31 December 2005

Happy New Year

A quiet day of reflection, listening to the rain fall here in Southern California.

So many things to be grateful for this year... not least, the opportunity to get to know the thoughts of so many congenial people here in the blogging community.

So many things yet to pray for.

- - - - - - -

On the 27th, Penni over at Martha, Martha tagged me with a meme which she was passing on from yurodivi: five resolutions for the new liturgical year.

1. Stick my nose inside a church.
2. More consciously let God guide my life.
3. Refrain from uncharitable thought and comment about certain members of the Church hierarchy.
4. Contribute to certain charities which mean a lot to me.
5. Continue to build my routines and focus on what I need to do.

I've already done the first. Thanks for the nudge. I'll post about that later on.

Happy 2006, everybody!

24 December 2005

Prayers for you at Christmas

This post is for you because I cannot be with you in person to embrace you as we greet each other with "Merry Christmas!" I just wanted to let you know I am thinking of you as you prepare for tomorrow's celebration.

I pray for you that you will have whatever is best for you this season. I do not know what that is; it is between you, and God. He is watching over you, eager to give you good gifts.

May your blessings include peace and patience. I've been through my share of stressful Christmases. This promises to be a quiet one for me, so I shall spend it praying for you, that you will feel His whispered encouragement when you need it most.

For you I pray for the gift of gratitude, that it may well up in your heart as you count your blessings and enjoy the gifts of beauty and inspiration which are the cherished inward gifts of this season.

I hope that your Christmas will include the chance to look into the eyes of ones you love, even if only in memory. Should those memories bring tears, may you be comforted in whatever way makes sense to your soul.

For me, when sorrow closes in, I run to Mary. She was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. She bore God's child. How much she must have loved that baby! Yet, in her woman's heart, she must have sensed that trouble lay ahead. After all, God, who created his son's body by inexplicable holy mystery, arranged for him to be brought forth in a dark stable.

All too soon, she was to hear, "This child is destined to be a sign that will be rejected; and you too will be pierced to the heart." She knows what it means to love, and lose. She knows what it means to have a shadow over your heart even in the midst of joy. She knows what it's like to sit helplessly beside the dearest person on earth and watch him die. She knows. Go to her.

She is not God, but she is the one he chose to mother his very own son. Far from the saccharine-sweet saint portrayed as gazing fondly, even somewhat vacuously, on the child in the manger, she was a young woman of deep faith and steely resolve who voluntarily gave her body and life to God, mothered the Word made flesh, lived with the certain knowledge that his earthly life was doomed, and watched his crucifixion.

You do not have to ask her to pray for you, if that thought is foreign to your religious understanding. But I pray that, if you are grieving, the recollection of her, as you contemplate Jesus' birth, will bring you the grace to rejoice even in the face of certain sorrow.

May angels, like those the shepherds saw, guide you this Christmas, protecting your travels, watching over your celebration, and guiding your thoughts to God in the midst of whatever you experience during this holy time.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkess; and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on this name:

Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. - John 1:1-14

May God bless us, every one.

Merry Christmas!

I've started early and had the most perfect Christmas Eve church service ever, courtesy of American Public Radio. It was "A Festival of Nine Lessons" broadcast from King's College in Cambridge, England.

The nine lessons were read from the King James Version of the Bible, with clear and fluent diction, so as to be heard in the echoes of the church. After each, the choir sang pieces which were reflective of the reading, and a real aid in meditation on the sacred words. Sometimes there were hymns which the congregation sang. The only (rare) accompaniment was from the organ.

The service finished with a traditional prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, and the two traditional carols, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

It was beautiful, reverent, solemn, and joyful. One could imagine the earliest Christians having such a service, repeating the words to one another, and singing hymns between the readings.

I do not say it's the only way. I don't mean to tout it over anyone else's worship on this holy eve of the great beginning feast of the Church year. All I know is that it was perfect for me, and I take it as a gift, one of those [there-are-no] coincidences that leave me feeling like my soul has been hugged by the One Who created and redeemed it.

May your Christmas include such a private, perfect gift from God.

What my sister's Labrador Retriever taught me

Thanks to Rachel Swenson Balducci for reminding me of this one:

If a dog was the teacher you would learn stuff like:
• When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

• Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

• Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

• When it's in your best interest, practice obedience.

• Let others know when they've invaded your territory.

• Take naps.

• Stretch before rising.

• Run, romp, and play daily.

• Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

• Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

• On warm days, stop to lie on your back in the grass.

• On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

• When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

• No matter how often you're scolded, don't buy into the guilt thing and pout.

• Run right back and make friends.

• Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

• Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.

• Stop when you have had enough.

• Be loyal.

• Never pretend to be something you're not.

• If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

• When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.

09 December 2005

Love and memory

The Anchoress comments on and links to an absorbing post by neo-neocon which looks at the story of Clive Wearing, who lost his long-term memory to a bout with encephalitis. His wife left him for a time, then returned:
I realised that we are not just brain and processes. Clive had lost all that and yet he was still Clive. Even when we didn’t see one another, when we were six months apart and only spoke on the telephone, nothing had changed. Even when he was at his worst, most acute state, he still had that huge overwhelming love … for me. That was what survived when everything else was taken away.

The Anchoress says,
Read the whole thing and marvel in the miracle of love. And think about how for the world, “marriage” has become less a sacrament and more of a social contract. And yet “the two shall become one flesh…”

Sometimes people ask me why the Catholic church allows annullment - it all seems like a “pay as you exit” scheme to them. But there is a supernatural element, completely spiritual, that should exist within marriage, and if it is not being admitted into the marriage (or not being entered into by the couple) well, perhaps then the marriage itself never did “exist,” except on paper.

Somethings truly are in the stars.

A feast for the eyes

A colleague recently returned from Italy, enjoying it the perfect way, as the guest of a friend who lives there. He treated me to a slide show of his many, many images of the area where he was visiting. He is an accomplished artist, the city where he stayed is breathtakingly beautiful, and he had a good digital camera. The results were astounding. I usually find myself yawning about the third snapshot in, but the images he captured transported me into the place they so skillfully depicted.

He was there for three weeks. For thirty minutes he let me forget all about the work on my desk and revel in the unstudied, unplanned beauty of ancient neighborhoods, beautiful architecture, and vistas which look exactly the same as they did when painted centuries ago.

It was a wonderful gift, and one which I needed, as you may have guessed from previous posts. ;)

In the moment

There is a saying, "be in the moment." Someone who's been through addiction, whether as participant, codependent, or exasperated onlooker, knows exactly what's meant by that. At some point, all civilized human beings have to apply rationalization or skirt reality in order to apply charity and tolerance. "He's just tired." "She's under stress." "I was behaving like a child... no wonder he came off on me." But, sometimes, it gets to be an obsession... a life skill... an art form. One loses the awareness of making a conscious effort to get around the discomfort. Instead, you start jollying yourself into believing Everything is Just Fine. We forbid ourselves and others to feel otherwise. No matter how much our stomach hurts from anxiety or the tears want to fall, we smile and calmly say, "it's all right" or "it's not so bad."

It takes a long time to overcome that. One way is to concentrate on simple, accessible experiences: the fragrance of a rose, the beauty of a landscape, or a beautiful melody. Not just the nose, eyes or ears, but the brain and the emotions, the memory and the soul. It took me a long time to learn to do that. To this day, it is still a conscious decision.

Of late ... many years down the road of recovery ... I've noticed that the willingness to be in the moment has not been limited to just the good stuff. I am willing to feel my pain.

This is not a maudlin exercise, though if I'm tired I might retire early with a box of tissues and cry myself to sleep. (I spent decades without shedding a tear, so that's really an improvement.) It is, for me, a quiet acknowledgement that life hurts, and I can feel that hurt, understand and acknowledge it, and honor my sorrow and my pain - and life is really sweeter when I do.

I don't recommend wallowing in pain. I don't allow myself to do so. If it gets too bad, I go for a walk, have a hot bath, take my vitamins, and get some sleep. But, sometimes, I honor myself and what I have lived through by acknowledging the scope of what I have lost and endured.

It hurts, yes, but it's nothing compared to what Jesus endured. If I open my soul to him, I sense him drawing near. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." I know that valley. I've crossed it a few times. I know how dank and cold and dark it gets. There are things to fear in there, things you cannot identify but whose reality your soul knows, and wants to run from.

He is with us in those moments.

