Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Blessings to Everyone

With love and friendship I give you all Christmas blessings:

To those who have had as hectic an Advent as I have; remember that Joseph and Mary had a chaotic one as well, riding a donkey to a census in Bethlehem while 9 months pregnant. May God give you some peace and rest when all is said and done.

For all of you going to Christmas Mass or worship services; may God remind you to get there at least 45 minutes ahead of time to get a good seat, and may you find a good parking spot.

To those who will be spending Christmas Eve assembling bikes, dollhouses, or in our case basketball hoops; may God bless you with perseverance, patience, and with a little energy boost when you look at the clock and see that it is 2:00 a.m. and you are still surrounded by nuts and bolts.

To all those who will be making Christmas cookies, pies, pastries, and other delights; may God miraculously extinguish the pounds added to your bodies from all the "taste testing" going on as you prepare your treats.

To those who will be preparing Christmas dinner; may God inspire your spouse to do the dishes.

To all those whose children will be bounding into your bedroom at 5:00 a.m. Christmas morning; may God bless you with children who will excitedly (but patiently) wait until you've poured your cup o'coffee or tea to pick you up.

For those of you who have carpeting in your home; oh dear...may God bless you with a steam cleaner to get up all the chocolate and candy cane droppings your kids left while stuffing themselves with the treats found in their stockings early in the morning.

To those of you who "do Santa" with the kids; may you be given the wisdom to sort out which gifts (the big ones) are from you and which ones (the not-so-big-ones) are from "Santa" to ensure that the kids won't think Santa is cooler than you are.

Again, to those of you who "do Santa"; may you all realize that there really was a St. Nicholas, and may we better imitate his love and generosity throughout the entire year.

To all those who plan on throwing their trees out on the 26th; remember it is the 12 Days of Christmas, beginning with Christmas Day and going through 'til the feast of Epiphany, the day the three wise men presented gifts to Baby Jesus. Well, if your tree is dried out and you must throw it away, at least remember to keep celebrating the season beyond December 25th.

To all those who will be starting a diet on January 2; remember, it isn't a diet, it is a lifestyle change that involves emotional soul searching and a resolve to....oh blah blah blah!

For those who are married; may God bless your marriage and help you to grow into a couple who strives to follow God's will for your lives as Mary and Joseph did.

To those who will be surrounded by large families and many friends this season; may God help you to see them all with His eyes and love them the way He does. May you have a joyous time together and make wonderful memories.

For those who will have a quiet Christmas; may God bring you peace and may you grow closer and more intimate with our infant Lord.

To those who won't be blogging much over the next week; may God bless your activities abundantly.

To those who will be blogging more than usual because the kids are home, you have nowhere you have to be, and you are still hanging around the house in your comfy pj's at noon; may God bless your down-time, be with you as you catch up on all the blogsphere happenings, and give you interesting things to write about.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Discouraging Advent Year II

I was going to write some thoughts about how I have screwed up this Advent and have made little spiritual effort and have become overwhelmed or consumed by worldly, unimportant things, but then I realized that I think I made a post like it a year ago.

I went back and read it, and while some things are different, the general sentiment is the same. Here I am with my large ideas about how holy, prepared, and peaceful I will be during this time, only to get completely offtrack by this-or-that.

I need to focus. Jesus is coming, Jesus is coming.

There are times I lie in bed and the thoughts of all the bad things that could possibly happen in my life to me or my family come flooding in, and I think, "Oh, I've got to make sure to get my life and my spirit in order in case something like this happens." Why can't I feel that kind of urgency during Advent, when God wants me to feel these things?

Now I have to get out of my rut and not fall to the temptation of perfectionism by giving up my efforts this year because I've already screwed it up 'til this point, might as well not try until next year when I can get it right from the beginning. That perfectionistic idea is rooted in pride and is Satan's way of getting me even more off track.

I need to to focus. Jesus is coming, Jesus is coming.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Seeing Myself on the Web

I just read about myself on a fellow mom's blog. Unsettling, I should say. Not sure how I feel about it yet.

I belong to an organization and help out with it along with this fellow mom. There has been quite a bit of disagreement and drama within a small group of people over something really minor. This fellow mom, who has a crocheting blog, wrote about the whole drama, of course solely from her point of view, for the world to see. Her full name, location, a hint to the name of the organization, and my initials (along with the initials of other memebrs) are on the blog.

