My Hero

So I called my sister on my walk to the metro this morning. She’s a nurse, working down in Tidewater, Virginia. It made me realize all over again just how “cushy” my job really is. Here I am stressing about deadlines and authors and making sure commas are all inserted just so…and my sister tells me she’s having to deal with her second death in a week.

Sarah, you’re my hero. Just thought you ought to know it. Thanks to everyone who works those truly “tough” jobs. And now, I’m going back to copyediting.

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Sundays: Yea or Nay?

It’s Lent–time for the age-old debate: should we maintain our Lenten observances (giving up chocolate, iPods, Facebook, or what have you) from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday with no reprieve? Or can we celebrate the “mini-Easter” of Sunday each week and indulge in the things we’ve given up? I’ve had this conversation three times with different people in the past week, so thought it a good thing to post about.

On the one hand, it seems a little weak to insist on a weekly “out.” As a reaction against this weakness, I observed Lent for years by sticking doggedly to my allotted penance from one end of the season to the other, and only enjoyed the contraband after Easter.

Now for a little personal history: this is when I discovered something about my own character. I am very much an all or nothing person. So while I could go for the whole of Lent on the “nothing” side of things (sweets tend to be my sacrifice; I have a massive sweet tooth), when Easter rolled around, regardless of my best intentions, I always ended up flopping entirely back to “all.” And virtue (you know, moderation?) went entirely out the window on both sides of the coin. But hey, at least I felt really good about myself from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday… 

In recent years (since my college days), I’ve begun the observance of Sundays in Lent as days of reprieve from my lenten penances. (Not, mind you, from the extra things I do for Lent, such as prayers, good works, etc., but just the mortifications.) This does not mean I gorge myself on chocolate/coffee/what have you on Sundays during Lent; it does mean that I enjoy a brownie after dinner, or a cup of coffee with a friend in the afternoon. And you know, the funniest part about accepting this gift of Sunday is how humbling it is. It reminds me 1) of how weak I am, (I mean, is giving up chocolate or coffee really all that hard?) and 2) of how good God is. It’s also a day filled with hope; throughout the difficulties of Lent, we have these regular reminders of the joy that awaits us.

This tends to be my view of things. (We could also claim Sunday on a technicality: there are 40 days in Lent, plus Sundays; so even observing Sunday you’re still sacrificing and fasting with Our Lord in the desert for 40 days.) But there is a whole other side to this debate–one I’d be interested to hear more of.

Happy Lent!

A Brief Encounter…

I forgot to tell this little story back when it happened. A homeless woman befriended me on my walk to work one morning back in February. She was about five feet tall, dressed in an old athletic suit, with long stringy gray hair, a heavily wrinkled face, missing teeth, and a heavy lisp. She needed some personal items from the drug store, and I didn’t really see how I could say “no,” so we fell into step together up on Capitol Hill, and I listened and tried to be open and comfortable and nonchalant as she told me the story of her life. (I will admit, I was pretty intensely uncomfortable throughout our whole exchange.)

She told me about her health and her recent struggles with cancer; about how she’d been orphaned very young and raised for a while by a grandmother, until that relative died; about the homeless shelter where she currently lives and the way the woman in charge that morning had said some nasty things to her when she asked for help with her drug store errand; she told me how she gets her own room in the homeless shelter because she has health problems, and how much she likes that; she told me about how she’d been mugged by her own best friend in New York City (she was hazy on those details–last week? Last year? Fifteen years ago?); she assured me she’d never been into drugs and she didn’t understand why so many people were…she talked and talked for the five blocks we walked together, and near the end she wanted to know all about my life.

And I was struck by how unequally God distributes His gifts.

I was raised by two amazing, loving parents; I have six awesome siblings and I get along super well with all of them; I homeschooled through high school, then went to a nice private college where I got a great education; upon graduation I landed a job I love; I currently live in one of America’s most beautiful cities in an apartment I love with a fabulous sister; I have tons of wonderful friends; I am involved in all sorts of enjoyable and challenging activities and programs; I even have time now and then to indulge my passion for music, cooking, reading, writing, and spending time in the great outdoors; I am in excellent health. I could go on and on and on.

I was so humbled by this encounter. Because despite all the clearly awful things that have happened in this woman’s life, she was cheerful. I mean really cheerful. She smiled and laughed and patted my shoulder and never once seemed to think she had anything to complain about. And when we parted ways, she kept telling me how grateful she was for the little help I’d been able to give her, and assuring me she’d be praying for me. (Her parting injunction was for me to “get in the groove,” because apparently being 25 and unmarried is a sign of laziness…)

I think I met Christ that morning.

He just never ceases to surprise us.

Surprises

It’s late and I should go to bed. But a brief (very brief) post first.

This post is actually a question, one I’d be very curious to hear your answers to. Have you found that you settle more fully into yourself and everything you want and hope to be when you let go and let God surprise you?

