Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Celebrating Christmas

There was a very real chance that I was not going to be able to make it home for Christmas this year. The storm around my parents' was big and bad, and it started on Tuesday. I didn't get off work until Wednesday afternoon, and wasn't sure that the roads were going to allow traffic. That left me with a question. What on earth could I do to celebrate Christmas if I had to go it alone? I made a grocery list of some good food that I could have on hand, and I picked up some books and movies. It was a start, but this was Christmas. What was I going to do to truly celebrate?

Finally, I realized that Mass was the answer. That was the one place that I could go to live Christmas most closely. I don't know why that never occurred to me before. I've always thought of the ways that it makes Calvary present. I had never thought of the way that it makes Bethlehem present.

Bethlehem means "House of Bread". The word "manger" comes from a root word meaning "chewed". In John 6, Jesus tells us that He is the bread of life, His flesh is true food, and tells us that we will have to eat ("gnaw on") His flesh.

I also love how it plays in with John 1:1-18. That was the Gospel for the Mass on Christmas morning. Crazy, huh? Not the story of Jesus' birth from Matthew or Luke, but John's more poetical take on the Incarnation. "The Word became flesh and dwelled among us." I love what that says about Jesus' life on earth 2000 years ago. I also love what that says about the Mass today. I've talked before about a chapel that used those words in a great way. On the ambo (or pulpit), they wrote "the Word". On the altar: "was made flesh", and over the tabernacle was written, "and dwelt among us." Awesome! And also the way that the words of John literally come to life in every Mass.

By this point I knew that even if I didn't get to see my parents, I would be sad, but at least I would get to participate in an eternal mystery, one that encompassed Bethlehem and Calvary and the whole purpose of Christ's life on earth: communion with Him. I couldn't wait!

The irony of it all is that I made it for Christmas with my family, but we got snowed in and couldn't get to Mass. I was kind of sad about that, but I'm here to tell you that getting snowed in with the fam is also a pretty great way to celebrate Christmas.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bud

My parents live on an acreage. Over the years, they've had a few sheep, dogs (only one at a time), chickens off and on, and farm cats. Here is a conversation that took place over Christmas.

My sister: "Well, watered the sheep and the calf."
Me: "Umm, you said 'cats', right?"

No, she said calf. My parents have a cow. Actually, it's a steer, so definitely not a cow, but it's all the same in my head. Apparently they've had it since June, and somehow this is the first I've heard of it. I was even home over Thanksgiving, and still did not know this. There is only one reason to have a steer around, and that is why my parents have it. It's name is Bud.

Later, when we were tired enough of the house that we were out wandering around in hip-high drifts and blowing snow, the two sheep and the calf wandered out into the pasture area. Then the sheep left and the steer went running after them. Then we had this conversation:

Me: "Does that cow think it's a sheep? It's following like one."
A different sister (in a very matter of fact tone): "No, it's not following them. It's chasing them. It likes to do that."

Seriously? Maybe I've been away from the country too long, because my family doesn't think it's weird at all to have a sheep-chasing calf named Bud that they're raising for beef.

Not going to lie. As great as it was to see my family, I'm glad to be back in my "city", small and sleepy though it may be, complete with internet access, water pressure, and food that comes from the grocery store.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I'll Give You a White Christmas!

Everyone who goes around singing sentimental nonsense about how they want sparkly snow for Christmas deserves any and all rotten tomatoes launched in their direction.

Then again, I love a white Christmas!

I have to admit that I have a very schizophrenic view of all the snow. On the one hand, I love it; it's so pretty and so much fun. On the other hand, I hate it. It gets in the way, changes plans, and generally makes things more difficult.

I made it to my parents' Wednesday night. The roads were not fantastic and the ice added 40 minutes to my 2 hour drive, but I made it, and that's the important part. The ice on the trees is so pretty and so dangerous. There was one house in particular on my drive up. The Christmas lights were reflecting off the ice on the trees, and it was pretty amazing. It's also fun to watch the strange dance of icy trees when the wind blows. On the other hand, it's not so good when all the branches start breaking. An inch of ice will do that to you! Part of our entertainment for the weekend was pressing our faces to the glass to watch for the next limb to fall. Okay, maybe we weren't that bad, but they did fall frequently enough that we watched some of them fall, followed by a shower of ice shards and twigs.

The ice lasted through most of the afternoon on Thursday before it switched to snow. At noon we were still planning to try to make it to Christmas Eve Mass. By 3 we knew it wasn't going to be possible. The weather and roads were bad and getting worse. Nor did we make it Christmas morning. By then, not only were the roads treacherous, but we couldn't get out of my parents' lane anyway. I hated not going to Mass at Christmas, but I have to admit that we had a blast being snowed in together. We couldn't get out until Saturday until about 3 when a friend of my parents' came with his skid loader. God bless him! I needed to get back to get some things done that I hadn't been able to do since I had to leave early on Wednesday.

I don't know how much snow they had, but it was a lot. It was crazy, and not a Christmas that we'll forget any time soon!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Him

The baby, born in Bethlehem (which means House of Bread).
The man, the bread of life for all.

The baby, laid in a manger.
The man, nailed to the cross, giving us His flesh as food.

The baby, searched out by wise men.
The man, searching out the lost and the sinners.

The baby, offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The man, offering gifts of grace without measure.

The baby, made known to the shepherds.
The man, the true Shepherd of His people.

The baby, presented in the temple for purification according to the law of Moses, which was written on stone.
The man, presented on the cross for the purification of the human race, according to the new law, which is written on men's hearts.

The baby, feared by kings.
The man, the King of kings.

Him.

The Beloved of my heart.



Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Right Thing at the Right Moment

One of the things that never fails to get to me when I'm alone too long or burnt out by work is all of the mistakes that I make, whether in sinning or agonizing over what magic bullet I'm missing to cure all my patients.

The other night was one of those nights that I could not let things go before going to bed. Some little impulse had me pick up a booklet by my bed. It's the Counsels of St. Francis de Sales. I'm thinking it was a divine nudge, because this is what I read:

Patience

Be patient with everyone, but above all with yourself; I mean, don't be disturbed about your imperfections, and always have the courage to pick yourself up after a fall. I'm very glad to hear that you make a fresh start each day. There is no better way of growing toward perfection in the spiritual life than to be always starting again and never thinking that we have done enough.

But most important, don't lose heart, be patient, wait, do all you can to develop a spirit of compassion. I have no doubt that God is holding you by the hand; if he allows you to stumble, it is only to let you know that if he were not holding your hand, you would fall. This is how he gets you to take tighter hold of his hand.

Where'd All the Joy Go?

Once when my dad was just a little guy, he and the family went on a shopping trip somewhere. While they were out, my grandparents bought him some little plastic cowboys and indians. (Yeah, yeah, I know that's not politically correct, but this was the late 50's, and PC didn't exist yet.) When they got home, my grandparents noticed he no longer had the toys and asked him what happened. In a matter of fact way, he told them that he had thrown the toys out the car window. When asked why, he explained that he had finished playing with them!

That story cracks me up, and you should hear my dad tell it. Even now, his tone of voice implies the immanent reasonableness of his explanation.

Given that I have no smooth segues, I'm just going to jump in to the rest of the post. Despite writing (and meaning) posts about the joyfulness of the season, this is also a time of year that has become more and more of a struggle for me. Part of it is due to the craziness of trying to see all the patients that we have with fewer days and fewer therapists than what we normally have. One week with a holiday is a little crazy. Two weeks in a row is bananas. Hence, I have not enjoyed the holiday quite as much as I used to, though I still love it (especially Christmas day itself).

Then there is the fact that this is the time of the year that I have the most time alone. Normally I have a lot of different things that I'm going to throughout the week, but a lot of those get suspended for the holidays. My friends are trying to see families and in-laws, so they're all busy. I have to work, so I don't get to get out and travel far to see my own family, except on Christmas itself. Too much time in the evenings to think + lack of perspective from spending too much time alone + extra pressure from work+ a melancholic temperament= a weird state of mind. I end up obsessing over little things and working them into big huge things. Or else I wrap myself in a blanket of self pity and sip my hot drink of bitterness. I wish I was a stronger person than that, but there you have the unvarnished, sordid truth.

