Wednesday, September 5, 2012

No more the hoard!

I've lately become addicted to the Hoarders shows on cable. You know the ones where treasure trash is piled waist deep in all rooms of the home and no emergency rescue personnel could ever get in to save people and pets if the time came? Yeah those shows. I have hoarding tendencies, as is evidenced by my dear husband's summer drive to 'declutter' our basement. He has made beautiful progress, and I'm even on the bandwagon trying to get stuff out of the house that I've held onto for too long and for no good reason.

I sympathize with the people who proclaim they can't stand to throw away something that might be useful by 'someone.' I have many of my own 'treasures' from childhood, and so many more stored at the house in which I grew up. I come by the tendency honestly. My grandmother is a child of the Depression (note, the big 'D'.) She definitely has the school of thought that we throw nothing away until it is worn out and has no foreseeable, just-in-case use. Hence, I am using my breaktime at work this month to digitally scan moldy, musty newspapers. Ugh. Still, they have documentation of my academic successes as a child. To whom am I wanting to prove those long-ago, and mostly-forgotten achievements? Certainly, no one will have a use for those papers, right?

This morning in my email blast, I was pointed to this beautiful piece of scripture which calls us to consider why the townspeople might want to keep Christ to themselves, rather than share his healing and teachings with others: 

After leaving the synagogue Jesus entered Simon's house. Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.
As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, "You are the Son of God!" But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.
At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose." So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.-- Lk 4:38-44
Now, you might be asking what that has to do with the hoarding tendencies I described above? I wouldn't have drawn the conclusion myself, so thankfully the scripture came with a reflection written by a Notre Dame alumna:

The Kingdom of God is a call to seek a “we” that extends beyond our borders—psychological as well as geographical. Whatever we hoard, be it money, access to health care, environmental resources, even medals at the Olympics, we are taking away from another.
So the way I see it, I'm taking away from others when I hold onto the bed frame from my childhood, or keep the fondue pot that has seen daylight outside its original box exactly once. The list can go on, and it does. My worst/best hoard right now is my mom's clothing. She died in May 2011, and I collected her clothes, discarding the worn and stained, knowing that Goodwill would not accept them. I bagged the rest and brought them home, with the best intention of pulling select items to use to make memory quilts for my brothers and me. For over a year the clothes languished on my front porch. Now, I have sorted them by type, and have sent some on to Goodwill. I must begin to cut and plan the quilts, and I especially hope to be finished by Christmas, Mid-March when my brothers have birthdays, latest.

I talked with my husband about the clothes. I laundered in hot water and used fabric softener--they still smell of my mother, which in his mind is a good thing, and something perhaps only I can detect. He says it's driven by good memories and a heart that misses her deeply. He's right. So, as you're thinking about what you need, what you need to keep to yourself, ask yourself the reflection questions that were part of my email this morning:

What do I want to keep for myself rather than share with others for their betterment? Where does my definition of “we” end? 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Doing the body good - are organic foods all they're cracked up to be?

A friend of mine who knows I focus on buying organic (and paying more for the luxury) gave me a 'thought for food' over his lunch hour today. The NPR article he provided suggests that organic food may not be healthier for people. Take a look and let me know what you think. Here's what I thought back to him while he was away for lunch. I've cleaned up my stream of consciousness chat to make it more readable here.

The NPR article cited some recent research with its roots in a 200 article literature review of various research outputs on organic food and health. "They found that the vast majority of conventionally grown food did not exceed allowable limits of pesticide residue set by federal regulations." Well, look what happened to the townspeople portrayed in the film Erin Brockovich. The film had something to say about contaminants and allowable limits. Without supportive, ongoing studies, one cannot be sure that what is allowed today won't have negative repercussions tomorrow. 

I'm taking a class that just completed a research unit. Longitudinal studies are likely to be needed to confirm--I'm a little impressed by the 100 year study that is being quoted. What I like is that the authors recognize the shortcomings of the research in the literature.

Where I draw the line, though, is thinking about the less than 100 years of genetic engineering and pesticide use and increases in disease and mortality. Certainly changes in longevity during the 20th Century have lead to more people living longer, and therefore having more time to exhibit chronic illness and disease. My family on my Dad's mother's side had a natural longevity, and it's likely due to reliance on natural foods. That changed in the 1960s I think. I grew up with a family garden. While we didn't have a lot of money to use on weed or insect control, I don't recall that we really thought twice about using Ortho fertilizer and bug control around our garden--until our Siamese ate grass that had been in the path of the neighbor's bug powder. After ingesting the chemical, the cat died a horrible death.