I have a lot of beauty in my life. I have love, and so many good things. Still, I feel like it's part of my healing that sometimes I can sit and open the dark side of my soul. I find I can look at the horror without flinching because Jesus is looking at it with me. Together we open the hidden place. Together we hear the cruel words again, or feel the awful horror of a moment of loss so deep that I knew my life would never be the same. I look at the moment, and hand it off to him. I don't know what he does with it. Sometimes I think I hear the echo of nails being driven, or the soft drip of something heavier than water onto the ground.

I don't want it to be that way. I don't want my pain to be his, too. But he lets me know somehow that his part already happened. It's done. He knew what I would experience, and he took it on himself that day. Part of what he suffered was for me. There were my sins, and there were those of the ones whose sin complicated my life. It doesn't matter. They all got dealt with then.

They got dealt with so that I could heal, today; so that I could look at the pain and let it go, into the hands of one who let evil do its worst, yet rose again. And that's what he points me to, now. I don't understand why what happened to me had to happen. I've been given the grace to let go of that need to know. The Sun is rising, making all things new. My soul is different and new, too. The pain isn't gone, but it has no power to hurt me, now. He took it from me.

I am still wounded. I am still maimed. The life that was so easy for others ... meet, marry, know, love ... was never mine, although I yearned for it so deeply. My blunders led to a barren existence in an emotional wilderness. Now I can quit hiding from the pain. Instead of annihilating me, the sorrow has led me to be closer to God than ever before in my life. He has let me share an infinitesimal bit of what he knew on the cross. I have been taken into his confidence. The only difference is, he understood why, and I never will. There are no explanations. There is only the promise of company and support if you surrender.

In a Carmelite cell, there is a bare cross on the wall. It is bare because it is a destination.

06 December 2005


Sometimes the ones that mean the most are the ones I don't have.

Driving home tonight, I turned on the radio, and heard "Isn't she lovely..." As I listened to the words of a father celebrating his delight in his baby daughter, I recalled the image of a snapshot I saw a couple of years ago. It was a blurry image, taken on a sunny day, of a young dad and his toddler daughter. The sun made his hair red-gold and made her look like a cherub.

It was many years ago.

Not my memory.

The little girl is a married woman now. Her dad loves her so much.

The man is not my husband. Other women have known him in that way; not I. His daughter has no clue who I am.

But she is lovely, and dearly loved.

As difficult as this is - not having certain memories of people I love - it has been the best thing ever for my understanding of God.

So many of us met him when we were young, and fell in love with him. We were tempted, distracted, or lured from his side. People lied to us, saying that he was no good for us, that he wanted just to make us unhappy. Entranced, we agreed. Our love did not fight back nor argue. We had the information; we made our choice. We left him behind and went with our seductive new friends who denied us nothing, except closeness, intimacy, self-respect, and affection.

God never forgot us. He never hated us for leaving him. He missed us terribly and wanted what was best for us. Because he loves us, He lets us decide what that is. It would not be love if He forced it on us.

It is the liars who force things on us. They say they love us, but they call us demeaning names, reject our advances, or turn away when we need emotional shelter, responding with exasperated annoyance every time we ask for something which is appropriate given our role in their lives. And yet we believe them when they say that this is love.

When we are ready to see through the lies, Love will still be there. If we are never ready, we are still Loved. God does not stop loving us because we're frightened, make stupid decisions, or cling to people who shame and demean us.

I have learned this, not because I am good like God, but because I love, and can do no more than write about it. I understand why God must wait and not intervene. I know why it takes so long for us to give up on trying to make people give us love.

Lord, have mercy on those who feel compelled to spend their lives trying to keep someone from getting angry with them. Help us comprehend that, just because someone wants to shame us, that doesn't mean what they say is true. Give us the grace to discern true love, and to choose it. Support us and forgive us when we're too scared to break free. Never give up on us, dear Lord. Do not abandon us to our captors. Inoculate us against their lies by showing us the truth about love. Send us encouragers and people we can trust. Help us to grasp that people who treat us lovingly and respectfully are not lying, and people who say they love us while shaming and demeaning us are not telling the truth.

04 December 2005

Permission to mess up

Owen over at luminousmiseries has a wonderful post for artists, which I found linked over at Alicia's. Even if you're not an artist or a writer... go check it out.

02 December 2005

Thoughts on vows, vocations, and visibility

On MS-NBC's website yesterday in "The Week in Pictures," there was a photo gallery which includes a picture of two nuns playing with the children of a parochial school during some unseasonably warm weather in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

I looked 'em up - here they are.

If you follow that link, you will notice something quite unusual about the sisters in the photo on the website.

1. Their habits are beautiful.

2. The order would appear to be attracting vocations.

The sisters are attached to St. Ann's Church, which is run by the FSSP. They are traditional in their religious life and worship.

And MS-NBC included a picture of these unprogressive gals on its website photos for the week.

Just interesting, that's all.

30 November 2005

Knowing my limitations

I have a "wonderful opportunity" at work. I would be "foolish" to pass it up.

I'm going to be foolish.

It is something I can do well, but which I thoroughly dislike doing. In the past, I have often striven to do things which make me uncomfortable and unhappy at work. It's how I was raised. I never thought anything of it. The idea that I could actually do what I do best, and earn a good living at it, never occurred to me.

It is a crossroads. If I choose the way which will bring me more money, recognition, and a step up the ladder, I shall be very busy and extremely stressed. I am taking the other way, the one where I immerse myself in the task at hand and, the next time I look at the clock, am surprised that it's an hour and a half later. God gave me the talent to do both; I have to (finally) be wise enough to know which to pick, and trust Him to take care of the rest. Amen.

Thoughts on Blessings

Penni over at Martha, Martha wrote about feeling uncomfortable asking for blessings.
my wise and sage friend suggested that i start praying for God's abundant blessings upon me. i have to tell you, i am not comfortable with that.

not in the least.

i ask for God's blessings upon everyone around me, from family to customers, friends known and unknown. but for me? too awkward to do that.

do you feel it is wrong to ask for blessings for yourself - is that being *self*ish? or do you pray for God to bless you abundantly and not feel bad about that at all? i tend to be more of a "social justice" pray-er and not ask for too much for myself.

do i have it all wrong?
That just took me back... wow. I commented:
Your words take me back to where I was many years ago. I found it nearly impossible to trust God, but I was in a scary place in my life, and I just had to. The alternative was unthinkable.

Laying down my worries and anxieties and cares and fears at His feet was very difficult for me; I kept picking them back up again.

I was finally able to ask for the grace to accept His blessings, even if they went against the grain. It was like a penance for me, because I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable in the ways you so eloquently express.

I finally got to the point where I was willing to let go of my life and let Him take care of me as He saw fit. If it included bare floors and no heat, so be it. If it was to be carpet and central air, fine. If I am honest about surrendering to Him, I need to open myself to His generous provision, just as I commit to accept when things are tough.

As for others' blessings... Jesus took a basket of bread and fish and fed thousands. By giving you what you need, He does not deprive anyone else. There's plenty. He's God. He can make more blessings. Your blessings might not be what anyone else needs, anyway. They might just be for you alone. ;)

I still have the worn Bible from the time when I ended up prostrate before God, finally, finally ready to let go and let Him do what He wanted with my life. It was an awful feeling. I still have my moments (see recent post on feeling separate from Him). But I did it, because He backed me into a corner and I had no choice. It was either trust Him, or trust myself/the deceiver, and I knew the black hole which awaited me if I chose the latter.

It did feel penitential. I was very uncomfortable driving the very comfortable used car I eventually got to replace the tiny, unsafe one. The new house that came along was very hard to accept. I went to Penney's and bought $300 worth of clothes I had to have - my old ones were falling apart - and I almost had a panic attack and had to talk myself out of the store and into the car. At the time, I could easily afford that much. It was just feeling so self-conscious about taking care of myself in that way. Anorexia of joy... anhedonia, they call it. But it was more than just not feeling it; it was fighting and resisting it.

God had to humble me completely, take away everything I treasured in life, before I would turn to Him properly. He was kind, but firm. Still is. He's a good Abba.

27 November 2005

Struggling to get out of the chains

Oswald Chambers is one of those writers who is a real guide for me. I loved this quote: "The Spirit of God has spoiled the sin of a great many, yet there is no emancipation, no fullness in their lives." My Utmost for His Highest, November 27

Even as I smile ruefully at the way he puts it - "The Spirit of God has spoiled the sin of a great many" - heh - I am uncomfortably aware that he's got me pegged.

"Emancipation" is the right word: "to free from restraint, control, or the power of another; esp: to free from bondage."