That was especially the case last year, so this year I approach the holidays with a combination of anticipation and trepidation. I think for a number of reasons that this year will be a lot better than last year, but let's just say that I've been seeing some of the empty half of the glass in the last couple of days, more out of fear that it will be like last year rather than any real things to be upset about.

Then the other day I read this post. It talked about not letting things steal our joy.

Steal my joy?

No one has been stealing it. I've been chucking it out the car window like I have no further use for it. I might dabble in joy if all the conditions are right, but once something comes up that challenges it a little I decide I'm done playing with joy and have no further use for it.

Joy doesn't mean the problems go away. Joy means choosing to celebrate the good. Even the problems can be a cause for joy. My friend found some great words about that, which she wrote about here.

I am joyful that Jesus became a man, eventually dying so that we might live.
I am joyful for a wonderful family that I will get to see for several days over the weekend.
I am joyful for friends that are so great that I miss them even if it's only been a couple of weeks since I saw them last. (Okay, "only" a couple of weeks isn't really right... a couple of weeks is a really long time!)
I am joyful that I have a job to get stressed about.
I am joyful that Jesus, who knows the full extent of my weirdness during my alone time, loves me all the more in that time.
I am joyful that I'll get to see a good friend of mine tomorrow that lives too many states away and who I don't get to see near often enough.
I am joyful for some good books to read and some good movies/tv shows to watch.
I am joyful for blogging, and the way that it keeps things from bottling up inside.
I am joyful for fun family traditions, like watching A Christmas Carol.
I'm joyful for the healing God worked in my heart last year even though it wasn't fun.
Even if (and this is a small chance, but the forecast does have some chances for bad weather) I were to get stranded at home instead of my parents', I am joyful that I have a warm home with plenty of comforts.

Let's not be silly. It's not that I will live this perfectly. I've got too much of an ingrained habit of looking at the negative. But at least I have a list of things. If I'm going to obsess in the next couple of weeks, I'm going to try to obsess over that list instead of the negative. I'll let you know how it goes! :)

Note: I was just proofreading and noticed that I had used the word "hence". Seriously! Who uses that word?? I was going to take it out, but I figured if you were going to take the time to read my blog, you should know just how much of a nerd I really am!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hilarious!

I'm a nerd that has read (and even enjoyed) some Shakespeare.  I also love kids.  This is my favorite thing for the day!  Maybe the week! 


Wish Me Luck

I am not one of those fantastically organized people that has all my Christmas shopping done by the end of October.  Or by the end of November.  Or even started by the 17th of December.

It shouldn't be too bad.  I hope.  I have to get a new TV for my parents.  All of us siblings are getting together to get one.  Their current TV situation is bordering on ridiculous.  Their old TV has some seriously wonky color going on.  My sister tried to adjust it the other day, and it won't do anything.  It's also really dark when you try to watch movies.  My dad knows that it has issues, but he thinks it's still workable.  Of course, he mostly watches sports.  Brighter lit, and you're not staring at tomato colored skin tones because you're watching the action.  My mom usually only watches movies, though. Tomato-people are a little more distracting in that case.

She got to the point that she couldn't handle the color anymore, so when she found a TV at a garage sale, she jumped at the chance to buy it.  This was not the best though out decision if you ask me.  The reason is that this sucker is HUGE.  It's one of those old floor models with wood trim that doubles as a table.  It's really ridiculous.  And it's so old that you can't count on it lasting real long.  Then what do you do with it?  At this point dad is settling for the first TV, even though the remote no longer works and the on and off doesn't always work the first time.  Mom is settling for the other TV.  I don't think they're saving for a new TV right now, because they have a stopgap for the time being.  I'm really excited to get them the real thing.  I know a TV is not the most important thing in the world, but it's still nice to have.

Now I just have to find the thing while fighting the other shoppers that are also waiting until the last few minutes to shop!

On a related note, does anyone do stocking stuffers?  We used to do that when I was little and I loved it.  I don't think we've done it any time when my younger siblings remember it.  I want to get some stuff and do it for them (and the rest of us), but I don't want to break the bank.  I have to buy stuff for six if I do it.  For part of it, I'm going to give away some used stuff that I have already that they might like.  I'm also going to get some candy and nuts.  Any other ideas?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gaudete Sunday!

Anyone else love Gaudete Sunday?  Yes, I realize that it's Tuesday, and almost the end of Tuesday at that.  Still, we can celebrate the pink all week long.  The third Sunday in Advent has some of the best readings of the year.  "Gaudete" means "rejoice", and it's hard not to if you listen to the readings.

"Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your hearts, O daughter Jerusalem!"

Zephaniah's talking to us, people! God sees us as the cherished daughter that He is coming to save.

"The Lord has removed the judgment against you,
He has turned away your enemies."

Think of it!  He has saved us from ourselves and from any others that may try to harm us.

"The King of Israel, the Lord, is in you midst.
You have no further misfortune to fear."

I always forget this.  I always forget that no matter what I'm going through at the moment that God is right there in the midst of it.  He is the King and will rule over it all in the end.  It can't conquer me, because it can't conquer Him.

"On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!"

And how our papa, JPII, reminded us of that!  That, I think, more than anything else is what strikes me as a huge difference between those I call "the JPII generation", and those who are not.  While we all have our moments of fear and discouragement, we have been brought up to realize that we need not fear.  We can rejoice, because:

"The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you with his love.
He will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals."

I love it! And so I say to you:

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!"

Happy Gaudete Sunday (and rest of the pink week).


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Weather and I Are in a Fight

Mmmkay.  One snow day is good, fun even.  But that'll do it for a while, thanks.  Today was a planned day off.  The year is running out, I still have a ton of PTO, and I had to work a wrestling tournament Saturday.  That made today a great day to take off.

Let's side track to wrestling for a moment.  Wrestling is not a sport that I grew up knowing anything about.  I don't understand it, and therefore have no appreciation for it.  I remember when I was a new grad and had to cover my first wrestling meet.  No clinical instructor to fall back on if I got in a bind.  Just me.  I never covered a wrestling meet in college.  I worked with the wrestlers for a couple of weeks, but they had no home meets, so I had never actually watched a meet before.

I was lost.  No clue as to what was going on.  No idea what the scoring looked like, no idea how the meet was run.  I didn't know what a pin was, and didn't know when it would be over.  Nothing.  One of the first few matches, I watched in dismay as one kid strained until his face turned purple.  A parent, shouting to the other kid, said "You got him!  Keep going, he's getting tired!"  And I thought, "Tired?  This kid's about to pass out!  Are these people crazy?" The highlight of that meet was another match as one kid put another kid's neck in some kind of weird hold.  I thought to myself "I'm no expert, but that can't be good for his neck.... OH CRAP!! I am supposed to be the expert here! Stop that you kids! Stop wrestling right now before one of you pops an arm or a head off!!"

Of course, no one paid any attention to me because I managed to keep my mouth shut and pretend. Fake it until you make it.  My motto to live by those first 6 months.

I've been working four years now, and I noticed Saturday that some things have changed since that first meet:

1) While my grasp of wrestling is still very fuzzy, I at least have some idea of what's going on through the course of the event, and the scoring is not a complete mystery anymore (only half mysterious).
2) I may not qualify as an expert still, but I do feel comfortable and confident to take care of injuries that may come up.  I no longer silently beg people not to get hurt for fear I'll have to figure out what to do with them.  Though I still don't want anyone to get hurt.
3) My hands have gotten bigger in the last four years.  Medium gloves used to fit great, but now they're tight.  Of all the places to have muscles, hands are not the sexiest of places for them.
4) Because my comfort level has improved and I now have a vague understanding of the sport, I don't dislike it as intensely as I once did.

I'm not sure I'll ever fully like it, though.  There are some things that don't change:

1) Guys in singlets grabbing at each other.
2) Skin diseases.
3) Cauliflower ear. (Don't click if you can't handle it!)
4) Bloody noses, bloody lips, bloody faces... you get the idea.
5) I still don't like the way they pull shoulders and necks.  It's not okay!

