Sunday, March 29, 2009

And Now, The Bad News

One thing first, before the bad news. Last night at Mass Fr. Steve centered his homily around Archbishop Oscar Romero. Fr. Steve either has excellent sermons or really bad sermons; he never seems to hit mediocre. This one was excellent. Of course, that's just my very biased opinion. It reminded me of a prayer written by Archbishop Romero that I used to keep tucked away inside my journal. When I looked for the prayer, it was gone, however, I found it on my computer. I think I will write in my journal tomorrow morning, and I will tell my children about Oscar Romero. Sadly, they didn't know who he was. They can name all sorts of saints, but they didn't have a clue who Fr. Steve was talking about last night. I'm ashamed. Oh, and the prayer...

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Now, the bad news. Tim's last day of work will be April 30th. The prospects are bleak. Many local business have hiring freezes or are laying off, unemployment is growing. Several people he worked with have been unable to find any work over the last six months. Job prospects for an older, gray haired male with specialized skills in a field that has been largely outsourced doesn't hold a lot of promise.

Now the bright side of this bad news. We're okay. Really, we're okay. We've always lived simply. While others were getting a new monster SUV's every few years, I was driving my 10 year old Saturn while Tim was driving his 20 year Toyota PU. Instead of buying a bigger house, we stayed put and focused on simplifying even more. We enjoy our home so don't go out much. During the summer, the garden, orchard and picnics in the field satisfy us. In the winter, evenings in front of the fire with popcorn and a puzzle or a good book are great entertainment. The latest clothes, electronics, or whatever the newest fad might be, doesn't hold a lot of sway over us. We enjoy the simple. Also, we've known for some time that his job wasn't secure, so we've had time to prepare for this. We're okay.

Tim's got feelers out, but they're not feeling anything. He's eligible for unemployment, and he'll keep looking. Other than that, I'm looking forward to having him at home. The girls are looking forward to having daddy at home. And this is the best time of year it could happen, if it had to happen. Tim is a outdoor, nature boy. Nothing makes him happier than to dig in the dirt, and spring is just around the corner. He's looking forward to more gardening time and working outside. I'm looking forward to morning coffee in the orchard, walks together, time to sit and just be.

In the meantime, we're crunching numbers. and seeing where we are. Our retirement has taken a big hit, just like everyone else, but we have a couple ideas. By the end of summer, if nothing has come up, I'm going to start looking. Actually, I wouldn't mind part-time work if Tim was home. He would love, and I would love, for him to have the opportunity to be the 'on-duty' parent, while I actually wouldn't mind working. It's been quite a while. I know I can't get back into the field I was in, but I'm not picky and we don't need a lot.

And if I get to feeling sorry for myself, all I need to do is read the foreclosure notices in the paper or see the tent cities on the news. We have nothing to be sorry about. I keep all the homeless, jobless people in my prayers. If we all join together, in whatever little way, we can help everyone. Maybe just an extra can of food for the foodbank, or a kind word or smile. It spreads.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Happy News First

because I'm the type that wants the happy and good news first. Bolsters me up for the bad news later.

I don't talk much about my family here, but I wanted to write about something other than religion. I have five girls, ranging from almost 20 to 8 yr. old twins. I could fill up blog after blog writing about any one of them. This time, it's about my second oldest.

R. has always been mentally years older than she is physically. She knows what she wants, she makes a plan, and gets it. She is one of those kids that was 13 going 30. She has a sense of maturity that is in some ways more developed than adults I know. Perhaps she has an old soul. Of course, there are moments when she proves that she's still young, but then there are days when I prove that I still have much growing to do. She finished high school at 16 and started college that fall. She works part-time, is paying her way through school, has bought her own car, pays her own insurance and pretty much any extra things she wants. Can you tell, I'm proud of her.

Well, several years ago she met her 'soul mate', or so she claimed. Now, I don't really believe in instant soul mates, but she vehemently disagrees. She knew immediately he was her soul mate. For me, after 23 years of marriage, I know Tim is my soul mate. Maybe I'm just slow? At first, because of her age we didn't allow her to see him. Last summer though, I realized I couldn't stop her. (I knew all along I couldn't stop her, I just wanted to pretend I could.) By that time she was driving to work, school, making her own way, so unless I wanted to lock her up, she was going to see him. With or without my permission. Well, I'm not a parent that is all about control and proving I'm bigger or older or I get the last word. Relationships are more important to me; unless they are in danger, that is.