Paul spoke of our freedom in Christ. Jesus said, "I came that your joy may be full."

Somewhere along the line, I got it in my head that to be happy was a sin of selfishness. If I was happy or comfortable, it meant that someone else was not.

That's a lie.

I am called to joy, which pertains regardless of whether or not I am happy. That said, it is not wrong for me to enjoy what God has provided in my life, and to share whatever I can with others, that they, too, may be happy.

I need to be emancipated from the restraint that whispers, "you should not be so happy." I need to be liberated from the control which mutes my emotions and keeps me from celebrating the good news of my salvation. I've ceded power over my life to the one who hates me and the One who made me; I need to take back that permission, and give power over my life only to the One who loves me and cherishes me and wants me to be delighted once in a while with pleasant, healthful, fun things.

Some of this control gets passed as a consequence of my own curiosity and lack of discipline over my thoughts.

I've recently comprehended that I cannot get involved in the anguish at so many Christian Internet watering holes. I get caught up in the superficial observations and arguments, and completely miss the underlying spiritual truths and fictions going on. There is so much I cannot know, can't possibly understand, and don't have time to research. I have to let go, and let God sort it out with those who are far more qualified than I to do battle.

This is part of what I have to learn about finding my own pasture. I've avoided going to church because I'm almost phobic about it, these days; it doesn't matter where I turn, there's always some "reason" I've read about why that church is not a "good" one. God has kindly shown me that I must resolutely ignore all the magpies and go where He leads me, to a place where I can be fed in the Word. In other words, I have to trust Him.

That is very difficult for me. (hangs head)

Advent is always one of those times of year when I try to start again with the whole church thing. I almost made it this morning. I shall continue to plan and pray and see if I can brave it next Sunday. I need to deliberately turn my back on all the news reports and generalities, and let God lead me to a congregation which is whole in His Word. Pray for me, fellow seekers... some of you know what I'm going through.

A simple proposal to squelch "Happy Holidays"

Most retailers are commanding their advertising houses and clerks to use only "Happy Holidays." This is distressing to many Christians, especially since the retailers continue to use the trappings of our celebration, like Christmas trees, the colors of red and green, and other traditional, deeply meaningful symbols of the season. Presumably that is because someone's feelings might be hurt. I can understand that, actually: it's rude to celebrate the arrival of Our Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord, in front of someone who does not share our joy. How thoughtless! After all, without the gospel, the whole idea of Christmas is pretty tiresome.

Our Christian gift-giving is supposedly done at least in part in imitation of the Magi, who brought gifts to Jesus when they found Him in the stable. Let's face it: to give gifts to each other is not exactly true to that picture, if you know what I mean.

So let's bring our celebration closer into line with that of the Magi, instead of pleasing ourselves and annoying the non-Christians among us.

"So long as you did it to the least of these, you did it to Me." Let us restore the real tradition of Christmas gift-giving by giving gifts to the baby Jesus wherever we find Him in the poor and needy. Let's shower Jesus with cash by giving it to charities, and show our affection to one another with unbought words and acts of love. Let's give small meaningful gifts, like bookmarks, photographs, handwritten letters and ornaments for our Christmas trees. Let's tell one another what we treasure about each other, and thank each other for the good times of the last year. Let's offer our time and companionship and service to those who need our individual gifts of talent, whatever they might be: shoveling driveways, fixing computers, mending, watching the kids for an evening, helping with a term paper, etc.

Without Christian spending, the retailers' stores will stand empty, their servers unused, their phones silent, except for the faxes coming in with orders from charities, ordering in bulk and negotiating huge discounts. Let the oh-so-politically-correct managers strain to hear the tinny sounds of their piped-in holiday music over the sounds of crickets chirping in the aisles.

Let us take a sabbatical from Christmas in the 7th year of the new century. In 2007, let us accede to the wishes of those who fear that someone will feel slighted by the word Christmas. Let us give them what they want! Let us remove our feast from the public square, and take it back into our homes, churches and charities. Ho ho ho!

First Sunday of Advent

Several days ago, upon awakening, I had one of those moments of mental clarity in which some puzzle or problem is suddenly solved. In that dawn moment, I realized I am prone to think of God as separate from me. I have perceived Him as sometimes unloving, or merely indifferent. I suddenly saw clearly how utterly wrong I was, and how foreign that notion is even to logic. God made me. He holds me together in thought. He never wants me to be apart from Him! If he forgot me, I would cease to exist!

The feeling of separateness was banished in that moment. I went out to my study, and looked up the first reading in the devotional I use, and was overtaken by that I-am-floored-but-unsurprised feeling I get when God makes it perfectly clear He has A Point to make, and Would I Please Pay Attention. The passage was from Colossians, and included these verses:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col. 1:21-23)
God has not forgotten me. God does not want to lose me or be parted from me. I am a sinner, and cannot be admitted to His presence, because He is all-holy. So He sent his Son to teach me the right way. That Son underwent a horrible death, taking my sins on Himself, just so I would not lose touch with my God so long as I continue in my faith.

I am still mentally, spiritually, sitting there, days and days later, my mouth agape and my heart stilled in awe.

It felt like an Advent present from Jesus, a gift to open before the Christmas madness.

Of course there's more ... later in that epistle, Paul writes:
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
I have a choice whether to "wear" those traits every day, and which to accentuate and accessorize with the others. ;) Then, just in case I was thick and didn't get the previous word, he speaks slowly and uses simple words: "Forgive as the Lord forgave you." I can't avoid knowing that, yes, the Lord forgave me, but not because I repented really well or apologized perfectly. In fact, I'm willing to bet that a lot of the worst sins were some which I never even realized I committed! The Lord forgave me solely because Jesus asked Him to, on the cross, brokenly whispering the words through his extreme pain and desolation.

"And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." And which binds me to God, close under His wings, safe from the one who prowls like a lion, whispering to me and so many others, "He doesn't really love you. He doesn't care." It's a lie!

Jesus hovers around, eager and waiting. He doesn't force His way in, but He waits and watches for the moment when we're open to His love.

This Advent season, I hope I will be waiting and watching for Him, too.

26 November 2005

Grateful days

It is perhaps really sad to say so, but I had a wonderful Thanksgiving with my sister and her husband. It's sad because it was never fun with my in-laws; not awful, just not comfortable, on many levels. And my parents are both dead, which helps enormously. I'm sorry if that doesn't sound sufficiently devoted. I loved them dearly and missed them terribly. It's still easier now.

My sister and her husband are quite a bit younger than I. It's cute to see how they care for me, suggesting ideas for ways I could take better care of the house or myself. I feel very much like the tables are being turned. Even as it makes me feel my age, it comforts me to know that they truly care. I'm not only grateful for them, but for the healing which has allowed me to notice their care, and appreciate it.

Over the last few years I've had an emotional awakening. I'd spent many years shutting down my emotions, never letting my feelings show, or even be recognized. Now I'm almost too much the other way... but it helps me to know what's going on around me. I can be grateful for those who love me... I can recognize that they do.

When asked what I want for Christmas, I think of the blessings I've had in the past year, and think there's not much more that I need or want. There's not much left over from my paycheck at the end of the month, but God has blessed me with health and love, appetite and food to eat, the ability to sleep and wake refreshed, a place to walk in the fresh air, and meaningful work to do. I am grateful.

I hope you, too, have lots to be grateful for.

19 November 2005


I know what this means.
The following are some of the characteristics, agreed upon
by one Alanon-Acoa group, that result in problems in our lives.

1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures;

2. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process;

3. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism;

4. We either become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs;

5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relations;

6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. This enables us not to look too closely at our faults, etc.

7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others;

8. We became addicted to excitement;

9. We confuse love and pity and tend to "love" people we can "pity" and "rescue";

10. We have stuffed our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much; (DENIAL)

11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem;

12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us;

13. Alcoholism is a family disease and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink;

14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.

I've had reason this week to revisit this list.

My name is A. Noël, and I am a codependent.

The ENORMOUS challenge of codependency is that we must be co-dependent to live normally. We have to be able to reach out and establish healthy relationships.

It is rather like the addiction to food.

One must eat in order to survive; how to navigate through life without abusing it? One must have relationships in order to live normally; how to navigate without falling into the same patterns?

Only by the grace of God, as we understand Him.

The first step for me was to give up the notion that I was strong. I wasn't. I was out of control, mainlining on others' approval, needing huge fixes of behavior to react to, just to get through the day. If I was with someone "normal," who just sort of muddled through the day as "normal" people do, I became horribly anxious. I could not be a friend. Everything was a performance.