Anyway, I sat in that gym for 7 hours waiting for it to be over.  Thankfully, there was nothing more for me to deal with than an occasional bloody nose.  It was an odd day, one that lasted forever, and one that was over before I knew it.  There was something wrong with the space time continuum as I sat there on those bleachers in the gym.  Time was passing slowly, it wasn't passing at all, and yet somehow it felt like I just got there when I'd been there for 5 hours.  It was weird.  I just kept telling myself that if I got through it, I could have Monday off.  Go to Mass, get my Christmas shopping done, and hang out with friends that I see far too little of these days!

And that's where Weather and I started fighting.  I got up this morning, got ready, and headed out the door to Mass.  I got down the steps and on to the pavement, only to go sliding down the slight incline there. (On my feet.  Sorry, no fun falling stories!) So I turned back around and walked back inside.  It's the kind of weather that you can get out in if you have to, but it's kind of stupid to go out in it if you can wait until later.

*Sigh*  Such is life.  The day off is still pretty great.  Just not quite as fantastically awesome as I'd hoped.  I miss my friends!

Friday, December 11, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday


1) I normally don't do this, because it takes too much planning and organization.  A certain type of post, on a certain day... Yeah, there's not much planning involved at this blog.  It's all about whatever's on my mind for the day.  On the other hand, I like reading other people's Quick Takes (go to Conversion Diary to see more), so I like to try to participate sometimes.

2) I forgot how COLD single digits and below zero wind chills are.  I mean, I know, but we've had it pretty warm so far this winter, so this is just plain nastiness.  I'm really excited for weekend, because it's supposed to warm up to the upper 20's, and that's just plain balmy after this weather.

3)  There are several reasons that this last snow storm was not normal.  For one thing, all of the businesses that were closed.  Malls, banks, McDonald's...  I didn't know any of this until yesterday, because I was at home, too busy reveling in my snow day (in which I did not one productive thing).  It's amazing how cut off you can be simply by staying home for a day.

4) Another abnormal part of this all was that there were times the conditions were so bad that they pulled the snow plows off the roads.  We get a lot of tow bans in weather like this, but you know it's bad when they pull the plows off.  One of my friends had to drive to work after the plows were pulled (she's a NICU nurse on the overnight shift; vital for her to be there).  She said there were drifts up to her fenders on the interstate.  Even now, the interstates are in horrible condition.  It's so weird, because normally after a snow storm, the interstates are in pretty decent shape a few hours after the storm. Not so much this time.  Still had to do some seriously slow driving more than 24 hours after the storm let up.

5) This storm has also made me very grateful for my garage!  I saw so many cars buried up to their fenders in the snow.  There are some that were in bad spots for drifting.  There's one car in my parking lot that's covered up to the hood.  So glad I don't have to dig mine out of a drift like that!

6) Now that the storm's over, I may actually get a normal day of work.  If you consider 14 hours normal.  I guess it's not really normal for me, either, but it should be a fun variety.  Home patients, clinic patients, personal training, and basketball games at the end.  Tomorrow's the big wrestling tournament.  That'll go all day, but probably won't be 14 hours...  Anyway, I'm ready for these long days this week.  I had short days because of the weather plus the snow day.  I'm set!  This was a good week for a blizzard!

7)  And this is why I often don't do this.  Only 7 things to think of, but I'm out of ideas! :)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

TOB + Singleness=

I dunno, quite, but I think it's a good thing.

I've been thinking about this off and on since I last posted about this topic. I also started a new book by Matthew Pinto, Freedom: 12 Lives Transformed by Theology of the Body.  The first couple of stories were single people (either through divorce, or had never been married) and how it changed them.  One could have been my story!

Anyway, here are my thoughts.  The whole point of any theology is to bring us to deeper knowledge of God.  Theology of the Body, for me, has been far more than knowing more about God.  It is about knowing God on a much more intimate level.  It is about falling in love with Love, and realizing that He loves us in all the ways that we most crave to be loved.

When I first started to study Theology of the Body, I thought it was a great preparation for marriage.  In fact, I thought wasn't it great that God had me wait a couple of years longer than what I really wanted to wait, just so I would have time to study this and be an even better wife. If I had met someone and gotten married two years ago, that's about what the experience would have been.

The last two years have been a lot of things.  On the one hand, the desire to be married deepened.  When I didn't think I could take any more, it would get deeper still.  It broke me.  In the midst of this I heard Christopher West speak twice, and both times when single people would question him, he reminded us that marriage is only a sign of what we're all called to.  Our ultimate fulfillment is Christ, not a spouse.  He reminded us that all women are called to spiritual motherhood, even if for some reason (biological or life situation) they were not meant to be mothers physically.  In the back of my mind, there was a bitter little voice that wanted to tell Mr. West to keep his scraps for himself; I still wanted the feast of marriage.  Or at least I wanted God to choose me for religious life.  Give me some kind of purpose.

As we know, God doesn't always do things the way that we like.  I wanted the green grass in the other pasture, but God led me to the desert instead.  That brokenness left me not knowing where to turn, with an intense thirst for love and family and no place to quench that thirst.  He even started to pull away the supports that I had.  You know, those things that you depend on.  I may not have a husband or children, but at least I have x, y and z.  Guess what.  When x, y, and z are gone, it is not a fun place to be.

[I will] strip her naked
and make her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,
and make her a parched land, 
and kill her with thirst.

... I will hedge up her way with thorns,
and I will build a wall against her,
so she cannot find her paths. (From Hosea 2)

But it was only in that place that I could finally realize that Mr. West was not throwing me some scraps.  The healing that I was looking for, the worth that I was looking for, the love that I was looking for was not in anyone but God.  It sounds so obvious, but the head knowledge of that, and coming to experience the reality of that are two different things.  There is no place in the heart for the experience of God until it has been ripped open to receive Him.  That is why the desert is such a glorious place.

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.

And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me 'My Husband'.... and I will betroth you to me forever.  I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord."




Note: I wish this meant that I will never complain again.  Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the way that I roll.  I still have a deep desire to be married someday, and it still hurts and I still react badly sometimes.  But it is a gift that I am grateful for, even while I struggle to continue to be open to it!

Snow Day!

So, the snow that came down Sunday was all pretty and sparkly.  Yesterday and today, I have discovered one of the great truths in life: vertical snow is much prettier than horizontal snow.

Horizontal snow does not say softness, light and Christmas.  It doesn't say anything at all.  It doesn't have to.  Its meanness is clearly understood by anyone taking a quick glance out the window.  

On the other hand, I have a snow day!  Do you know how excited I am?  Usually when the weather's bad, I still have to try to find a way to work.  And it's ridiculous because all the patients normally cancel anyway.  I haven't had a genuine snow day in years!  I brought some work home last night, just in case (there's always paper work, even if there are no patients) and I have some con ed classes to work on, so I can still do some stuff.  I'm just loving that I can listen to the wind howling outside (and it is howling) and I don't have to try to get out in it; I won't be getting stuck in a drift somewhere; I don't have to try to make my little Corolla try to stay on the road.  (My Corolla's a real lightweight; great for the gas, horrible for traction!)

I guess we had 15+ inches of snow before drifting made it impossible to keep track of measurements.  It was still coming down last I checked, but now it may just be blowing rather than coming down.  I never stay home all day.  Even on days I don't work, I'm always driving somewhere.  This is the best day ever! :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sparkly!

For those of you that read a post that was briefly up... this is basically that, only less grinch-y.  So if you read that, you don't have to read this.  Instead, you can go back to studying for finals!  (You know who you are! Besides, I just said all this to you on the phone, so it would be a really boring read for you.)

I am feeling the glow of the Christmas lights today, folks!  Nothing like relaxation on the couch with the Christmas lights and music on and sparkly snow outside.  Except maybe I need a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows that I could stir with a candy cane.  Maybe not; I think I just put myself in a sugar coma writing that sentence. I just finished watching "A Christmas Story".  I thought it was the first time that I had seen it, but I know I've seen that kid with the soap in his mouth before, so maybe I'm not as behind on it as I was on Goonies... But that's a different story.

I am loving the postcards that I found.  Just as I was putting away all my decorations, I pulled out some postcards from the early 1900's, addressed to my great grandparents.  Two were to my dad's grandparents and two were to my grandma's mom (I think).  One of the ones to my great grandpa was from my great great grandma.  How fun is that?  I put them in some frames and found a home for them beneath my leaning little Charlie Brown tree.  (It really is the Tower of Pisa wannabe; I should take some pictures.)

