Monday, March 7, 2016

Be Weak to Become Strong

This beautiful gem from Catholic Spiritual Direction has clarified some struggles I've been having. 

But humility is the virtue that regulates self-esteem. It is singularly unhealthy to esteem one’s self more or less than the truth about who one is.
I see the truth in this so clearly. Some of the people in my life who I love the most are suffering lack of self-worth because they can't see who they really are. Something gets in the way, either internally or externally, and it must be the devil because if they could see themselves as God sees them then that would only draw them closer to the One who made them and loves them.

But the gravity of pride constantly pulls at us and...this pull can only be resisted through prayer, fasting, and humble acceptance of those trials which come our way. Prayer, fasting and the acceptance of trial helps us realize that our true value is in God’s love for us and in his love for those he has entrusted us. Real self-esteem is rooted in this realization.
 I've had arguments with family members who quote me the Bible verse: "[God] desires mercy, not sacrifice" to mean that God wouldn't send a trial my way in order to form me in holiness because He doesn't want sacrifice. I see it differently, though. I see in my trials an opportunity to be humble, and since pride is one of my most persistent challenges, anything which divests me of it does the will of God.

I am very weak-willed. Because of that, Lent has been mixed this year. I tried to give up tea but found myself unable to moderate my fatigue and irritation without the caffeine. Rather than subject my family to emotional outbursts, (and frankly, unable to get through my TO DO list while taking an hour nap every afternoon!) I decided tea is a necessity, not an indulgence, and therefore I am not being called to moderate it at this moment. I have been given a few fasts due to health issues that I am not adhering too, and it occurs to me that God wants me to align my will to the sacrifices I am being called to make, not those I choose on my own.

Of course, we are halfway through Lent and I am just now coming to this epiphany after weeks of uncharacteristic indulgence (trip to Mexico with my sister, Denver Restaurant Week, trip to Vail with visiting family from overseas, etc.) My weakness is so vast that I wouldn't allow myself to recognize the Lenten sacrifice God gave me until I was past the greatest temptations. Which makes me wonder: why am I fighting this so hard? What do I lose by moderating my gluttony and indulgence in food and drink?

The answer is that I am addicted to these things. They are the material crutch I depend on in order to regulate my emotions and keep myself from slipping back into depression. I hate being depressed. I hate not having control over myself. I don't feel that I could "lose it" again and be supported by family. My depression is not an option. I feel that every time I slip or make a mistake or yell or lose my temper that I am permanently altering my place in my immediate and extended family, and they will leave.

I am governed by fear, and food keeps the fear at bay. Food comforts me, grounds me, and feeds my hunger for pleasure. There's too much I am working on all the time that I feel like I just can't work on being disciplined with food, too. I have to be weak in this area so I can be strong elsewhere.

But the reality, of course, is that the opposite is true. Having developed this dynamic where my self-indulgence is justified because I "need" to save my strength for other areas, I find myself indulging not just in food but in other material pleasures. My appetites for consumerism, entertainment, leisure, and comfort have also increased.

Every single time I read the Word of God, attend Mass, or hear the news, I know I am being called to let go of this addiction. And every time I try I run up against the fear that if I don't keep myself calm and "cared for" I will lose it again.

Our lives are meant to co-inhere: to co-inhere in God and to co-inhere in one another. For Bernard, the self does not fully exist isolated from God or from others. The self, the human “I,” ought to be in communion with God and others, or it is less than itself.

This preoccupation on caring for myself has brought me to a place where I am no longer relying on God's love to sustain me. It is God, not cake, that will help me be a good mother. He is not asking me to starve myself or go without the necessities that I require each day. It is not impossible what He asks of me. So why am I struggling with it so much?

Why can't I value myself in the right way, as a child of God who is loved and cared for, and not as someone too weak and ill to make a Lenten sacrifice or stick to a medically prescribed diet? I feel further from grace than I have in years, and unable to claw my way back into His light.

The truth is: I can't get myself to where God wants me to be. I have to sit here, in my weakness, and call on Him to help me. It's the only way I can be rid of myself and exist in communion with God.