Some days, it still is.

That's the thing about recovery: it goes on for life. You're never done. Ever.

I've had to revisit that this week. I have a dear friend who is in the throes of Step One. This is more than a friend to me. This is a soul-mate, someone I have known since knee socks and saddle shoes, someone with whom I was privileged to share some of the happiest moments of my life. We need each other, and yet are not always good for one another, because we are both extremely codependent. I've been in recovery for years and years; my friend is just now beginning to comprehend.

I encourage and support my friend, often pointing back to therapist, group, book, etc. I often pull away and let the consequences happen.

And I need to recognize with painful clarity exactly what I can reasonably expect from this person, and what I cannot.

I cannot trust this person with my emotional well-being.
This person is not able to take care of me.
If I stay around this person, I will get hurt.

I need to write out #4 and #9 and put them on the refrigerator and the bathroom mirror, so that I cannot escape the truth about myself, because #6 is alive and well in me, and only repeated, consistent working of the Steps will keep me on track.

I see someone regularly who is coaching me on my journey and knows my weaknesses better than I; I have a sister who is exceptionally good at being an accountability partner; and I have my friends, among whom I include those of you who have taken an interest in my meanderings.

This is the toughest test of recovery I've ever been through. I know how dangerous it is for me.

I also know this person very well. This is the kind of codependent which is gentle, meek, and terrified of hurting anyone. I have been through some nasty emotional abuse in my day, the mean, hostile, deliberate kind. It's inconceivable that my friend would act that way. However, my friend is also emotionally abusive, without meaning to be, and intent doesn't matter. I must protect myself, relating the effect on me, then withdrawing.

The realization that "this doesn't work for me any more" is a precious, wonderful gift, and the first step towards a better life; but, damn, it takes us a long time to get there!

It is dangerous. I do get hurt frequently.

And I am not leaving.

It is not perfect. It never is.

Within appropriate boundaries, I can put myself on the line for my friend. Will I look back on this time, and say I made a mistake? I cannot possibly know. I can only take it one day at a time, practice the principles which keep me on the upward path, and let my friend decide the right course to take.

If my friend cannot keep up, or goes down a different road, or turns back, I promise you this: I will not step off the path. It is for God to save the lost sheep, not me. I know my limits. I can walk ahead, mark the trail, sing the uplifting songs, and leave bottles of water and granola bars along the path. I will never turn back. Not even for my friend. I shall never go back to that awful place. It has taken me years to get to where I am. No one is worth losing an inch of that ground.

For some reason, I have found enlightening, moving and meaningful posts in the last few days; I can't help but believe that it's God's way of clearing the cobwebs away and getting me ready for the next step, whatever that may be. I write about it here for the usual reasons, including the hope that you who drop by will keep me accountable and pray for me. My friend needs me. I need my friend. Retreat is not an option. Supporting in humility and constant recourse to the twelve steps for myself is the way I want and need to go, for now.

Just for today.

17 November 2005

What Sign of Affection are You?

I know someone who can verify this is absolutely true:

holding hands
hand holding - you like to be in constant physical
contact with your special someone but you don't
want to take things too quickly.

What Sign of Affection Are You?
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14 November 2005

OK, the flock got too big

I fed it too many ideas and it needed room to grow, so I've opened another blog, which is linked in the sidebar. If you can stand any more of my nattering, you're invited to check it out. Thanks for your feedback and input. I'm really on a roll!

Well-fed flock - dealing with cravings

For so many of us, cravings gallop all over our internal landscape. They bully us and push us off the trail again and again in our quest for peace with food.

For me, a large part of the process of learning to eat well is learning to manage cravings. For me, there are three parts to my cravings, all of which need attention in order to stay on track:

1.) Physical
2.) Emotional
3.) Natural


Look at the food you're craving. See if there's a nutritional component which could be something your body desperately needs.

Part of the process towards peace is managing one's blood sugar. That means gradually learning to choose complex instead of simple carbohydrates; becoming a Friend of Fiber; and figuring out what fresh fruits and vegetables are your faves.


People either get hungry when they're stressed, or can't eat at all. For those of us who hit the snack drawer, consider alternatives. Add options for yourself like low-fat popcorn, biscotti, or other treats, depending on what you like best to eat at those times.


Every now and then I want some favorite dish or food which I ordinarily don't have, but which I like a lot. The Cheesecake Factory's fish tacos or salmon salad - not to mention the cheesecake! Or a Real breakfast of eggs and toast and potatoes. I am not bad or weak or a failure because I like those things. It is natural to want something favorite every few months.

Strategies to handle cravings

Make up your mind right now that you will never deny yourself what you crave. Promise yourself this, most solemnly. If you want something badly enough, you will do everything you can to get it for yourself, or the nearest possible thing. Just knowing this will calm a lot of the craving.

There is no emotional freight to a craving. Resist the temptation to add it to your list of things to beat yourself up about. It's not true, so just skip it. It's a craving, not a blot on your character record.

Procrastinate a bit. Sometimes, if you give it an hour, have some water, do something else, you'll forget about it.

If you still want whatever it is, then prepare to eat and enjoy it. Find a pleasant place for your indulgence. Get the food and prepare it. If it's a dessert, eat a healthy meal first, taking your time so that your hunger will be satisfied before you dig in. You deserve to enjoy all of your food.

OK, now comes the big moment you've been waiting for: your treat!! Here's the key to indulgence: "Be in the moment." I don't know about you, but when I get stressed, I get scattered (or vice versa). I eat automatically, just stuffing myself with food, totally unaware of what I'm eating. The solution is:

Stop Everything. Go get the Hershey bar (or whatever it is you want so badly), and go someplace quiet. Now, savor that treat. Unwrap it carefully and look at it. Smell the aroma and imagine how good it will taste. Feel yourself start to salivate in anticipation of the delicious taste. Now, take a bite. Hold it on your tongue and let the flavor overtake your senses. Enjoy the texture of the food, the fragrance or the aroma, and be aware of the relaxation and satisfaction you feel as you consume it. And take your time. Make it last.

You are on a process which is going to last your whole life, and you must learn to manage your cravings for sweets and other foods without the self-denial and mean thoughts which have robbed you of enjoyment and made you feel so terrible about yourself. You deserve that treat, and you deserve to eat it like a human being, from a plate, in a comfortable place, in a situation where you can focus on it and let it fill your senses for a few delicious bites.

I started out applying these techniques to enjoying treat things, then finally figured out that I should approach all my eating this way.

Well, that explains a lot


To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
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13 November 2005

The well-fed flock

I want to offer my acquaintances (mentioned in the previous post) a place to talk about healthy eating, here at the Pasture.

I am not a doctor, nutritionist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or any other -ist. I am a woman who has battled weight issues all her life, along with emotional stuff, and it's been a long journey out of the cold, foggy woods into the light. I'd like to help my friends learn to trust their judgment so they can each find their own place of rest.

Each one of you knows what's right for your body and your soul. Down deep inside of yourself, you know. People may have told you otherwise; you may have gotten bad information along the way; hurts may have accumulated and hidden that knowledge from you - but it's still there.

Thanksgiving is coming, and, after that, Christmas. Lots of challenges.

Over the next week or so, I'm going to post a few of the techniques that work for me. Nothing new or wonderful or wild. It is SO trite, but doggone it, it's true: you lose weight if you eat less than you expend in energy. You keep the weight off if you adopt a healthy lifestyle which fosters weight control. There. In two sentences.

Hah!! (I hear you say, scoffingly.) (Is that a word?)

Well, okay. It's a bit more complex than that. And the toughest part of it is, I HAVE NO CLUE what will work for you. YOU have all that information. The trick is to find out what it is.

I gotta take the trash out and get to bed, so I'll leave some questions which I'll answer in the next post (and which you are invited to answer, too, in the comments, if you like):

What puts your munch switch on "auto"? Stress? TV? Reading?

With the holidays coming up, what's your gazingus food - the one thing you're looking forward to right now and which you'll attack like a starving leopard the minute you're within arm's length?

More soon...

Food for thought about food

I'm pacing the floor. Well, not really... I'm sitting here, typing. But internally, I'm pacing.

Some acquaintances are trying a program meant to curb the cycle of "addictive" eating, I gather. I don't know anything about it... don't want to, either. It's not that I'm closed-minded; it's because I've had food issues all my life, and have now, FINALLY, gotten to a place where I'm at a normal weight and STAYING there after three (three!) years (YEARS!!). Because I am food sensitive and have emotional issues, I'm very careful about what I read, and I stay away from anything remotely concerned with dieting. I'm all about nutrition, these days.

