Lost But Not Forsaken

It is a well-established fact in my family that we are "directionally challenged." My mother could not read maps, and my father could not follow directions. Thus, we were lost on every vacation we ever went on. We got lost on the island of Puerto Rico, which is only 100 miles x 35 miles, so that was quite an accomplishment on my Dad's part.

I tried very hard to remove this curse from my generation. I'm an awesome co-pilot and a darn good navigator. My mother accused me once of marrying my DH simply because he ALWAYS knows what direction he's facing. (It's a bit sick, really, but...what can I do?)

DH was in the hospital for a few days (nothing too serious!) It's a large hospital, with seven different banks of elevators, a screwy parking garage (remember your level, letter and color!!) and some questionable signage.

The first night he was in, we were waiting for a test to be done, which we were told was imminent. Then the nurse came in and said he'd been moved to the back of the line due to several ER cases. I got kicked out, so that he could rest.

I took the wrong elevator down. And then I couldn't find the parking ramp, large as it is. The signs in the lobby took me so far, and then the signs for the parking ramp disappeared. Uh....?

I back tracked. Same results. I'll ask someone. That was a good plan, except that it was nearly midnight, and all the usual helpful people in the lobby were home. I sat down and nearly started crying - I couldn't figure this out, I was exhausted, and worried about DH. A lovely tech came by, walked me to the parking ramp, and wished me a good evening.

Monday night, at Mass, I gazed at the Nativity scene in front of the altar. It occurred to me that being lost is our heritage. The Jews were (sorta) lost in the desert for 40 years. I can't imagine that Joseph and Mary had a map as they hightailed it to Egypt in order to spare the Infant Jesus from death. And Jesus told us with great love that if we are lost, he'll come get us.

When you don't have a job and/or a chronic illness, being "lost" is a pretty common experience. I have spent most of the last two years asking God (ok, yelling at God): "Why am I here? I have no purpose here! Where do you want me to be? What do you want me to do here???"

(Side note: Yelling at God doesn't work. He will reveal answers in His own due time. And that's why he's God.)

He's answered a lot of my prayers. I have family that prays for me, friends who support me, a parish family that is brilliant and shimmering with faith.

I've come to realize that I have a cross-shaped hole in my heart. (Sorry, St. Augustine.) It is only when I am united with the Cross, the Crucifix, that I know I am home. The Cross becomes the compass, pointing us to Christ Himself. Once we are there, Christ graciously allows us to be a small part of His suffering.

I am lost, but never forsaken. And the act of being lost is important too. Just like I needed help to find the parking garage (and risk looking like an idiot when I asked for help.)

It seems to me that it doesn't matter how a person finds God or how God directs a person's life. What matters are these moments of grace when God reaches down and puts His light yoke upon us. No, he doesn't provide a map, but he does us one better. He reminds us first that He is with us, He will always be with us, and we are never alone.

Lost, but never forsaken. Found in Christ, our Eternal Home.

Into the Foggy Dew

If you've ever driven through a thick fog, you know what fear is. You can't see anything. You're not sure if you're still in your own lane. Your lights don't help; in fact, if you hit the high beams, the light will only reflect off the moisture in the fog, making it even harder to see.

Your hands grip the wheel. You sit up straighter. Every cell in your body is alert. You would pull off somewhere, but you truly can't see a thing.

I imagine that many of you feel that, in our present culture, we are driving through fog. Everything is muddled. Details are obscured. We can become so easily lost.

Sister Ruth Burrows, OCD, wants to help us make sense of the cultural and religious fog we seem to be trapped in. (By the way, if you are unfamiliar with the abbreviations of Catholic religious orders, OCD stands for Order of Discalced Carmelites. I know you were thinking obsessive-compulsive disorder.)

Sister Ruth writes:

We must move into the shadowy mists of detachment. Far on the horizon, see - God appears, and his coming spreads a mist over all the earth. We should want this silencing, shadowing mist, that cuts us off from unnecessary things - things that are not him for us. We cannot truly see them until he comes, so it is better to live in the mist - detachments, silence of desire - accepting the mystery. We must shroud our souls in Advent mist.

What?? I have to move into mists and fogs? How will I ever see God clearly if I do that? I can't even see my own hand in front of my face!

First, remember that God is mystery. Yes, we can know Him, but not fully, not in this life. We catch glimpses of Him in our sacraments, in Scripture, in those around us.

I think Sister's big point here is: stop relying on yourself. Stop stockpiling "stuff" in order to fill up that God-shaped hole each of us has. Everything we know, see, hear and touch in this world is distorted - we cannot see its full beauty or its full ugliness.

What we have to do, says Sister Ruth, is plop down and get very comfortable in the foggy mist. If we do so while fully trusting in God, He will not only keep us safe (and here I mean our true "us" - our souls), but He will reveal Himself at the right time.

We have to get comfortable with the fog. That means silence. Give yourself time and space to pray be shutting off the noise in your world. We must detach ourselves from all things that take our attention away from God, or worse, putting someone or something in the place where only God can be.

Even tougher: we have to trust that God has allowed this fog, and He will lift it when He knows it is the right time. Our job is to sit and prayerfully wait.

Perhaps when you were little, a parent gave you the lesson my dad gave us: if you get lost in the woods (which was a very real scenario for us), STOP MOVING AROUND. Sit and wait, Dad said, and we will find you. If you keep moving, it makes it harder and harder for you to be found.

In this Advent season, sit and wait. Be calm. Get comfortable with silence. Ponder what parts of your life you need to detach from.

Most importantly, know that God is with you in this foggy dew. You are not lost. Be patient. And God will reveal Himself. Yes, there in the mist and fog: God is there. What upon Him.

Always Faithful

We went to Mass last night, and had an older priest. In his homily, he exhorted us to "semper paratus:" Be prepared. The Gospel, of course, alluded to Christ's return, and Father wanted to  make sure our souls were ready.

I'm not sure I'm prepared.

I'm a darn good planner. I can whip up a meal for 30 people in no time. Lesson plans? Airtight. But prepared to meet God? Nope.

I try. It certainly is an idea that was pounded into my head by an Irish-Catholic mother. I just can't imagine being prepared for the End, or at least my End.

My mind drifted a bit as Father went on. I thought of the Marine Corps motto: "Semper Fidelis" (or Semper Fi"): Always faithful. Somehow that makes more sense to me.

Even though my dad had served in the Marine Corps, he was never the type to bark orders or demand that his little girls make a bed you could bounce a quarter on. He was very methodical, however, and very kind. He certainly took his wedding vows seriously, and loved Mom to pieces. She, he assured us, was the one in charge.

The church we were in last night has a gorgeous (Original! Restored!) altar, with Christ's Crucifixion at the center. Faithfully, His mother, Mary Magdalen and  St. John stand at the foot of the cross. Were they prepared? I can't imagine any mother being prepared for her child's execution. They were faithful, though.

Faithful means you show up, even if your scared. You speak up, even if your voice shakes. You grab a bottle of wine and maybe a frozen casserole to bring to a friend facing a bad diagnosis. Faithful makes that first or fifth or fortieth wedding anniversary possible, even when we are not prepared at all for the sacrifices required. I sure wasn't prepared for the gargantuan strength it took to manage five teens at home while teaching classrooms of teens at work, but I showed up.