Pesticide use and Genetic Modification are relatively new technologies that impact the foods we ingest. I understand the impact they have for our farm producers on volume, and therefore ability to bring substantial food to market. I bless the farmers for helping to make it affordable to keep food on my table, and the majority of tables within our United States. However, the use of pesticides and the impact of processed foods laden with chemical substitutes have likely had a biological impact that will be difficult to understand. I have weight and reproductive problems that I still wonder at in relation to the foods I consumed as a child. Due to my health concerns and personal interest in treating the earth well, I have grown up challenging my thinking on what's for dinner.

I will continue to focus on buying organic for the 'dirty dozen'. There is a lot to be said about 'feeling good' and good health. I do wonder when it comes time to balance my checkbook if it makes a difference. For me and my house, I say it does.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Seeking the future

If you want to know where you'll be in 5 yrs listen to what you talk about most now. "Your tongue is a rudder" James 3:4

The message above is from the Women in Faith Twitter feed (@Women_Of_Christ). I've been wrestling with my future and my career choices for some time now, and 

Likewise, the @BookOProverbs Twitter feed posted, "No matter how much you know or what plans you make, you can't defeat the Lord." -Proverbs 21:30

I'm struggling between two ends of the spectrum. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

When opportunity escapes

I learned on Saturday afternoon that my friend's father who has been ill with cancer had passed. Pain and suffering are over was my first thought, but only for the deceased. Those who live on learn to live with the emptiness, with the gap, if they are lucky. How miserable life can be when regret clouds our days and thoughts of could've and should've enter in moments more frequently than can be managed.

My weekly blog mailing from Robert Sylvester is a reminder for keeping focused on the now and on the opportunities we have available. As the widower in his post learns, he cannot go back in time, and cannot regenerate the times his wife pined for his companionship during her own illness. He did not visit because he didn't have time or because he didn't care deeply for his wife. There was no strife mentioned, and her love and dedication was apparent. Where time does not drive our choices, priorities do. What priorities have we all placed before family? What grudges have we borne? In time, will those decisions to spend time with our hobbies, interests and other work remain what's most important.

For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you.
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:32-34 (NASB)

For these reasons I pray that my priorities will be aligned with each day and that I will carry no regret.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Confessions and personal integrity

Two weeks ago I was walking by our New Books shelves and a title caught my eye. It's a thin book, small in stature with a mock-coffee cup stain on the least that's what I see. I've been involved in a lot of self-review, introspection if you will, for more than the last twelve months. Paul Wilkes captured my eye with his new book, the art of confession: renewing yourself through the practice of honesty.

I've returned to a semi-regular practice of confession. I carried some guilt of failure and anger in the past year. I can tell you that I wanted nothing to do with the burden, and I was able to find a light peace with myself. As an adult convert to Catholicism, I am never sure of my self when I enter the room to share my thoughts, my sins, and my failings with our priest. My examination of conscience is deeply pure and sometimes heart-wrenching, and when I speak the words, the lightness is unbelievable. In the introduction to his book, Wilkes describes the conscience as, "a mysterious force within that urges us toward good actions and away from the bad." He further explains our part, "Having a free will means we can choose to listen to this voice or not."

I hear the words form in my conscience every day, and I hear echoes of transgressions that I can't seem to let go, or that I choose to address by not listening to that voice that rings clear. In conversations with my confessor, we have talked about whether forgiveness, and thus confession to another, needs to happen face to face, or if it can happen through forgiving self and changing our response to the multitude of decisions we make freely each day between right and wrong. Of course, not all circumstances will benefit from the facing the individual we have wronged, and it is enough to encounter what is needed to make an inner change that will express itself externally. Confession should not be confused with apology. Certainly both recognize our regret, our sorrow, but confession, whether to self for the individual harmed, is an acknowledgement of what we have done wrong, and how we intend to change (pp.4-5).

At times, the wrong we do, the wrongs I have done, come from 'seeming' instead of 'being' who I am. Wilkes quotes philosopher Martin Buber in explaining the difference. While reading this book, I was watching the same expression through the character of Don Draper on the AMC series Mad Men. Draper is a man conflicted. His life is spent being Don Draper, Madison Avenue advertising agent. Without want to spoil things too much if you haven't seen the show, underneath the perfect exterior Draper seems to be, he is really happiest being someone else, someone he was born to be. The show through the fourth season has been a process of discovery of who he is, and learning to take the mask off. Confession allows us to do this, regardless of our faith or religious practice. We all seek and need confession.

