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Monday, March 2, 2015

Taking Care Of The Self

     So, it is once again Lent. The super penitential season for Catholics, where it is traditional to give up things which are not bad for you, as a way of developing discipline and mastery over the self. Unless you're me. This is the 4th Lent in a row, that I've either been pregnant, or breastfeeding. Both of those conditions exempt one from fasting, and depending on which site you look on, abstaining from meat too. Except non-meat sources of protein are pretty easy to come by, so I do abstain. But I digress. For the fourth year in a row, my Lenten goals have been "take better care of me". So instead of giving stuff up, I've been all "actually eat more", "go to bed when I'm tired", "sleep in if possible", "eat that cookie, because for goodness sake you're feeding two people". And I've felt guilty about it, because it seems to go so against the point of the season, and even the point of Christianity. "Taking care of me" seems like the opposite of "give of oneself selflessly". Thanks to a couple of homilies and much contemplation, I have come to understand that it isn't really selfish at all. I hope I can explain in a way that makes sense. 

     Our first priority is to get ourselves to heaven. We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Fleeing from temptation, making sacrifices, prayer, the Sacraments, and other spiritual practices easily come to mind as ways that we are able to cooperate with Christ's redemption of our souls. The needs of the body often get overlooked, I think to our detriment sometimes. What do I mean? Well, have you ever been hangry? Crabby and grouchy simply from low blood sugar, but as soon as you eat you're back to your normal self? Now, I'm not saying it is a sin to be crabby, but it certainly is a lot easier to lose one's patience when irritable, believe you me. Think how many situations like that could have been avoided, had we only eaten breakfast* (or snack, or lunch, or whatever)? Or when we run ourselves to the ground, taking care of everyone but ourselves, because it is the "selfless" thing to do, yet lose control of ourselves in the process? 
     Sometimes, I think, we try to be like the great saints, but forget that we are not actually at their level of sanctity yet, and wonder why our constant giving of self without time to recharge doesn't seem to be bringing us any closer to holiness, and perhaps causes us to backtrack. At least, that was the conclusion I came to a little while ago. For many, many years I've been saying "no" to myself and the things I like, in part because we're called to be selfless, and in part because I don't like conflict and desperately want to be liked. I've been denying myself those things which I need to recharge, and it all finally came crashing down before my last post. After all that time, I'm no closer to heaven, and in many ways much farther from it than I ought to be. "But the great saints didn't need to recharge!" I hear you say. That's because they were at a level of personal holiness where being an instrument of the Divine Will was for them a recharge; and all of them made sure to carve out copious amounts of time for prayer, which also renews the spirit. 
     I'm not there yet. It took a breakdown for me to realize that I can't really take care of anyone else, if I don't take care of myself. Since it is my vocation to take care of others, I need to do what it takes for me actually be able to do that, and do it well, even when it seems so counter-Christian, counter-sanctification. My vocation is to be the best wife and mother that I can be, and where I am in my journey toward heaven that means taking time for me to recharge, even if it seems selfish. Because one cannot give what one does not have. 

*The two homilies:  The first was given by Fr. Gee at Christendom a while ago, and he started it by giving the example of a person who decided to give up breakfast for Lent, but ended up a horrible person by the end of the day, with the basic premise of not choosing penances that end up making us worse people instead of better ones. The second was given by Fr. Fasano a couple Sundays ago, where he likened venial sin to a spiritual cold, and said that any reasonable person who actually has a physical cold would do what he could to help heal the body quickly, and we should act similarly with our "spiritual colds" and frequent the sacrament of confession to help heal our soul. Because I had been thinking about it, my mind easily made the connection that perhaps some trials would be avoided if we took care to make sure our bodies were in decent shape, because matter does effect the spirit. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Stifling Cries For Help

     After my last post, Into Temptation, a friend mentioned how we need to be careful to not let our weaknesses and failings depress us. He's right; while weak is not a place which ought to be sought out, it also shouldn't cause us inordinate pain to realize and acknowledge our weaknesses. Unfortunately, though, sometimes it does. Even more unfortunately, the way our society mocks and belittles those who are "weak" or "failures" is often a huge stumbling block for those who really do need help, whose issues at whatever time in their life are just too much for them to bear alone. All too often, people are met with "Toughen up! Quit being such a pansy! Just grow up, will you?", when what they really need to hear is "How can I help? Is there anything I can do?", or, even better "It's okay. I understand." What's more, I think, is people need to hear the stories of others who have made it through, who have been able to face the ridicule and ask for help. I know how important those stories are, first hand, so tonight I'm going to tell a bit of mine. 