I am not, in any way, saying that I have a solid handle of being faithful. Faith is a mystery, ultimately. And while I am not always prepared, I hope that my showing up for whatever God places in front of me counts as a just a tiny flicker of the faith it took to stand at the foot of the cross. God, of course, is always and perfectly faithful. And I'll stand in that truth any time.

Going "All In" With Jesus

One of the joys of being Catholic is that there is always new stuff to learn. And if you do run out of new stuff, there are plenty of new ways to look at the old stuff. No generation is without its woes, and no one of us escapes sin and its effects.

And one of the joys of being (ahem) middle-aged is that you forgot so much stuff! We learn all the time!

Our pastor mentioned something in his sermon yesterday. As I'm sure most of you are, I'm pretty familiar with the readings yesterday (specifically the 1st reading and the Gospel.) Most of us have heard them a time or two.

Here's the new thing I learned about these old readings: The first reading has Moses telling the people of Israel what the Word of God is: "...you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength."

Our pastor then pointed out how this is echoed in the Gospel, as Jesus answers the question about the most important commandment. He replies: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."

Note that Jesus added: "with all your mind." I can't tell you why I've never noticed this before. I've read or heard those words countless times and never really questioned Jesus' version of it. Our pastor said this was, in fact, important.

The scribe who asked this was a scholar of sorts. His job was to copy sacred texts for the Jews, a job that required great accuracy in a pre-literate culture. While this scribe seems to be asking a genuine question, many of the scribes joined the Pharisees in looking for ways to "trip up" Jesus and His teachings.

Why "the mind"? Why did Jesus add that?

First, I think, He was speaking to the immediate audience. It is likely there were more than a few scribes there who may have sided with the Pharisees. Second, He was speaking to His disciples and the Apostles. They needed to know this in order to live and teach it! Finally, He is speaking to us, those in this life who dwell in sin and death. We also live in a highly literate society, where we are bombarded daily with information, commercials, ideas, websites, news, and on and on - all of it taking up space in our heads.

Just as God asked all that the Jewish people had to give, so Christ asks us. If we are to follow Christ, knowing He is our Lord and Savior, this is the price of admission. Your heart and soul, yes: your strength and your mind. All our frailties like depression and anxiety - we need to turn those over to Christ. Our bitter memories of long-ago hurts from family members: turn that over to Jesus. The knowledge we pride ourselves on, that is how we make a living? Yep, He wants that too.

In gambling, there is a term: "all in." You are putting all your money on this next card, or roll of the dice, or SnookiePie in the third, if you play the ponies. Christ is asking us to go "all in" here: everything that defines us.

As I've struggled with mental health these past few months, Christ's request is making more and more senses to me. Ultimately, He is asking for me to fall before Him, recognizing that He is Lord and Master of my life and a Brother who wants only good for me. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there. At least I know enough keep trying.

There is a bike in my dining room....

Really. There is a bike in my dining room.

DH got obsessed with cycling after we bought our first house. You know: young, married, no kids...we could indulge. He road a century race or two (those are 100 miles) and then decided to do the 24-Hour Challenge, which is pretty much what it sounds like.

Having a bike when we lived in a house was no big deal. It could go just about anywhere. (It found a place of honor in my hubby's den.)

Now, it's in our dining room. Why? Because DH wants it close by.

See, about 3 years ago, he had minor heart surgery that turned into a 3 week hospital stay. His right arm was badly affected by the surgery and he now has a great deal of nerve pain. After surgery, riding the bike became an exercise in pain control - every bump and dip added pain to his ride.

He doesn't want to give it up - it's been a passion of his for 30 years. But his bike is too expensive to lock up outside. It's sitting in the dining room.

At some point in every marriage, there comes a moment of clarity (and it may certainly be different for each person.) That moment of clarity usually happens in the first 3 months or so of marriage (taking into account that hubby and I did NOT live together before marriage.) That moment of clarity goes something like: "Golly, I could just strangle him right now" or "Holy Hannah! I'm gonna kill her!"

No, we are not really going to murder our spouse. What we have done is recognize that living with another human being is tough. And when you tack on the 24/7, til-death-do-us-part nature of marriage - well, you see how the strangling and murdering comes into play.

That bike, sitting in my living room, is a sign of my holiness (or truly, lack thereof.) It cost way more than I would have spent on it. It's been a constant item in the apartment for the past two years; he shuffles it around. I would love to sell it and put that money towards debt. But it's not going anywhere.

See, it's not just a bike. It's my husband's dreams, past and future. It's a way of life he's enjoyed. He gets to decide if, when and how the bike leaves his ownership. And I support him fully in that.

Spouses - if their marriage is going to be successful - have to put up with bikes in the dining room, or pink wallpaper in the bedroom, or snoring, or being untidy. Yup, there are things you roll your eyes at, maybe even argue about (stop doing that; it's bad for your marriage.) These things are not important to you, or at least not as important to you as they are to your spouse. And you have to let it go.

My mom always said the key to a good marriage is learning to keep your mouth shut. There is great wisdom in that. There are also great marriages that bear fruit because of that.

So, there's a bike in my dining room. And I love it.

Unstopping Sacred Springs

I've been staying away from the news and social media as much as possible. My mom used to call it "The Silly Season:" that time we are inundated with political ads. Between those, the Kavanaugh hearings, and the situation with the Church, I'd like to curl up in a ball with a dozen bags of Hershey's candy and a couple bottles of Moscato. Wake me for the Rapture.

(Joke. Catholics do not believe in the Rapture. I do not believe in the Rapture. It's a joke.)

See? That is exactly what I'm talking about. I write something about the Rapture, and I have to explain that I know the Church's teaching on the topic and I am in agreement with the Church. Sometimes a joke is just a joke, people!!

I am angry and tired and discouraged. I'd like, in a very motherly way, to knock a few heads together. I don't want to do this anymore.

One great thing about belonging to a  Church that is a few thousand years old is that when something happens, we can almost always point to a time in history when something similar happened. Let's be honest: there are no new sins under the sun. Humans are not terribly creative: we do the same stupid stuff over and over.

St. Francis of Assisi knew this. Heck, if he'd been alive today, St. Francis would have been posting videos of his parties, as he stood on the table laughing and signing, a bottle in one hand and the other fondly pulling a pretty little thing closer.

Of course, that all changed. St. Francis was able to be as passionate about the Church as he had been about entertaining. And the Church needed him - it was a mess: bribery, sex, power - this should all sound familiar.

Author Georges Bernanos, writing about Francis, notes that Francis didn't look at the very wounded Church and decide to leave it. Nor did he seek out a position of power in order to "fix" things. No, says Bernanos, Francis "threw himself into poverty...Instead of trying to snatch from the Church all her ill-gotten goods, he overwhelmed her with invisible treasures..."

Yes! I can't fix the government, or the scandalous behavior of our leaders, both secular and religious. But I can pray. I too can overwhelm Church and society with "invisible treasures."

Bernanos continues: "Would you still allow me to say, however, in order to be better understood by some readers, that what the Church needs is not critics but artists?,,, When poetry is in full crisis, the important thing is not to point the finger at bad poets but oneself to write beautiful poems, thus unstopping the sacred springs.

