Thursday, June 28, 2012

I Have Come to a Decision

A day ago, I went clothes shopping with my mom, as she needed to return some clothes she got for her birthday for a smaller size.  I was very happy that she dropped 2 sizes.  Inside my head, I was scolding myself for how much weight I'd gained since last year.  Well, the past four years but last year was when I gained my obesity 'stature.' When I came home in 2005, I was a size 8 and stayed medium sized through the end of my university studies in 2008.  Now, I weigh just under 225 lbs. at a height of 5'3".  When I was with mom at the store, I tried on some dresses and blouses, only to be disgusted by my reflection in the changing room mirror, that my stomach was swelling past my DD breasts.  When I get sick with some abdominal problem (IBS or flu virus), I eat what tastes good to me and won't make me gag and feel more ill.  In other words, ice cream, pudding, etc.  Now I have had a sit down 'come-to-Jesus' talk with my doctor in March or April that I was teetering on the edge of pre-diabetes.  Well, I got right on the nutritionist's plan of modifying my diet and exercising 3-5 days a week.  But, despite my efforts of not trying to get sick by taking large doses of Vitamin C, I got sick the beginning of June, and despite my little weight loss victory by the end of May, I gained it all back because I gave up dieting and regular exercise.  My stair-stepper and my exercise bike remain untouched, and I'm just trying to get the cravings under control since I ate when I could and wanted to.  That same day we went shopping, we stopped at Shari's for lunch, and a lady more obese than myself at the table behind us aspirated her drink.  I sat praying for her while mom and a few other customers tried to get her to remain calm because she thought she was choking and 911 dispatch wasn't there yet.  She was choking at first, but God be praised, the obstruction dislodged.  I, a former CNA, looked on in fear - I could do the Heimlich maneuver, but she was way, way too big for me to get my arms around her.  She was in her early 50s, I think, and as I prayed for God to spare her because in His eyes she was still young with many things to do with her life, I thought to myself "I have got to change; otherwise, I'll end up like her."  Over the years, I have found that when a problem arises, it is best to just deal with the situation instead of engaging in a barrage of finger-pointing arguments about who or what started the issue.  I was not happy that day, despite mom's efforts to try and cheer me up.  She saw me crying in the store when I tried on the clothes.  Not that we could afford them but because of what I let myself look like - a physical wreck.  Later, when we were home, she told me of a lady's weight loss story on one of her favorite websites, about how every time she fell down on the road to weight loss, she turned to God and prayed to get back up and keep going - to not give up.  From the time mom had told me that, I have felt more assured and confident to face my weight loss struggle.  God has been whispering to me over and over the quote from Proverbs to "trust in the Lord with all your heart."  For the first time in years, I feel content.  I truly do.  I am going to college for technical training, and by God's grace overcome my fear of taking out student loans for fear of debt.  I no longer struggle daily with thoughts of suicide.  That is a major milestone in my life.  I try not to make a big deal of things, but if my family truly knew of how I felt - the significance of overcoming suicidal emotions, how much it means - I'd like to have a party to celebrate it.  I'd even go for a surprise party, and I normally do not like surprises.  But I am a very modest person, and content myself in thanking God for what He has done for me and for the family and friends He has provided me with, who support me so much.  Yes, I could blame my hormones, my human weakness, and especially my fear to do things alone, like take walks or go swimming, but blame changes nothing and only hurts.  So I will whisper back to God to help me get through this, because I do trust in Him....and at my very worst, at least I want to trust in Him.  Praise the Lord, for He is good - His steadfast love endures forever!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Missionary Hopes

"And when you stop and think about it
You won't believe it's true
That all the love you've been giving
Has all been meant for you."
                -Moody Blue's "Question"

When I was about 12/13, I had a religious conversion - what Protestants call "being born again."  I am a cradle Catholic, and have always been true to my faith.  When God showed me His love for me and that there is nothing so bad that I experienced (being bullied, sexually harrassed at school) that He couldn't handle. Indeed, His love is greater than our sins, faults, and failings.  That was one of two reasons I wanted to become a missionary - to give to others the hope and love God had given to me.