I've read posts about fellow bloggers' happenings in daily life where they share a struggle they may be having with someone. However, being the subject of such a post has unsettled me. I've also read the comments (only 3) to this particular post, and of course all are siding with this fellow mom. They talk about how "mean and nasty" we have been to her and how she shouldn't have to "suffer such abuse". I just shook my head. If only they knew the whole story...

The part that is hard is that I just had a conversation with this fellow mom and tried really hard to work things out with her. I felt at peace with the situation. Another member happened upon this fellow mom's blog (after being referred there for some crochet patterns) and sent me the link. Granted, this post was made back in October, but it freshens up the irritation for me.

Now, you can all read this and offer up some sympathy and some wise words, but wouldn't that be a bit ironic? Afterall, for all you know, I could be the one in the wrong airing my frustrations out for some validation and sympathy that I may not deserve. Maybe this fellow mom has it altogether and I'm the dramatic, self-centered, uncompromising one?

So, for now, my reaction: it is, afterall, her blog and she has the right to write whatever she wants. I'm going to let it go. I'm certainly not going to call her on it, not over something she wrote on her space. That would completely go against certain opinions I have on personal space and time. I certainly don't want to take up the nasty vice of hypocrisy now. I'm just going to try and remember that this post was made a couple of months ago, and she and I supposedly made up two days ago. I am going to try and get this out of my head. Or maybe I should pratice what I preach and pray for this woman and my relationship with her.

Have any of you seen yourself on the web like this before? Your thoughts?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Gaspers and Scowlers

I was at my playgroup the other day, and we were discussing different churches and women's Bible studies (not everyone there was Catholic). One of the ladies talked about why she liked her particular group: they were "real" people.

I totally understood her sentiments. She spoke about how with some Christian circles, the women were too goody-goody and were scandalized by every fault or imperfection they came across in other people, and it was a big turnoff for this particular person I was speaking with.

I have to admit that I emitted a sigh of relief with this woman, knowing I could "be real" around her. I knew I could talk about my TV-watching habits. I would not have to fret over whether or not the outfit I was wearing was modest enough. I could talk about the dinner I went to with my non-Christian friends without worry that I would be criticized for socializing with outed-homosexuals and fornicators. I could talk about my struggles with parenting, or my road-rage I let myself indudlge in on the drive over, or the magazine article I clipped out of a copy of (gasp) Glamour magazine. But not only that, I could also talk about my desire to pray or study Scripture, or to be a Godly woman without wondering if this woman would think I was a hypocrite.

I think what this woman meant by saying some people are "real people" was that there are people who are understanding of human nature. There are many people who strive for holiness daily, but who still enjoy their cocktail hour with their girlfriends, who cuss at the television while watching a football game, who indulge in a daytime soap opera during their lunch hour, who wear clothes that show a little bit of cleavage, or who do some worldy activity that isn't considered something a "good Christian" should do. And because these people acknowledge they have their own vices and imperfections, they are understanding of others who have them as well.

I think that she also meant that there are some extremely holy people out there, who seem to have it altogether and have their Christian priorities well in order, but who also behave very lovingly towards their less-than-perfect neighbors and who encourage them in their journey rather than scowl over their faulty habits.

I can honeslty admit that I once was a scowler. In my early twenties, after coming off several retreats and reading various spiritual books, I decided to shun all that was unGodly, all that didn't directly advance me on the path to holiness. I also admit I was incorrigibly judgmental of all those who did not make this same choice, and exceptionally critical of my friends who were "supposedly good Catholics" but who indulged in particular vices.

I understand that this fervent, zealous sentiment is often a phase most young Christians go through, and I am thankful that I experienced some lessons in humility and compassion and am now trying to see God in everyone before I begin looking for the devil.

But there are some people who never pass out of this phase and who have a great time sitting in groups with other like-minded Christians and talk about the worldliness and sinfulness of others in a "thank-God-I-am-not-like-that" tone. There is a definite "Us vs Them" mentality amongst these folk, with the "Us" side usually obtaining spiritual victory and emotional satisfaction over the eventual damnation of "Them". These same people are also the ones that gasp or scowl at their fellow Christians at any mention of anything deemed unGodly or wordly, and who thrive on their superiority over these imperfect people.