I know many of us are praying very hard right now for our nation, for our Church, for our families. However, I think far too many of us are waiting on God to answer those prayers. In the mean time, we need to get busy. We have to become artists, creating beautiful poetry and supporting all those who are doing the same. This, my friends, is what God is waiting for us to do, so that He may unstop the river of graces He has prepared for us.

This Food Isn't For You

My grandmother was the only girl amongst a bunch of boys. They were big men physically, but rowdy boys most of their lives. My great-grandmother, as with most mothers, thought the world of her boys, even if the boys seemed to have rocks in their head occasionally.

On Mondays, without fail, my great-grandmother would bake a cake and frost it. This was in preparation for her son Jack's impending visit. My great-grandfather, a day or two into the week, would suggest they have a piece of cake. No, his wife would firmly declare, "That's for when Jack comes."

You likely know how this turned out. Jack rarely came, and the family was left eating stale cake. Every. Freakin'. Week. Not only was Jack the crowned prince, but there was food for him that he never even bothered to get, even just to please his mother.

We find Jesus in a similar position: He's got the food and people turn up their noses. "Not for me!" "I'm gluten-intolerant." "Ew, all those other people touched my food; gross!" Okay, I don't know exactly what was said, but we know that Jesus prepared the meal, set the table, invited everyone ... and people ran for the hills.

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me...

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?"... As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. (Jn. 6: 53-66)

Jesus (and my great-grandmother) wanted to serve the best, because of love. And any country cook and big city chef knows something both Jesus and my great-grandmother knew: food is never just food. (Unless you're Giselle Bundchen, who seems to survive on tree bark.) Food is love. It's community. It's a recipe passed on from one generation to the next.

Maybe it's just my family, but we still talk about food that my parents and their parents served. Rutabaga, anyone? Carrot cake baked in a coffee can? Roast the turkey, fry the turkey, undercook the turkey?

No, Jack never came. (Well, he did show up sometimes, but it usually ended in a fight of some sort.) The cake got stale, and no one was happy. Jesus offered a new food, with a new promise, and many people decided this was too much. They turned down a gourmet meal for McDonald's. Jesus wanted to feed them; they said, "No."

My grandmother told everyone but Jack, "That food isn't for you!" Some of Jesus' disciples said, "This food is not for me!"

Food is life, and Jesus' food is eternal life. Don't miss out because you are too busy with other things or worse yet, miss out because you, like some obstinate 7 year old, deciding "It's gross!" when met with a new food.

The table is set, the cake is baked the food is ready, and Jesus awaits. Come, eat rich food and celebrate with us!

5 Ways to Survive Tough Times

Part of the human experience is struggle: locked in combat with the guy in the next cave over or the guy next door regarding the height of hedges. Sometimes the struggles are private ones (say, working to alleviate sin and cultivate good habits in oneself.)

Both my parents were Depression-era kids. My mom always said she and her siblings didn't realize they were poor until they were older. Everyone they knew was in the same situation. Yet, any time I visited my folks, their pantry was STOCKED. "Mom, why do you have 6 cans of peaches?" "They were on sale." The memories of the Depression never left them.

For Catholics, we've been living in tough times for, uh, about 2,000 years ago. And things were tougher still for folks before that. Flannery O'Connor once said, "People think that they Catholic faith is a big, warm electric blanket. It's not. It is a cross."

These past few weeks have been absolutely demoralizing for Catholics. Our priests are demoralized. The lay faithful are also angry; how could this happen to so many people over the past 100 years? By priests, for God's sake? I don't really have a lot to say on this that hasn't already been reported, but I do know one thing: we need to be on our knees, in prayer.

The lay faithful have both the incredible responsibility of maintaining our parishes and local Catholic schools, but also the awesome responsibility to become holy.

Get that? The Church needs you. We need you praying, worshipping, begging God for holiness. 

Yes, you.

What can we do to survive in these tough times?

1. Be honest. If someone in the family loses a job, or becomes ill, be honest about it. Tell your kids what is going on, and brainstorm ways to cut costs out of the family budget. Even if it's a delicate situation (such as the abuse scandal), be as honest as possible, given the child's maturity level.) Kids get much more worried when they constantly hear whispered conversations in the next room or parents who say, "No, nothing is wrong" while Mom's hair is falling out due to chemo. It's so much better if we are honest with each other.

2. Hunker down. Pretend it's 1955. That means we cook dinner every night (cuts down on fast food), we entertain ourselves (Play cards! Drag out Monopoly!), and vacations turn into stay-cations.

3. Hold Your Head Up. Money issues are generally not moral issues, so if times
are tough, you have nothing to be ashamed of. And if you're head is always down, you don't notice those around you who may need your time and attention or are willing to support you.

4. Volunteer. If you've got time on your hand, volunteer for a cause that is close to your heart. There is no shortage of organizations, adults and young people that need our help.

5. Be faithful. It's ok to be angry, but don't let anger drive you. This will ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS end badly. Be angry, and then move on. Consider keeping a journal - writing things down often helps us sort out our thoughts and emotions. It's also a safe place to unload some of those negative emotions like fear and anger.

Drawing closer to God should be our desire every day, not just on tough days. Praise him! Adore him! Were it not for Him, we would not exist. Yet he loves us so much, he created us in HIS image and likeness. Yes, these can be tough times, but they are not invaluable. The persecution of the Church (whether from the inside of the outside) requires great, tough saints.

I don't like tough times. I don't suppose too many people do. But this opportunity to grow in faith cannot be ignored or wasted. Tough times have nothing on tough prayers.

Hard Blessings

When my kids were little and my days were organized chaos, I would day-dream of being a Carmelite nun. Oh, to have a quiet little cell for study. Slipping into the chapel for a quick visit with our Lord. Praying the Psalms with heavenly chant. Bliss.

Of course, being a Carmelite is not about quiet study and a search for bliss. It is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult and humbling vocations the Church offers. To be wholly cut off from the world, to pray constantly, 24/7 both in private and in community. There are no vacations, no accolades. The Carmelite monastery of today looks pretty much like it did 100 years ago, and 100 hundred years before that.

I know that the Carmelite life was not for me. (The Great Silence alone would be a complete disaster.) I know that I was meant for marriage and family; this would be my path to holiness.

"Holiness" is so important - it is our means of obtaining Heaven. We emulate Christ, his manners, his prayer. We take and eat, at his command, his Body and Blood, in order to gain eternal life.

But in the day-to-day of it, holiness looks a lot like work. There is laundry to do, meals to cook and serve (Oops - just let me get that spilled milk.) The lawn has to get mowed, the dog walked, the bills paid. SOMEbody has to write those lesson plans. This is my path to holiness? I liked my Carmelite daydream better.

The past two years have been really difficult. My health is a constant concern. Our finances -better now! - have been a mess. And I've lost all 4 of the jobs I'v had in the last two years.

Now, while the physical aspects of my health aren't great, that is far easier for me to deal with than the mental aspects. I forget things. A lot. In a conversation with someone, I'll struggle for a word. (One time, someone asked me the name of the book I'd written. Yeah...took me few minutes to pull that up.) Driving requires directions, even to places I've been before. The worst of it is this: I do sub-par work, and don't even notice. (Since you asked so nicely: depression, anxiety and PTSD.)