I also love having some Nativity scenes out.  I admit to really liking the Fontanini sets, though I'm always jarred by the blondness.  C'mon, really? 

All of this Christmas stuff is really making me miss my grandparents, though.  It doesn't seem like that long ago that I was visiting Grandma, and every time she would pull out all of her old pictures and tell us stories about all of the people in them.  Most of the time it slid in one ear and out the other (this is the best friend of your second cousin's aunt's mother-in-law), but I still loved to look at them, to hear her stories.  If I don't remember a single story she told, I will remember sitting and listening to them.  I treasure some of the pictures that she gave me.  I enjoy those that I remember seeing.  For instance, my sister has a picture of my great grandma Nora when she was about a year old.  Once my grandma pulled out a newspaper clipping about Nora talking about how she was always cheerful even living bedridden after having a stroke.  Apparently she never complained. (No, really, we have the same genes!  Why are you doubting me?)  I love having a postcard that was addressed to this woman in 1916.

My mom wants to know what I want for Christmas.  Silly mom!  She gave me life in this family; what else could I possibly need?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

That Dumb Verse

Today we read what may be my least favorite verse in the whole Bible:

Isaiah 40:4

Okay, technically we read Luke 3, but it quoted that verse. Do you know which one I'm talking about?  

"Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, 
and the rough places a plain."

Yeah.  Not a fan.  Let's take this one step at a time.



"Every valley shall be lifted up..."




"...and every mountain and hill made low..."




"... the uneven ground shall become level..."



"... and the rough places as a plain."





I hate that verse.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Another Set of Roots

A long, long time ago, in a month far away (September, perhaps?) I briefly mentioned a series of talks that my cousin shared with me.  Or maybe it was more of an all day seminar.  I don't really know, but what I do know is that it's been amazing to listen to.

This guy, Ray Vanderlaan, is a Protestant historian and teacher that has done extensive studies of Judaism.  He has studied in Jewish schools and spent a lot of time in the Holy Land.  The things that he has to share add a whole new dimension to some of the things that I have read over and over in the Bible.  I don't 100% agree with all of the conclusions that he draws, but I absolutely love to listen to his insights.  There is richness to our faith that we have been missing for years.  That richness is our Jewish roots.

There were things taught that I had never heard before, yet they were immediately familiar.  For instance, Jews stand when the Scripture is read as a gesture of respect.  Catholics, and I'm assuming some of the other more liturgical churches, always stand when the Gospel is read. 

Jews believe that Scripture is meant to be read aloud, preferably with more than one person present.  In my liturgical church background, this is also very familiar, both in Mass and in Liturgy of the Hours.  That is not to say that I don't think that we should have other Bible study time as well, but that this worship together as one body is very important.  Mr. Vanderlaan mentioned that it would be rather foreign for Jews to have separate personal devotions.  Rather they would pray together as a group, but then as they meditated on what they read throughout the day, they might have some more individual thoughts on the reading.

Jesus tells us in John 4 that salvation is from the Jews.  I am more and more convinced that if we want to take our faith to another level, we have a whole lot to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Roots

It was so great to see my family this weekend.  What is it about family?  There are so many ways that we are different and so many things that we disagree on, but it's so great to see them, to be around them.  We catch up on all the new things and remember all the old stories.  We eat way too much food, play cards, and always some people go out to play football.  Sounds a little Norman Rockwell-y, but it's the way it is and it's magic.

After I left my grandparents' house (my mom's parents), I started to drive home.  On the way, I made a little side trip to the town where my dad grew up.  It's only a few miles out of my way.  We haven't gone there regularly as a family in the last 18 years since my grandpa died and my grandma moved away.  Even though it's so close when we visit my mom's side of the family, my dad never wants to go there.  I think that part of the problem is that he is not sentimental enough to want to walk down memory lane; he'd rather get home.

It may also be too depressing.  It's a teeny tiny town that is slowly dying.  Only a couple of the public buildings are open for business.  Every 3rd or 4th house seems to be boarded up and falling down.  My dad has a lot of great childhood stories, but they never had much money.

I could easily get a little depressed by the decay of time, but I'm too busy being fascinated by the idea that this is where my dad and grandpa grew up.  I'm trying to imagine what the town must have been like at that time.  I love that the little church is still there and (relatively) thriving.

I don't go there because of the town, though.  My reason for being there takes me east, over the railroad tracks and up the dirt road.  A mile out of town, on top of a hill, is a little cemetery.  That is my destination.  It is now the only place that I can go to visit my dad's parents.

I miss them a lot.  When my grandpa first died, I was sad, but not too much.  We lived too far away to visit often, and I remember playing with my cousins much more than hanging out with the adults.  The older I get, the more I miss him.  The more I got to be old enough to know and appreciate my other grandparents, the more I wanted to know him.

My grandma died a year and a half ago.  I am finally beginning to realize that she is not just a phone call away; that I can't run down over the holidays to see her.  I can't say that I have grieved horribly for her.  I love her and miss her more than I can say, but she was in so much pain in the last months of her life.  I really don't wish her back.  I do wish for one more hug, one more smile, to see the sparkle in her eyes again.  I know that it will happen someday... but I've never been accused of being overly patient.

Some people are weirded out by cemeteries.  They have never bothered me.  Somehow it is a tangible connection to the people that I have lost.  It is a way for me to honor them in the only way that I have left.  I like to leave flowers there if I remember to bring some.  Maybe the fake flowers are not that meaningful, but I like to leave the visible proof that these people are important and still remembered. I didn't have time to get anything this time, but was gratified to see that someone else had left some there recently.

It is often not grief that I feel there, but peace and hope.  I think the real reason that I go is to say "Until we meet again."  I don't know why it is that the cemetery is the place that I am most likely to realize that they are not lost to me forever, but it is.  Whatever the reason, I am grateful for it, and I am grateful to God for my wonderful grandparents.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lessons from "The Karate Kid"

