Monday, March 19, 2018

The Home Stretch of Lent

Can you believe it? I saw "Fifth Sunday of Lent" at church yesterday, and had to flip forward to remind myself that, yes, next week is Holy Week. Wow.

I'm excited. I have to admit that I didn't suddenly perfect my Lent after my issues starting, but focusing in better has made me better at what I was doing. This Lent, though, has been a lot less about what I'm doing and a lot more about what God is doing. My Lent, if anything, has just been about giving God a little more space and letting go for Him to do whatever He wants. I'm looking forward to sharing more about that, but I'm still processing some of the subtleties.

In the meantime, during Evening Prayer the other day, this translation (of unknown origin) for Philippians 2:12-15 really caught my eye:
Work with anxious concern to achieve your salvation. It is God who, in his good will toward you begets in you any measure of desire or achievement. In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God without reproach.
I know that any good that I do comes from God, but the idea that it is God who begets even any desires that we have, when they are good desires, is what made me sit up and take notice. Any desire to grow closer to Him during Lent, comes from Him. Any desire to heal relationships, or repent or any of the other things that we desire but can't always make them happen; they are all from Him.

In particular (you knew it had to come back to this), I think of my desire to be married and have children. I feel very strongly that I am called to marriage, and I am working through what it means if that doesn't happen. It is not that I don't think that it will happen; it could happen at any time. But the reality is that no matter how great our desire, sometimes it doesn't happen. But that wording... "It is God who... begets in you any measure of desire..." I don't know what might or might not happen, but I know that fruit will come from any desire that comes from God.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Enough Lenten Practices

I made a "to do" list last night that, even though it was on paper, made me want to add #winningatlife.

1) Call my parents
2) Sleep in
3) Wash sheets

Any time you can convince yourself that "sleeping in" is an appropriate item on your to do list, you're doing something very right, IMHO.

It's not that I'm caught up on everything that I could or should be doing, it's just that my normal routine is off while I'm still trying not to let my latest allergy issues run away with me, so sleeping in becomes a real priority. Luckily, for me, "sleeping in" merely means waking up without an alarm and feeling well-rested, because I still woke up insanely early, but I was truly awake and ready to go. My sheets are currently in the dryer. I haven't had breakfast yet, so I won't call my parents on an empty stomach, but that will happen today. I think this list is going to get done.

I started writing my to do lists this way last year. I'm pretty sure I was introduced to this concept by Joshua Becker at "Becoming Minimalist". It's called an "Enough List". It's not all of the things that I need to do in a day, it's the 3 things that most need to be done today, the things that will make me feel the most relaxed, the things that are most weighing on me, the things with some kind of a deadline. Only 3 things are on the list. Sometimes it feels like it absolutely has to be 5 things, so it's interesting to have to narrow it down to 3. I love it, though. Three things are doable. Three things allows me to focus instead of crazily running around trying to get to all of the things that I feel like I could or should be doing. When I am focused on those big ticket things for the day, there is suddenly room for the other things to fit into the margins. Not everything, but many other important things. Instead of feeling like a failure for not getting to everything, now any extra thing that gets done makes me feel like I am ahead of the game. In short, I love "Enough Lists".

Wouldn't you know that I planned my Lent like my old "to do" lists. The thought process went something like this: "I'm going to give up this thing. Ooh, and actually, I'm going to also give up that on Fridays. And Mondays and Wednesdays. And I'm going to make time to go do this and this, and also that." Etc. It was a messy jumble of stuff.

A wise commenter on my last post pointed out that these Lenten practices, or exercises, should be treated like physical exercises. If what you're doing isn't working, sometimes it's because it's not the right thing for you right now. So I guess I need an "Enough List" for Lent. Given that we are reminded about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving this time of year, it seems like there are some convenient categories for my three things. Because I still feel like there should be 5 or 7 things, it feels like a bit of a cop out to only focus on three, but the point is, I can actually focus on them. That means that I can make sure they get done. The last day or so is already going so much better.

Enough List for Lent:

1) Pray evening prayer
2) No TV after 5 pm
3) Use some of my discretionary money for people in need

In theory, I like elaborate Lenten practices that really make me dig in and show my Lenten prowess. The reality is that often we're far better off to do some small things well. (That's not always true. Sometimes God has something big that He wants us to do, to rely on Him in a deeper way.) For me, this year, I think it's safe to say that there may be a little pride involved when I want to doallthegoodthingsrightnow. This "Enough List" is my reminder that maybe this Lent is not about me doing all the things, it's about clearing a bit of space for God to do His work in me.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Not So Perfect Lent

Well, my Lent is off to a shaky start, how's yours going?