Tim and I met him last July for the first time. It was obvious that the feelings she had for him were returned. We knew he was probably here to stay and were preparing ourselves for some formal announcement. It just came much sooner than we expected. He proposed to our daughter last December. At the ice skating rink. He got down on knee and asked, "Will you honor me by becoming my wife?" The answer is obvious.

Our daughter is getting married this August. Yes, she is young. Very young. I was almost 25 when I married, Tim was two weeks away from his 27th birthday, and we thought we were young enough. That was us, though. This is another person. R. made up her mind. She is getting married. Whether her dad and I are there or not, she will marry him. She made her decision. Now it was our turn to make our decision. We could be those parents who stand their ground: you're too young, you don't know what you're doing, you're making a huge mistake and end up with months of arguing and hard feelings. Or, the biggie, he doesn't go to church, he's not Christian, or even worse, not Catholic; there is no way we will support you in this. Yes, I have several friends who would react that way. Oops, promised not to mention religion.

Well, that's not our 'ground' we're standing on. For us, it was a no-brainer. We will be there to give them all our support, encouragement, prayers and love. Dan will be totally accepted into our family circle. Cause that's the kind of parents we are.

The couple to be....

Don't they actually, sort of, look like soul mates? I keep wondering if they're going to get hooked - literally - but haven't seen any ripped noses yet. If you're so inclined, you could send up a quick prayer or energy or positive thoughts for Dan and Rachael. All couples can use all the positive energy they can get. I want them surrounded by positive thoughts and love.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This morning while I was sitting in my favorite chair, cup of coffee by my elbow, and all the children still in bed, trying to clear my mind, this one particular memory kept coming to the forefront.

The summer of 2004 was, I think, the lowest I ever got. Mom passed away in 2001; sister went mostly bonkers; dad almost died, spent 2 mos. in ICU, 1 mo. in nursing facility and I nursed him for 3 mos. in 2003; dh's position was outsourced, he was scrambling to find a position, and was showing all the signs of being depressed; everyday was filled with stress and tempers; I was worried sick about a daughter; my faith was a mess although I was still playing the game; my best friend had all but deserted me over my faith issues since I had become a near occasion of sin for her. Bluntly, life was hell.

One day I escaped to the orchard with a glass of iced tea. I remember feeling totally defeated and ashamed that I was so easily defeated. Praying seemed so useless. Where was God? I remember clearly saying out loud, "God, where are you? Where can I find you. The real you; God in the raw."

God in the raw. I never knew where that came from - inside me somewhere, I guess. It almost sounded sacriligeous at the time. Yet, that's what I wanted. Needed. God in the raw. God untouched by human hands. An unanthropomorphic God.

I clearly remember that feeling creeping in that something was wrong with me if I didn't know God, if I couldn't find God. People for 2000 years had found him in the church, he was there, why wasn't it working for me. It was my fault. My heart wasn't open, pride was getting in the way, on and on and on. But this time I stopped that line of thinking; it always made me depressed. I considered the problem. I wanted God in the raw. Then I needed to go where man had not intervened. Not church, not the bible, not catechisms, documents, encyclicals. No, no, no. Man was in the middle of everything.

What I couldn't see for a moment was the answer staring me in the face; and then I saw it. Creation. It was all around me. Trees with fruit. Flowers growing wildly. That was as close as I could get to God. God's creation. From that day on, I looked on God differently, looked for him in different places. I refused to look for God in books or buildings or someone else's answers. Ever since that day I have been trying to trust the answers in myself. Many times I doubt myself and want to run to another source, accept it without question, let someone else define my faith. When I do though, that depression starts seeping in again. So I keep moving forward.

Looking back on that time, it sounds a little hokey to me. Seeing God for the first time in my Santa Rosa Plum tree (which was probably altered by man to produce bigger plums). It was a start though. Laughable or not, it was a revelation for me.