Wilkes concludes that confession in any culture is comprised of Three Rs: Risk, Relief and Renewal (p. 97). Risk is the most difficult of the three; Relief and Renewal come easily after initiating the Risk of speaking the truth. It is much easier to continue to be who we seem we are. Why would we want to risk judgement of others, or worse, exposure to all. If we return to the difference between confession and apology, we can see that confession involves more of healing ourselves, and accepting what has been done by us, and planning for how we will go forward and 'sin no more.'

I've devoted a lot of time to examining my own conscience, and I admit I am not perfect. I used to strive for perfection and now I work to be who I am. Perfection focuses on seeming more than being. Being helps me to set a context for understand that others do not deserve my judgement and condemnation for their own being or seeming--only they know which is which. I have a much deeper awareness of what I do in response to my perceptions of others. I had an experience earlier this week and in retrospect I am happy with my response to the information I received. I've read two books on forgiveness in the past year. One by Reinhard Hirtler, and the other by Joyce Meyer. Both helped me to see the importance of forgiving the self before forgiving others. Both narrated the same point: Hurting people hurt people. I've always known that you don't understand others until you've walked a mile in their shoes. Until I worked my way through my own hurts in the past year (and believe me some hurts are still there as huge scars), I don't think I really conceived of the meaning of the shoe analogy. I no longer feel the need to walk in others shoes: I know what the pebbles do in my own to have a respect for the pain others feel with their own stones.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Not in a position to be angry

A few days ago I drafted the title of this post. I know I had something in mind, something on my heart, something I wanted to share with others. I think it was from a book I have been reading: Do yourself a favor and forgive. I have mentioned that I have been studying forgiveness, and I know my heart has changed greatly and my patience has increased. I no longer condemn others for perceived shortcomings--although I border on chiding them for being so hard on themselves and over-apologizing. :) Yeah, that wasn't me even a decade ago.

I remember getting the oil changed in my first car. My husband was along for the experience, and as my best friend, he was also responsible for serving as my mirror that day. Thankfully, I don't remember the particulars anymore (that's another post for another day), I do however remember my husband telling me as the service agent walked away that I was being unreasonable. I think I was demanding services I thought I was entitled and had not received. I embarrassed and shamed the service agent into providing them at low or no cost. The service point is long out of business. I remember the anger, the rage, the impetuous girl who wasn't getting her way. I remember being told by my mirror that it wasn't an appropriate way to behave. I was selfish.

Slowly, but surely, I began to change. I remember as a child the joy one or the other of my parents felt by getting a buy-one, get one discount--but it wasn't advertised. The clerk had only charged for one of the stacked items--she hadn't noticed there were two in our basket. It happened another time with a laundry basket. I thought, by example, that this was the greatest thing ever. It carried into my early adulthood.

A year or two ago I was shopping at our local discount store with my parents. I found a great bargain and purchased two beautiful Dhurri rag rugs that day (these are not the same rugs in the link, but an example), but ask the clerk told me my total, I was sure it couldn't be right--I had a few other small items, but the rugs were nearly $10 each. My bill was well under $20.00. I stopped and asked the clerk if she had charged me for both rugs as I had rolled them together to make it easier to carry them. She had not, thanked me for noticing and added the second rug to my bill. I gladly paid and left. My parents were somewhat surprised by this. One indicated that I had passed up a deal by correcting the mistake. And yet inside, I knew what I had done. It wasn't the first time I had caught and corrected a mistake like this one since that day at the oil change place, but I had indeed changed. I was happy to catch and correct the error, even though I paid more cash in the end. I was happy to have ensured that things were done the right way in the transaction. Maybe it's because I've been responsible for budgets and accounting. Maybe because I have kept sales inventory during a brief stint as a direct seller that I knew someone would pay for the mistake had I not pointed it out. I would have carried that with me and been reminded of the wrong every time I looked at the rugs in my kitchen.

This has been a long way of talking about forgiveness and anger. I believe that anger comes from unforgiveness. I believe that we are so much more prone to upset, insult and injury when we carry anger with us. I heard on the radio this morning a point that hit home: Forgiveness was not created for those we forgive--it was created by God for us, so that we may let go of anger, frustration and disappointment. It is a process, and it involves forgiving others, our perceived transgressions, and forgiving ourselves for giving safe harbor to anger and resentment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Finding strength and rejecting depression

It's been a hard week. May has always been a busy month for my husband and me. We celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary this month, and took a week's vacation to get away and celebrate. I was ready to return home at the end of our travels, but far from ready to get back in the swing of things, mainly emotionally.