I could easily turn in a written piece to an editor with a dozen typos in it, and not realize the shoddy work I'd done. I give misinformation. I struggle to place names and faces. Sometimes my pain is so bad, that there just isn't a coherent thought in my head.

Now, I don't have a job. Every time I think about having a job, I start to hyper-ventilate. I still have panic attacks when I just drive by the building where
I last worked.  Everything needs a checklist, everything needs to be written down.

This time has been a hard gift as well: I'm nearly done with a book I've been working on. I get to go to daily Mass and Adoration much more often. And my beautiful little chapel is our deck, with the most comfortable chair, a bevy of plants and flowers, blue skies, trees.

By nature, I tend to be more Eeyore than Pooh. That includes my spiritual life as well. A few weeks ago, I was having a particularly hard time - sometimes, I don't feel like I'm "doing" anything of value. And I feel as if I have no value.

It's a very ambiguous place to be. I loathe ambiguity. It's quiet. I'm not. All of my prayers seem to come back with answer, "Not yet."

Except one. I was thinking/praying/pondering about my whole situation. I acknowledge, Yes, God: you have been gracious to me. Thank you, thank you. And I'm not saying I don't want to be holy.... but.....'

Spit it out, child!' 

Well, I thought it would feel better ... you know, as you get holier."

And God grumbled up His answer to me: "It might. But not for you."

I'm awaiting more hard blessings.

Job, Jacob and the Fine Art of Wrestling With God

Even if you're not very familiar with Scripture, you likely know (roughly) the story of Job. Job, a "righteous man," finds himself in the middle of a wager between God and Satan. God allows Satan to tempt Job into despair, but Job remains faithful.

Jacob's story is a bit different. From the get-go, Jacob is a leader in Israel. He helps Moses. He is a soldier. Nearly fearless.

Well, even if you have never cracked open a Bible, you can probably guess what happens to both these guys, because it's the same thing that happened to your great-grandfather, the same thing that happened to that nice lady down the street, the same thing that happens over and over in the tale of humanity.

Stuff happens.

Your plans do not match God's plans.

You let God know (often boisterously) that THIS is not your plan. [This stage can last anywhere from one day to 64+ years, depending on how pig-headed you are.]

You find yourself sitting on top of a big pile of nothing with God - literally - shouting at you.


Like Jacob, you end up in the middle of nowhere, wrestling a stranger in the middle of the night, to the point that you've dislocated a shoulder.

AND THEN, you begin to consider the possibility that perhaps you should consider God's plan.

I've spent most of the last year wrestling with, boisterously shouting at God, refusing to cry "uncle" as my arm is being twisted. I'm thinking, "Go ahead, God. I got a really high pain tolerance." (That sounded much more Dirty Harry-ish in my head.) As if I can outlast God.

Why do we do it? Why are these wrestling matches part of who we are? Why isn't it all just a bit...well, easier? Surely, God gets just as tired of this boisterous and loud dissent?

I'm not so sure.

Maybe He made us this way. (Of course, willfully turning against God is sinful.) But these times of wrestling and yelling and saying, "I KNOW!!" while slamming an imaginary door - maybe it's our Parent's way of bringing us to the Truth. He's not going to gloat: "I told you so!" but He won't take short-cuts with us either.

Maybe it's a "get it out of your system" thing, or a rite of passage that we all have to navigate.

Anyway, if you're wrestling with God about something, consider being quiet about it with Him. See where He is leading you, instead of the other way around.

Or spent 64+ years wrestling with Him. Same thing, either way.

I'm back!!

My computer issues seem to be fixed, and I'm back now, able to blog.

I will have deeper and more meaningful things to say as the week unfolds, but for now:

Upcoming family wedding
How did she get to be a senior??
Adult kids finding adulting stressful; parents sagely nod
It's 89* and 90% humidity!
John 6
More shame on the Church for not doing the right thing

For the time being, I've started painting and am putting together finishing touches on a book. And so happy to be back here!

Wise as a serpent, gentle as a dove

art by Sarah Taylor Ko
When our family started visiting "our Sisters" once a month or so, I was assigned the job of cook. When we had work days, Ed and the kids would be out raking leaves or planting bulbs or picking apples, I'd be cooking hot dogs and making applesauce for the 50 or so folks who'd be working with the Sisters that morning.

My constant kitchen companion in those days was Sister B. Sister B has an education in pharmacology, and despite being retired, she uses that same exacting care with quilting, cooking and dozens of other things that fill her days.

Sister B comes up to about my chin, which is to say she is petite. She has silver rimmed glasses that sit properly on her nose, a quick grin and smiling blue eyes. With the soft voice, she always asked me far more questions than I asked her, as we cooked and prepped the lunch.

It would be easy to brush off Sister B as a "nice little old nun." I know, because that's what I did. I got accustomed to her sweet voice and cheery manner. I like that she asked me lots of questions - nothing was ever about me in those days, when my kids were small and their needs large.

It was probably a year or so later, Dear Husband and I were with a number of other couples, sharing an evening discussion with the Sisters. Sister B and I ended up at the same table. As the evening progressed, I was struck by how wise Sister B was. Her comments were insightful. I was amazed at her thoughtful contributions to a rich discussion.

Later, as we were driving home, I was telling Hubby about this. Finally, I knew what Christ meant when he told his followers to be wise as serpents, yet gentle as doves. And he was good enough to illustrate his point, via my relationship with Sister B.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco is the Archbishop of Genoa (which is a real place as opposed to the kingdom of Genovia.) His thoughts regarding wisdom resonated with me. And even though Sister B still lights up when she sees me, and I still believe she is a "nice little old nun," I also know she is so much more.

Cardinal Bagnasco: May the Lord help us to return to wisdom, that wisdom that is not afraid of God, that sees in Jesus its true hope, that recognizes Christianity - far from mumbled obscurantism - has introduced an element of spiritual freedom into human life that is capable of elevating individuals, peoples, and nations. The world crises is first of all a spiritual crisis. Failure to admit this signals a failure to comprehend the seriousness of things! We need to start thinking with our heads again! Faith does not eliminate intelligence, but rather seeks it, stimulates it, opens it to reality. Faith asks intelligence to actualize it in history, it encourages intelligence to reawaken from sleep and react to the world of slogans and lies.... All true greatness is born from grace - this we must invoke, of this we must live. - homily on the Feast of St. Lawrence, 8.10.18

Theological Questions Re' the Nature of God, Humanity and Our Co-Existence (or "Why Does God Hate Me So Much?")

We got home from a lovely vacation this past weekend. Despite my neuroses and anxiety, everything went pretty darn well. Shout-out to AirBnB for a great place to stay. I even managed to keep my pain under control for nearly the entire trip.

Then there is the post-vacation let-down: the laundry to take care of, the mail to sort, why did we think we'd have food here when we got home? stuff. And we diligently went about taking care of things.

(Here I must insert a comment. We have two cats, a good cat and a bad cat, if you will.)

We had to figure out where the black sand came from in the living room (a small pot for a succulent that I had forgotten about, but our bad cat didn't! No, he was doing a little happy dance as we left because he knew that black sand was his.) This cat also has developed a taste for electronic charging cords. We have no proof, of course, but we knows he's to blame for the chopped, short and now completely unusable cords scattered about the living room.