I posted this before, but I've decided to re-post with a little editing.  A lot of my posts during the first few months should be deleted, but I happen to like this one a lot.  The problem is, to really appreciate this post, you have to be familiar with "The Karate Kid".  I feel like that should be a given, but I realize that it's not.

~~~
  Yes, I have spent time and brain waves thinking about the movie "Karate Kid" and how it relates to my life as a follower of God.  I do a lot of driving for work.  Also, I spend too much time daydreaming while I ignore things that I should be doing, like dishes.  One of these days maybe I will learn to daydream while I do dishes, since it is a relatively mindless task.  Then I could think profound thoughts and decrease potential mold habitats. I don't think I currently have any mold, but let's just say I need to get on it.  Soon.

Right.  Where was I?  Okay, so one of the things that I have been thinking about a lot is atheism.  I'm talking about the good kind, the kind where these people have thought it through and have made their decisions based on the evidence as they see it.  This is opposed to the bad kind, the kind where atheism seems easiest or seems smartest, so they go with it, actually spending very little time thinking about the why of it all.

Recently, I read some discussions back and forth between atheists and Christians.  There were some really good points on both sides, and there were some really heated points, but what struck me is that what one wanted to use as "proof," the other would turn around and use essentially the same "proof" about their own position.  Confused? I was. (I think the conversation I am referring to was at theravingtheist's site.) As I composed my own brilliant replies in my head, I realized that I didn't have much to contribute:

Harry the Atheist: "Prove to me there's a god."
Me: "I can't."
Harry the Atheist: "This conversation is over."

But it led down a side path in my train of thought. (Do you start to see how often my train of thought gets derailed?  The sheer numbers of parenthesis and side notes and afterthoughts on this site should be a hint.)  I realized that the reason that Harry and I can't have a conversation about God is because our approach to karate is different.  

Yeah.  Let that sink in a moment, because it's true.

Harry wants proof.  He wants it now. He goes to Kreese's dojo: "Strike first, strike hard, show no mercy!" (I am not saying that atheists are bullies.  Harry is a figment of my imagination, and because I feel inadequate to explain myself, I feel as overpowered as Daniel looks in the movie.)

The problem is, approaching God is a lot more like approaching Mr. Miyagi. First off, you don't meet Mr. Miyagi as a karate instructor.  He's the fix-it man.  When Daniel first asks him to fix the faucet, there's barely any acknowledgement.  Daniel then asks when Miyagi will come.  The response is "After".  

Daniel: "After what?" 
Miyagi: "After! After!" 

 I feel your pain, Daniel.  

Me: "God, did you hear me?  Are you going to fix this? When?"  
God (not in so many words): "After!"          
Me: "???"

Okay.  I realize this is a post of non sequiturs, but my point is that when we picture and all powerful God, we often have this picture that is something like Kreese, the dojo instructor.  Strong, powerful, smashing through anything that gets in the way.  The reality, like the true karate master in the movie, is something far more subtle and confusing, but powerful in a way that is beyond all of our stereotypes and preconceived notions.  

Friday, November 27, 2009

TOB for the Single Person

I said I would get to this, and I will.  I am.  It's just a little hard for me to write.  For one thing, I don't want to contemplate what Theology of the Body means for a single person.  I want to live it out as a married person.  For another thing, I don't exactly know what it means.  So far, I only have a few vague ideas.  And finally, the little light of understanding that I do have is very personal.  I don't know how to walk the line between sharing what's on my heart, but also not divulging some things that are between me and God.

TOB brings two things clearly to the forefront.  One is that we are called to live out a love that sacrifices itself for another.  Married people to their spouses.  Nuns to Christ. Priests to the Church.

The second is that this self-sacrificing love brings new life into the world.  Marriage leads to children.  Religious vocations lead to new life in Christ.

Where does that leave me?  I have been to Christopher West talks, and when the topic of singleness comes up, he doesn't pull any punches.  He acknowledges that not all single people will get married, and this may not be due to a choice of theirs.  He doesn't have much to offer, but reminds us singles that our ultimate purpose is not realized in marriage on earth, but in heaven.

But what of my purpose here on earth?  How could I be created to give myself in self-sacrificing life-giving love, and have no outlet for that? It's devastating.  Not only have I not been chosen by any man, but neither has God chosen me for religious life.  He has forgotten me, because how else could it be He created me for a purpose that will not be fulfilled?

You don't need to tell me that I still have a purpose (unless you have some specific suggestions as to what that purpose is- I'd love to hear it!)  Nor do you need to tell me that God could never forget me.  Definitely don't tell me that eventually I will be married.  Because even though I agree that you are probably right, you don't know that for sure.  My logic knows all this, but my feelings do not care about my logic.

What I have learned is this.  Self-sacrifice is not always the choice that you think it is.  If you choose to get married to a person, then you choose to give yourself to them in a self-sacrificial way.  If you choose a consecrated religious life, you choose to give your life to Christ or His Church.  If you are single by circumstance, your choice is different.  You may not have a choice about who you are specifically giving your life to, but you have a choice about whether you are going to offer your life in the moments that you have right now.  It may be a very general offering, or God may call you to a very particular ministry because you have the time and energy to focus on it right now; time and energy that you will later need to focus on your family.

The reality is, if you are single like me, you are not forgotten by God.  You are chosen for a unique purpose at this moment.  


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Rest of Psalm 1

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor the sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

I don't have a lot to say about these last three verses.  It made me ponder a moment the deeds of mine that are not worthwhile that will be driven away; I hope there is more wheat than chaff among my deeds.  I won't lie, I thought about just skipping a post on these verses, but I had to finish, even though I don't have much to say.

Also, if you get a chance, please pray for a situation that I have at work.  I don't think its a huge deal, but it stirs up my crazy mess of insecurities!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Psalm 1, Verse 3

So, about the memorization.  I think I have the first 2 verses about memorized.  Now for the third:

"He is like a tree
planted by streams of water, 
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers."

I like the image of the Word of God being like streams of water that we can draw our strength from.  I also like the idea of yielding fruit at the proper time.  Not all the Scripture that I read is going to be perfectly applicable to the particular day or situation that I am in, but if I soak it in, it will be ready for that time.

Let's talk about the last line.  That's what I really want to talk about.  We all love the prosperity gospel (if by love, you mean hate), yet here is the perfect verse "supporting" it.  Just Thursday one of my friends brought up the idea of prosperity.  Her question was why "prosperity" should always mean "wealth".  As she said, of all the gifts that God gives us, that is one of the least.

What is prosperity?  If we are truly living our lives in order to grow closer to God, then prosperity is anything that brings us closer to God.  That may mean that we prosper the most during hardship, because we turn to Him and hold on tight.  At least, we do if we meditate on His law day and night, and don't walk in the counsel of the wicked. 

At any rate, the potential is there in all moments of our lives, easy and hard, to prosper and grow closer to God.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Psalm 1, Itself

I decided I wanted to meditate a little on these words.  Seemed kind of silly to memorize some verses about meditation on God's Word without actually meditating on those words.  Here are some of my thoughts.  I refuse to edit for ADD, so deal with it!

"Blessed is the man" 

Terribly un-PC of me, but I don't mind this at all.  It doesn't bother me when the word "man" in the Bible sometimes stands for all humanity.  I do not feel left out as a woman.  I'm sure if it really got to me, I could find a translation that used "person" but I don't have time for that...only time to bring it up and point it out on a blog post!

"who walks not in the counsel of the wicked"

What does it mean to be wicked?  What does it mean to follow the counsel of the wicked?  I always think that wicked people should be relatively easy to spot.  They should be so obviously bad that oozes out of their pores; then you could tell by the smell to avoid their counsel.  Maybe at the very least, it should show in their eyes.  And if their skin is green.  I mean, we all know the Wicked Witch of the West is wicked!  

But maybe the wicked are not so obvious.  Maybe they are family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.  Maybe they are not wicked people, and maybe their counsel is meant for our benefit.  Think about it.  If good is anything that brings us closer to God, then evil would be anything that would take us farther from God.  Maybe in a sticky moral situation a friend would offer counsel to compromise a moral conviction in order to save pain.  But maybe that compromise would bring us farther away from God

"Nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is the law of the Lord,"

Oh, baby!  This is good stuff!  The "law of the Lord" could easily be seen as a turn off.  If we are Christian, then we often like to think that the law is pretty meaningless for us and that we should do all things for Christ for the sheer love and joy of Christ.  (By "we", I mean "me".  You're only included if you want to be).  Law is duty, obligation, all those things that drag Christians down.  Ah, but for this blessed man, the law of the Lord is his delight.  Speaking as a Catholic, I can tell you that there are things from Scripture and the Church that I have followed all my life.  There are some of them that I have done because they were required of me.  For example, Mass on Sunday.  I remember going to Mass on Sunday because it was the rule.  A rule of the Church stemming from the 10 Commandments.  I'm glad the rule was there to make me do it whether I felt like it or not, but it is now my delight to go to Mass on Sunday.

"and on his law he meditates day and night."

Maybe that's part of my problem.  I don't really meditate (think deeply) about the Scripture that I read most mornings.  I certainly don't take the time to think much about it later in the day.  Maybe before I can truly eat the Word of God, I need to meditate on Scripture (some interesting implications for the Mass, eh?)  Also, that meditating day and night brings to mind the idea of the Liturgy of the Hours.  I don't pray that often enough, but I love that.  I love that it comes (probably) from Jewish custom.  I love that it involves praying the Scripture.  I love that all over the world, people are united by praying the Liturgy of the Hours, praying, meditating on, feasting on, the Scriptures morning and night.  I love when a phrase of Scripture is literal and concrete!

Anyway, I have more to say about the rest of the Psalm, but it's late as I write this, and I'm tired.  I'm going to bed.  Maybe I can meditate on the rest of the Psalm for 30 seconds or so before I fall asleep tonight! :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Story Time!

Some people are a little too cool for love stories.  Fortunately for me, "cool" has never been one of the top ten adjectives used to describe me.  Others are too cynical and jaded for love stories.  I hope that my inborn idealism, over the top and a trial at times, will at least keep me from that fate.

I am a sucker for love stories.  I am an even bigger sucker for true love stories (both stories of true love and love stories that are true).  Throw in some royalty for good measure... Oh, yes.  How could it not be a good story? Let me share one I just heard.  It's my new favorite.