Oh my, I'm a mess. Are there other people out there this messed up over religion? Other people whose thoughts are sometimes totally consumed with religion, faith, God, salvation, heaven, hell days at a time? I hate it. How I envy people who can take what works for them and leave the rest behind. Me, I've got to do it all, no picking and choosing for me. All black and white. If 'this' is true,then everything else is false. It drives me absolutely nuts. I drive me absolutely nuts.

Anyway, that thought kept coming back to me this morning, and I thought maybe it was for a reason. Something left to learn from it. I have now written it out so I can come back later and re-read it. And probably see how ridiculous I am.

I envy my brother-in-law the somewhat aetheist. Life is so simple for him. I know, I know.....

Back to my St. Patrick Day preparations.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Do you see an overabundance of compassion? I see some, but I am also sadly aware of a lack of human compassion. "They messed up, they were stupid, now they need to deal with it." That kind of attitude. It's bothered me for quite a while, but with the economy in the mess it is, with people losing homes, losing jobs, not meeting monthly payments, I have noticed an increase in this attitude. "I would never have gotten myself into that situation; I'm responsible. People want to play, they need to pay." Why is it so easy in our pride to turn a blind eye to suffering and write it off as someone's stupidity, that they deserve unfortunate circumstances and misfortune.

I'm linking this back to my thoughts on original sin. Somehow I think this belief in a punishing God makes it easy for us to be punishing; paves the way for us to show our supposed superiority over others. Do exactly what I say, don't go against me, and I'll be your friend. Go against me, offend me, I'll leave you. Get on your knees and beg forgiveness and mercy, and I'll be your friend again. We're a lot like God, aren't we? Or is it that God is a lot like us?

Showing people who have made bad choices, used poor judgment, or just plainly haven't been 'as smart as I am' any consideration, kindness or wanting to help them get back on their feet is misguided compassion.

I guess I'd rather be guilty of misguided compassion than be guilty of no compassion.

I'm feeling down today. Sad. And more than a little ashamed of humanity. In my little circle, anyway.

On another note, my brother-in-law called and asked 11 yr old dd to spend the night with her cousin. Dd is ecstatic. She and cousin are the best of friends. But... there's always a but in things. But, brother-in-law is a fundamentalist, born again, evangelical, preachy minister. I ran out of adjectives. So, dd and I sit down and go over the list of topics that are off limits. No religion, no wizards, no spells (dd is still into all sorts of things magical), in fact, no fantasy anything, no dinosaurs (evolution, don't you know), no Obama, no, no, no.... What have I missed. Frankly, the girls would be fine if the adults would stay the hell out of it. But we adults have our hang-ups, don't we.

Monday, March 2, 2009

We are now a week into Lent and many thoughts have been swirling in my mind. For the past several years, my feelings about Lent have been rather ambivalent. That feeling of ambivalence has likely been due to a need to detox from my overly religious past.

For years I attacked Lent like it was my enemy, something that I must defeat. I searched for my deepest character flaws, gave up those things which brought me the most pleasure, and added on extra despicable chores. It was all about mortification. I remember meeting with friends to discuss how we could make this Lent better than all the previous Lents. Ideas ranged from eating only the scraps from your childrens' plates to giving up sex, praying a 15 decade rosary on your knees (that would be 20 now, right?) to covering your head in the house as a sign of submission to your husband. Yes, these were Catholic women. Ideas offered to our children, in addition to the normal 'give up candy', included sleeping without a pillow, sleeping on the floor, forgoing all books except school books, being silent until spoken to, etc. A family examination of conscience would include each family member confessing a sin in front of the family and doing a public penance. Are there still convents that do this? I remember thinking that a hairshirt and 'the discipline' would be suggested. It was all about mortifications, little and big. In the 20th century.

I did mention giving up sex to my husband to which he responded that you needed to have enough of something before you give it up so rather we should add more sex to our life for Lent. I was actually offended that he didn't take me seriously. 'Nuff about my sex life, or lack thereof.