What got me going is that it appears from the acquaintances' account that the book prescribes a fast to start off the process.

Now, I don't question the good intent or the qualifications of the person who put that program together. I do seriously question that advice for people with food issues.

Fasting is very serious. As the body burns fat, it releases toxins into the bloodstream. Even if one handles sugar properly, the drop in blood sugar puts strain on the body's systems. The body goes into panic mode. This shows up first in the emotions, which become fragile, so the person becomes fractious. Then there's the hunger, as the body frantically tries to get more food.

It is a punishing, horrible experience.

Is that really what we want to do to anyone who has an issue about which they're hurting? Punish them and make them suffer?

Why do we treat ourselves this way??

I want to tell them, "Let's back up and start over."

I am on a program which allows me to eat anything my little heart desires. Anything. Really. However, I can't eat too much of my "anything." I can't eat it all the time. I have to fuel my body carefully, learning what it needs and wants, managing my hunger correctly.

And I have to heal myself, inside, and manage that part of myself, too. Lovingly.

The toughest part about food dependency is the love part. We have such fear of being loved, of loving ourselves, of loving another. We have hurts, and worries, and frets, and chocolate really and truly does make it all go away for a little while. So why forbid the chocolate?

The way to health is rehabilitation, not cruelty.

In rehab, you do not drag the wounded individual out of bed and make them run a mile! The first day, the patient gets to sit up, bolstered by pillows and supportive physical therapists. Then the sufferer lies back down and watches TV. The next try is a sit-up for 15 minutes, and so on.

It is only after many, many weeks that the person is able to take up normal life again. Along the way there are good times and not-so-good. There is progress, and there is backsliding.

Why we think we can rehabilitate our eating in less time mystifies me.

Did you know that it can take years before someone is truly ready to let go and eat right? People kick themselves for "failing" at diets, but the truth is, it is how most people go about it! They try it out, think it over, then revert back for a while. They try again, do a little better, revert back. It can take years. It's not a crime.

Two years into my weight loss, I let myself go a little bit. I'd eat a little extra and get away with it for a day or two. I'd see the pounds creep up, but work would be busy, so I'd give myself another pass, etc.

Then I went to see my doctor for a regular visit. She looked at my chart, and said, "You gained five pounds last year." She looked me straight in the eye. "That's not the trend we want. We want the trend the other way." I don't know why, but it was the right thing to say to me, in the right way. Off came the offending five lbs. and they've stayed off. But it was a little reversion... a stepping back.

Along my journey to health, I had to look inside, at the issues that made me fat. I had to understand why I was afraid of not eating, why I compulsively ate too much, why - many things. With God's help, and the program I elected, I figured it out. I had to make serious changes to my life, and I made them... because I was ready.

I was ready to let go of my notions and prejudices. Ready to take babysteps. Ready to really love my body and love my self. Love. Get love right, and health will follow.

These days, I treat myself with great respect. I get plenty of sleep. I exercise, doing only fun things which I truly enjoy. And I have figured out a Lot of stuff about food, and how I can use it to fuel my body and keep my emotions steady and truly enjoy life.

I've had to adopt a new lifestyle, one which requires that I keep track of everything I eat. I have done it for three years. I will do it every day for the rest of my life. When I see it down on paper, in black and white, I don't lie to myself about how much I've had. I pay attention to the nutrition values of the food I eat, and make sure I'm getting the most bang for the buck when it comes to calories. And I never deny myself anything, because, if I do, I will go off the wagon faster than you can say Boo!.

I want to help my friends, but I realize that we must all find our own path to wholeness and health. Perhaps this program is right for them. I hope they won't think it's their fault if it's not.

But I so want to sit them down, and talk it over with them, and help them find their way to using food wisely and lovingly to nourish themselves and nurture their emotions!

God bless all who struggle with obsession with nourishment tonight.

12 November 2005

" I desire mercy, and not sacrifice..."

Some days ago during my Sunday morning Bible study, the readings in my guide included this one:
And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:10-13)

One of the great souls who guides my understanding of God is Oswald Chambers. I've lost track of the number of times the reading for a particular day speaks exactly to what I am wrestling with in other areas of my life.

On November 11, his text was "Take now thy son." Genesis xxii.ii.
...Abraham did not choose the sacrifice. Always guard against self-chosen service for God; self-sacrifice may be a disease. If God has made your cup sweet, drink it with grace; if He has made it bitter, drink it in communion with Him. If the providential order of God for you is a hard time of difficulty, go through with it, but never choose the scene of your martyrdom... (My Utmost for His Highest)
For most of my life, I believed that I should choose always to sacrifice myself to the preferences of others. My mother was a lot like the Anchoress' Paterfamilias, whom she wrote about in this post, and I wasn't as strong as the Anchoress, and I didn't leave. Instead, I married a man whose behavior felt familiar to me. Need I say more?

The result was not good. It took many years of determined recovery to be able to cope at all normally with life, and I shall always have to be alert to my self-annihilating tendencies - which is why those passages struck me and have stayed with me every day since.

Other Christians in the blog world have lately been ruminating on what is appropriate behavior for Christians who have all "the comforts and conveniences of life" (a favorite phrase from a thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer) when presented with beggars or the homeless. It is possible to drown in guilt over this, and to want to deny oneself everything in an excess of zeal. There again, we need to let God decide. Unless we are clearly led to sell all we have and give to the poor, we need to remember that, unless we work and think and consume and build and buy, there will be no work for those who clean offices and make paper and put together computers and grow food and fold clothes and frame houses and stand at checkout counters. It is not wrong for us to make use of the good things which God provides, only wrong to hoard and deny others. That said, I'm with Julie D., and carry bottles of water in the car, offering them to those who ask for aid, in addition to my donations to charities. If I give up working and sell all I have, I shall be miserable and it won't do any good; it's not what I'm called to do. I'm called to work hard and give generously and use wisely and be frugal.

I always felt torn between my desire to give them something ("a cup of cold water") and my husband's strong feelings against doing so. Now that I am alone, I can listen to my heart, and remember this, which Julie D. quoted:
There are those who say to the poor that they seem to look to be in such good health: "You are so lazy! You could work. You are young. You have strong arms."

You don't know that it is God's pleasure for this poor person to go to you and ask for a handout. You show yourself as speaking against the will of God.

There are some who say: "Oh, how badly he uses it!" May he do whatever he wants with it! The poor will be judged on the use they have made of their alms, and you will be judged on the very alms that you could have given but haven't. -- St. John Vianney
Exactly so.We need to take care of ourselves - even to the point of caring for our consciences by doing right when we feel the leading to do so. I am to have mercy on myself, and not decide on my own what to sacrifice. I need to take good care of myself, and others, as God leads and allows.

Who am I, again?

Jules posted this over at Faith or Fiction, and I'm still trying to understand it, which tells me she's done it again, and forged ahead into someplace I haven't been willing to go yet. She's beckoning me to follow her, but I'm not sure where she's going.
As someone who's "been there/done that" let me just say this to all of you who struggle and fight to hide pieces of yourself away because of the dirtiness and sin that comes to all of us throughout our lives:

What is done to you by others - and what it then causes you to do (either to yourself or to others) - is not who you are.

That reminds me of something I read once... where is it? Oh, yes: ...if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Not if, or but, or perhaps, or maybe, or if you're real good and eat all your vegetables; just a simple, flat statement. And what is being in Christ?

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. ... We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, 21)

It is not who I am because Christ made Himself that way in my stead. He let others do to Him what they wanted to do to me. He alone could withstand it, and rise again. I can be myself only when I am completely immersed in, entangled with, and given over entirely to Him.

Oh, yeah, I remember ...

That is how we help each other sometimes, I think. It's not so much that we're telling anyone something new. It's that we're reminding our friends of what satan would have us forget - the beautiful truths we knew all along.

Thank you, Jules!


Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness. It is a flight from God's help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall. It is the cause of diabolical possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the custodian of sins, the source of hardheartedness. It is the denial of compassion, a bitter pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God. It is the root of blasphemy.

John Climacus (7th century monk)
quoted in The Cloister Walk
(found at Happy Catholic)

"It is a flight from God's help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall." Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

During my marriage, I was trying to live out a way of life which refused anything like help or aid or assistance. My mother considered it to be weakness to ask for help with anything, and she would do so only when there was no alternative. I hope for your sake you cannot adequately imagine what that meant in terms of living conditions, emotional and physical health, and so on.