~~~
There was a king that fell in love with a peasant girl.  Normally, in fairy tales, this peasant girl is some renowned beauty.  In this case, there's no real consensus on what she looked like.  She was likely decent enough looking, but there was something about her essence, about who she was that drew the king to her in an irresistible way.   It wasn't that he saw blinding beauty or looked past outer ugliness to see inner beauty, it was simply that he saw her.

The obvious thing to do was to ask her to marry him.  He was the king, and he could make her marry him, but he didn't want to force her.  However, as he considered asking her to marry him, he became concerned about how she would fit in.  Granted, as the king he could give her all the riches that she lacked.  That didn't mean that she would be able to mentally and emotionally cross that gulf to meet him where he was.  He was also concerned that she might only say yes because she felt compelled to say yes since he was the king, or that she might say yes only to gain access to the riches he offered and not out of love for him.

Another option came to mind at this point.  That was the option to renounce his kingship and join her in peasant-hood. This would remove the gulf between them, and allow him to be with her where she was.  Still, if he did this, he might lose it all.  Once he had renounced the throne, she might not say yes.  She might see him as no more than any of the other peasants, and choose another one instead.  She might think he was a complete fool for giving up the throne and reject him because of his foolishness.  She might simply not love him and say no.

He had  a quandary.  Eventually he decided that she was worth the risk of losing it all, and that he would renounce the throne for her.  

The End.

~~~

You want a resolution?  That's not the point of the story.  The point of the story is the illustration of true love that the king offered.  True love is not dependent on whether it is returned or whether they lived happily ever after.  Because this is a true story, keep in mind that if she did say yes, the story is ongoing.  "Happily ever after" is going to contain a lot of bumps in the road.  Her yes is not just on the day of their wedding, but every time something tough comes up, every time the hard work of living seems overwhelming and she wishes that instead of joining her where she was, he would have simply moved her into the palace with him.  Will she chose in that day to keep loving him?

You still need an ending?  Write it.  Christ the King has renounced his heavenly throne.  He has given it all up for love of you.  His offer is placed before you; will you accept it?  


~~~
Note: I didn't make up the story (though I told it with my own words, since I don't remember it all perfectly), it was a part of the homily today.  The priest mentioned that he got it from Kierkegaard.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

JPII Generation

There is an older man at one church that I go to that always prays for young people as "we send them out into this culture". I can't remember exactly how he words it, but essentially he is praying that the youth will be somehow protected from this horrible culture that we live in and that somehow those that have gotten sucked in might get pulled back.  I commend his intent, but it makes me want to throw down in the middle of church and face off.

Here's want I want to say to him:

"Have you met this generation??  The JPII generation is a generation that is not defined by age so much as by a new understanding of the power of God.  We have met God, and we have fallen absolutely in love with Love Himself.  We came for healing and we found Life Himself.  We are not a generation that is trying to follow the rules against all odds.  We are a generation who has found Christ, and are trying to follow Him.  We lose battles all the time, but we are full of hope, because we know Who is going to win the war.  We are on fire, and we are living in a world that is dry and begging for the life we have found.  It will be a firestorm beyond what you can imagine.

"When you pray, you sound as if our only hope is to remain somehow untouched by this culture of death.  We have already been touched by it.  We have been shaped by it, the pain resides in each of our hearts in one way or another.  It is our reality.

"Do pray for this generation.  I thank you for your prayers; we need them.  But do not pray that we will remain separate from this culture.  We are exactly what this culture needs.  We will not only touch this culture; we will engage it full on.  We will reshape it.  By the grace of God, we will heal it."  

I don't think that this generation needs to look out for the culture so much as the culture needs to look out for us!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Psalm 1

The other night at Bible study, we discussed the Bible. (I know you come to this blog for profundity... Just trying to oblige!:)  To be honest, our current study is not exactly a Bible study, more of a book study, but the Bible does get brought up some.  This particular chapter was all about reading the Bible.  One verse that was quoted particularly caught my eye:

"Thy words were found, and I ate them, and they words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart..." (Jer. 15:16)

There was something about the idea of the total absorption of God's Word that caught at me.  I try to read my Bible.  Every morning I try to read it.  I don't always make that goal, but it is the goal that I have.  The problem is that often I allow my eyes to follow the words on the page to the pre-decided stopping point, then I check Bible reading off on my list for the day.  I look at the words on the page, but I'm not sure I see them very often.  I'm ashamed about the number of times that I go to Mass and have no idea what the reading was for the day.

We discussed the ways that we take in the Word of God, and the idea of trying to memorize some verses came up.

Umm, memorization?  I'm Catholic.  I don't do that! I don't even know how to memorize anything.  I might be able to beat some verses into my brain by rote...but it doesn't really fit the bill of eating the Word of God and having it become my joy and my delight.

The upshot is that a few of us decided that we are going to try to memorize Psalm 1, all 6 verses, before we meet again in 2 weeks.  Those of you that actually know how to memorize Bible verses: tips are appreciated!

I don't know how to memorize, but I can read.  I've been reading and loving this Psalm:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, 
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water, 
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor the sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

I think I have some more to say about Psalm 1, but I'll save that for next time!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jumping Ship

Today's Gospel was Peter walking on water.  I love that Gospel.  I love that Peter, one of Jesus' apostles, the one that He gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven, sank.  Sorry, Peter!  I love knowing that I'm not the only one.  Sometimes, even when I start out strongly, I still end up failing.

The priest gave a great little homily.  He said that he'd been to the Holy Land a number of times and has been out to the site of this miracle.  He told us how he'd closed his eyes to imagine the setting, imagine that he was on the boat in the storm, and that he sees Jesus walking towards him.  Then he tried to imagine getting out of the boat to walk toward Jesus.  He said that he could see himself throwing one leg over the edge of the boat.  It was the second leg that he had a hard time imagining!

I think about the places in my life where I'm holding back parts of myself from fully responding to God's call (for example...).  Sometimes I like to congratulate myself on what I've managed to do, while ignoring the part that I'm still not embracing.  Problem is, one leg over the boat is still on the boat.  

Here's praying for the grace for us all to jump ship! 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Your Cross

I was talking to one of my sisters a couple of weeks ago.  She has a lot on her plate right now with finishing school and contemplating trying to get a job in this job market.  She made a comment that is very typical of her.

"I know that God won't give me anything more than I can handle, and that He'll help me get through all of it."

Pause.

"Is it wrong to wish that He'd help a little less so He'd have to let up a bit?"

~~~

I found this quote by St. Francis de Sales today.  It was something that I needed to hear, and I thought I would share.

Your Cross

The everlasting God has, in His wisdom, foreseen from eternity the cross He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost heart.
The cross He now sends you He has considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with His loving arms, and weighed with His own hands, to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you.
He has blessed it with His holy name, anointed it with His grace, perfumed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God.

~~~

A couple of thoughts on that.  One is that there are times that the cross will be too big for us.  I remember my aunt talking about her struggle with depression.  She ended up in the hospital because of it, and felt betrayed by God because He promises not to let the crosses become more than we can handle.  She held on to her faith despite her hurt, and I really respect her for that.  

I think that God's definition of "handle" is different than mine.  I want to be able to handle something with grace, dignity and courage.  That's handling it, and handling it with style.  Instead, in my case anyway, there is complaining, some sulking, begging for Him to make the pain stop, and flat out ugly crying.  I know God is with me all the time, but it's the moments of brokenness where I really meet God.  You want to meet God?  He's in the midst of that ugly cry.  Copious amounts of snot don't scare Him in the slightest.  

Handling a cross doesn't mean being able to carry it one arm while you jog with ease to the finish line, with no more than a few muscle aches to show for it.  It means blood, sweat and tears. It means dragging it along with every ounce of strength that you have.  It means that strength giving out, leaving you to fall flat on your face, not knowing how you will get up again... and not even being sure that you want to.  It means you will need help to finish, both from God and from fellow man. It means pain and brokenness.

In the middle of the worst of the pain, there is nothing to do but live with it and hold onto God.  He doesn't make the pain go away, but meeting Him there makes it worth it.



Saturday, November 14, 2009

In the Image and Likeness of God

If we are created in the image and likeness of God, and specifically if we are created as male and female in the image and likeness of God, and if God is love, then what does that say about sex?