     Hi. My name is Jennifer, and I need help. This is my story. I mentioned a few of my struggles briefly in Please! Just LISTEN! back in February of 2012. This time, I'll go back to the beginning. 
     The first time I remember being really depressed, I was around 16 or so, I guess. I was a lazy home schooler, unmotivated, and feeling like there was nothing to live for. My friends, the first ones I'd had in a real long time, were all prepping for colleges, and I was stuck in 8th grade (one of the grades, anyway), simply because I refused to do my work. I felt like a failure, like I would never amount to anything, like life was not worth living anymore. I felt alone, because I didn't know who I could talk to that wouldn't give me a "You're just being silly" kind of response. I felt abandoned, because I cut myself off from people. I wanted to die, to just have it end. And I probably would have, had it not been for Church teaching that unrepentant suicides go to Hell. I know many find that to be a harsh teaching; but for me, it was a saving grace. In that period of darkness, I was, in a sense, already in Hell, and God granted me the grace to understand it. Most people think of the fire and brimstone aspects of Hell, and overlook the being eternally separated from God part. Eternally separated from God, means eternally without hope; eternally feeling abandoned; eternally loathing both the self and God; eternally desiring the end, but there will be no end, no escape. Hell is a lot like being trapped in an eternal depression. I decided that was not something I wanted to risk, so I blundered through the blackness and found the light eventually. 
     Spring of 2008, the blackness came back, though without the suicide aspect. I was more angry this time, but still depressed, and feeling like nothing was worthwhile. Thankfully, I had friends I was comfortable talking with, and they helped immensely, though it was still rough on everyone. But it would have been so much worse without them. 
     Fall of 2009 the darkness and anger came back with a vengeance. Spring of 2010, it turned to tears, oh so many tears. Things improved fitfully through the next year, only to relapse the closer August of 2011 drew. August 2011 through sometime in 2012 was really rough, and it's a wonder Code Monkey has stuck with me through it all. 2013 was mostly alright, but Summer of 2014 brought with it a rage I have never known before, and last week brought an episode of depression a depth of which I have not felt in a long time. And it was then that I knew I needed help. That there was no way I was going to be able to really beat this on my own; otherwise it would no longer be a problem. That my only options were give up, give in, and claim victim, or dig deep for what little strength I have left, and do whatever it takes to reclaim control. I'm choosing control, and it is knowing the stories of others who have made it through that gives me the hope and inspiration I need to ask for help. 

     I'm in the process of working on a game plan, and once it's all figured out I'll share it with you, in hopes that others might garner inspiration as well, if they need it. I know I haven't been taking care of me very well, so many of the changes will focus on that. In the meantime, I leave you with a book that my midwife recommended for me, The Mood Cure, by Julia Ross. The basic premise is that our neural mood pathways have been crossed, and need to be reset, then maintained, and it should help. It involves a change of diet, and the addition of supplements, which I know I really could use anyway. I will be writing a book review, with an update, when I get past the reading stage. A friend has also recommended counseling, which I will be looking into as well. 

     There is hope; together we can get through this. My name is Jennifer, and I need help. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Into Temptation

     I am terribly afraid of being perceived of as weak. I know I'm not alone in this, and I dare say that at the very least I am joined by the vast majority of the male population, who also suffer from this anxiety. While it seems like this is just part of the Human Condition, I think we Americans are almost proud of how driven we are by our fear of being perceived of as weak. After all, only the strong survive and thrive, right? And if fear of weakness helps you get there, then by golly, why not use it to full advantage? That's all fine and dandy, until you stop to consider all the things you did, in spite of not wanting to or liking it, simply because you were teased for wanting to quit? Because you didn't want to be called a loser, a quitter, weak? Ponder those things for a moment. Are you really stronger and better for having done them, or are you more bitter, angry, or disgruntled because you let peer pressure keep you from staying true to yourself and what you actually like?