Lord, help me love You more.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Recommended Reading

In answering the question as to what fundamental principles are behind the Church's teaching on homosexuality, Joseph Prever says in this amazing interview:

"Well, what I think is that one, at the bottom of it, men and women are different. Number two, that eros is different from friendship, and number three, that physical acts have spiritual meanings."

Excellent reading, highly recommended.

The reason I say that is not because I think it’s nonsense to rely on the power of the sacraments, but I do think it’s nonsense to rely on the power of the sacraments for things that the sacraments weren’t actually designed to do. For example, it would be absurd to say that you weren’t going to go to the doctor to fix your broken arm because you preferred to go to confession. Within human society, there exist certain solutions to certain human problems, and if we don’t take advantage of them, then we’re being very stupid.  

My favorite:

Physical differences are not just physical differences, because physicality is not just physicality. It all comes down to the fact that you can't paraphrase the poem. That is to say, if you have a poem which says something beautiful and true, you can't say sum it up by saying, ‘ok, and what the poet meant to say is this syllogism.’ And in the same way, the only way to describe what masculinity and femininity are is to say: ‘here are men, they are manly. Here are women, they are womanly.’ That's literally the only way to do it, because our bodies are poems. They are poems that express the ‘masculinity’ of God and the ‘femininity’ of God and we have to take them seriously, which doesn't mean we can pin down (exactly) what the poems are saying.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Oh, the Humanity!

White Tulips, for Forgiveness
This week has illustrated why I try not to watch the news. It is very difficult for me to handle the reality of children suffering, particularly when it's as egregious as what A Holy Experience wrote about here. I listen once a week to the Diane Rehm show international hour, which is a very intellectual experience. Several journalists discuss the history and implications of current events. They tend to gloss over details and say things like, "ISIS conducted many acts of brutality when they took Ramadi" or something similar, so while they don't ignore the darker sides of the news, they don't dwell on the horrible details, either.

I like this because it allows me to be up to date without immersing myself in the reality of what's happening. It's just so darn hard for me to let go and move on. I have talked with friends and family members about this problem and most of them say, "You just have to stop dwelling on it. There's nothing you can do." The ones who, like me, can't always find a way to do that tell me, "Just avoid the news as much as you can."

Facebook is my undoing. I spent most of Tuesday so full of anger and disgust over ISIS that it was hard for me to focus on the here and now of parenting. I called my mom and my best friend, and together we ranted about the situation and our helplessness in the face of such twisted brutality.

Then Thursday, at the gym, I came across the People interview with Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, who were held in that Cleveland house along with Michelle Knight. Years. YEARS of torture. And the sick games that man played with them, and how he just kept going back out and kidnapping more young girls. And less than a year in prison, he committed suicide. Oh, the rage.

And then today, The Duggar scandal. I read through a few articles from different sources, then read Josh Duggar's statement . I came to three conclusions:

1. The Duggar family responded to the situation. (I absolutely think there can and should be a discussion of whether their response went far enough. Here's a good start from a blogger on Patheos.)

2. Josh Duggar has admitted his actions, apologized, sought forgiveness, and worked towards restitution with his victims (according to his statement.)

3. At least some of the victims have requested privacy and anonymity. We should respect their right to privacy, and as such, we don't have their perspective the way we do the Duggar parents, Josh, and his wife Anna.

It was only after I started reading comments that I realized how much rage is being directed at the Duggars and people who share their views. It surprised me. I read comments like, "HANG THE MONSTER!" and "He needs to go to trial and be locked away. Pervert!" I also read comments that vilified his wife, "What kind of a person would have children with this monster?" and "She knew and she still married him! SICK."

Hang the monster? Seriously? Isn't there a huge difference between what Josh Duggar did and what Ariel Castro did? Without excusing his actions in the least, I would think we could all agree there is a continuum of molestation/abuse, and I don't see how hanging is an appropriate response here. He is not hiding from what he did. He is accepting the consequences, like resigning from his position as head of the Family Research Council and making public apologies for his actions. I feel compassion for him and his victims, both. I hope and pray that everyone truly did receive counseling, and I think he should be able to move forward with his life providing that he really has done what he claims (repented, sought forgiveness, made restitution.)