This time last year we were mourning the loss of my father-in-law, yet celebrating his journey to his heavenly rest, and we were still holding on to hope for my mother's peaceful passing from this world as she was home in hospice care for her end stage lung cancer. It wasn't easy then, but I could defer a lot of the pain and sorrow and depression by my activity in caring for her and tempering a searing work situation of my own.

I buckled yesterday to my self pity and sorrow. The fall began in earnest on Sunday, Mother's Day. I cannot say for certain what is wrong with me, only that I need somehow to get through and let go. Did I take a deferral on the sorrow last year? I seriously don't know how to put words to what I feel. Each day I pray for grace and strength to get me through.

And so today, after much prayer throughout the night (thanks be to our dog, scared of a brief, passing storm), I had an encounter during my daily readings. Ps. 143:14 "For he heightens the strength of his people, to the praise of all his faithful, the children of Israel, the people close to him." Yet another lesson in my devotional suggested I need to keep my prayers short, direct, and focused: One will be answered after another. Finally, the radio program I hear between 8:00 and 8:30 on my way to work encouraged me to press on and to leave self pity and depression to the enemy where it belongs. Looking back will only derail my future and weaken my answer to my calling.

So, the question lays unanswered at the moment, "What's the plan?" While I don't have an answer at this time, I will keep focused and pray, Help me, God, to see the way forward, to meet the challenge of your call, and to exceed my earthbound expectations of myself.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Stone that Was Rejected...

I feel as though I have been a writing machine these last weeks, just not here in my own blogspace. The class in families and aging that I took this spring is drawing to a close--one more page to write to hit the minimum, and after a good night's sleep, I am convinced I'll pass the minimum. I was greeted this morning with a reinforcement of yesterday's Mass readings in the form of Robert Sylvester's blog on the Notre Dame Initiative on Spirituality in the Professions site: I have felt that rejection so strongly and so deeply in the past two years. It began with our failed adoption process with our young great-nephews. Our family counselor projected the likelihood of failure based on their history and our--we were coming from two extremes toward one another. In the end, the story that our counselor helped us to write to understand the situation and to mitigate our overwhelming sadness and sense of failure has become the truth. That statement is misleading, in that I believe firmly it was the truth all along, but the world was pressuring me to make it my fault and my failure. I was not the right stone. I was rejected by the builder. For another time, for another situation, I am the cornerstone. From the failed adoption my life moved right into another failure, one that I shared a part but did not call my own. My mother's fading health and mental capacity, coupled with her failure to initiate Medicare Part B coverage in a timely manner from the time of her retirement date created a scenario which left me feeling hopeless, lost and at fault for my mother's illness. I didn't press her enough, I didn't care enough to force her to the doctor, I didn't take her back for her annual checkup. I didn't. She didn't either, and I don't hold blame for her. I don't hold blame for myself either. As a dear friend who has known great loss, and found great joy in its wake has reassured me, "It is what it is." The failings were amplified by my employment experience at the time. I did not fit the unspoken expectations. I was assured I was meeting the bar only later to be told it was a ploy to encourage and summon better performance. I can blame, I can gnash, I can snarl, I can strike back. I can accept: I am the stone rejected by the builder. I will be the cornerstone. I have had colleagues tell me that I had no support, was given no direction, was offered no help. That is not completely true. I had all the support I needed. I had the perfect directions. I was enveloped in help. The source was not my employer. I thank God and the love of Christ for taking my hand through the storm and for seeing me to safety. In all of this, at the very center core I have found forgiveness. I have offered forgiveness to others. I have forgiven. In what I view at the aftermath, one year later, I have found the direction I need and will be sustained in all that I do. I continue to learn. I continue to contribute. I continue to pray. I continue to love. I am the cornerstone.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Renewal through washing

Having just celebrated Easter on Sunday, I was awed by the power in the reminder of my baptism. I had attended Good Friday services, but stayed home with my husband on Saturday and did not attend the Vigil services. The sunshine came through the stained glass windows and covered me with light. As our priest blessed the sanctuary, the scent of incense filled me with hope, and then we renewed our baptismal vows. It is such a blessing to remind ourselves that we are forgiven. That we no longer need to bear the guilt of our transgressions as we are washed clean of our sins.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Did I ever tell you how much I don't care for basketball?