It says that Puritans and hedonists need to take a whole new look at the subject.

There is a tendency to think that when we are in church, the only way to talk about sex is to talk about the do's and don't's.  Do when you are married and with your spouse.  Everything else is bad.  Why is it bad?  Well, the Bible says not to do it, so don't do it.  What more do you need?  I have to be honest.  I need a lot more than that.  If I didn't have some kind of answer to the why, my life as a single person would be a lot different.  I can intellectually acknowledge that what the Bible says is true and right, but that doesn't get me through lonely days and nights.  More on that later.  The point is, sex is much more relevant to our search for God than we would like to imagine.  In religious circles, we still sometimes feel that sex is "dirty" or "base" or something.

Hedonists also have to take a new look.  They are right in saying that sex is good, but they are wrong in saying that they can define sex any way they want.  As long as it gives pleasure and everyone involved is consenting, it's okay.  If we are created as male and female, and if that creation is a revelation of the image and likeness of God, then sex is bigger than us.  We don't get to define it.  On the days that diesel is cheaper than unleaded, I can't decide that I prefer to run my car on diesel.  I can put diesel in the tank, but it will ruin my car.  In the same way, I am physically able to try to define love and sex as whatever makes me happy and feel good, but if I try to fill up this deep desire in my heart with that, I will cause destruction to the very core of my being.  Because I was not made to run on counterfeits.  I was made to run on true love.

What is true love?  I'm single, and in many ways, that probably leaves me with a little bit of a fairy tale definition of love.  Sunshiny, happy, rainbow feelings that cannot be denied nor overcome by any of the problems of life.  At least, that's how I see people trying to define love.  That's how they know that it's not real love; when the feelings run out.  I think that true love is grittier than that.  I think that it takes those knocks and it is precisely when the feelings run out that it is the strongest.

I think that true love is free.  I think that each Person of the Trinity gives their love freely and fully to each other.  I think of God's true love for us is manifested in His freely choosing to come to earth for no other reason than for our salvation.  I think that true love among all people is only when it is freely offered with no coercion, whether that be love among friends, relatives, spouses, whatever.  And I think that sex only truly expresses love when it is given freely from each person to the other.

I think that true love is total.  Can you imagine God holding anything back?  He clearly didn't.  He committed His only begotten Son.  Jesus gave up His life for us, and no suffering was too much in His search for us.  Sex is a total commitment.  It means holding nothing back.  It means giving your very life to another.  Not just at the moment of sex, but in every moment of life.  It doesn't mean until divorce, or until something better comes along.  It means until death do us part.  It's not just a lofty goal.  It is part of the true meaning of sex, the way that sex can reveal God.

I think that true love is faithful.  If true love is total, it must be faithful.  You can only totally give yourself to one other person at a time.  When I think of the faithful love of God, I love the images in Hosea.  God presents Himself as a faithful husband, because He is.  God is always faithful to His promises and love for us, even when we are not faithful in return.

And true love is fruitful.  Love is life.  Can you imagine any other life for the Trinity than love? God is Love, and this love is life itself.  The true love of Christ on the cross ended death for us and brought life to the world.  True love brings forth new life.  And I would say that real sex, the kind of sex that we all really want, has to be open to life.  Not just some of the time, but all of the time.  It doesn't mean that it always has to bring forth physical life (like having sex during infertile times, or people that have fertility problems), but it means being open to it at all times.  But don't dismiss how powerful a child is in this whole picture.  Remember that our God is often more concrete than we are.  As Scott Hahn likes to say, when the two become one flesh, nine months later you will need a name.

Notice that none of those earmarks of true love have anything to do with feelings. Obviously feelings are very important, but they are not what makes it true love.  Rather than looking at feelings to drive true love, I think we need to have true love, even when it's difficult, drive the feelings.

I would say that sex is a very powerful sign of love.  If you ignore the signs (like puritanism) you're going to have a very hard time recognizing where you're going.  If you distort the signs or point them in other directions (redefining sex for our own purposes), you're going to be heading the wrong direction.  And there are some dangerous places when you get off the path.

Right.  So maybe I have talked about all that before.  Eh, well.  What are blogs for if not for blathering on about the same stuff over and over again?    

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Love People

Today I loved the fact that my bosses continue to strive for excellence both in business and how they care about their employees.

I love that I drove past a 15 passenger van full of men in business suits wearing Santa hats.  


No joke.


I would like to know the story behind that one.


I love the little old lady that walks her cat at the assisted living facility.

I love the four-year-old at the daycare where my sister works.  He couldn't get into his milk carton and whined to her about it.  She gently prompted him to ask for help by saying, "And what do we do about that?"  He rapidly grabbed a fork and stabbed the milk carton, sending milk everywhere.  Well, I guess he got the milk out, right?

I love the guy in the town where I work that putters around in his electric wheelchair.  He stops to ask everyone "Has anyone told you you're beautiful today?  Because you are."  

He is, too.  You should see his smile.

Today I love the people.  

I could live without paperwork, though!

How God Is too Ordinary and too Extraordinary

I think God is much more of a concrete thinker than we are.  We have a lot of grand ideas in the abstract.  God's ideas are much grander than ours, but sometimes I think they catch us completely by surprise because they are so concrete, and sometimes seem so ordinary.

I think of the Jews waiting for the Messiah. They imagined a great and powerful king.  What they saw instead was a man.  An ordinary man, the son of a carpenter and his wife.  A man who lived among them much like any man would.  Some came to recognize the astounding truth about this man that went far beyond their wildest imaginations about the Messiah.  I always have some sympathy for those that didn't recognize Him, though.  Outwardly He was so much less than they expected, and in reality He was beyond their wildest expectations.  I mean, they knew that the Messiah would be a great man, but did they realize that He would be God? They knew the Messiah would be establishing a kingdom, but did they realize it wasn't some political kingdom, but the kingdom of heaven for all eternity?

What about the miracles?  I have already told you that I have sort of an abstract idea about miracles.  I have this feeling that they should come out of nowhere and be explainable by nothing.  Yet I do believe that God often works His miracles through other people.  I may not like to call them miracles, but sometimes they are.

The sacraments.  Now there's an example of a God who thinks more concretely than I do.  God can give the grace of Christ crucified any way He wants.  I think that He certainly does give His grace to us at all times and in all ways, but I also believe that He gives His grace to us in a special way through the sacraments.  By the work of the Holy Spirit, we are born again of water and the Holy Spirit.  Could our re-birth really come about through the use of ordinary water?  Could the forgiveness of our sins come through the priest?  Could bread become Jesus' very flesh?

I don't know about you, but when I think of "spiritual" moments, somehow I make them much more abstract in theory.  Maybe I think that they could be connected to concrete realities in a secondary way, but not in such a primary way.

Now let me ask you this.  Did you ever stop to think about Genesis 1:27?

"So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them."

We are made in the image and likeness of God.  God created us exactly the way He wanted us.  We are not just spirits, and we are not souls trapped in bodies.  We are people with a body and soul.  It is not just our soul that is created in the image of God.  Our bodies are an essential part of the image.  Our masculinity and femininity are an essential part of the image.  Our bodies, with all their flaws and imperfections, BO, extra hair where it doesn't belong, baldness, bulges, flatness, weird noises and all, is an essential part of the revelation of God to those who will take the time to see it.

Praise God for JPII, who shared this vision with the world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Theology of the Body

I've been thinking a lot about how there are so many things about Theology of the Body that I would like to talk about on here.  And then I have no idea where to start, so I end up saying some version of: TOB is great!  Really!  You should believe me!  I'm not going to tell you anything about it, exactly, but it'd change your life if only you knew what it was!

I don't know where or how to start talking about TOB.  Books and books are being written about TOB, and it's only the beginning of the ink that will be spilled on it... How can I distill any of it into a blog post, even an unreasonably long one?

Thinking about writing anything is a little like chasing a greased pig.*  I no more than get a handful of what I think I might want to say than it squirts through my fingers and runs squealing through my brain in all different directions.  I go chasing these thoughts, but they change directions so quickly that I'm a half step (or 3 or 4 full ones) behind when I try to pin them down in writing.

