Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Morning Ramblings

Almost done with Winter Quarter at Bellingham Technical College (BTC), thank goodness! For the first time in days, I woke up to feed the dogs on time this morning. I said good morning to Annabelle, my African violet. Yes, I talk to my plant. I love that little violet - those fuzzy leaves... I used to be on the fence about tree hugging, but I can safely say I'm just nutty and sentimental. I used to have names for all my airplants, but when I'd lose one, or another would have pups (lol, that's what they call baby tillandsia plants) I would lose track of what names I had for them. I finally got my betta, an iridescent yellow/blue Delta betta I named Rainbow Flutterby, to eat dried bloodworms. At first, I just called him Flutterby after Fluttershy on MLP Series 6, but I wanted his name to reflect tribute to his iridescence so I added Rainbow. Took weeks to name that fish. No original names of mine seemed to fit him. Got another teddy bear in an after-Valentine's Day sale: white with pink nose, ears - named him Luvs but sometimes call him Minky because he's so soft. I need to vacuum today and get the piled up recycle outside to the bins, but I'm moving slow this morning.

I can honestly say that this Lent has had the life changing impact I hoped it would. It's also left me with a lot of questions with no answers. The more I read St. Faustina's Diary of Divine Mercy, the more I wonder about how I lost my vocation to be a nun. God's grace is infinite, and an experience such as St. Faustina's does show how much God loves us and wants to give us graces - that we can overcome any trials with Him. So what went wrong with my religious life? I was young - too young; not enough social experience or spiritual guidance to know what to do in the situations I found myself facing at the convent. I've forgiven many times over the ones who hurt me, and have prayed they'd forgive me even though I don't hear from any of them anymore. I can't change what happened, and for the life of me after what I went through, I do not want to go through that again. I'd rather be single and lonely than be a nun/religious sister again. I have no ardor, no all-consuming love for Jesus to do that again. Yes, it's selfish but I was burned bad, and once burned/bitten, twice shy. My family and I have been watching "Foyle's War," and watching the soldiers come home with PTSD really shed light on the sacrifices and trials my family went through when I came home in the state I was in...but I had nowhere else to go.

I was told, and I have related this several times, by a friend of mine who is a mystic - a saint only time will discover - that God revealed to Him after much prayer for my healing that I did great good for the order and those nuns, and my being there was a blessing for them. I wanted that - I loved them like family, even if I was treated worse than crap at times. I still love them. Honestly, I think I did leave my heart in San Diego. I wonder about going back sometimes, if only for love of them to do what I can to help by sacrificing my life for their well-being (spiritual and physical). For all my wondering though, I know I am not a welcome candidate or a viable one, having Panic Disorder. The one thing I wonder about most is did I do right by me? I was a fool to rush in to university studies, getting a bachelor's in US History. History fascinates me, but the degree is no good in this economy. I got it all on grants. Now, as I look back, I could have used that grant money for the real career studies I'm taking at BTC. But I just couldn't face the PTSD at that time. I had some close calls, and I needed something to distract me that I could focus on to dull the heart-shattering pain I lived with everyday. So now I have several thousands in federal loans to repay, a therapist for all her good intentions is hesitant to help me until she gets paid, a brother I don't know anymore, another sibling who calls the kettle black, a godmother who has disowned me, and...never mind. For all the issues we have with each other, I love them all very much. The one thing I hope in is one truly selfless friend I have outside my family and parents who love me with all their being. For me, that is enough to get through life on when you add a filial relationship with God to it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Religion On the Radio....

I had the radio on while I was driving to a doctor's appointment yesterday, and one station I tuned into had a guy talking about religion. Well, what he thought religion was, anyway. He said some study had been done recently where people of different faiths had participated in a sociology experiment of personal interaction. He said that when the other person did not know the faith of the person they were paired with, the majority of people in the study tended to be more reserved when it came to responding to requests for help and generosity in general. The flip side of the study, where the people paired up were allowed to know what faith the other person was/believed/practiced, showed that when the people knew that the person they interacted with was of the same faith they were, they were more generous/likely to be generous and responsive to that person's needs or circumstances. He went on to comment, "Isn't this the opposite of what religion is supposed to be?"