Oh, but I've learned to enjoy it. At the end of March, known for its basketball hoopla and madness, I was invited to attend our goddaughter's trip to the Lutheran Basketball Association of America (LBAA) National Tournament. It was close to home and while I had some competing priorities, everything fell into place so I could spend an afternoon and evening with our extended family of friends from Southern Indiana.

I will admit, I wasn't going for the basketball by any means. I've never really caught the fever, so to speak. I remember a long ago Chicago Bulls run at the NBA Championship. I can't tell you the year, I can only say it was just at the tail of Michael Jordan's era, and now I can't even tell you if they won or lost. It was exciting, and I hadn't watched or kept up with any team sports at that time. By the next season, I think it was delayed by some sort of strike or disagreement, I had lost all interest.

Enter in the day long visit with friends on the nearby Valparaiso University campus. We met for lunch in Merrillville, and parted for a few hours after so they could go back to their hotel and recoup. I realized it had been more than two years since our last visit. Somewhat shameful on our part, but I also recognize how busy each of our families have been in that time, and the personal tragedies we've encountered. The kids are certainly growing up quickly and they make me happy and proud to be their godparents.

I sat with the mom and dad and watched part of a boys' game. They're tall eighth and seventh graders, and they're focused and strong. The girls' teams are really no different. We faced a delay of game and waited to watch our star's team play. Our goddaughter didn't get any court time in the game I watched--the opposing team was aggressive in a questionable way, the referees were making dubious calls against our team, or not making calls against the opposing team, and yet the team was on fire. The energy was not merely on the court, it was on the bench and in the fan section as well.

I've been having a difficult time getting the impact of that energy out of my head. I don't want it to leave, mind you. It has become a vital part of my day. The sweetness of the support for these young women who were on the court after delays which served only to increase their nerves was unbound. And its message has taken hold and carried forth outside the doors. This was such a blessing to my Holy Week observance. I can't count the number of times I chanted, " I! I believe!" in moments of quiet, and in my head. While sports were at hand, I believe the voices were lifted in support of the Creator, in support of all that is good, in support of what it means to have a shared vision, in support of what it means to Believe.

I! I believe! (In Basketball and so much more!)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Weekend in paradise

I was privileged to spend last weekend with my husband, watching him get his baseball 'geek' on as we like to say. It was the 2012 Cubs Convention in Chicago. Nik has grown into a major league fan of baseball, and he prefers to spend leisure time learning more about the sport and its players. For me, baseball is definitely a pasttime, and a way to pass time while being with Nik. I accompanied him for an overnight getaway, and we talked nearly all the way to Chicago and back and much of the time while we were there, except while waiting in autograph lines. We both brought books along and spent time catching up on our leisure reading.

I finished a book called Grace for the Good Girl that was recommended to me by a friend at my local gym. I knew all the symptoms of being a good girl, and what it meant when living my life and interacting with others. The book brought me closer to understanding why I act this way. For those of you not familiar with good girl behaviour, it means that we good girls have some concept of never doing wrong, and never wronging others, often to our own demise. I'm working to let go and give the need to be good over to Christ. It seems simple when I read Emily's (the author) words and reflections and when I myself meditate on the quotes from scripture and other sources she's included. But years, and I mean years of of conditioning have brought me to this day, and the undoing is not as simple as that, it seems. I've spent years touting my ability to change, and on the surface I can readily change and put on the good girl face to show the world how accomplished I've been. Inside, it creates tension and drama as I fight with myself over the face I'm presenting while showing the world that all is 'fine' (another four letter 'f' word that I'd like to remove from my vocabulary). It tortures my soul.

This morning I sat down to begin my day as usual, with a daily reading from the Gospel that is sent to me by subscription email. The passage is familiar: Mark 2:18-22, and reflects on the danger of putting new wine into old wineskins. In order for my change to be complete, I need to purchase new wineskins for my soul that I am fostering into health. Along this journey and change, it will be so important to keep lines of communication open, and to eschew the use of the word 'fine'. if I'm asked, I need to be honest with others and honest with myself. I need to understand that it's OK that my soul is hurting and it's OK for others to know about it. I can invite others to listen and to help rather than being the good, independent girl I turned into over the course of my youth.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Welcome, 2012. I hope you are well.

Turning over a new leaf? Sounds trite and cliche to me, yet it feels good to say it. But perhaps I'm turning over an old leaf as I move forward, now five (steps) days into the shiny new year.