     Unfortunately, and to worse effect, this happens in the spiritual realm as well. As Catholics, we are called to avoid temptation and near occasions of sin, even to the point of maiming ourselves. (Mt. 5:29-30**; Mk. 9:43-48) but how often have we convinced ourselves, or worse, others, to persist in near occasions of sin, saying that the only way we can get stronger is to stick it out? How often have we facilitated our own downfall, again and again and again, for fear of being weak? "It is more virtuous", we tell ourselves, "to not eat pie when it is for the taking, than to not eat pie when there isn't any around." Only to find ourselves picking away at it, tiny piece by tiny piece, until we have, indeed, eaten it all? Would it not have been better, to have put ourselves in a position where there was no pie to be had at all? To put it in more serious terms, it would be better for the porn addict to have filters on his computer, than to put himself in a near occasion of sin by using the Internet without any. Or in the case of an recovering alcoholic: it would be better for her to be in a place without access to alcohol than to live with the constant temptation a fully stocked bar. In these cases, we would applaud them if they were successful at living clean in a completely temptation free environment. Why do we not do the same for lesser things? Venial sins won't send us to Hell, but they certainly are not helping us get to Heaven.

     Further, how much frustration do we cause ourselves, trying to fight spiritual battles that we are not yet strong enough to win? We push the limits of our spiritual strength out of 'desire' to practice whatever virtue; how often is this desire real, and not, in actuality, a manifestation of Pride? "Weak!" the Evil One whispers in your mind, "You're just spiritually weak, that's why you want to flee this temptation. What will your family, your friends, think, if they hear of your lack of Faith?" Maybe you console yourself with "I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13), so you plow on, only to stumble and fall, wondering where God's strength was. He gave it to you, all that the "I" could hold, but since you were attempting more than you were spiritually ready to undertake, you failed.

     There should be no shame in fleeing any and all temptations which we are able to flee, no matter how trivial. Quite the contrary, it takes great humility and meekness to know when we are facing something which we are unable to handle. In spite of popular opinion, the meek and humble of heart are the strongest around, for they have a proper understanding of themselves, and are in control of their passions and desires. Those who are in control of themselves have no fear of being controlled by others, and that is strength enough.

** So, in this reading, I was struck by how this verse also applies to the Mystical Body of the Church, providing a biblical basis for excommunication. I had never thought of it that way before.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dear Baby Girl

     So, today I was going to blog about all the recent hoopla regarding Pope Francis, but sort of got myself into hot water with my brother regarding a comment I made on a Facebook post I was tagged in, and have decided that now would be perhaps the right time to discuss my feelings on this subject. Since we only have 2 boys right now, my friend thought I would appreciate this blog post in the form of an open letter to the ladies who were offering this woman condolences for expecting yet another boy, when she already had one. I read it, and commented on the FB post "I'm thinking, just from past experience, my reply to comments like that will not be very feminist and favorable... I will be quite thrilled if we never have a girl." My brother saw it, and called me out via text message, correctly condemning my harshness and questioning what I would do if I did indeed have a girl, and she found out I never wanted her. While I never meant it to sound like I would never want to have a girl, I would also not be disappointed if all we had were boys. There might not be a real distinction, but in my head there is. Anyway. 

     Sweet Baby Girl,
Mama said some things on the internet before you were born, that she would like to take the time now to explain to you. They had to do with Mama's feelings towards the idea of having a daughter, and how it sounded like she did not want you. And, in a sense, that is true. My Dear Daughter, I think on you, and I am terrified. Terrified, because I never felt accepted by the girls I knew growing up. Terrified, because I have no idea how I'm going to be able to relate to you if you are a girly-girl. Terrified, because I want to be able to understand you, and I'm so very afraid that I won't. Terrified, because I don't want to mess you up, and prevent you from becoming the woman God wants you to be. Darling, I am so, so scared that I will not be able to be the Mama you need me to be. I'm so rough and tumble, ungraceful, unladylike. I'm supposed to be your main example on how to be a woman in the image of Our Lady and after God's own heart, and I'm no example at all. Daughter, I do want you, and you are so very, very precious to me, but I am so afraid to lose you even before I get to know you. It is precisely because you are so precious that I am so afraid, and would almost rather not have you at all, than to lose you. But I do love you, Little Girl, and as I tell your brothers:  You are made in the image and likeness of God; you are enough. And I love you. 
And no matter what, I will do my best to be the Mama that you deserve, I promise. 

     Love & Prayers Always, 

     Your Scared but Loving Mama