And a little voice in my head asks, "Would that apply to ISIS members?"

I tried a few years ago to read Yancey's book "What's So Amazing about Grace?" On the first page he gives the account of a woman addicted to drugs who was pimping out her daughter to the men who were paying her for sex. I will not mention here the age of her daughter. But I literally could not advance past that first page because RAGE at men who would have sex with a child just consumed me and prevented me from understanding what Yancey was trying to say. It is the same reason I could not finish Phillip Gourevitch's "We Would Like To Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families" and Immaculee Ilibagizas excellent book "Left to Tell."

I have to believe that wisdom truly is a gift from the Holy Spirit, because the human me is the one who rages impotently against the sick jerks who would repeatedly abuse a 9 year old girl. It's the Holy Spirit who can see that those men were probably abused themselves as children, that they grew up in poverty without proper nutrition and education. Many of them are probably mentally ill in some way or another (I'd be surprised if there's anyone who lives in a war-torn area that doesn't have PTSD.)  Whatever weaknesses they have as people (and we ALL have those weaknesses) are being amplified by their environment and exploited by the ideology of ISIS. They are responsible for their actions, of course! But there is a part of me that can understand that they are truly sick; they are in need of healing.

So, yes. That would apply to ISIS members. Whether or not it's possible is a matter for another post.

Jesus loves Ariel Castro just as he loves Amanda Berry. Ask Sister Mary Martha had such a beautiful reflection on the permanence of hell and God's desire that everyone repent and join Him in heaven. (I have no opinion on whether Sister Mary Martha is a real nun or not. She has not posted in many months but I always found her perspective comforting and full of wisdom.)

Josh Duggar is a person. So was Ariel Castro and Osama Bin Laden and Hitler. Love asks us to respond to others in a way that honors their individual rights and dignities. I think the first step is to view them as people, as hard as that may be sometimes. If we don't, we are letting the rage and the hate win over love. And if God is love, then we know who rage and hate is...

Friday, March 20, 2015

We Must Care

It comes again, that persistent voice of doubt that says "WHAT'S THE POINT?" Why care? Does it make any difference?

I choose to believe that yes, it does. In fact, it makes such a tremendous difference not only in our lives, but to everyone we encounter, that I think it must be the single most important thing we can do.

We can care. Even when it hurts, and sweet Lord, it hurts SO much to care sometimes. Like you, I am horrified by the plight of civilians in the Middle East and Africa. I am overcome with rage at the stories of injustice, violence, cruelty, and selfishness. Like you, I want to turn away from the truth, that there are worse things than beheading which ISIS is doing to children. The other evening I asked my husband, bitterly and petulantly, "Is there anything we can do about ISIS? Because I really don't want to hear anymore about what they are doing to people if there's nothing that can be done to stop them. It's just too much."

I don't know if there is anything we can do to stop them. Maybe an international force is the answer, but we are far away from reaching any sort of consensus on that. In the meantime, what can be done about ISIS? What can I, as a suburban housewife with four kids and a little blog, do about one of the most violent and terrible threats of our generation?

So little. I can care. I can teach my children to care. I can encourage others to care.

From that, perhaps a tiny spark is lit. Some glimmer of solidarity that could lead to action. Maybe not right this moment, but someday. Because what's the alternative? Further isolation? Compartmentalization? A culture of apathy that says the world has always been thus, and shall always be thus, and it's someone else's problem, not mine? As Philip Yancey so eloquently stated:
"The strongest argument in favor of grace is the alternative, a world of ungrace. The strongest argument for forgiveness is the alternative, a permanent state of unforgiveness." 
Thus the strongest argument for caring is the alternative, a permanent state of indifference. The greatest crimes against humanity are committed by those who do not respect the dignity of human life. If we don't wish to lose our humanity, we must care.

And if we care, we must act. Which leads me again to the original question: What can I do?