It took a long time before I realized that people are out there who are willing and able to help, and that they would not look down on me for needing that help.

I ask for help and advice a lot, these days. With each admission of impotence or confusion, I feel the bite of humility as it sands down the hard walls of my soul.

"It is the denial of compassion, a bitter pharisee, a cruel judge." How often I denied myself compassion and judged myself cruelly in terms I would never use to another - to the point where I was incapable of saying what needed to be said! I endured terrible situations while stringently lecturing, berating and chastising myself for every real or imagined transgression of "the way things ought to be."

I am better now. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung a bit too far the other way, and I am conscious of the need to find center, so that I don't repeat the horrors of my mother's house. However, even in my clutter, I am different from her. My kitchen and bathrooms are spotless. I feed myself well, and see the doctor regularly. I exercise and sleep and do lots of things which normal, healthy people do. And I am conscious of having limitations of time, energy, and smarts in some areas of life, but I no longer think I need to excel in every single thing I do. When I run up against a problem or can't figure something out, I do something which is beginning to feel more normal and natural every time I try it: I ask for help.

God is good. And patient!

08 November 2005

God laughing

... well, maybe just a chuckle.

My work has taken an unexpected turn. I could, possibly, maybe, have a wonderful assignment, completely absorbing and even, dare I say it? fun.

Just God tellin' me to quit looking over the fence and keep working on the patch of garden right beneath my feet ... for today, anyway.

02 November 2005

Another look at the future

I really, truly, do not know what to expect.

Over the last several weeks, it has become apparent that I am to let go, and let God. The more that I do this, the more easily things are flowing.

The life I might lead someday is unlike anything I've ever led before. I just spent some disheartening time combing through employment postings in another time zone, looking at alternatives, not wanting any of them. Actually feeling a sense like, "This is not what I'm supposed to do."

If events unfold in this unimaginable direction, I shall be busy and occupied with a full day's work, but I must let go of the feeling that I must earn a salary. When I listen in prayer, it is just as clear that I must not work in that eventuality, as it is that I must (and want to) if my life continues on its current course.

Moments later, I found my way to this post on Erica's blog:
I will pursue and produce but I will not do it in the frame of mind I have had until now, aka Must Self-Actualize or DIE!!! I am already living the Truth of my Heart. Nothing is ever going to be more dear to me than the ones who occupy my heart already, so why not acknowledge that the rest will be details and icing, stuff to hope for, but not make-it-or-break-my-neck stuff.

I had bought into the idea that because I can, as a young woman, supposedly have it all, that I must do so. And now. For the last few weeks my mind has been full of the things I have not accomplished; the possibilities of the future have become burdens. And spending all day feeling that weight is a real drain on the precious resources of today...
I am no longer a young woman, but, believe me, that feeling of pressure to "have it all" and "self-actualize" does not go away!

This has a kind of FlyLady feel to it: something I'm trying to organize which would be better off released from my life; something which doesn't make me smile. What makes me smile is weaving a world of comfort for someone I love, making sure that the trains run on time in the household, making it look easy and never letting that work impinge on the all-too-short moments we have together; teaching grandchildren to read and bake and think and sing and maybe even pray; knowing myself to be in the right place for me at last, as a woman, a Christian, and a friend.

I don't know if it can happen. I don't know if it will. But I feel more ready now than at any time in my life... and maybe that was part of the Plan.

It is no coincidence, I'm sure, that my current paid employment has just hit a mighty convenient lull this week, just as this mysterious process began to sort itself out in earnest. If there were to be a transition - and I'm not saying there will be, just if - it would be so much easier now than, perhaps, later.

I don't know what my future holds; but I know Who holds my future.

29 October 2005

Faith, reason and passion

Steven Riddle over at Flos Carmeli writes better than I ever could about The Intellect and the Church. And his thoughts lead me to write out my own.

For me, the Catholic Church's attraction was always as an avenue to communion of all kinds. Historically, as a Roman Catholic, you were connected in a very real way to a world far beyond that of the senses. I loved being able to choose a patron saint to whom I could pray in the conviction that she is alive and able to hear my prayers, guide my thought spiritually as well as through her writings, and able to stand before God on my behalf. The saint didn't replace Jesus any more than one's older sister replaced one's parents. One's sister could provide guidance and shelter in addition to the parents, and was present in one's life because of the parents. It's called "family"... The Rosary wasn't some dry exercise; even in moments when it's hard to pray, it's like going through the photo album of my adoptive Holy Family. And Communion-! Of course, when the tabernacle is hidden, the liturgy is unrecognizable, and the words of the Mass are twisted and altered on the fly by some dude in a tacky looking robe, I pray He's not where the catechism says He is, for the sake of those schooled in indifference, even sacrilege. (I refuse to get into particulars, but, as with obscenity, I know it when I see it.)

"The Spirit of Vatican II" outlawed all of what brought me into the church. Saints became mere "models," the Rosary was pooh-poohed as "pietistic," and we all know what Cardinal Mahony thinks about kneeling during the holiest moment in a human being's life. I believe in God, not in the Church, which I now regard with deep suspicion. I am a recovering child of an alcoholic and I know the signs of toxic dysfunction, and am not going to be sucked into that morass again. I have done with the church as I did in my human family situation: I have detached in love.

In attempting to deconstruct the faith and isolate the "faith impulse" from the warp and woof of the compleat human being, the hijackers of Vatican II controverted the natural, overflowing emotion which was Catholicism's strength. To say that Catholics never questioned whether or not they should attend Mass because they accepted everything the hierarchy told them is grossly insulting and shows a lack of understanding. Lots of Catholics went to church because there was something there which they could not get anywhere else... to be specific, some One.

To explain, I will start by agreeing with Steven that "The reason is a good and powerful gatekeeper. It is necessary, right, just, and required that we cultivate it to the best of our ability." I have no doubt there's a lot of overlap between the folks who brought us "the Song of Songs is only an allegory" and those who recoiled at the overflowing emotions some people, who were convinced that what Jesus said in John 6 is what He meant, displayed in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Certain clear abuses aside, most of the objections were simply that it wasn't "seemly." One is reminded of Michal sneering at David in 2 Samuel 6 for emotionally dancing before the ark of the Lord. But here's the thing: if Jesus' words in John 6 are true, and, by reasoning and logic you accept them as such, to behave uncaringly or unemotionally in the presence of that mystery is as unnatural as a mother saying, "I love my child" as an intellectual statement, while carefully refusing to be moved by its cries and smiles.

If Jesus was speaking allegorically, the traditional Latin Mass is weird idolatry. If Jesus meant what He said, then the "highest" Mass, with ranks of choirs and the best incense and the finest gold on the altar in the most exquisitely beautiful church is but a shabby attempt to show what we feel for Him in His sacramental presence. It is the "worship experience" approach, focused on our feelings rather than on God, which ends up in sterile, concrete churches and sloppy guitar "messes," with the wafer treated with no more dignity and reverence than a saltine.

The "Spirit of Vatican II" is so often cited as the reason for downplaying the deep wordless emotional impact of religious art, denying meaning to soaring naves and staggeringly beautiful reredos. All that kind of thing is taught to be pious emotional treacle which is dangerous to the faith. Then, having deconstructed it all down to verbal concepts, it builds back the superficial emotionalism of "celebration," which is about "community" and "relationship" instead of: that's Jesus on the altar.

When we lose our sense of emotion in connection with our faith, it loses any personal value beyond intellectual assent. When we deny that the Song of Songs can describe the beauty of love between a man and a woman, and that the rapture of adult discovery and union is intended to point directly to the love of God for His Church, a type of His pursuit of her and delight in her and desire to give her all she needs to abundantly reproduce communities which show at once the effects of the loving union between God and His image - the indelible, ineffable mystery of that - we are simply closing the door on Him and what He offers to make us truly human. When the soul glimpses Jesus as John did, it is no leap to breathe the prayer, "Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits." Jesus made the garden of the soul, and made it to bear fruit through His love and leading and tender care. He has every right to delight in the good results of His work. However, when we share ourselves with Him, we always end up fed. He gives us His own self via what happened in John 6 and the sacrifice at Calvary. That meditation has nourished and ravished many a soul. St. Teresa of Avila - a doctor of the Church, and one of three women to be given that extremely significant title - experienced something like this, and Bernini faithfully interpreted it in ways which made the "it's only an allegory" crowd very uncomfortable (and likely still do).