After a morning of errands yesterday, I decided to stretch out on the living room floor. Really - like yoga stretching. My back was telling me that the long car rides on vacation were still being felt.

So I am peacefully stretched out, erasing emails, when I hear a sound behind me. It sounds as if someone is tearing nails out of drywall. I lift my head and then


I had just been sucker punched by the Virgin Mary.

Not quite. The bad cat instigated it. But still


I know have 9 staples in my head (a new family record!), a massive headache, and a passionate desire to find one cat a new home.  I am also wondering what I did to turn him into an iconclast. (He had decided to - for the first time- balance beam is way across the mantle.)

Let me know if you're interested.

Boneheaded Questions While Trying to Manage A Life

Comedian Bill Engvall has built a career of joking about dumb people. And to be honest, we all are dumb once in awhile:

"I was driving around in Texas and got a flat tire. I managed to pull into a gas station. The attendant came out and said, "Tire go flat on ya?"

I couldn't resist. "Nope, I was just driving around when those other three swelled up on me. Damnedest thing...." And here's your sign.

A couple of weeks ago, the Gospel of Luke has Jesus, post-Resurrection, visiting the bewildered Apostles. Jesus, "Why are you so troubled?"

I don't mean to be flippant, but ..... Really, Jesus?? Really??

The Messiah has come to his people. He is their salvation. Turns out, he's a carpenter from a backwater town. Now, he's been executed. He was buried, but now his body is missing. Mary Magdalen has told the Apostles that Christ is Risen, just as he promised.

But still....

That whole dead-and-coming-back-to-life thing? We are still a bit ... taken aback. Shocked.  Troubled. You know: just the way you'd feel if your best friend had been killed, buried, and was now back to life.

Is it ok to say to Jesus, "Here's your sign?"

Or should I just swallow hard, and calmly say, "Jesus, I have to be honest. I'm troubled about a lot - I mean, A LOT - of things. How much time do you have?"

Right now, I'm thinking about keeping my pain under-control, continuing to make progress on taming the beast of PTSD every single day, planning a vacation, juggling the needs of young adult kids with the ever-growing list of medical concerns for me and Dear Husband. Oh, and filing for disability. Yep, that's fun.

So, forgive me, dear Jesus: your question "Why are you so troubled?" kinda deserves a sign. The question is a bit disingenuous, in fact. Why am I so troubled?

Oh, Lord. I think the question should be, "Why do you still believe - in spite everything??"

Let's talk about love


Ah, love. Since it's spring, young men's fancies (what???) are turning to thoughts of love. It's nearly as thick in the air as pollen.

We use the word "love" liberally. We "love" our mom's mac & cheese; we "love" our new car. Of course, many of us take the time to tell friends and family that we love them.

In the immortal words of Tina Turner: What's love got to do, got to do with it? What's love but a second hand emotion?

All props to Tina (I hope I look half as good at her age!) but that song got many, many things wrong.

Everyone say it together now: "Love is NOT an emotion." Nope, it's not the butterflies in the stomach when that really cute 8th grade boy makes his way across the gym floor to ask you to dance. Love is not about coveting a designer handbag. It's not our affection for our car, our cat or any other possession.

Love, dear reader, is an action.

That's right: love is what you do, not what you say.

Take for example, the abusive husband. He comes home drunk and angry, and beats up his wife. After words, he is remorseful, showering her with reassurances of his love for her.

What should we pay attention to: the words or the actions?

This past Sunday, we heard what is likely the most powerful three word phrase in all of Christianity and possibly the world: God is love.

In the Gospel, Jesus assures his followers that he loves them. They in turn, must love one another. Further, this love moves us past a teacher-student relationship or a master-servant one. Indeed, we are now friends. Jesus says, "I love you." The Apostles and his other followers will soon see the depth of that love, as Christ enters his passion and death.

We are capable of love because God, our Father and Creator, is love. Love can only create love. We are made in God's image so we reflect his love to others by the charitable acts that we do.

Now don't think you need to join a religious order and travel to the far reaches of the globe to really commit these acts of love. In fact, that would probably be far easier than what God has planned for most of us.

You want to love as God loves? Then tell your spouse how thankful you are for the food he/she prepared. (Don't mention that you don't really like chicken four times a week, and you certainly don't like Brussel sprouts.) Just say "thank you."

You want to love as God loves? Spend time with him in prayer and meditation. Walk in the woods. Walk down the sidewalk. Walk through an airport. God is there, in every single person. Find yourself in awe of God creative power.

You want to love as God loves? Reach out to the kid in the lunchroom who always eats alone. Reach out to that young woman in accounting whom everyone says is an idiot.

You want to love as God loves? Listen to someone's story. Don't ask questions. Don't interrupt. Listen. Listen for the places of love in that story.

God is love. So are we. Now get to work. It's that simple.

Credo or Credon't?

My Friend, artist Helen Thomas Robson 
Quick Latin refresher: credo means "I believe.")

We've been baptizing babies left and right at our parish. Our pastor, Fr. L., is amazing and joyful. He also loves baptizing babies. 

Last week, the little doll that got baptized thought Fr. L was nothing short of magnificent. The babe stared up at him as the baptismal waters were dumped on her precious head (Fr. L believes in liberal amounts of holy water.) When Father anointed her, she cooed and smiled. It was picture perfect.

Yesterday, Father didn't have the mojo, at least for this baby girl. From the moment Father stepped in front of her to trace the cross on her forehead, she starting wailing. Not just a tear - nope, full-on terror. By the time Father baptized her, she was wailing so hard, she was red in the face.

Father's homily yesterday focused on our friendship with Christ, and read a lovely section from Pope Emeritus on this topic. However, Father had to acknowledge that Jesus was a friend to the little one about to be baptized, but he (Fr. L) didn't think he was going to be considered her friend.

Just prior to the baptism, Father invited all of us to stand and renew our baptismal vows. For those who are not familiar with this, the priest (who is impressing upon on that not only are we all responsible for these as we journey through life, but also that we must set a good example for the newly baptized) asks the congregation a series of questions, which are answered with, "I do."

The questions aren't tricky. They start with, "Do you reject Satan and all his works?" Presumably, if you are sitting in church on a glorious spring day, you are probably going to answer in the affirmative.
Dear Husband and I had a family sitting behind us. The parents have four beautiful tween and teen girls, and a 4 year old son. We sit by them almost every Sunday, and this guy is doing a great job of behaving at Mass. (Not that he has any choice between Mom, Dad and four sisters who both adore and are annoyed by a brother.)

Little Brody was behind me as we were taking in the baptism ritual. We stood to  express our creed, with Father asking the questions and eliciting, "I do" from all the baptized.

But not Brody. By the time we were all fairly shouting "I do" in response to Satan's evil ways, Brody needed to put in his two cents, "Well, I don't!" he said in a ringing voice.

His mother quickly clamped a hand over his mouth, horrified. I was greatly amused (but only because it wasn't my kidand was clamping a hand over my own mouth, but I managed to catch Mom's eye, which got her giggling. And of course, then we had the "church giggles."

Yes, it was a fine day to baptize a baby! Hopefully, Brody got some sort of explanation as to why Mom found it necessary to nearly gag him at Mass, and the angel that got baptized will not grow up with a fear of priests.

It was joyful. It was funny. Jesus was there, welcoming all of us into friendship, and we responded. A blessed day.