I am so small. It feels that anything I do is so insignificant that it's hardly worth the effort. Moments like these, I am inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux because she acknowledged her own humility and weakness, but never let it stop her from doing what God called her to do. She said,
"Merit does not consist in doing or giving much. It consists in loving much."
In other words, it consists in caring. If you believe, AS I DO BELIEVE!, that prayer is a way to love those we cannot love in any other way, then please pray with me this coming week: that the native forces fighting ISIS will resist the temptation to retaliate against citizens belonging to different sects or religions. I am trying to offer up my own desire to retaliate (when my kids are defiant, when I am wrongly accused, when someone cuts me off in traffic, etc.) for this intention.

If the most that happens is that I spend my time "turning the other cheek" then I can say two things: I cared, and I did something about it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Let Habit Be King

I have been working on my discipline lately. Little things help with my motivation, like offering up my laundry for a friend or using the time I wash dishes to sing praise. For me, that elevates the task to a form of worship and helps me see it through to the end. 

I've also been blessed to discover the liturgy of the hours on my Laudate app. I started with some of the daytime prayers, then read the Catholics Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours and discovered the greater hours are Lauds, Compline and the daily Office. So I began focusing on those hours and rapidly found myself getting to the end of the day without having prayed any Hour!

Then I read in the Guide some common impediments, and it jumped out at me that I was making the critical error of pursuing the perfect at the expense of the good.   The guide said that ideally, we would dedicate a period of silent contemplation to praying the Hour with attentive reverence but sometimes this isn't possible. If we skip because we don't have time to devote ourselves fully, we risk losing our habit. 

That's exactly what I discovered was happening. So I am trying to pray badly rather than not pray. I read the Hour while making breakfast or sometimes I only get through one psalm. But I am hoping the act of opening the Word gets me closer to fully participating in the liturgy. 

I haven't yet found a good rhythm for homeschool that balances the requirements of my sons education with his personal sense of responsibility. I am determined not to spend the whole day fighting with him. This surprisingly hard to do because he is always behind and has no desire to study. It is very difficult for me to let go but I've set 3:00 as the last hour I will help him. After that I am no longer his teacher. 

Otherwise all is going well with kids and husband, home and family, and Parish ministries. Praise God!

St Elizabeth Ann Seton, St Thomas Aquinas, pray for us. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I think we can put a Big Fat FAIL on today. Sigh. I don't want this blog to be a place where I whine about how darn hard it is to homeschool and how frustrated I am with motivating my son to do his best work. So I have not been posting, which tells you all you need to know about how it's going so far this year. The thing that drives me the most crazy is that we have occasional good days that are so beautifully perfect it keeps me believing that this will all bear fruit someday.

Last week he did all his work every day. He wrote an essay on Friday that had me dancing when he read it to me (Oh, the transitions! The descriptive words! The persuasive phrasing!) I thought, at last, we have hit upon the right combination of variables. Wake him at 8:30 and bring him down for breakfast. Perform some sort of physical activity, either Tai Chi, bike riding, or basketball. Brew a cup of green tea. Start with Spanish, then Math, Reading, Language Arts, History, Geography, Memory, Science, Religion, and Current Events. Sign off each subject when it's complete; give him my undivided attention. Work him through each step of the assignment. Read the directions, ask leading questions. Compliment him. Use the funny voice. Make him snacks. Take short breaks. Reward him with screens on Wed and Sat if he has achieved a star on the other days. Notice when he makes any improvement, even in the slightest measure. Don't neglect one-on-one time. Find moments to connect. Be clear with expectations and requirements. Empathize. Explain.

I guess if I think back, we did not do the physical activity today and I did not make him green tea. Is it really THAT delicate? No, it started before that. It started when I woke him up and then left the room instead of dragging him out of bed. He did not get up and I had to go back upstairs to get him out of bed, and that right there was the start.

I can't be perfect every day. Honestly, I would take the occasional bad day if it came occasionally and was the exception rather than the rule.

I will begin again tomorrow and try to stick to the routine a little better. Starting the day with physical activity is key.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thoughts on Depression

Like most others, I was struck personally by the news of Robin William's suicide. Having grown up with his films and his comedy, I feel that connection with him that is the hallmark of a great actor: he is so authentic and wholehearted that the audience feels WITH him as he performs and takes that performance with them when they leave the theater. Some of my favorite and most watched films -- Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Aladdin, and Good Morning Vietnam -- are great in large part because he starred in them.

