Thursday, July 24, 2014

Does the body image thing ever get better?

Thigh gaps.

Dr. Oz.

Fat-shaming.

BMI.

Magazines.

Runway models.

Swimsuit season.

Stretch marks.

I'm almost 50, and the whole body image thing is still an issue. I weigh more now than I ever have in my life. I'm a bit less active (arthritis keeps me from really pounding the pavement), post-menopause, and on medication that tends to make one gain weight.

I hate it.

I hate looking in the mirror and seeing what I see. I hate stepping on the scale. I hate that clothes that fit a couple of months ago don't fit now. I hate that I hate all this.

Does it ever get better?

I tell myself that I'm good enough. I am pretty. I'm smart. I'm attractive. The clothes I wear are beautiful, and fit me well.

And it's still not enough.

When will I allow myself to be happy with who I am, physically? When will that message sink in? How do we keep our daughters, our sisters, our friends from this kind of thinking? (I know I would never say to a friend or family member the sort of things I allow myself to say to the mirror.)

I imagine myself 15 years from now. Will I allow my hair to go gray? Will I finally throw away the Spanx? Will I go for days without touching my makeup drawer?

Our bodies change. Women's bodies are particularly amazing, given the power we have to create life, carry a child, give birth. But that means a lot of stress on our bodies. We age. We struggle with illness. We should be fine with that. I should be fine with that.

But I'm not. Harumph.

Update: This is what I'm talking about: size 000 at the LA Times.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pray for Peace

When I was at Mass on Sunday, during the Our Father, I was struck by the thought of all the Christians around the world (but especially in Mosul) who cannot pray in public, with each other, out of fear and hatred and war. We must pray for peace.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

Your humble blogger, enjoying Ale Fest











1. Fabulous weekend! Enjoyed Ale Fest with Dear Husband and dear friends. I thought there were too many IPAs, and I'm not a fan. I like a good stout, and had a few of those. Really liked the hard ciders presented.
2. Had a grilled cheese sandwich with duck bacon. Duck-freakin'-bacon. Taste bud heaven.
3. Enjoyed a Chicago Fire (pro soccer) game. Never been to a pro soccer game, and loved it! (Although I thought there were a few blown calls...)
4. My amazing sister watched over Dark-Haired Daughter, cleaned my house, put up with the dog and generally made it possible for hubby and me to get away for a long weekend.
5. Totally scored on a brief shopping trip - bought 4 pieces at Ann Taylor (including a dress for a black tie event) and spent $120. All items were on clearance, plus and additional 50% off. Oh yeah, I can shop.
6. Ended the weekend at the Cathedral of St. Andrew, the evening contemplative Mass. It was peaceful and just what we needed to wrap up the weekend. I did have a thought as we were chanting the Our Father: all of the Christians in Mosul and other places of Christian persecution cannot do this in public. They cannot gather to give thanks and praise to God through Jesus Christ. We need to pray for them.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What can you do to help stop human trafficking?

If you're a regular here, you know that human trafficking is a topic near to my heart. I have the good fortune to have a job where I can educate people about this topic and how to stop it.

Most folks want to do "something" but they don't know what. Here are a few tips:

  • Check out the Polaris Project website. Know the signs of human trafficking.
  • The next time you're at the doctor's office or the ER, ask the health care professionals if they've ever been educated re' human trafficking. Tell them about the Polaris Project website.
  • Do the same with your kids' teachers. Believe it or not, kids that are trafficked often attend school on a regular basis.
  • Talk to your local law enforcement. Ask if they have been trained to spot signs of trafficking. If you live in a rural/agricultural area, this is of great importance. Trafficking isn't just about prostitution; it's about day laborers, migrant workers, farm workers.
  • Educate your children and family members. The more people who know about trafficking, the more we'll have on "our side."
  • If you suspect trafficking, don't be afraid to speak up. Talk to the person. Let them know you can and will help.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Should I pray for him or for myself?

My feet hurt. It's arthritis. And it's inevitable.

I have it on both sides of my family, but my paternal grandmother (whom I never met) was crippled with it. When my dad was in high school, he told me, it was he who would lift his mother from her bed, toilet her, get her fed and cleaned for the day and then head off to school.