I'm no prophet, and most definitely no saint, but I just have this feeling that He wishes we'd quit trying to explain staggering mysteries with mealy-mouthed pronouncements and instead fall to our knees in silent contemplation. God is such an ardent lover, yet, these days, we act as prudish towards love as we used to towards sex. Don't you think He wishes we'd quit playing with the equipment and start thinking about what it all means?

Update: I have pruned this considerably, and here link a Very Good explanation of the Mass, written by Teresa. H/T the Anchoress.

The gift of change

My life might be about to change.

I am tempted to do nothing in anticipation, in case it does not happen.

Am I being called to show some faith, instead?
Faith that God wants me to be happy and whole.
Faith in the one whose own changes will cause mine.
Faith in myself, that I can cope with a new life.
I had some very good advice about this prospect last week. Some of it is very good. Some of it, I must ignore. Life is too short.

There is prudence, which is necessary, and cowardice, which is not.

Most of all, there has to be the willingness to accept joy when it is given... after so many attempts by God to give the gift, finally just - letting Him. Not fighting it any more, or explaining it away, or reasoning why it shouldn't happen, or making long lists of all that could go wrong, or dreaming up ways in which to have it but not really.

Pray for me that I will accept God's gift in the way and the time of His will.

A useful thought

Be who you are and say what you feel, because people who mind don't matter, and people who matter, don't mind.

Good morning!

I have waked up this morning - a Saturday - without a trace of a migraine. This is the first Saturday in a month that I can say that. I feel like one of the Lord's little birds, chirping and hopping from branch to branch.

It is a gift to be able to do the ordinary things without thinking about it: unload the dishwasher, load the washing machine, feel hungry and enjoy a good breakfast. For the last two Saturdays, any of the foregoing were out of the question.

Even for my moments of indisposition, I am grateful; they help me know when to give thanks for ordinary, undeserved blessings.

23 October 2005

My dear Bear is found!

I put his dish out on the porch with water in it and sadly went to bed. And as I walked into the bedroom - I stopped cold.

The door to the bathroom was shut.

I never shut that door.

My first thought was - who's been in the house?!

But, as I opened the door, there he was: Bear shut himself in accidentally, presumably while trying to get comfy for a nap.


Even though I'd called him in the house earlier, I didn't hear anything ... and he's such a zen dog, he didn't bark.

I gave him a good dinner, then we went for a walk through the quiet, mostly tucked-in neighborhood. And I shall take that as a reprieve and a signal and everything else, and get that fence repaired a.s.a.p.


I feel rather silly ("you didn't remember you let him back in?") but I don't care. I have my dear companion and watchdog back, shedding all over the house - and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My prayers for those who are searching for their lost companion animals.

My dear Bear is missing

Recriminations and remorse: the fence is low on one side of the house since I had the bougainvillea assassinated. Bear discovered that he could get out of the yard. He did it again this morning. I brought him back, and we stayed together all day. Then, this afternoon, he wanted to go out, and I - not thinking - let him. When I came to some hours later - huh? where's - oh no!

I've been out driving around, but no sign of him. We're near the foothills; he could be anywhere, and miles away by now.

He is reasonably street smart, and he's familiar with the area. I hope he stays off the roads. He is in God's sight and care. Your prayers would be appreciated.

Wise words for husbands

Adrian Warnock quoted and excerpted some of an article by John Piper, which Curt then linked to over at the Happy Husband, and now it's here:

Here I am speaking directly to men who are husbands and leaders. Paul said in Ephesians 5:25, "Husbands, love your wives!" Love her! Love her! What does it profit a man if he gains a great following and lose his wife? What have we led people to if they see that it leads us to divorce? What we need today are leaders who are great lovers. Husbands who write poems for their wives and sing songs to their wives and buy flowers for their wives for no reason at all except that they love them. We need leaders who know that they should take a day alone with their wives every now and then; leaders who do not fall into the habit of deriding and putting their wives down, especially with careless little asides in public; leaders who speak well of their wives in public and complement them spontaneously when they are alone; leaders who touch her tenderly at other times besides when they are in bed. One of the greatest temptations of a busy leader is to begin to treat his wife as a kind of sex object. It starts to manifest itself when the only time he ever kisses her passionately or touches her tenderly is when he's trying to allure her into bed. It is a tragic thing when a wife becomes a mannequin for masturbation. Learn what her delights are and bring her to the fullest experience of sexual climax. Talk with her and study her desires. Look her in the eye when you talk to her. Put down the paper and turn off the television. Open the door for her. Help her with the dishes. Throw her a party. LOVE HER! LOVE HER! If you don't, all your success as a leader will very likely explode in failure at home.

I was going to write something snarky and smart, but I can't joke about it. Not yet. Fortunately, there is someone who always listens, who gives his own self as food for the soul, and who specializes in opening doors.

For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I forsook you,
but with great compassion I will gather you,
In overflowing wrath for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have
compassion on you,
says the Lord, your Redeemer
-Isaiah 54:5-8

Which chord are you?

MAJOR THIRD. You fill in the hollowness...you are
the emotion in the chord. You want life to be
rich and full for yourself and everyone around
you. Beloved by Classical and Romantic
composers alike, you just want peace and
tranquility for all mankind. Unfortunately,
most of the post-World-War II composers hate
you, but you tend to think that most music
since 1945 is crap, anyways.

What musical interval are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

(found at This is Life)

I can be happy

Back in late 1991, a dear friend of mine told me about his odyssey out of a nightmarish situation, and what an epiphany it was to realize that, indeed, he could be happy. I was so stuck in my own tough place at that time that I couldn't even fully appreciate what he was saying. I'm beginning to, now.
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,... pray for those who abuse you... if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same... but love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." - Luke 27ff

I have always read that passage as meaning that my life doesn't count before God unless I am around people who make it hard for me to love them by speaking hatefully and abusing me. I felt it was lazy and cowardly to want to be with anyone who loves me and does good to me. Today, I realized that is not what it means, at all. Enemies and people who hate should be rare in one's life; but, if they turn up, Jesus is saying that one should care for them as He does.

I saw it that way because it was juxtaposed with another reading, from Matthew 9:9-13. It's the one where Matthew was called. He was despised by the Jews because he was a tax collector, seen as working against his fellow citizens by implementing the horrible tax laws of the Romans; but Jesus said to him, "Follow me."

The Pharisees came by and sneered at Jesus for eating with the tax collectors and sinners. Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

"I desire mercy and not sacrifice" is from Hosea 6:6. I didn't get it, myself, but this morning the light broke through. God wants us to give from our storehouse of good, whatever that 'good' might be; He does not want us to sacrifice the good He has given us for our own. By staying with people who were deliberately cruel and mean to me, I was sacrificing the possibility of good in my life. God was not asking me to give up my happiness to their mean-spirited behaviour. He just wants me to be ready to show mercy from my happiness, to share peace and joy.

It has always been difficult for me to trust that God wants me to be happy. I've always felt that happiness or joy were very dangerous, worthless emotions, lulling one into forgetting the "realities," which would happen at any time to rob one of all joy and freedom and send one's spirits crashing down. It's always seemed wiser to stay anxious and on the lookout for disaster than to allow oneself to relax and so be caught unprepared.

The trouble with that outlook is, without joy and peace in one's heart, one will certainly be unprepared to handle the inevitable shocks and distress of life.

The same kind of thought seemed to be present when the disciples complained as a woman poured very expensive ointment on Jesus' head during a visit. "Why this waste? This ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor." But Jesus said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me." The disciples were saying what I lived by for so many years: never indulge oneself in any way; it's wrong. People are depending upon you not to waste a thing and never to be happy, because to be happy when others are suffering is selfish and cruel. Well, of course, you can't keep that up without becoming terribly depressed. And, there again, God isn't asking for us to do without the comforts and joys He provides, but to enjoy them like children who are given good things by their Father. We are allowed to be happy. When we hurt ourselves ostensibly to prevent the deprivation of others, we are showing a lack of faith. God is able to care for all His creation. He does not depend on us for anything. Our giving and sympathy are to be undertaken as being good for us, as well as for the poor and suffering.

Trying to out-do others by suffering more is just a way to fall into the trap of pride, anyway. I do much better spiritually when my body gives out and I must stay warm and eat right and rest for hours at a time. It's very humbling.

I've had a lot of humility lately, as stress at work has triggered the ol' migraine monster, and I've spent one day of each of the last three weekends mostly sleeping. But, there again, the stress is because I'm allowing myself to be put into a bad spot by someone whose priorities and work habits are completely different from mine. As my sister reminded me today, there are no awards for letting your life be ruined by somebody else's bad behavior.