It’s something I’ve been told all my life by people older and wiser than myself. Their stories all take the same tone: “Only when I stopped trying to maintain control…” “When I finally gave up…” then my life came together and I found who I was meant to be, where I was meant to go, what I was meant to do.

I never really understood what they were getting at. Like so many other things in life, it’s a paradox of sorts.  I still don’t get it, not fully. But something has been coming clear for me in recent months: namely, that things won’t be what I expect them to be, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s really good. And when I carry all my missed expectations or misunderstandings to God in prayer, His answer is always the same. “Little girl, just let me surprise you.”

Lent

We’ve all been in this conversation more times than we can possibly count: you run into an acquaintance, maybe on the Metro, in the grocery store, in the back of church; you both say “Hey, how’s it goin’?”; and you both answer, almost in unison, “Good–busy.” And you both sigh and smile, exchange one or two more pleasantries, and move on. That one word–“busy”–at once captures and kills the entire conversation. That’s it. There’s nothing else to say.

I’ll harp on this again. It’s so easy to get caught up in just going through the motions. Work, religious obligations, social functions, taking care of the apartment, phoning home, maintaining friendships, sleeping, exercising, all the ins and outs of daily life that make up the blur we refer to with a sigh as “busy.” Maybe you all are better about this than I, but most of the time when I refer to myself as “busy,” I can’t actually remember what it is I’ve had going on that’s kept me running around like the proverbial decapitated chicken. With one word I dismiss my entire life as a blur that doesn’t even bear discussing. And I quietly brush aside the solicitous inquiries of my friends, just as they brush aside mine.

And prayer goes the same way. “God, I’m so busy.” Or even worse, as I’m falling into bed at the end of a particularly full day, “I’m sorry I didn’t really have time to pray today, God.”

What is occupying my time? And why am I letting it?

Thank God for Lent. I read a reflection on Ash Wednesday, talking about how Lent is a time to go into the darkness and the silence and just “be” with the Lord. And I know I’ve harped on this before, but here it is again. Why is it so hard just to be? Why is there a tendency to feel that being in itself is somehow insufficient? We do and do and do, to the point where we forget there’s so much more to us than our activities. I’m looking forward to pushing some of the extra “stuff” out of my life, at least for the next 40 days, and focusing on being with Him in silence.

Happy Lent, everybody. May it be a holy and still time for you.

To Friends

A quick post today.

I’d just like to give a shout-out to good friends. It’s easy to take for granted the structure and solidity that good, faithful friends give to my life. I’ve harped incessantly on the transience and insecurity of this time in our lives, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t resting places where things remain the same. Certainly people change, geographical locations change, circumstances change; but I’m learning that true friends remain, regardless of place or state in life.

So to my good friends, thank you. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. To all good friends, thank you.

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.” Sirach 6:14

Mass

I caught myself doing it again this week–what I’ve taken to calling “praying past” God. It’s an awful, insidious habit, and I suspect I’ve been doing it pretty much my whole life. I guess it boils down to treating my relationship with God as a means to some other end, and not as the end in itself.

Do we strive for perfection as Christians in order to reach heaven and thus be eternally happy? Of course. But in the end, what’s more important? My happiness? Or the fulfillment of the will of God, who created me and wants me to be happy? It’s a funny, fine line, and one that I was never really aware of until I came to the point in my life as a single young adult where I realized I didn’t want this to be It. And I laid it all out before Him and said, “Look, I’ve done everything right. So what are you waiting for?” And He said, “You’ve got me. So what else are you looking for?”

I”ll admit, this has been one of those weeks when hope is pretty hard to muster. The future is a great big unknown, and the hardest part isn’t not knowing what’s coming–it’s not even knowing what I want to be coming or what I’m hoping for. Now this isn’t meant to be a pity party or anything of that sort; I’m incredibly happy and blessed in my life right now, and I know it and thank God for it. But I know a lot of you know what I’m talking about when I say that some days the sense of aimless drifting in a blind fog can be a little bit overpowering.

Isn’t it great to be Catholic, though? While all other things are hazy and intangible, we have one thing that’s delightfully concrete and utterly simple: the Eucharist. We get to hold God in our mouths, every day if we want to (and are properly disposed). Such a funny anchor, a tiny pillar of strength, but there it is. When there’s nothing else, here’s everything, disguised as an insignificant piece of bread. What else am I looking for?

 

A bad hair day

It’s obvious a man designed the “time off” criteria for people in the work force. Vacation days, sick days, emergency days, so-called “personal” days (reserved for such “personal” activities as doctor’s appointments, changing the oil in your car, and cleaning your house for weekend company)…all eminently practical.

Why is there no option for calling in on a bad hair day?

Or an ugly day?

Or one of those, “I just can’t get my emotions under control and I’ve been crying since 7:02 a.m. and I’m fat and nobody likes me” days?

If women ruled the world…well, okay, nothing would ever get done, but at least people could sit at home with the blinds drawn on those days when they’re just not feeling very presentable.

But women don’t rule the world. So it’s back to work, and thank goodness there aren’t any mirrors in or anywhere near my office.