This is on my mind, though. Hopefully I can get it down on my blog.  Until then:

TOB is great!  Really!  You should believe me!  I'm not going to tell you anything about it, exactly, but it'd change your life if only you knew what it was!

*At least, how I'd imagine that it would be.  I haven't actually done such a thing.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

One Day, Three Rants

Breathe.  Just breathe. No, no, no! Don't HYPERVENTILATE!  Just nice easy breaths in and out.

Continue to breathe nice and slow, and realize that the lady where you work probably thought you were some kind of trainer.*  She probably didn't realize that you were a physical therapist when she confided in you that she thought physical therapy was a WASTE OF TIME while she asked for free advice!!  She couldn't have known, right?  I mean, in my boots, dress pants and ruffled shirt, I must have looked just like any personal trainer, right?  And the name tag with my title, too ambiguous, right? Of COURSE a trainer with their one lousy certification, if they're actually certified, is MUCH more qualified to give you one quick exercise that will solve all your shoulder pain.  They're so smart they don't even have to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses or anything!  Too bad you were wrong about who you were talking to, lady!  'Cause I'm a worthless therapist with 3 years of post graduate work and a doctorate in physical therapy.  I'm so bad, I actually have to evaluate your problem before I can fix it for you!!  And I'm paying off all that pointless schooling, so no free advice for you!

Mmm, and how about the sweet girl that is now my patient rep.  She's great.  She's been working a week and I'm so glad she's there.  But I kind of know her from before, so we already feel very comfortable about talking about all kinds of stuff.  Like Catholic stuff.  Like how she knows former Catholics that just didn't prefer "all the repetition".  Yeesh! My breathing just got shallow again!  That's the liturgy you're talking about!  The Mass!!  I understand that you don't understand it; that's okay.  But don't casually dismiss it as mere REPETITION! It's beautiful!  And holy!  Ancient and always new!  The Scripture come to life!  Heaven on earth!!  AHH!  I can't take it!  My head explodes when I think of someone seeing the Mass as a merely one style out of many to worship, and a tedious one at that!  How can so many see it like that??

I'm not upset with her like I was with the lady.  I just wish there was some way that I could strip away the misconceptions and show her what the Mass really is.

Finally, there's my mother.  Wonderful, smart woman.  Who refuses to use any kind of technology.  She's convinced she can't use the internet (self-fulfilling prophecy).  I can't leave her voice mails on her cell phone, because she doesn't check them.  Text messages?  You're hilarious!  She also insists on writing me checks every time she owes me for something. Checks.  You know those paper things that you have to take to the bank and sign the back to get something useful out of them?  Those things.  Do you know how often I go to the bank?  Never!  Between automatic deposit, ATM's, etc. I never need to go to the bank.  In fact, there's not even a branch of my bank in my town or in the town where I work and I don't even miss it.  Until my mother writes me a check!  Why does she do it?!  The last check she gave me is still mouldering around here somewhere.  I just don't have time to drive 30 minutes to a bank!

Okay, okay.  I'm done now.  I think...

*My clinic is attached to a fitness place, so I often take my patients in there to do their exercises.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What Is a Miracle?

I'm not going to lie.  I've been watching a LOT of TV recently.  Hulu and I have been spending some real quality time together.  I'm not proud of it, but there you go.  Mindless activity has been working pretty well for me recently.

I recently came across "White Collar".  It's a show about an FBI agent that teams up with a criminal to help solve white collar crime.  I think there's only three shows out so far, but what can I say?  USA comes up with some fun shows.

There is a point to this, I swear.  (Okay, first I tell you that I'm a couch potato with nothing better to do than watch TV, and now I'm swearing.  I may not be the kind of company your mama wanted you to hang out with.)  The most recent episode was when a priceless old book got stolen from a church.  First they thought it was a Bible, but it turned out to be a "book of hours" (for the liturgy of the hours).  Turns out that there were people that believed that the book had healing powers.  It saved a bunch of people from the plague in the Middle Ages.  This particular church had not lost anyone in a particularly nasty epidemic of some kind in the 1800's, which was also attributed to the book.

The FBI agent was highly skeptical that any miracles had occurred.  The criminal, on the other hand, was inclined to believe that maybe miracles were happening.  Regarding the church not losing anyone in the epidemic, the agent said they probably just closed their doors and practiced better habits to keep from spreading the germs.  The criminal agreed, but still called it a miracle.  He was going to take his miracles where he could get them.  The agent was not about to back down.  He wanted more flash and lightening with his miracles.

It's a very interesting discussion.  When is it a miracle?  My mom has been known to call it a miracle when something unexpectedly works out in a way that she could not have foreseen.  We've all heard about medical miracles when doctors said someone couldn't survive who then did survive.

I admit to having sympathy with both characters.  I get a little frustrated when all kinds of things are called miracles.  To me, a real miracle is completely inexplicable.  In the case of the epidemic, if that particular church practiced good hygiene and also closed its doors to prevent the spread of disease, then there's an explanation for it.

On the other hand, God is working in our lives all the time.  It's certainly isn't an exaggeration to say that all of these things come about through the hand of God.  I just think He often uses intermediaries.  Sometimes it's prudence (like the epidemic), sometimes it's generosity of someone giving an unexpected gift.  Do you call them all miracles?  I don't know.  I guess I don't, but I do call them the work of God.

What do you think?  Am I too picky in my definition of a miracle?  What do you call a miracle?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ignation Indifference

Have you ever heard of Ignation indifference? Ignatius of Loyola taught that we should have a certain indifference about all things in life.  Rich? That's okay with me, as long as it's God's will.  Poor? That's okay with me if that's God's well.  Sick? Healthy? Job? Unemployment? Which job? Where to live?  Ignatius' view is that none of that is important.  Only following God's will is important, so none of the rest of that is really important.

I first heard of this concept from some friends of mine back in high school.  This one friend would often plead "Ignation indifference" if we were trying to decide what to do (and clearly, I only hung out with the coolest kids).  Ignation indifference, my hind end!  Don't try to pass off your indecision as virtue!  Okay, maybe her intention was good, but it always came out as a little smug and then I had to make a decision.

I fight the concept now, too.  One of the things that has been really bothering me is that I'm supposed to move in 8 months.  I don't know why it bothers me so much.  I'll be working for the same company, which I love.  I'll be working with people that I've worked with before and enjoy working with.  I'll still be in the same general area.  I'll actually be closer to a lot of my friends. 

I really, really don't want to move.  I absolutely love the community that I'm working in now.  I feel like I've been able to become a part of the community.  It's the first time I've felt that way. All the other clinics I've been in, I'm just a therapist working in a clinic.  That's how it will be in the hospital that I'm being transferred to.  I love the people that I am now working with.  They're definitely more than a job to me.  The doctors in town know who I am and respect me, and I really respect them.  Before this, I've never had the doctors be that familiar with me.  I don't want to give that up.  I also abhor the idea of leaving the church I have been at for the last 4 years.

Jonah and I could be pals.  Remember the plant that grew up to shade Jonah? Then remember how mad Jonah got when the worm ate it?  God let him have the plant for a while, then took it away so He could teach Jonah something important. God let me be a part of this community for a time, but maybe He has a different plan for me in a different place in 8 months.  Ignatius would tell me that's fine and I should be content wherever God lands me.

Ignatius is right, of course.

I'm still hanging out with Jonah:

(After the plant dies and the sun is beating down on him)

"It is better for me to die than live."

God: "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?"

Jonah: "I do well to be angry, angry enough to die."

~~~
I laugh so hard at Jonah's response to God because it is so childish, so petulant.  I'm guessing that Jonah knew as well as I do what his answer should be, but I'm really glad he went with what he was feeling instead.  At least I wasn't the first one! :)

Every time something happens that makes me think how much I like working in the clinic where I am now, I'm going to work on being thankful for the "shade" I'm getting now rather than worrying about when I have to leave it.  I'm going to get Ignatius to pray for me on the indifference thing, because I'm not sure I can honestly pray for that right now.  I'd rather pray for God to work on finding a way that I wouldn't have to move. 

 I don't think this kind of indifference means not being sad if I have to leave the people and the community that I've come to love, or not being happy if I did get to stay for some reason.  I think it means being just as willing to stay or go despite the feelings.  

Yeah.  I've got a long ways to go.