The second reason with which I didn't come to terms of understanding until just recently, and only on reflecting with a spiritual group on FB was I was looking for love to heal all the past hurt.  The loner I was at school - the outcast, the ridiculed, the harrassed; the thouroughly unwelcome existence I lived as a religious (nun)....the positive social experiences I had with my family and with the 26th NC of the WCWA...  I finally realized that I had been looking for love all the time, more than wanting to share my beliefs with others.  Every person has a unique story to tell about their relationship with God.  This is mine.

When Fr. John came to our parish for the summer in 1995, he spoke of the beauty of the his community parish, the place in Kenya that he came from, and it awoke something in my heart.  I finally understood that God truly loved me, and that going to mass was more than a Sunday ritual.  As much as I wanted to give, I had a subconcious ulterior motive in wanting to become a missionary.  If these people were so wonderful and truly Christian, I wanted to be with them to experience the kind of love that Fr. John talked about when trying to reach out to us to support the missions. 

We'll, I've been full circle, to the extreme some might think: I entered a convent at 17, having decided that being a missionary was my calling, having even prepared myself as best I could spiritually since my converion.  But the convent was worse than anyone could have imagined, and after five and a half years, I left - broken, bruised, bloody and beaten.  It has taken 12 years to get my life back in order so that I can move on and away of what I landed in, leaving the nest so young.  And until this year, 7 years since I left, my religious battles were difficult, but being persistent and trusting in God, I had a second "born-again" experience. 

It was all about realizing just what being human means, and truly understanding what God did in becoming human and dying for our sins.  And now I sit here, typing the last pages to the chapter of my life that spanned 17 years.  When I think of it all in retrospect, it's hard to believe what a mess we make of the gifts that God gave us.  I could be a linguist, traveling the world...but I'm not.  I could be a biochemist or pharmacist...but I'm not.  God leads you to where He wants you to be, even though most of the time you are wondering 'what the heck is going on?' 

I always wanted to make a positive difference in other peoples' lives.  I just wanted to help in whatever manner I could.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta was right: charity begins at home.  And like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, when the memories of the past are quite vivid in reflecting, I keep thinking: "There's no place like home.  There's no place like home...."

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Today is not one of my best days, but I felt the need to write after an interesting idea struck me in the middle of mass yesterday while Fr. Christopher gave his lecture.  I don't know why the historian in me breathes again, or how it started to breathe in the first place.  I think initially it was the tactile inclination towards holding a worn down, smooth historical item like the 19th century nun's crucifix I received as a present prior to entering the convent.  Or how much I was moved in the 8th grade when we watched the movie "Glory" in our homeroom class.  Anyway, I wanted to buy for sometime a WWI bullet shrine from Etsy or eBay because of religious motivations, and partly historical interest.  I can't afford most of them.  Even $20 is a lot to spend these days when we need to focus on getting the essentials to live with what the bankruptcy court allows us to retain from the paycheck.
Anyway, I was sitting there at mass, holding my belovedly worn, early 1900 French rosary crucifix during mass, and I thought as father spoke about leading a good and holy life about those who have lived before us, in the not-so-distant past, who prayerfully wore down this crucifix I now treasure.  From what I had and gave away, to images on Etsy and eBay, I wonder about the personal prayer lives of the people who used these sacramentals...about what they talked to God about, what their relationship was with him.  The silent lives of the unspoken saints: the mother who prayed the rosary on her knees in the kitchen while her son fought in the trenches in WWI; the soldier whose fear of death brought him closer to his faith as he held and prayed with the small ebony crucifix his grandmother gave him before he left to serve his country...  Stories passed down from families, journals, letters, and a scattering of 'relics': the bullet shrines, the crosses, the rosaries that were preserved by loved ones - it's all we have left to know of these unknown saints who silently carried the torch of faith during the tumultuous times of the past century.