Actually, it started out great on Ash Wednesday. I made it to Mass for the first time in a couple of years because normally my work schedule really conflicts with Mass times. But then it's been down hill from there. I want to cut back on my TV time in the evening, but have been watching a fair amount of Olympics. I want to be a little hungry (not eat quite as much), but I've been sick and have just not worried about it. I also want to try to get to daily Mass at least once a week, and this morning was the time to go... And I was in bed when Mass started. It's true that I'm still not feeling 100%, but I'm a lot better today, and sometimes I wonder how much of it is simply compromising. Since I try not to overload with things to do during Lent, I'm kind of shooting 0/fer.

I don't want to excuse myself too much (and I'm okay with the food thing; it is different when you're sick), but I also don't want to worry about it too much. I don't know what the right response is, because it is easy both to be too lenient and to be too harsh when judging how we're doing with these things.

The funny thing is, there was a time where I would have been frustrated that I had already "ruined" my Lent. There is nothing ruined here. Lent is about growing and learning and turning back to God. Funny how God can take the very failures and make them exactly into the perfect Lenten experience to foster that growth and return. I may not do Lent perfectly, but He does.

Seriously, how is your Lent going?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Not Perfect

I'm eating too much. I'm trying to cut out sugar and processed food. I'm not doing a perfect job of it.

My house is mostly picked up, but my kitchen floor hasn't been scrubbed in a while. I cleaned most of my bathroom, but somehow forgot the mirror.

I want to watch less TV than I do. At the very least, I want to not have another screen on while the TV is on. Stretching would be fine. Doing a mindless job like folding laundry would be fine. Just sitting and paying attention to only the TV would be fine, but that's not what I do.

I want to move and stretch more. Or maybe not more, but be more organized in what I do so that I can build on it better.

I want to be a better friend, and a better daughter. I fail. Often.

I want to be positive, but I still complain.

I'm okay with this. I'm not going to stop trying, but I can only do so much. When it comes to food, I do need to cut back a little, but my current focus is cutting the sugar and processed food. While I am not perfect there, I am making really good progress. I'm giving myself a pass on worrying about how much I'm eating at the moment. If I'm hungry, I start making worse decisions about the sugar and processed stuff, so I decided to worry about one thing at a time.

I was wondering why I'm not a better housekeeper, and while there are times that I could watch less TV, most of the time if housework doesn't happen, it's because it took too long to cook food. I can live with that. If my house is messy because I was cutting up vegetables again, it's fine.

I do want to move more and move better, but good movement is so that I can enjoy living. It needs to work for me rather than only being another task.

I am finding many ways to be more positive, to complain less, to be a better person. It takes time, and that's okay.

I have decided that I need to pursue progress, not perfection. Progress is possible, but perfection isn't. The most interesting thing to me is how obvious it is currently that I can't pursue everything, because one thing has a direct impact on the other areas of my life, so I have to choose what is more important right now.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Adding Vantage Points

As I'm sure long time readers can attest, I have been known to get somewhat depressed at times, and sometimes I can be overly focused on the negative. I really don't want to do that anymore. I'm sure I will at times, but even if I can change my outlook for the most part, it will be a help.

I am currently reading "Before Happiness" by Shawn Achor. I'm not very far in, but so far, he has been talking about learning to look at things and situations in the most helpful way. Sometimes that means working through the same facts in different ways. For example, "I'm so overwhelmed by work" can also be "I'm so glad to be busy and wanted in a competitive marketplace." I think he does do a good job of not letting one thing get too swamped by the other (because if you're consistently overwhelmed, something needs to change, even if it is good to be busy). Anyway, this particular point is about trying to find the opportunity in what presents itself. This is NOT about putting rose colored glasses on and viewing the world with that distortion.

I haven't yet explored a couple of situations in my life from different vantage points (though I plan to tonight or tomorrow), but I gave myself a little photography experiment of trying different vantage points of taking a photo of one mundane object, only moving my viewpoint or way of looking at it, without moving the object. Photographically, these are not great photos, but I thought it was interesting how many different viewpoints you could think about!