Throughout my 20s and 30s I mainlined stress. I had almost no coping skills, a chaotic home life, and married someone I felt comfortable with because life with him was similar to what I'd grown up with around my mother. Add in a very difficult job and some health issues, and I was pretty well done. In many ways, I'm now in the best time of my life: It has taken me a couple of years to let go of my chronic anxiety and begin to lighten up a little, realizing that I can, indeed, enjoy life just a bit.

The FlyLady system has really helped me. FLY can be thought of as standing for Finally Loving Yourself. It's true. Having an orderly, tidy, clean house, a comfortable place to sleep, and my clothes all ready each day still feels like an extravagant luxury to me, but I have to do it. I have to train myself to live a normal life, with a normal amount of joy and happiness. God did not give me this life to spend my days cringing in fear and dread and anxiety.

02 October 2005

The fear of being touched

Jules over at Faith or Fiction related her discomfort with the idea of going up for prayer at church.

...at the end of the service, I always freeze as the person doing the closing remarks mentions that the staff will be up front if anybody needs to stop for a prayer because of illness or struggles in their life. I have never been able to figure out why this is so hard for me to hear and even harder for me to respond to...

[ ... ]

I feel close to tears for many reasons - mostly because of how blessed I am - but also because of how fearful I am. I can push it off for just so long before it all comes creeping back again like a wave from Rita washing over the damage left by Katrina. Wave after endless wave as I sit in retrospect ... Does He sense my pain and anguish? Does He understand why I can't go up front at church and ask Him for my life back?

My heart goes out to her. It sounds so familiar - the "freezing." The fear. The tears. As I read it, I recalled my struggles with something similar.

I've never had a massage. I don't like to be touched by people I don't know. I can endure doctor visits only because they are short. I dislike even having my hair washed at the salon.

The closest I've come to it was to actually step inside the spa, pay for a session, and look around. I felt quite pleased with myself that I got that far. I dreaded the whole experience for three days beforehand. The morning I went in I was so upset I was shaking.

After some thought and discussion with the one who helps me sort through these things, I've realized it's not the process of touch itself that bothers me. There is a long story behind it, quite sad, which I cannot share in this forum. What I can share is that I've figured it out. I at last know why I "freeze" in fear and and flatly refuse to undergo what, for most people, is a heavenly relaxing experience.

I think we need to honor our feelings and trust in God. Someday I might be ready to do what I fear ... or I might not. It doesn't matter. Nobody cares. God knows the truth about our reluctance better than we do. He surely does not mind that Jules cannot ask for prayer, any more than He minds that I cannot submit to a healing massage. He knows that sometimes our hurts leave us unable to accept good things.

I am healing from whatever is blocking me from accepting such service, because I can see that something is good, even though, in my fear and confusion, I will not partake. Wounded people like me can take a long time to get to the point where we will allow someone who's safe to help them in an intimate way, whether by prayer or healing touch or whatever it is. God will provide the giver when we are ready. It must not be forced. I know for a fact that, when it is time, He will provide one whom you can trust and lean on. It happened for me, in the most unexpected and profoundly healing way. Until then, we can lean on Him. He's strong enough to hold us all close in His heart.

01 October 2005

God is quick with correction

My previous post was about paying a bill. Then I found this.

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.

The entire post is a sobering reminder of living for 8 years in a house with no heat except for an electric oil heater and not enough money to take advantage of sales or use coupons. I remember feeling so resentful of a wonderful, but clueless, boss who complained during a relentless heat wave that the air conditioning wasn't working in his house - upstairs. I had never lived with air conditioning before, and was into my second week without real sleep.

To this day I am careful with money. I always will be. I don't think I could ever have enough money not to worry any more.

I will not feel guilty about posting about my success in paying off my debt. I didn't do it with a windfall. I did it by taking my lunch every day to work, and not buying new clothes, and doing without new [fill in the blank]. I reused and scrimped and made do, and I shall continue to do so, until the other debts are paid... and then I'll start saving.

I think we who are comfortable forget what makes poverty "grinding": the utter inability to save any money. Capital is what makes capitalism work; once you've got a bit of it, it begins to get some momentum, and you can make some progress. But how hopeless it can seem to ever get ahead. God bless those who are frightened tonight for money reasons. May they make good choices and have the strength they need to keep going.

What's your blogging personality?

These things are the potato chips of the blog world ...

Your Blogging Type is Pensive and Philosophical

You blog like no one else is reading...
You tend to use your blog to explore ideas - often in long winded prose.
Easy going and flexible, you tend to befriend other bloggers easily.
But if they disagree with once too much, you'll pull them from your blogroll!

Saw this over at Carolyn's.

"Has anything ever happened to you...

... when after it was all said and done you knew it was God?" Gina Burgess posted her response to this question which she found over at Joe B's. What a great question. I am down-on-my-knees grateful that I have lots of possible responses, but I'll choose just one, for now.

Many years ago, I was in Minneapolis for a seminar for my work. The weather was nice, and I was getting stir crazy, so I asked the concierge at the hotel if it was safe to walk nearby. He gave a sort of guarded response, the tone of which I should have listened to, but I was young and needed a walk, so out I went.

It was fairly early in the morning, bright sunshine. I walked just a couple blocks south of the hotel, and turned left down a long block with the notion of going back up at the next light. Midway down the block was a bar - the kind with no windows. The door opened up and three large, seriously inebriated Native American males lurched out onto the sidewalk right in front of me. Now, at the time, I was in my 20s and reasonably fetching-looking in a sleeveless summer frock and sandals, and I had their immediate and full attention.

I really had nowhere to go but past them, so I moved to the outside of the sidewalk (thinking I'd step into the somewhat busy traffic if I had to) and proceeded to walk briskly by. No such luck. They started making encouraging noises in my direction. Since there were three of them, they were egging each other on a bit. I was beginning to feel considerable alarm, though I tried not to show it. I didn't want to try to run, because I felt instinctively they'd chase me, so I just walked fast. They walked behind me, calling to me. I started eyeing the traffic for a break.

Just then, a tall, handsome older gentleman with a full head of white hair fell into step beside me. I had no idea where he'd come from. He greeted me as though we were already acquainted, and walked quite close, though not touching. We chatted about the weather and I don't know what else. Behind us, my followers, muttering, gave up the chase.

That man and I walked for a block. He had a serene smile the whole time and never made reference to my entourage. The hotel was in sight at the next intersection. He said "Good-bye" just as the light changed. I turned to thank him, but he had vanished.

There wasn't a side street or a working door anywhere in the vicinity. The building beside us was boarded up.

It was my first conscious encounter with an angel.

Rejoice with me

I am thinking of the story Jesus told, about the woman who lost a coin and swept her whole house, then called her friends to rejoice with her when it was found. I didn't lose anything, but feel much the same, because I paid off a bill today.

Almost two years ago, the timing belt broke on my Volvo. I was decelerating into a stop sign when it happened. I felt the engine let go and heard one of the most horrible sounds a car owner can hear: the six-cylinder equivalent of a spoon in a garbage disposal.

I was not upset. The circumstances were such that it had "God's Will" stamped all over it in inch-high letters. I was on my way to have a conversation which was inappropriate for me to have, and, although I was determined to do it, I'd prayed to God and asked Him to allow or prevent it. (Me sitting in car at intersection right after it happened: "All righty, then, I guess that would be a 'No.'") I felt protected, in spite of the circumstances: it happened on a Sunday afternoon in a quiet, safe residential area. My passenger was one of those calm, resourceful souls who dispensed a comforting hug at the right moment, then easily and quickly arranged to borrow a car. It could have been a miserable experience; he made it almost pleasant, if not for the mortal injury to my beloved Volvo. (We Volvo owners can get a bit dotty over our "bricks.")

The decision to repair vs. replace was a serious one. I went on-line and looked at cars, but the more I looked, the more I found myself gravitating to the same make, same model. I looked at used Volvos of the same vintage (one of the last rear-wheel drive models) and discovered their price range was exactly what it would cost to rebuild the engine. Rather than buy another car which I didn't know, I decided to repair my old friend.

For two years I have thrown every extra bit at that debt. This month I broke the magic number that allowed me to transfer some savings and pay off the remaining balance.

Along the way, I've not gone without a thing I truly needed. I've had enough extra for a few little treats now and then. God is kind. I just hope I've learned to cultivate a quiet and teachable spirit, so that He doesn't have to take such drastic measures in future to keep me from doing something stupid!