I always felt it a great shame that my history professors in university never wanted to go into detail about the first World War.  I think an explanation along the lines of "it would only confuse you to go over it in detail in relation to WWII" was used with much wear.  At the time, as a student, you don't want confusion - you want facts, and although a true student wants to learn at all times, you mostly focus on passing your classes with good grades.  Sorry, I digress.  At any rate, my thought was to begin researching what I could and to write about these articles - the crucifixes and so forth, the underground chapels - even the people in so far as I could that lived through "the war to end all wars."  I can't say I don't know where to start or how to do it - I graduated with a BA in History.  It's a matter of how much I'm devoted to the subject.  I spent three or four years as a Civil War reenactor (woman soldier) in the 26th North Carolina regiment, G company of the Washington Civil War Association.  My thesis paper was on women soldiers of the American Civil War.  But my interest and activity came to a quick and sudden end when my asthma worsened and I couldn't be around black powder smoke, which incidentally developed not long after the visit I made to Gettysburg, PA to the battlefields of 1863.  I never expected the atmosphere to be one of overwhelming trauma; it was one thing to study or peruse the museums, but to be on the battlefield, having just watched the Cyclorama presentation of the Battle of Gettysburg at the National Museum - it was all way too much to handle.  I had traveled to Gettysburg with a friend from Philadelphia who I was visiting.  After the 'live battle' presentation, I was in a state of shock and quite withdrawn, making very poor company for my traveling companion.  So what's stopping me from researching this interest in WWI history?  I don't want to be traumatized again.  Chances are 1000 to 1 of me ever visiting France or touring the old Siegfried Line, but it's really hard to keep your personal distance when you have a handicap like I have: panic disorder. 

I keep looking at my crucifix, thinking I should at least write a magazine article or something.  I'm not one of the novel types, who settle for the "Red Badge of Courage" speculation of what it must have been like.  I want reality.  But sometimes reality bites.  I even found myself wondering today if I should take my brother's advice and go back to university and get my Master's degree.  I like reading history, I like researching, I like writing on history, but the old Irish saying is right: there's no future in the past.  And so far, from all the prayer and signs, it definitely looks like the right thing to peruse my certification as a Medical Receptionist at Bellingham Technical College.  But I guess it wouldn't hurt to write on the side, would it?  To keep the inner historian in me breathing and my mind focused that the world is a much bigger place than just where I live?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Month of the Sacred Heart

As most Catholics universally know that June is dedicated to the special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I would like to reflect on that very subject.  Months ago, in a grocery store which had a 'latino' food aisle which was incidentally the main arterial passage to the back of the store, I was picking out tortillas when this teenager and her mother came to the section of religious candles for home altars.  Now, this store is in a town called Lynden, WA, where it is something of a world record for having more churches than people in a given measured area. (I can't remember the exact detail on it, but you can look it up.)  Now Lynden is a Dutch town - if you are born there, odds are 2:1 you are related to half of the town's residents.  It is (being Dutch) predominately Protestant, with the First Reformed Netherlands Congregational Church, also known as the First Reformed Church, close to the First Reformed CHRISTIAN Church, and a few blocks away the Third Reformed Church couples with Christ the King Evangelical Church, close to St. Joseph's Church, which is but a couple of miles from the Second Reformed Church which is now the Faith Community Church.  Then, there's the Baptist Church, and the Lutheran Church, and on and on and on!  So, I am in the 'latino' aisle deciding on tortillas when curiosity overcame the teenager and she went to look at the candles.  The first one she looked at just blew her away. "The Sacred Heart of Jesus !?!  What's that supposed to be?"  Before I could say anything within an earshot, her mother came back from the bread section (closer to the front of the aisle) to retrieve her daughter who was beginning to get stares of sad attention from those few shoppers around her.  She reminded me very much of a blond cheerleader, not just in the fact that she looked like one, but that she couldn't shut up long enough to process her thoughts to herself.  No, she had to have everyone's attention that there was this candle with a devotional picture of Jesus' Sacred Heart exposed that people worshipped.  I'm going, "Oiy."  Here in this over populated church town of 'pious' Dutch, the thought that Jesus gave us His Life so that we might live, WITH ALL HIS HEART, didn't even register to this teenage girl that it paralleled (poorly, I admit) with a high-school sweetheart offering her gifts and goodies and all his love to her WITH HIS OWN fallible, weak heart...  As they left I was partially berating myself for not going over to her to explain this concept to her, but mostly praying that God would hit her with a two by four to realize that the Sacred Heart of Jesus was the temple of His love for us...all of us!  No exceptions!