Living in the traumatic past

Trauma: artist unknown
We all know someone who "lives in the past." Maybe it's a high school friend who is constantly bringing up those "glory days," as Bruce Springsteen put it. Maybe it's an elderly relative whose memory of breakfast is weak, but can recall the most minute details of her First Communion.

The past, as good as it may be, is not a place to live. Being mentally healthy means, in part, that we visit the past, but we don't stay there.

Unless you've suffered trauma. Trauma - when it's not fully integrated and successfully treated - drags us back to the past, over and over. (We generally call this PTSD.)

Last year, I lost two jobs. I couldn't do all that was required well. I was constantly making mistakes, and being told the same thing over and over didn't help. I was, for the first time in my life, failing miserably at work. Why?

As a recovering perfectionist, I told myself all this was my fault. For some reason, I was not remembering details of the job. I was doing something wrong. I was wrong.

But now I'm learning the truth. The truth is that I've been traumatized. No, I was never abused or assaulted. But my kids have been. And as a mother, I identify so strongly with my children that whatever hurt them, hurt me. Yet, I never acknowledged this. I never even knew it.

Years of trauma have built up. I ignored all the warning signs and plunged forward, all the while being dragged into the past, psychologically and physiologically. So, when I tried to do jobs (one that I was capable of doing!) that required new skills, my brain objected. Strenuously. Seriously.

And I ignored it.

It got to the point at my last job that I was getting sick on Sundays, thinking about the week ahead. I would sit at my desk, trying to work as my heart raced and I got dizzy. As hard as I tried to learn, I failed.

Thankfully, my spiritual advisor bluntly told me: "You need help."

In his book, The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel Van Der Kolk explores exactly what trauma does to the brain. He says that trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way the mind and brain manage perceptions. Trauma, he says, changes our very capacity to think.

And I realized: I am not a failure. I am traumatized.

Now, the work begins. Thankfully, I have an extremely compassionate therapist, one who deals primarily with people who suffer from trauma. I am learning to integrated the past into the present in a healthy way. It's not easy, and I'm not really sure I'll be able to work again, but it is necessary.

Caregivers can be traumatized too. Moms and Dads especially, as they witness trauma inflicted on a child. I have to learn that the past is truly past - I don't have to live there anymore.


Covered Wagon - artist Robert Wesley Amick
I read "Pioneer Girl," the annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder about 2 weeks ago. Her life, as reflected in her work, was pretty unsettled. She was young enough to remember the last of the Sioux Indians being driven from their own land.

Her Pa started getting itchy feet whenever he would feel hemmed in by people in what many saw as a vast prairie. (He apparently tried to talk his wife into moving to Seattle in their later years. Ma put her foot down.)

As a reader, you don't get the sense that Laura felt unsettled. Every outing was a new adventure, a new place to explore, new people to meet. She may have moved a lot, but Laura never felt unsettled.

I am a "settler." I like the familiarity of a place, the curve of the ground in my backyard, the knowledge that my neighbors are the same today as 20 years ago.  I lived in the same house for the first 19 years of my life, and watched the world blossom, bloom, die and fight back to life out of the same windows, year after year. Perhaps my intense rootedness then means that now, every move makes me feel off-kilter, and wondering why God calls me to this unsettled life.

God's Chosen People, the very people He brought out of slavery and molded into a community of faith guided by His law: well, He let 'em wander around in the
desert for 40 years.

Jesus told a would-be follower (Mt. 8:20) to come and follow Him, but know that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. That doesn't sound too promising for one with a "settled" heart.

Jesus began His life on earth as unsettled, with Mary and Joseph having to go to Bethlehem for the census, and then at some point, Joseph (acting under God's directive) uproots his small family in fear of Herod's slaughter of Jewish baby boys.

Our God is an awesome God, but He is not a settled God. He moves in ways visible and invisible. He unleashes a mighty army of angels that guard our souls every minute, every day. And He wants us to be unsettled. Because being unsettles means: "I'm not home yet."

Years ago, when I was teaching at the college level, I used a BBC series on world religions. The narrator cheerfully bounded about the globe, talking to people about their faith. In South Africa, he took an interest in new Christian religions - often small churches that began in someone's home.  At this time, apartheid was still the law of the land, and it was easy to see how the promise of freedom (in faith) played out in the black townships.

One lady interviewed must have been 90 years old. She'd seen it and done it. She been a servant in white people's homes nearly all her life. All of her comings and goings over the years were tightly restricted by a government that believed she was "less than." And yet, she swayed with joy when talking about her faith. "Oh, I don't worry about this world," she said, "I don't belong here. No sir, my home is Heaven."

This little old lady, whom the world may have completely forgotten, who was illiterate, and who had lived under such degradation: she was not unsettled. She knew right where she belonged. This world was nothing but passing time for her.

I fall very short of this. I fret and worry, pack and unpack, purge and stuff closets, get rid of a dog and bring home another cat. I want to line my nest with the nicest and coziest feathers. And then God says, "Move."

I don't wanna. But I move.

Why? "O Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of everlasting life."

I wonder, if on that day that Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John (Mt. 4:18-22) if there were not one or two more men - men in their boats, going about their work - who heard that call as well? What if just one of those men thought, "He's an interesting man. I'd like to know more. But I'm settled. My life is right here?"

What if we miss the Holy Spirit because we want to be settled?

Of course, I'm writing this in my big comfy chair with my two cats on my lap. I am not exactly heading out to mission territory any time soon. But I have just moved, and I have the stacks and boxes to prove it. It was not a move I wanted to make, but God said, "Move." All I can ever answer is, "Here I am, Lord."

Holy Week: not so holy?

artist Mike Torevell
Generally, our Holy Week is very structured. Our relationship with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist makes it so. And of course, we try to participate in the Triduum liturgies as much as possible.

Except this year.

This year, our Holy Week is a scramble for boxes and tape. (And who has the markers??)

This year, our Holy Week is counting pennies, so that we can pay everyone who needs to be paid as we move.

Our Holy Week this year is a reflection of God's will in our life, which has been pretty tumultuous lately.

Holy Week is finding that space to ponder the Holy Family. They had to move when they didn't want to, either.

Holy Week right now is being thankful for all those who are praying for us.

Holy Week 2018 is not going to make anyone's Top Ten Catholic Holy Folks list. Instead, it's just going to be quiet moments stolen in between filling boxes. It's going to be short and sweet prayers. It will be that journey to the tomb, going not where we want but where God wills. Holy Week this year will be holy, but it will be the tender holiness of bowing down to God's will, in our home, in our day to day lives. It will be holy.

"My God, my God; why have you abandoned me?"

Palm Sunday - artist William Hemmerling
This is the mournful refrain of today's psalm, one that will echo through Good Friday. We are a people bereft, wondering how it is that Jesus is not only taken from us, but murdered. If that is not abandonment, what is?

Clearly, I've been away from blogging this Lent. There are a few reasons. First, I'm unemployed (again.) This time, it seemed like a matter of life or death. Every day, wracked with stress, going into a job for which I was totally ill-suited, I thought, "Is this the day I'll have a heart attack?"

If that wasn't enough, we have to move. Our current apartment complex decided to not renew our lease. I reacted as if it were a death (anger, denial, bargaining, etc.) And I was good and angry at God. Once again, I believed I'd followed the rules, and I got punished anyway. What good is friendship with God if you don't benefit from it?