I wonder if these gaspers and scowlers comprehend the damage they do to the Kingdom. Do they realize that their haughtiness actually turns people away from Christianity? Do they understand that unbelievers shun anything having to do with Christ or established religion out of fear that they will also become so critical and judgemental? Do they also see that their self-righteousness stems from an insecurity and that their judgments and criticisms are essentially an effort to feel good about themselves and their progress? And do they also not see that this is a form of pride, which is supposedly the greatest of all sins?

I remember when I began to realize this in myself. I was living in Oregon at the time and we went to a very liberal parish (liberal compared to where I grew up, anyway). I came across people who were genuinely striving for holiness and who had a deeper, more genuine love for God than anything I had developed. Yet they were divorcees, former contraception users, church-goers who struggled with out-of-control children, single moms who gave birth out-of-wedlock, and other good people with not-so-perfect pasts. Here I was, a young woman married in the Church, who was a virgin 'til marriage, an NFP-user, regular Mass attendee, and everything else one can think of that would describe a "good Catholic", yet my actual love for God and His people was so lacking, so imperfect, so immature. My experiences with these holy people greatly changed my outlook on myself and my neighbors.

Once I saw how holy and devoted people with imperfections could be, I think I became much more understanding of people. I also heard these friends give testimonies of the friends, family members, or priests who loved them and encouraged them into the faith. I never once encountered a testimony where someone shared how they were shunned by a Christian and how that rejection inspried them to turn to God.

I do think there needs to be a balance between loving acceptance and speaking truth to those who are committing sins. I am hopefully achieving that balance more and more each day. And I continually struggle with overcoming the tempations to slip back into my prideful gasping & scowling ways. Reading Jesus' words helps:

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:

"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'
I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Luke 18:9-14

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

false humility

Penni's post on self-depracation has got me thinking about my own struggle with this topic, and the notion of false humility. A piece of my comment to her on this subject was:

I used to also deflect compliments by saying, "Oh, no, i really don't look that good" or some other kind of insult. I was told that insulting oneself in any way, even humorous, if the intention is to not seem prideful is actually not humble, it is FALSE humility. That stung me, but the person later explained that humility is not appearing less than you are, but that it is seeing oneself exactly as God sees them, no more, no less. If we try and make ourselves appear less than what we really are, that is wrong in the same way that inflating ourselves to be more than what we are is. That is why what one commenter above said is so true, that oftentimes the BEST, and holiest, thing to do is to reply with a simple "thank you".

If being humble means we have to take an honest look at our faults, then it must also include taking an honest look at our gifts and talents. If we sometimes must condemn ourselves for our wrongs, then we must also be willing to praise ourselves for what we do right.

As a parent, I am always trying to balance myself between scolding my children and affirming them. Yet with myself, I am much more comfortable with constant reproach than with praise.

The danger with repraoching myself too much is that when God calls me to put to use any gifts or talents He has given me, I lack the confidence to do so.

And if I really contemplate it, insulting myself too much, or being hyper-critical of my faults, is a slap in the face to my Creator. If we say everything God makes is beautiful, we have to accept that same fact about ourselves.

I have also found that with those who struggle on the flip side of the coin, praising themselves without ever evaluating the areas that need improvement, I have very critical, harsh judgments about them. Why do I favor insults or reprimands so much more than praise or affirmation? An inordinate amount of either isn't good. Why do I see too much of one being worse than the other?

Maybe it is because we as Catholics value martyrdom so highly. But the whole point of being a martyr is that they who are considered so have done heroic acts of sacrifice for the faith, to the death. If we are constantly trying to make ourselves martyrs with less-than-heroic depracations of ourselves, then it lessens the value of true martyrdom, don't you think?

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Good Argument

Over this past week, I have noticed one of the things about my marriage to G.R. that makes it work: we argue very well.

By no means am I trying to be prideful or have any arrogance about my marriage, but I do think this is an area in which G.R. and I must have received some kind of grace from God in. I personally think that how we argue has had a huge affect on the state of our marriage.