Love this little detail, simply because this postcard is over 100 years old.

This is my theme photo for this holiday season... And just in time for Gaudete Sunday!

This is my favorite little detail from this series... and I'm not sure I ever even noticed it before.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Catholic Fundamentalism

I just had a 9 hour drive to get home from my Thanksgiving festivities. I listened to lots of podcasts, which was great, but I also had a lot of time to think about a conversation that I had with two of my sisters about Catholic Fundamentalism. If that sounds oxymoronic, it's because it is, but we try to live it out anyway. There is some growing discussion about some of this, but it's happening all over the US, whether it's being discussed or not.

I have some extended family members who very much fall into this group, and I know a lot of people who are smack in the middle of this. You know what? I have been very much a part of this without even realizing what I was doing. I hope I can say that I am recovering, but since I was blind to what I was doing for so long, I doubt I'm a perfect judge of this.

We live in a country with very Protestant roots, and there are ideologies from that that pervade our culture and influence us, whether we recognize it or not. Not to mention the fact that there are a lot of very influential converts to Catholicism who, while they have done a lot of good in the Church, have also spread a subtle fundamentalist flavor to the living out of the Catholic faith. Don't get me wrong, not all of it's bad, and it's definitely partly a reaction to the cafeteria-style Catholicism that came out from the 60's, 70's, and 80's (from what I've heard, and my own experience in the 80's- I haven't studied this, however). The cafeteria thing doesn't work, but neither does the fundamentalist thing.

Fundamentalist Christians (Catholic or otherwise) are very caught up in the black and white, right and wrong of a thing. There is very little room for nuance there. In the terms of actions, it is often possible to say whether a thing is definitively right and wrong. Unfortunately, I think the tendency (at least, this has been my tendency) is to say that the person is right or wrong, good or bad, based on those actions. We don't see all of the circumstances, and we often don't care because the action is all that matters.

This Thanksgiving, I heard two people say, "I'm not sure if it's possible to be a Democrat and be a Christian." They were absolutely serious! This is primarily based on their reactions to things such as abortion. Yet, while I agree that abortion ends the life of an innocent child and is, in fact, one of those actions that is wrong, I have also talked to friends about why they support abortion. These are not bad people, and while I disagree with their conclusion in terms of abortion, I also see that they are seeing and addressing some very human issues that I have refused to see or address in my anti-abortion blindness. One example is a woman who was aborting her third child because she couldn't afford to be off work when the child was born; she would lose her job, her home, her ability to support her other two children. Yes, there is the issue of avoiding getting pregnant in the first place, but even that is usually a reaction to deep pain and need. We can have compassion for the reasons someone might be in that position. We can see what we can do to support someone who may need financial assistance, we can work to improve laws and working conditions to better support women.

My own fundamentalism in the past would have stopped me from seeing the human needs, the human pain, indeed, the very human person in the midst of this story. It would have kept me from doing anything other than judging this woman. I so appreciate the people in my life (some Christian AND Democrat, some neither) who have helped me to see the human side. To get so caught up in rules and religion that the very people right in front of us are lost is a tragedy, and one that I want to stop in my own life.

I even thought of it a bit when I was putting up my Christmas tree today. There are those that would judge me as not being quite as good of a Catholic because I'm getting ahead of myself a little liturgically. You know what? We need to let it go. When we choose to put up Christmas decorations is not a salvation issue! I think that there is something very beautiful about doing some Advent decorations that are a little less fancy and saving the blow out Christmas decorations until Christmas Eve. But what can I say? I love the Christmas tree lights on these short, dark nights. I like to put them up right after Thanksgiving and leave them up through the 12 days of Christmas, to get the most out of it. Whatever works best for you and your family, whatever is special, is really fine. The important part, the hard part, is figuring out how to celebrate Advent.

I'm not sure how much this post makes sense as I try to work out some new thoughts, but I guess what I'm saying is that I see a lot of Pharisee in me, with all these rules and all these judgements of the people around me. I hope I'm starting to move away from this a little, and now when I hear fundamentalist statements, they are jarring to me. On the other hand, I've got a long way to go, because-among other things- I'm still very judge-y of the judgers. I think this is partly in reaction to my own mistakes, but I don't want to stay in such a reactionary place.

I'm still working through this. What do you think? Have you heard of this idea of Catholic Fundamentalism, or experienced it?

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?


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.