the case either.

You know what I'm realizing, though? Lent is over. The Triduum has begun and I can't do Lent 2017 anymore. Not well, not poorly, not halfheartedly, not over-the-top and then crashing in frustration. I can't go to more Masses, more Stations, more Adoration (or ANY Stations and Adoration, as the case may be).  There will be no more Lenten fasting for me.

You know what I can do, though? I can enter into the quiet, the holiness of the next few days. I can go to Mass tonight, and when I leave I can turn off not only my computer, but my modem for the next few days. I can rejoice in the opportunity to fast tomorrow. I may not make it to Adoration tonight (after they fill the church with incense, my allergic, smoke-sensitive self will be running for the door!), but I can try to find some moment in the next few days to spend an hour with Him. Preferably at Adoration, but wherever I am. Perhaps if I have a moment, I can do some Stations on my own tomorrow. I want so badly to go to Holy Saturday Mass, but given intensity of the incense PLUS the length of the service, I don't think that's going to happen.

In the quiet, in the things that go according to plan and the things that don't, I can take the time to pray for those things that are near and dear to my heart right now. You and your intentions. For this wonderful couple I barely know, but wish I knew better (and especially that they may come to truly know the God who loves them so much). For forgiveness for all the ways that I've fallen short. For my family, for healing of wounds, ears to hear, and comfort especially for my mom after my grandma died early this Lent. In gratitude for what is. For this deep cry of my heart, that has never gone away.

May these holiest of Holy Days be truly blessed for you and your families!