Now all this was suppose to help you become detached from things of this world in order to live in God's Will. At the end of Lent, you would emerge closer to God, living more fully in His Will and not yours. You would know God better. I would emerge from Lent a few pounds lighter, or with a cleaner house, or some nasty chore that had been put off for months accomplished, but as to feeling closer to God, I can't say that was ever an outcome for me; neither did I know God any better. I recall so many conversations where friends would talk of what a blessed, holy Lent it was for them. How they felt they had died a little more to themselves and were living more in accordance with God. How their relationship with God was so much closer and holy. I would nod my head, say the right things while on the inside wonder why I was the only one that didn't have these holy experiences during Lent. After more than several years, I became very cynical and began to doubt the honesty of these friends. I became suspicious that they said these things because that's what sounded good. It made them more holy, more Godly, more pious. See what a nasty, jealous person I am? Instead of emerging from Lent a better person, I emerged a nastier person - on the inside, anyway.

Sometime after my mom's death when I started to take apart my faith (with the hope of re-building it from the ground up) I became totally disillusioned with Lent. And I quit. During this time I prayed and prayed - prayed to know God, to love God. I wanted what those other people had: this personal knowledge of God, this great LOVE for God. What friends said, I wanted for real. What I've found over the last eight years is something very different from what I thought I would find; indeed, what I've found is the opposite of what I thought the answer was. Yes, I knew the answer before I started looking. When that answer never came, and I screamed at God, "I give up", and that was when I started feeling God for the first time.

First off, I was always looking out there. You know, the God out there, up there. In church, in the Bible, in the teachings of Church Fathers, in the lives of the Saints. That God. An external God. Yes, I could have God's life inside of me, His grace, but I could lose that in a heartbeat. Sin. Yes, God was in other people, if they were open to Him, but then I constantly found myself in the trap of judging whether that person was open to God's grace or not. Yuck. So a God out there, a God that would come into my soul, but that would also leave me. No, that's not right. God would never leave me; I would leave God. Just as God doesn't send one to hell, but one chooses hell. Right?

Secondly, as I mulled over the whole Lent thing, I realized one thing that had bothered me the most was how individual it was. It was all about me. My holiness, my godliness, my salvation. People I knew, including myself, became so very introspective. It was all about me. Can I say selfish? Wow. That was sacrilegious. Lent and selfish are polar opposites, right? I don't believe I can even explain that statement, but nonetheless, that's how I felt.

So between looking for that God out there, hoping and praying for that God to live in me, and focusing on me, my salvation, my holiness, I came up empty handed.

A few years ago, Tim and I were watching a show on PBS. It was about women in Africa. It was heart wrenching. My gut hurt. At the risk of sounding corny, while watching that show I felt this incredible amount of love. And, the biggest realization of all? It was love for god, a spirit, a connectedness, a something. Or maybe it was middle age female hormones. Whatever it was, that was the starting of my journey towards knowing god. I had found god, not out there, but in there, in people. People so different from me yet so like me. The god in there, not out there.

Lent has been very different for me since then. It is not a time for me to get all introspective but a time for me to become part of this whole humanity thing, to connect with other humans, to love other humans. Sometimes I am amazed at this love I feel. Love for people; not God, the God, but just people, and that's where I've found god. Giving something up with an eye to solidarity with world is so much more inspiring and hopeful than giving something up in hopes of living in the will of an illusive, confusing God. In a world where we get upset when dinner is 15 minutes late, I now try to share a human connection, a human spirit with those who are lucky to get one meal a day. Looking for any little way to extend help, food, love to those who need our love most of all brings me closer to God than all the mortifications I could ever dream up.

Now I need to add a caveat to this: I don't believe you will find this rigid, puritanical attitude among the average Catholic in the pew. This is solely from my experience with traditional, orthodox (according to them) Catholics. For the most part, they were very disgusted with all the 'feel good nonsense' these 'liberal' priests were spewing from the altar. Many of them would freely admit they hoped and prayed to see the church return to her glory days, to the truth, and leave this modern heresy behind. I think many of them would be happy to wear hairshirt and use the discipline. For me, no thanks.

So, not only am I guilty of the sin of relativism, I am also guilty of the sin of humanism. Big sigh.