When Dad was old enough, he joined the Marines (it was the tail-end of WWII.) While he was in basic training, he received a telegram that his father had died, and he was to return home immediately for the funeral. All the way home, he kept thinking the telegram was wrong, and that it was his mother who had died. After all, she was the one who was so ill for so long. But no, he was greeted at the train station by his brother-in-law who informed him that it was indeed his father who had died from an apparent heart attack.

My grandmother lived another few years, but had to be moved to a nursing home.

Yeah, so my feet hurt. It's painful once in awhile, but mostly it's just annoying.

Today, I watched - outside my office window - a man slowly and painfully "walk" from the center of the park across the street to the bus stop. It probably is only about 20 yards, but it took him about 10 minutes. He had a walker, but he could only manage a small lurching step, a rest, a small lurching step, rest. It was painful to watch; I can only imagine how painful it must have been for him.

Then it started to rain.

Lurch. Rest. Lurch.

There wasn't anything I could do for  him, except pray. I was praying that every hand and voice that touched that man today be a gentle one. Then I remembered that this man was Christ in His most distressing disguise. So I prayed for me. That I remember that when I might feel bad for myself and my achy feet, that I remember this man, and be grateful for the ease of my life.


Churches stand on the front lines in battle of mental health

A number of years ago, Dear Husband and I went to Mass at a downtown Chicago parish. It was Saturday evening, and the church was maybe about half full. During the homily, a mentally unstable man, disheveled and dirty, came in and started yelling. He wasn't making any sense.

The priest paused from the homily and asked the man to quiet down. When he didn't, the priest gestured, and several ushers escorted the man out. I suppose it happened often enough in this big-city parish.

When I went to the March For Life awhile back, I was sitting in the back of the Basilica in Washington, D.C. waiting for the others in my group. A man sat down next to me, asked me a question and then launched into a monologue that included aliens, saints, spaceships and a conglomerate of other odd thoughts. He was genial, but clearly not "all there."

My own daughter serves as an altar server and works in our church nursery. She's bipolar.

I struggle with anxiety and depression. It's made me hide from choir practice, struggle with cantoring and want to crawl under a pew.

Church is for the mentally-ill.

Lacey Cooke gets this. She knows our faith communities are one place many people turn to when they face illness, mental or physical. It's a place where everyone should feel safe and welcome, even if they have a mental illness. So how are we doing?

Faith communities often over-spiritualize mental illness, said Dr. Stanford. Yet while every illness may have a spiritual element, mental illness is a product of biological and environmental factors. Patients cannot reason or pray their way out of these complex diseases.

Part of better care involves breaking down the prevailing stigmas. Those suffering are often hesitant to seek help, fearing that people will think they’re crazy if they see a therapist. Even in secular communities, people with mental illness are either considered weak or are feared. Mass shootings receive a lot of attention in the media, yet Dr. Stanford says we need to focus more on the mental health aspect of these tragedies — at least half of the shooters were not receiving the mental care they needed.

Dr. Stanford says churches need to give people tools to care for one another. “Recovery is a process,” says Dr. Stanford; it’s not as simple as popping a pill. Instead of days or weeks, families and friends must be prepared to provide support for months or years.

Churches can help break down the stigma by creating an atmosphere where people feel free to talk about mental illness and those suffering feel accepted. He suggests that pastors deliver a sermon on the topic once or twice a year, and pray openly about the issue. As people give testimonies about overcoming addiction, people should give testimonies about their process of working through a mental illness.

It's a good article - share it with your pastor.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Are you fertile soil?

Parable of the Sower, artist DeLynn Coppoletti
From our pastor's homily yesterday:

With this parable of the soil, Jesus invites us to ask the question: what kind of soil is each of our souls for the Word of God?

Is our heart the soil on the path? To translate into today’s culture, is it the kind of soil that is secularized and is indifferent to God?

Is our heart the soil on rocky ground? To translate into today’s culture, is it the kind of soil that is sometimes labeled “cafeteria Catholics?” Rather than seeing faith calling us to a conversion, we pick and choose only what is fitting to us. When God’s word no longer fits with our values, our faith withers.

Is our heart then the soil filled with thorns? To translate into today’s culture, our life is filled with the material things of the world. And thus, there is no room for God in our heart.

Is our heart the rich soil? To translate into today’s culture, is it a complete receptivity to God’s Word? Is it letting the wisdom of God guide us in all that we do even to the point of dying to self so as to rise to a new life with Christ? God wants all His followers to be the rich soil that produces abundant fruits. To be disciples of Christ is to be this kind of soil.