Traditionally, religion by definition is the service and worship of a deity or spirit. But when it comes to the practice of religion there is quite often a discrepancy, and I can understand what this man on the radio was trying to say. In his talk, religion is not distinguished from devotion to a religious faith on a personal level and the wider applied social practice of religious beliefs. It's the old argument of works without faith, and simultaneously works without love. For Christians, God is Love, and so then Love is our faith, and true to this man's point, a person's religious beliefs, practices, and attitudes should be properly reflected in social interaction without regard to another person's background or beliefs. But, this is true only in so far as Christianity is concerned.

Now I may get called on that statement, as other faiths may in doctrine express a similar practice of charity to some degree, but I cannot speak for people of other faiths. I have not seen the integrated expression of faith to the extent that 'they'll know we are Christians by our love' (as the old hymn says) from Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, etc. However, I personally know people of other faiths who would put most so-called Christians to shame in their care and concern of a stranger. It's embarrassing but necessary to get called on the carpet about practicing what we preach. I thought about writing my parish priest about this, but with Easter and First Communion and Confirmation all coming up so soon, I know he's busy and overwhelmed. All I'm trying to say is that while one person professes their faith, without corresponding demonstration of that faith in attitude and practice, they are a liar and will (in my religious belief) stand before God and answer for it when there time comes. Thank God, however, for the practice of Divine Mercy.

As St. Paul said, Christ's death for the sins of the many, of the whole human race, was nothing less than an act of God because who would die innocently in the place of a guilty person? Granted it is conceivable that a person might die for a righteous man as Scripture states, but would you lay down your life for a criminal? I would.

You see, it is my religious belief that if I was in a situation where I could push a person who had wronged me grievously out of the way of an oncoming bus in time to save their life but risk losing mine, I must do so. For my Catholic faith requires me to lay down my life in that situation as Christ Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. Knowing God would look with mercy on me for such an act and that my soul would not be lost, it is better for me to die than the other person who may not be in a state of grace. This is a person from whom God wishes repentance and love, and by laying down my life, I Love, with a capital L. That person has been spared, given time as God desires quite clearly in Scripture, to turn aside from evil ways and come back to Him with all their heart. The same goes for facing an attacker with a knife or gun. We have lots of guns, but only in the defense of another person's life for whom I was responsible (say my nephews, a friend, a neighbor, a school-age child), would I even consider using a weapon in defense. One, because I am responsible for my brothers and sisters who are defenseless, and two, I know not what state their own souls are in. Truly, I say 'consider' because I know that by using a gun or another weapon, I risk killing the offender even though my intention would be to merely disable them from doing any harm. But to take up and carry and a gun "Harry" style ultimately boils down to mere self-preservation, which is not in accordance with my faith. Even in self-defense, by whipping out a handgun if and when provoked and using it I may have allowed the devil to take that person's soul to hell. And no feeling or emotion justifies rendering judgement that the person 'deserved' to die, or it was 'better' that they die. Think about it - long and hard. That, Charlie Brown, is what Divine Mercy is all about.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Truth Can Set You Free

It is through this Winter Quarter at school I am learning more than ever the practice of the virtues of my faith. About two weeks ago, when my dad was helping me with an assignment for my online computer class that I was struggling with, his advice on dealing with the difficulties was candid. By candid, I mean honest and open. Without criticism, he pointed out that my instructor was challenging me and not putting me down in her comments about my work. It was he that pointed out that I put up defensive barriers under criticism or feeling criticized, or in anything I view as conflictual.