In recent weeks I have had the... I guess I could say opportunity, to witness other people's arguments or engage in my own. These recent experiences profoundly affected me. I have witnessed people arguing who were incredibly disresectful of each other, who were cutthroat in their comments, who were not interested in hearing a word the other said but were mainly interested in defending their own position, were manipulative in their words, and more. I came away from this past couple of weeks 100% thankful that G.R. and I never speak to each other in those ways, even when angrier than hellfire.

Not to say that we are perfect by any means. There was one argument early on in our marriage when G.R. made a horribly hurtful comment to me that I remember to this day. However, G.R. very rarely does that. And I can honestly say that I do not recall making any cutting comment to G.R. stronger than a tearful "you're being a big jerk!" And I don't even recall saying that very often.

A lot of it comes from my childhood. I remember my parents fighting often. They ended up divorcing later on, but I still vividly remember their tense times together. When they fought, I would often seclude myself in a seaprate room, but I could still hear their words, their comments, their tones of voice. I remember two or three specific fights they had where the name calling was at an outrageous level, and I remember the actual comments made, but the words used aren't really suitable for me to write.

These instances made a permanent mark on who I was. I am happy to say that I think it was for the better, because on those days I remember the specific thought coming into my head, "How can two people who love each other say these things to each other?" From that time as a young girl up through my whole life, I have made a conscious effort in my relationships and in my marriage to never lose it that way in an argument and to never personally attack anyone in the heat of the moment.

I can honestly say that my marriage has fared well as a result of that conscious choice. G.R., I believe, has been influenced greatly by that example as well. He has only really lost it at me personally a couple of times, and when all had simmered and we had made up, he has even commented on how he really appreciates how I never hurt him personally when we argue and how he would try to be the same way; and he has.

Frankly, there are times when it isn't that easy. There are times I have to emotionally chain myself down in order not to spew out every single profanity I know and every insulting thought I've ever had. I guess this is just the one area of my life where I really can see the big picture, and so I am able to stifle myself for the moment.

My cousin and his ex-wife used to fight a lot, which made me sad because I really wanted to see them make it. I was talking to my Gramma about my cousin's situation, and she commented that sometimes, in the heat of the moment, two people say things to each other that can never be taken back. I totally agree that comments like these can ruin a marriage, or at least damage it long-term. Even in my situation, I mentioned the one comment in the one fight almost 6 years ago that I can never forget G.R. making, and it wasn't even a profane, obscene, or extremely hateful comment. If I can remember that, just imagine the marriages where people make over-the-top comments regularly. I can't imagine being truly happy, or truly in love, in a situation like that.

I think a lot of it has to do with a person's desire to be right, coupled with insecurity. Some people are emotionally unable to listen to anyone tell them they have done something wrong or hurtful, and the thought of making a sincere apology to someone is more difficult than being caught outside in their underwear. I also think that the desire to win an argument takes precedence, in some people, over anything and that is where the relationship-altering insults get thrown out.

This boggles my mind. For me, my biggest fear in life is losing my husband, whether it be to death, violence, or through rejection. It would seem to me that common sense would dictate that I would do everything reasonably possible not to lose him, which is why I taKe so much caution with my words in my angry moments. But it almost seems with others that they are attempting to realize their biggest fear of losing their loved one by arguing in such a way as to push them away forever. I don't understand it.

And it isn't done necessarily by losing it and shouting out the obscenities. I've also seen people do it through manipulation, sarcasm, belitting facial expressions, a condescending tone of voice, and possibly the worst of all, stonewalling silence.

Like I said, these past few weeks have deeply affected me. There are now a couple of people I have decided I must distance myself from slightly because I just don't have a desire to "go there" with them, and the closer you are to someone, the more likely you will have an opportunity to engage in at least a couple of confrontations with them. I've realized something about myself, be it a weakness or strength I'm not sure; I only want to be close to people who I can feel safe with in any situation, even ones of conflict. I tend to avoid conflict as it is, but I can honestly say that if one ever arose between myself and G.R. or any of the people I trust, that we would be OK at the end of it, possibly even stronger. I can't say the same about some of my recent encounters.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ode to a Capable Wife

Today I finally sat down to take some prayer-time and reflect on some Scripture. I knew where God wanted me to start, and so I flipped straight to a passage that tugs at my heart everytime, and can be difficult for me to digest. I went through and bolded each verse that causes a sting in my heart and causes my eyes to shift, because I know these are areas I severely lack in. I was hoping my prayer-time today would bring peace, comfort, and consolation. But God had other things in mind: conviction, reprimand, renovation.