(In case you're wondering, I do not have absolute recall, nor was I taking notes during the sermon. Our pastor typically posts his sermon on our parish's FB page.)

Monday Morning Musings

1. Perfect weather. I know some people like their summers HOT, but I'm a fan of these mid-70s, low humidity days.
2. Celebrated our pastor's 10th anniversary to the priesthood yesterday. He is Vietnamese, and many of his family joined us for Mass and the party afterwards. Those ladies must have been cooking for DAYS...and every bite of it was appreciated. We had burger and brats, too - but I can eat those any time! Give me fried rice, spring rolls and sticky rice please!
3. Best part of the celebration yesterday: Father's nieces and nephews (who are all about 13 and under) played a beautiful traditional Vietnamese hymen (piano, trumpet, violins.) There was a group of Sister of St. Paul there, Vietnamese (they work with the large Vietnamese immigrants in the Grand Rapids area). About halfway through the hymn, the Sisters spontaneously began singing the hymn, and others joined in. It was lovely - pure moment of the Spirit!
4. What a weird week I have ahead: Youngest Son has a hearing (if he shows up...), I have to get a spinal shot, and then off to Chicago to visit friends, go to an Ale Fest and a Chicago Fire (soccer) game. Up, down, sideways and every which way. Time to gear up with prayer.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Potency of Prayer

Holy Trinity Monastery, Greece
Do you weary of praying? Are you sure that God is not listening? You think that your prayer is frivolous, self-serving, negligible? You're in, well maybe not "good" company, but at least a lot of company.

Brandon Vogt (if you're not reading his blog,  you should be) writes about the power of prayer, and uses this powerful story to illustrate why we cannot be neglectful of it. Good reminder when we are weary of praying.

“Old Paisios always wondered how people could live their lives without continuously praying.”

“Just to give you an example of how important prayer was for him,” Father Maximos went on, “during the Gulf War he shut himself in his cell, cutting off all contact with visitors. That went on during the entire duration of the war. In fact, he intensified his prayers so that the war, as he told me later, would not get out of control and become even more destructive.”

“Did he really believe that his prayers made a difference? That they truly affected the war in the Gulf?” I asked, and gave Father Maximos a puzzled look. In spite of my many years of exposure to mystics, healers, and hermits, in spite of being a witness to spectacular healing phenomena, and in spite of recent scientific research on the possible efficacy of “intercessory prayer,” the academic skeptic always lurked at the back of my mind, ever ready to jump to the front seat.

“But of course, Kyriacos!” Father Maximos replied in earnest, implying that I should have known by then the power of prayer. “That is why holy men, like elder Paisios, constantly pray. Do you think they are fools? Why does that surprise you? Whether people recognize this fact or not, the prayers of saints for the good of the world are extremely valuable and very, very effective.”

“God listens to them,” Stephanos volunteered from the backseat.

According to the Athonite spiritual tradition, when a human being eradicates personal desires completely and reaches the state of apathia [liberation from egotistical passions], they become a “vessel of the Holy Spirit.” Then whatever that person wishes is given because it is what God actually wishes. The consciousness of the saint is fully attuned with the spirit of God.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Faith In Humanity Restored

I read a lot of crap all day long. Some days, when I go home, I feel like all I've done is read about new and unusual ways that we humans have figured out to torture, maim and kill each other.

And then there's this.

Brian Schreck, a music therapist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital uses the heartbeat of children who have died to create unique pieces of music for the child's family. What a gift!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Soccer, the World Cup and me

Five years ago, if you had told me I'd willing watch the World Cup, I'd have laughed at you. But there I was, last night, watching at Germany humiliated Brazil. I was texting my husband the score and updates on the game. One comment I made was, "Has this Brazilian team ever played together before??" They looked as if they'd just met.

Later that evening, my husband and I had a discussion about an article I'd read about how poorly the Chinese do at soccer at the international level. Then there was this:

Me: I can't believe I'm watching soccer. I can't believe know what's going on. I can't believe I'm going to a professional soccer game in two weeks (Go, ManU!!) and I'm excited about it.

Dear Husband: It's all part of my plan, dear.

Now, my husband and I have very different temperaments and different areas of fascination. He likes hobbies that require patience; I tend to pick things I can do quickly and move on to something new. He's been coaching soccer for years now; I've never been much into any sport other than baseball and I'm certainly no athlete.