Pitiful a devotee as I am, I more practice devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. (If you want more info on that devotion, leave a comment and I'll get back to you.)  My mother is the one with more devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Mary and Jesus.  In fact, thanks to an Etsy shopkeeper, Alexandra C., mom will be getting a very special medal for her birthday which falls on the same day of Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist.  I can never forget the 24th of June.  But as we start this month of June, a major change is taking place in our parish, Sacred Heart.  Our priest of these past six years is leaving tomorrow to enter a Benedictine monastery.  I cannot put into words how and what I feel about this.  I only pray for his protection.  But he's in a much more experienced state and age than I was when I entered the convent.  He is an exceptional priest.  Of him it can be truly said that he was loved because he loved his flock as Christ did, and laid down his life for his friends (i.e. worldly desires, other vocations and occupations he could have pursued).  I wish I could have told him that - in spite of a sizable number at mass tonight, when he was explaining how he interpreted our love for him during his sermon, I wanted to stand up and clarify to him what I just wrote for you.  Stumbling through a sermon not only on the Holy Trinity but one on how we have changed his life and left an imprint on his heart over the past six years, I smiled and looked at the crucifix in my hands.  I would tell him later, when we would say goodbye for the last time.  But after mass, the whole congregation was lined up to give him their fondest wishes and personal goodbyes.  Since I had written to him several times since he announced that he was leaving, mom and I sort of squeezed out the crowded entry and left before the parking lot wars ensued. (That's an exaggeration - there are no wars, but there is a lot of stop and go traffic between people trying to get out asap and those who are overly polite and won't shift until those from different lot sections have a chance to make it to the driveway.)

Although I bought ex voto images of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary to display in my room, there's something just not eye-catching, I guess you'd call it.  This is only the second day of June; the first one already sent me into a flurry of activity and the ultimate emotional breakdown by 3 PM trying to make class arrangements to attend Bellingham Technical College.  Yes, Fridays are always rough for true Christians - in some way we all participate in the Passion of Jesus every Friday.  It is part of our spiritual lives.  I know the official feast of the Sacred Heart falls mid-June, and I think the minor feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary follows it, but it's been too long since I looked at a church calendar.  I don't do the Liturgy of the Hours anymore, since I left the convent.  Until today, I had many, many chaplets plus the rosary that I prayed.  But I have let myself, in moments of feeling fidgety, become distracted very much in prayer.  Any saint can be quoted: "It is better to say one Our Father with fervent devotion than to pray a thousand, lost in distraction."  The Bible quotes Our Lord saying "these people honor me with their lips, but not their hearts."  Yes, now I understand the old proverb that the best intentions pave the road to hell - mostly from experience in the convent and since.  So I did heartfelt prayers to each saint instead of the many chaplets contained in two different jewelry boxes as there are so many, and settled for that and the Divine Mercy chaplet and the rosary I still need to pray.  I feel peaceful.  I later went back and did 3 of the chaplets purely out of love for God.  I know they say to pray, especially when you don't feel like it, but in some cases that just doesn't work.  So, as I sign off to pray my rosary for the intentions of the Sacred Heart, I encourage you to reflect on the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a temple of His love for us, and there is nothing too big that with Him we can't handle.  If He brings you to it, He will bring you through it!