Proverbs 31: 10-31:

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.

12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life

13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.

14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

15 She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family

and portions for her servant girls.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks

18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come

26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness

28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her

29 "Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all."

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

31 Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Does my husband have full confidence in me? I think he would like to, but too many times I ask him to excuse my weaknesses, my laziness, my imperfections and just accept me for who I am, faults and all. He does this lovingly, but I think I ask him to do it beyond what is expected of someone supposedly striving for holiness.

Works with eager hands...provides food for her family... sets about her work vigorously with arms strong for the tasks... watches over the affairs of her household... does not eat the bread of idleness; oh how these words sting, because one of my greatest vices is idleness. I fall back on the excuse that I just don't like housework... I hate to cook... or whatever might sound endearingly quirky or cute as to why I just don't do what I am supposed to at home for the sake of my idle pleasures.

And for one thing, I certainly rebel against getting up while it is still dark and being productive and diligent until the day is done. Once again, I fall on my excuses. "I don't like to get up when the sun isn't out"... or "I shut down after 8:00. If the work isn't finished... oh well!" I claim to really need my winding down time, which would be true if I was truly busy all day. But so often, my winding down time is just an extension of the general nonsense I may have been engaging in all day.

When my children wake up in the morning, I am not convinced they would call me "blessed", or "happy". Ususally it is the morning rush, because as I said before I can procastinate about getting up, and so the frantic stress in me leaks out into the morning routines of my children. In fact, there are a few mornings my children may arise and in fact call me a raging lunatic.

I can only wish I had "no fear for my household", or that I "laughed at things to come". I only wish I was so focused, so prepared. I wish I was content in the present moment and not distracted by the future, or what might happen, or what could've been. I wish I was not restless about the way my house is run, the way my children are mothered, the way my husband is loved, the way my life is lived. I wish that I could have some that's not the word, because we should never be too confident of where we are in case the Lord decides to give us a healthy reality check. Instead, I wish I could be at peace with my efforts.

To be clothed in fine linen and I don't take this to mean I am to be the best dressed in the crowd. But I do wish I made more of a priority of taking care of myself (my health, my appearance, my clothes, my property, etc.). A lot of what I lack in this area is because I do not use my time wisely. If I made the appropriate amount of time to get myself ready and well-put-together each day, maybe that would help me be more focused, be more at peace, be more inclined to be productive.

She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life... a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. I know I do not consciously set out to harm my husband, but do I consciously set out to do him good? I think I just go about my day with the attitude of getting through it, not making an effort to bring good to my husband or making the effort to be a good wife. No focus, no conscious thought, no purpose. Just floating. Yes, I am succeeding in just getting through it. But is that what I want to say to God... I just got through my days?

Some of us on earth are called to do great things: be missionaries, feed the poor, be inspiring teachers or speakers, be great apologists whos defend the faith. However, I am realizing more and more throughout the years that my call is not any of those things. My call for my life is to merely (but then again, not so merely) embrace my vocation completely, wholeheartedly. I can't just say I lived the vocation of married life, but that I strove to be a good wife, the best wife I could be. The wife God made me to be.

Yet in this realization over the years and in my prayer-time this morning, I saw that it wasn't enough to have this resolve, but I needed a plan to realize it in my daily life. Knowing that coming up with routines or plans is not my strong point, I am once again flocking over to Flylady, whose plans have worked well for me... when implemented. Hopefully this will not be yet another attempt at getting it together that ends with me falling off the fly-wagon. I know her system works and fits my style and personality (for the most part). It is just a matter of sticking with it and growing in the virtue of discipline without being perfectionistic.

I am hoping that going through Flylady's baby steps will be the starting point on the path of truly implementing Proverbs 31 into my life. It may start with housework or routines, but hopefully will spill over into my general attitude and spirituality regarding my vocation. Hopefully reading Proverbs 31 this time next year will be a source of consolation and not of reproval. Hopefully by this time next year, I can succeed in not having to bold so much of the text of this Scripture.