I think it says something about marriage when a spouse can at least make an attempt to get to know the other's passions and interests. I can tell you a lot about bonsai, but I don't do it - that's his thing. He's now pretty well-versed in basic knitting, but he's never picked up a pair of needles.

27 years of marriage, a lot of love and laughs, and now, a soccer nut. It's a good thing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Podcast with Bethany's Bill Blacquiere

I don't know why I never posted this here, but it somehow slipped by me. I did this podcast awhile back with Bethany's President/CEO Bill Blacquiere.

Enjoy!

Me and Holden Caulfield

From DeviantArt by Mecrcurio 2539
You remember reading "Catcher in the Rye," don't you? Most of us did in high school. I don't remember if it was required reading or not, but I read it and re-read it. The angst of Holden Caulfield, the book's narrator, is one that resonates with most teens I think. He finds the adults in his life both annoying and baffling, he's bullied by his school mates, and adores his little sister. He's trying to figure out a world that makes no sense, and he finds refuge in both bitterness and innocence, despite clear signs to the reader that his view of the world is tinted by mental illness.

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be.

I'm with Holden right now, watching my child run towards a cliff. Holden, in his embittered yet virtuous nature, sees himself saving these kids - he has to: no one else is there! He'll be that guy that saves those kids...maybe because no one is there to save him.

Oh, Holden, I wish it were that easy. I wish I could just grab my son and haul him away from a cliff he seems bound and determined to leap over. I'm standing there, in the rye, waving my arms frantically and calling out, "Over here! Stop! Come this way!" as I watch my son look at me, and determinedly run away.

I have to keep consciously telling myself: This is not my fault. This is his choice. He knows the difference between right and wrong. He is making these choices, and they are not a reflection of me.

But it still hurts. I'm not sure Holden understood that part: that some of those kids don't want to be caught. They see you on the edge of that crazy cliff, they know the cliff is there, and yet....

Of course, the irony for Holden is that he himself is running over the cliff. He's made a huge mess of his life (some of it his fault, some not) and he's over the cliff.

Either way, we cannot save those who do not wish to be saved. I can be the catcher in the rye, but the only way I can be of help is to pray.

And so I do.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

1. Missed Mass yesterday. Woke up sick to my stomach and ended up going back to bed for 2 hours. I know it's a "legitimate" reason, but I hate missing Mass!
2. 4th of July is always bittersweet in my family. My dad died 7 years ago on the 4th. He was a Marine, so it was fitting.
3. Had such a great family day this holiday weekend. It was nothing extravagant, just family, food, fun. Really enjoying getting to know Curly-Haired Daughter's beau.
4. Are you enjoying the World Cup? No?? Why in the world not? So much fun.
5. Curly-Haired Daughter's beau is a tennis pro. I'm hoping that he'll be able to teach me how scoring in tennis works. I've never been able to figure that out. Game, set, match! Love!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Trying to figure out art? If it's pretty, it's good, right?

Portrait by David Clayton
If I like something, it must be "good," right? And I mean "good" in the moral sense. If a painting or piece of music is pleasing to me, then it's good. That's how we judge art, isn't it - it's subjective.

Listen to what an artist has to say. David Clayton has some thoughts to share on chocolate cake, Picasso, beauty and truth. It's worth a read.

The answer for me lies in accepting that we have varying abilities to recognize goodness, truth and beauty. This gap between reality and our perception of it has its roots in our impurity. Since the Fall, we see these qualities only ‘through a glass darkly’ so to speak and our judgement, to varying degrees, can be disordered.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Wren

Wrens are quite plentiful here. They hop about, looking for whatever it is birds look for. They are not flashy birds. No bird watcher exclaims over a wren sighting. In fact, they are rather plain, sometimes muddled-looking, unobtrusive.

I wonder if we aren't a bit like wrens. Most of us lead fairly simple lives - we work, care for our families, have a bit of fun. We cook and clean, laugh and pray. We are not followed by the paparazzi, we are not interviewed by the press, no one cares what we wear or emulates our style.

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

Maybe it's because I spent time last week with a friend talking about St. Therese, but the wrens have really struck me the last day or two. Simple, quiet, sweet, plain birds. Doing what they were made to do every day. If only we could be like them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tuesday Morning Musings

Older photo of Cowbell Cemetery near Berea, KY
Just got back from a vacation, so I'm catching my breath and catching up.