There has been, unfortunately, a great deal of ugliness on the internet in the wake of his death. If I am believing the best I have to think that it comes from a place of fear and a need to separate themselves from his choice because they know, deep in their hearts, that we are all capable of falling into despair and seeing death as the only end to an unbearable existence.

Thankfully, the ugliness is more than balanced by sound defenses of the truth and lovely tributes to this talented man.

Glen Close: "Robin was incredibly sensitive to the crew, to the people who don't always get the recognition they deserve for the various jobs they do during a shoot. Robin knew everyone's name and could always get a laugh---not a laugh aimed at himself, but a laugh that recognized others. He gave various favorite crew members special nicknames. Our camera operator had famously combed-back, black hair that had considerable amounts of product in it, keeping every hair in place in all kinds of weather. Robin dubbed him "Teflon Man" and would do hilarious rifts as an archeologist in the distant future finding "Teflon Man" with his hair still perfect."

Ben Affleck: "Heartbroken. Thanks chief -- for your friendship and for what you gave the world. Robin had a ton of love in him. He personally did so much for so many people. He made Matt and my dreams come true. What do you owe a guy who does that? Everything. May you find peace my friend."

Anna Kendrick: O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells. Rise up, for you the flag is flung, for you the bugle trills.

Ben Stiller: His kindness and generosity is what I think of. How kind he was to anyone who wanted to connect with him. And he could not help but be funny all the time. He would do something as long as it would keep you laughing. He made many, many film crews laugh out loud before the audiences ever saw it. He made such a big impact on the world. So there is the man, and his talent and I think in his case both were extraordinary. 

Our understanding of mental illness has grown in the last decade so that we are finally at the point where we can look at depression and see it for what it is: illness, rather than weakness or lack of faith. I think that's what bothers me most in a situation like this. Of course he made the wrong choice. It amazes me that this is up for debate! Suicide is NOT the answer. Never the answer. But rather than blame, we should be filled with compassion and sorrow. Depression wrecks your logic like a tsunami of despair. It invades every part of your mind and soul. No matter how you try to escape it, the waters rise up and pull you under again. They twist you so you don't know which way is up or where to find air or what to hold on to. It makes no difference if you have God, a loving family, financial success, friendship, or none of the above. Depression can still take you.

I do think, in my own experience, that having a proper understanding of who God is and my place in the universe helped me through my depression. Even when I didn't feel His presence, I knew He must be there and the problem was with me, because all the literature and testimony of thousands of years of humanity's relationship with Him continue to repeat "I am with you, even to the end of time."

But I have to admit that had I been capable of it, I might have come much closer to suicide than is comfortable to think about. I was pregnant and so miserable that I do remember I wished for death. I had a night where I couldn't stop throwing up, and I lay there and thought, "It's fine. I could just keep throwing up and die. That way this baby wouldn't be born into a world of suffering, and my children could be free from me. It's probably better if I just let myself die."

To look back on this moment from a place of health (both mental and physical) I can see the absurdity of it. I had everything: beautiful, healthy children, a warm and comfortable home, family supporting me in my illness, excellent medical care, freedom to rest all day long, entertainment to distract me, and access to any food I desired. Yet I couldn't see that. I could only see my own misery and loneliness.

I don't know what could have been done to help Robin Williams. I'm sure his family did what they could. They clearly loved him. We all did. I know he is at peace now. I know he regrets killing himself.

I am grateful that I am also at peace and my personal tsunami has receded. God is ever merciful, ever forgiving, ever loving, ever unchanging. May we imitate Him and show such love and compassion to our fellow brothers and sisters here on Earth.

Depression Does Not Discriminate

People Who Need Help Sometimes Look a lot Like People Who Don't Need Help

Robin Williams Didn't Die from a Disease and My Detailed Response
by Matt Walsh

5 Common Myths About Depression

10 Ways to Show Love to Someone with Depression

Depressed Catholics: God Wants You to Get Help