I stopped making Lenten plans many years ago. It became obvious that God always had other plans anyway, so now I simply tell God: "Whatever. This is your Lent to plan, not mine." And yes, I often regret this prayer. I'd much rather give up chocolate and be done with it.

Now, it's Holy Week. My Lent has not been very edifying spiritually. We've been packing, looking at scads of places to live, figuring out budgets, pros and cons of every place we've looked at. Mostly, I've spent this Lent in a constant state of panic, wondering where we'll be living.

As it turns out, we found a place. Yesterday (God likes to keep us hopping til the last minute.)

I did not spend this Lent doing spiritual reading, going to daily Mass, or finding small ways to sacrifice. I spent my Lent yelling at God: Where ARE you? Why are you not here with us? Why have you abandoned us??

In essence, I've spent my Lent doing exactly what Christ is doing during Holy Week. He's been let-down by friends, handed over to the Roman government by His own people, and executed for nothing that He'd done. His cry is the same as mine: "God, where are you?? You promised You'd never leave me!" Which, when you think about it, isn't such a bad way to spend one's Lent. It just isn't an easy way.

"Beat Down" and in the company of ostriches

art by Kevin Derksen
In their introduction to the Book of Job, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops explains that this Old Testament book is "an exquisite dramatic treatment of the problem of the suffering of the innocent."

What this means is: "This is great to read, especially if it's not about you."

No one, of course, escapes suffering, but one person's suffering is never the same as another's, even if they are going through the same experience. These differences - after a few rounds of suffering in our life - begin to strike us as "unfair."

It's unfair that our child has cancer, and yours does not. It's unfair that my husband lost his job, and yours just got a big fat promotion. It's unfair that my health is so poor, while you're out running marathons.

Of course, we can turn each of these situations around. I'm so sorry your child has cancer, but mine's a drug addict. It's terrible that  your husband lost his job, but mine is a philandering dog. Yes, I run marathons, but it's to escape the unhappiness of home.

Later on in the introduction to Job, the Bishops state: "the lessons that the book teaches are not transparent." Uh ... yeah.  I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that no experience of suffering offers up transparent lessons. Such is the human experience.

In the past few weeks, I've lost my job (and income, which is a huge strain.) Our apartment has become infested with bed bugs, and it's cost us about $3000 SO FAR to deal with this. (I say "so far" because we have at least one and possibly two more treatments in the next 3 weeks or so.) Our apartment is totally torn apart, as ever single cloth item we own has had to be washed, dried and sealed in containers. Our art, pictures and books are all sealed. We are tripping over boxes and bags and totes, we don't know where much of anything is, and it's costing us money we don't have.

Tuesday, just for fun, I got to go to the ER not once, but twice. Seems my spinal stimulator is on the fritz, so my nerve pain (and then ensuing muscle pain) got out-of-control.

And it wasn't even Lent yet, folks! That's how my family rolls!!

My poor husband, who carries so much of these burdens, seemed a bit out of it this morning, which is unusual for him. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he was just "beat down."

Job himself put it this way:

I cry to you, but you do not answer me; 
I stand, but you take no notice. 
and with your strong hand you attack me. 
You raise me up and drive me before the wind; 
I am tossed about by the tempest. 

Indeed I know that you will return me to death 
to the house destined for everyone alive. 
Yet should not a hand be held out to help a wretched person in distress? 
Did I not weep for the hardships of others; 
was not my soul grieved for the poor? 

Yet when I looked for good, evil came; 
when I expected light, darkness came. 
My inward parts seethe and will not be stilled; 
days of affliction have overtaken me. 
I go about in gloom, without the sun; 
I rise in the assembly and cry for help. 
I have become a brother to jackals, 
a companion to ostriches.  (Job 30:20-29)

That is a man that is "beat down."

(Also, I'm not sure how the ostriches got mixed up in all this, but "a companion to ostriches" seems as good an explanation of any regarding our situation.)

While I enjoy Job - if only for weird animal references - St. John Paul II's apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris, is far more enlightening. First, St. John Paul reminds us that Job does not get the last word on suffering - Christ does. And ultimately, we humans don't simply want to know WHY we suffer. We want to know that our suffering MEANS something.

The opposite of salvation is not, therefore, only temporal suffering, any kind of suffering, but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation. The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil and against definitive suffering. 

In his salvific mission, the Son must therefore strike evil right at its transcendental roots from which it develops in human history. These transcendental roots of evil are grounded in sin and death: for they are at the basis of the loss of eternal life. The mission of the only-begotten Son consists in conquering sin and death. He conquers sin by his obedience unto death, and he overcomes death by his Resurrection. [para. 14]

All true and life-changing and necessary for us to hear.

Except when we are "beat down."

When we are "beat down," we need compassion. We need companions - people willing to sit with us and just be. We need a phone call from a friend. We need prayers to hold us up when we cannot hold ourselves up. We need to just sit in the presence of God.

None of which sounds like the plans for Lent most of us make: I'm gonna give up caffeine, and get to Adoration once a week and set aside time every day for prayer and I'm going to work on my relationship with my mom.

And if you're not in the middle of bed bugs and job loss and your body falling apart, then this may just be the right Lenten plan for you.

But if you are currently a companion to ostriches, beat down - then give yourself a break. Jesus does not want our sacrifices of bullocks; He wants us, our hearts. He wants our hearts so badly that He will come and keep you company in the midst of the ostriches. He is a God that knows "beat down" so intimately that He can put His arm around us and say, "I know."

Are you "beat down?" You're in good company. Come sit with us, over here amongst the ostriches, and we will wait for Christ.

A work in progress. Just not THAT work.

My work life has been spotty at best the past two years. My job at Company A (which I adored and would go back there in a heartbeat) got budgeted right out of existence. I was totally bowled over - never saw it coming.

That meant months on unemployment and serious financial pinching.

I was hired by Company B (alas, no bugle boy), an organization who's business plan was written by blind and deaf chimpanzees. It was unpleasant, in the way that diarrhea is unpleasant.

I was having some issues with the way things were done, and my understanding of processes that I had not been hired to do. My tenure there lasted 2 weeks. Good-bye.

Then, a round of interviews for a job with the local diocese. Sure, it wasn't what I was looking for but I could easily do the job.

Or so I thought.

My last two jobs have taught me something: my brain does not function the way it used to. Oh, I'm not saying I've got a serious medical condition having to do with my brain. No, it seems as if the trauma of the past two decades, along with depression, anxiety and the meds used to treat them have taken a toll.

You don't need to believe me, by the way. You can read many, many articles about this.

The best way I can explain it is that it's like being partially deaf, partially blind, and limp. With time and compensation, a person can certainly live a normal life by focusing on "work arounds." But there will always be circumstances that are difficult: a noisy and crowded party for instance.

I haven't figured out my work arounds. If my brain can still function in some ways, I need to figure out how. As I told my new therapist, "If this is who I am NOW, then what am I now capable of?"

I am not at all unhappy. The job I just left was literally going to give me a heart attack. By Sunday afternoons, I was getting sick to my stomach at the thought of having to go back to work. Walking into my office: it was a crap shoot as to whether or not I'd have a panic attack. I could not eat.