1. Got to visit Berea, KY, home to Berea College. One of the coolest places I've ever been. Amazing history, principles, and students. Check it out.
2. Found a place featured in "Weird Kentucky" book called Cowbell Cemetery. It was supposed to "feautre" graves with baby dolls in plastic and glass jars. (Remember: weird.) Well, we found the cemetery, hopped the fence, but no baby dolls in jars. Alas, it was simply a rather rundown tiny place of rest. We said a prayer and moved on. The fun is in the adventure, right?
3. Saw the movie "Chef". Highly recommend it.
4. Visited a lovely church in Louisville, St. Francis of Rome.The parish has done a beautiful job of re-furbishing the old church, freshening it up while still maintaining the elegance and integrity of the older structure. However, the lector referred to the prophet Jeremiah as "Jeremy" (I didn't miss that book in the Bible, did I?) and the priest told us that St. Paul was a pagan before he became a follower of Christ. Imagine my surprise at all of this.
5. With the exception of Newark, which I think is pretty close to Hell on earth, I love airports. People watching at it's best! Glad to be home, though!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Can something ugly produce something beautiful?

Those of you who know me and my blog know that I'm passionate about the topic of human trafficking. Thanks be to God, I have a platform in my career that I can use to educate and bring light to this terrible scourge. And of course, to me it's not academic: it's personal. We believe our Dark-haired daughter escaped from a trafficking situation 2 1/2 years ago.

Can beauty come from something so ugly? Of course. We know that the grace of God can redeem any situation. That doesn't mean human trafficking is good; it's evil. But God can move and breath and change and bright light to those involved and those who've survived.

My friend Amanda Vernon recently told me about an artist who's released an EP album based on the topic of human trafficking. "Oh, boy! Fun songs about human slavery!" Yeah, I know, it's hard to imagine beauty coming from this.

Kelsey Rottiers and the Rising Tide have released "Bear Hope" and it's really beautiful. Listen.

After you've listened, download the EP. 50% of the proceeds go to help survivors of human trafficking. And you get beauty. God's grace in art and music. See, it really works.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Breathe

"Breathe" - artist Kathy Self
More and more, I find myself being drawn to art as a way to meditate and pray. (If you want a nearly perfect example of this, read Henri Nouwen's The Prodigal Son.)

In my office, I have some beautiful art. One is a small framed piece showing four places in Assisi that played a tremendous role in the life of St. Francis. Above that is an icon of the Nativity, and above that, a simple, small crucifix. I gaze at those frequently.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Kathy Self, an artist whose work expresses this:



Color, light, and texture are the windows through which the mystery of God’s grace appears to me. The common grace of a fresh day, of quietly growing leaves that nourish every plant, and the healing prayers that reach the depths of my soul; each of these illumine my mind, bringing to remembrance the wonder and mystery of life.

It's one thing to own a piece of art; it's quite another to be able to speak with the artist who created it. This piece spoke to me, and after talking to Kathy, I knew it was meant for my home. 

Kathy told me it represents the breath of God that imbues all of us with His life. It's also a reminder for us to take time to breath: to meditate, relax, enjoy God's presence. As an artist, she also talked about negative and positive space in the painting, and how our lungs are negative space. In fact, when they get filled with something that's not supposed to be there (bacteria, liquid, etc.), they don't work. Our lives are like this. We need the negative space in our life in order for God to work.

Take a moment to look at her art. Enjoy.

Monday Morning Musings

I didn't abandon you, dear readers! Last week was Acton University, and I was a bit busy helping to host nearly 1,000 folks from around the world.

Fleur de li: symbol of Louisville, KY
1. The Feast of Corpus Christi. I know...it's supposed to be "The Body and Blood of Christ" but I'm just gonna keep calling it "Corpus Christi," mm-kay?
2. Discovered the hard way that vicious thunderstorms spark migraines.
3. Am loving Amanda Vernon's new CD. Do yourself a favor and listen. "I Shall Not Be Moved" is playing in my head!
4. I always try to find a word or phrase to cling to, mull over, meditate on during Mass and during my morning prayers. Today it's "obedience." This worries me a little.
5. Dark-haired Daughter made it through a week of camp, had an amazing time, was well-cared for and loved. What a tremendous step this was for her - praise God!
6. Some people have no sense of humor. What a dull way to live. Had to deal with a couple of trolls last week on the Acton social media accounts. Geez...get a life, folks!
7. Headed to Kentucky to visit a dear friend this week. Cannot wait!!