The first few years after I came home from the convent, 7.5 years ago, I was under the illusion that I was truly humble. Well, humility may have been there, but with PTSD I could not and did not recognize that my reactions and behavior sprang from traumatic shock as I tried with great difficulty to readjust to my new life. Others in my family have pointed out the impact my coming home in such a state had on them. Until recently in dealing with a cousin's personal and family problems I did not grasp or understand the deep impact it really had on them. When I realized how much I affected them in my mannerisms, what I said or didn't say, and how my behavior upset them at times causing flares of frustration, anger, and pain just as I experienced as I was trying to help my cousin deal with her own problems... It was so overwhelming to feel I imposed so much on people who were there for me and promised their assistance how and whenever I needed it. I had tried to limit 'imposing' on their kindness, but in retrospect, I realized just how far people could tolerate out-of-control anxiety on a constant basis. When I learned the truth firsthand, I realized within me was the seed of humility, but the compost pile of garbage from my past piled on top of it had hindered its growth. After all those years of 'service' to come home with nothing but emotional baggage - and then to realize all those years of service were so flawed in practice, it was a wonder that any good came of them at all. And I realize that only God could take something like that and turn it into good when you place it in His hands.

As I have been pondering what to give up or sacrifice for Lent, it has been a spiritual journey of insight since I began thinking about it a month ago. Lent begins early this year, in the middle of February. By the end of this past week, I thought giving up Facebook this year (again) would be good, as I desired to offer to God all spare time I wasted on frivolous online activities. Then it occurred to me that I spend as much time on YouTube, and it would be just as beneficial to give that up as well. As I prayed about it more and more and focused on trying to do what God wants rather than what is convenient for me, a thought came to me today about Divine Mercy. I had tried in the past to read the book "Divne Mercy in my Soul" by St. Faustina, but was unable to due to PTSD - I could not get past the convent life within the book let alone in my own psyche. But recent events transpired that my dad lent me his copy, telling me that much consolation was to be found in it. And so I began to read bits of it, non-sequentially and with great hesitation. But true enough, I found the consolation I had sought. In prayer I was made to understand that in undertaking the sacrifices of giving up my online leisure activities, I would undertake the study of Divine Mercy and the practice of it towards my fellow human beings. This meant not only a change in daily activities and regimen, but a whole change in my way of thinking and behavior patterns. For by myself, this is impossible - but with God's grace and an open and contrite heart, it is entirely possible. To practice Divine Mercy would mean to learn and practice humility, true obedience to God, and pure Christian love and compassion. Up to this point, I had masked the practice of these virtues with naivety, passive-aggressive behavior, and empathy.

Even as I wait for Lent to begin by the calendar of the Church, I am reading a little more of St. Faustina's diary. It's one thing to hear the coined phrase that 'psychologically we all wear masks' - it's another thing entirely to not only realize personally how and when we do so but to take off that mask and see what's really underneath. And yes, to make the step of not throwing that mask back on because we are frightened by what we see but to keep it off to watch the change we want to made in ourselves... That is a big step indeed, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. I want people to see God in me and that can only happen if I open myself up to the truth of who and what I am and do. By embracing the truth, I hope in the Lord to be set free of my false self and illusions, and in doing so to become a truer image of God.

Friday, February 1, 2013

February 2013

February is often remember for the past: Black History month, President's Day, birthdays...and some other significant holidays like Groundhog's Day and Valentine's Day. I'm sentimental about Valentine's Day; not quite a romantic, but it means more to me than it ever did in all the years of my life. It's one thing to grow up giving out cards in class to every peer in my class, especially when I detested them - finding the appropriate thing to say was never easy. It's another thing to be grown up now and not have a special sweetheart to appreciate the day all the more. True love, pure love...bliss and happiness. At least for me I can still celebrate it somewhat because February is the anniversary day that I got my scottie Giacomo in 2005. He's six years old - middle aged now, and I find myself wanting to spend ever more time with him because I don't know how long God will let me have him. As a devoted dog lover and avid supporter of rescue groups, everyday pictures of malnourished dogs, abused and neglected dogs makes me wonder about the state of our society on its most primal level. I sent a card of sympathy to former President George W. Bush on the loss of his scottie, Barney. As I read through poems of pet loss, the reality that I would be there someday began to disconcert me. I have put out some personal decorations for Valentine's Day that suit my taste - mostly pinks. Ask me today whether I'd rather snuggle with a teddy bear or my dog, I more and more finding myself looking for my little snookie-wookums (Momo - the dog). It won't be lonely Valentine's Day - albeit the first day of Lent after Ash Wednesday. I'll have my scotty dog to snuggle even without flowers, cards, or chocolates. And I am eternally grateful to God for bringing Momo into my life.