So, a week ago Sunday, I was at Mass. I told God: "Look something has to give. I'm going to have a heart attack. You know this is not working for anyone involved. Give me a break, God!"

In spectacular style, God came through. I walked into another performance last Monday morning. My boss went through the list of concerns (which I had memorized), and was once again agonizingly awful. Finally, as the review wrapped up, and my boss set the date for the next review, I asked to speak with her in private. (Yes, there were others present. Just in case I had a shred of dignity left.)

I said, "This is stupid. I'm not making improvements. You've been more than generous. But one more week won't make a difference. I would quit today, but I need unemployment."

She straightened up and said, "I'll fire you today, if that's what you want."

It was. I walked out of that building on a cloud. The weight of the world was off. For now, I'm happy to just be. I'll find my way.

Crossing Guard

I saw you
as you guided
your little man across that busy street.

You were wearing some
big man boots
watching cars and lights.

Your little man had on
black sneakers and
a Mickey Mouse hat
that bounced
as he walked.

He wasn't watching nothing but
your big man boots
the white stripes of the crosswalk.

Just before
he got to the sidewalk again,
his step bounced a bit
- he hopped over
a spot where the asphalt broke.

You turned to look,
holding out a hand to
your little man.
Not rushed or angry,
just making sure
he got up
on that sidewalk.

Then you walked on,
in your big man boots,
face into a cold Michigan wind,
with the little man behind,
his hat bouncing.

A Perfect Mess

Perfect Mess, artist Beth Munro
I've said here before: I'm a recovering perfectionist. Since my young teens, I've wanted everything planned, thought out, well-executed and: perfect. Yes, it's an unattainable goal, but dammit, I was up for the challenge.

That meant never giving my parents a moment of worry. Striving for the Dean's List and making it. Having that paper done weeks in advance. Making sure my kids were not only dressed well, but well-mannered.

What I never bargained for was that the Universe is not geared toward "perfect." It's geared toward "good enough," "survival of the fittest," "natural disasters," but not "perfect."

I was always missing the mark. And I was always unhappy with myself. Why, God, did you make me crave "perfect?"

This week, I got what I wanted. And it is really, really painful.

I took a job a few months ago because I really needed a job. I told myself that the place I worked would balance out the fact that I didn't really like the work. I've ended up sitting in a cubicle, with walls so high I cannot see anyone else, doing data entry. Two days this past week, I realized no one even spoke to me except to address a work-issue.

As a gregarious, out-going Irish girl, this is a fresh Hell.

To make matters worse, I'm lousy at this job. I've tried to be super-careful, watch the details and learn, but I...suck.

Now, I've come to realize that my brain doesn't work as well as it used to. With depression, anxiety and trauma a big part of my life for the past 15 years or so, my brain isn't always as precise and careful as it used to be. I've had to compensate, work around and make do. I've gotten much more comfortable with "good enough."

But "good enough" is not good enough for this job. And my boss told me this week that my work was "disappointing." I had to sign a piece of paper that said my work would be "error free" in two weeks or I'd be done.

"Error free" is humanly impossible, so it's pretty easy to guess where I'll be in a few days.

Isn't God funny? I prayed for years to be free of the burden of trying to be perfect, and here I am, a perfect mess. I no longer worry about keeping up appearances and showing everyone that I was above the fray. Now that I've clearly achieved that, I am horrified.

Every day this week, I've wanted to hide in the women's bathroom and cry. I want to go back in time and worry myself sick over perfection. But I can't. There just isn't space in my brain anymore.

I'm hoping to find a new job before I get canned. We'll see. If nothing else, I'm going to be more clear with myself and my new employer.  I cannot be error-free. I'll do my very best, but what you see is what you get: a perfect mess.

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

"A Heavy Heart" ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

People say that when they don't know what else to say.

"It's always darkest before the dawn."
"There's a light at the end of the tunnel."
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

It's not true.

Your heart is shattered into a million pieces. Your grief overwhelms you. You can't eat or sleep. Everything you know about your life now seems wrong.

But, hey! Perk up! In a little while you'll be stronger.

This has not been my experience.

When you are grief-stricken, down on you knees and weeping, you are not getting stronger.

You may be getting more empathetic.
You may be getting more faithful.
You may be getting clarity on what really matters in this world.
You may be getting bitter and angry.

You are not getting stronger.

No one handles tragedy well. Some of us crumble, some of us remain resolute. But stronger?

When you drop a piece of china, you do not make it stronger. It breaks.

You can do one of two things. You can sweep up the pieces carefully, and throw them away. Or you can gather the pieces together, and in a few months, when you are ready, you can takes those pieces and transform them into a mosaic - maybe a wall hanging or a garden stepping stone.

Those pieces are not stronger. They are renewed.

Just before Mass today, our pastor announced that a family in our parish lost their 23 year old son in an early morning car accident. I have no doubt their faith will sustain them, but they won't be stronger.

Their family will never be the same. There will always be a hole, a spot where someone belonged, but is no longer here. He will always be missed.

I know this, too, from experience.

If you really, truly understand grief, you know that it does not make you stronger. If you are faithful, and you allow God to lead you through the grief, through the mess, through the horror and sorrow, you will be transformed.

Not stronger, but renewed. Not better or whole, but more empathetic. More understanding. Kinder and more grateful.

No, what doesn't kill you does NOT make you stronger. But God can use it for grace, and we can be renewed.

The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem and gathers the dispersed of Israel;
Healing the broken-hearted and binding up their wounds. (Ps. 147:2-3)

Hate your boss? Hate your job? Welcome to the club

I've got a relic of Bl. Solanus Casey over my desk. I pinned a note next to it: "'Sacerdos Simplex' yet still a saint." He strikes me as a genial fellow, but he must have felt some sense of disappointment when he finally graduated, was ordained and then told, "Yeah, you can't do a bunch of priestly stuff. But you can answer the door!"

While St. Damien of Molokai volunteered to head to Hawaii and care for the lepers, he really had no idea what he was getting into. The living conditions when he arrived were about 7 steps below squalor. Over the years, he helped his people build homes, a church, organized choirs and planted gardens. I'm sure he had his moments - he could not possibly have dreamed as a child that he would travel to a tropical paradise, only to find it full dreadfully sick people.

Whenever a pope is elected, he is asked if he will serve. If he assents, he is taken to the Crying Room, where 3 sizes of white robes await. And those men must surely cry, for no one wants the job of running Vatican City and leading a billion Catholics who all have differing views as to who the pope should be.

We all deal with stress. At the office, it might be an obnoxious or clueless boss. Maybe it's a team member who never pulls her own weight, but is happy to take credit for success. Maybe it's an office manager who is just a little too OCD; every time someone fails to put on a fresh pot of coffee there is a slew of emails reminding people that this is NOT the way we run things around here, people!

It's been going on ever since Adam and Eve decided to do what they've been asked not to:
In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field. Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

I keep telling myself I'm blessed to have a job (with the voices of my Depression Era parents ringing in my ears.) I'll watch an episode or two of The Office, get a decent night's sleep and be back at it again. I'll also be asking a few saints to run interference.

The Best Laid Plans...

About 20 years or so ago, I stopped giving up things for Lent. It's not that I didn't find it a worthy practice; I did. It's ...