Monthly Archives: November 2013

Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy.

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The idea of confession has always baffled me a little bit.  It seemed like a waste of time (not to mention incredibly awkward) to talk about such intensely personal things with someone that would see me around the school/church afterwards.

When I started going back to Mass in August, I found myself having this intense desire to go to confession, but I still couldn’t bring myself to go to my parish priest.  I argued with myself that it would be too embarrassing and that I couldn’t face him afterwards (he is this adorable little old Asian man).  I tried going to a different parish and confessing behind the screen, but ended up leaving without actually confessing any of my major sins (and then proceeded to almost have a panic attack in the car).

This discontent went on for more than two months and then God intervened for me – I had early dismissal from school and went to noon Mass at a neighboring parish (where I hadn’t been in YEARS) instead of going in the morning before school.  Their regular priest was out and they had a visiting priest for that one Mass and for some reason, when I went to communion, I randomly thought to myself, “I think I could confess to him.”  I tracked him down at his home parish and arranged to meet him for confession a week later.

To go back to confession after years of having essentially turned my back on the church was really hard.  I had trouble even speaking some of the words out loud, and at times I questioned my sanity since I couldn’t even do it behind the screen, and now here I was face to face with the priest. Ultimately, though, I’m glad I was able to do it in person, and I didn’t actually die from embarrassment like I thought I would. The priest was incredibly patient and let me set the pace, and when I had finally managed to stammer through the entire story and all of my sins, he seemed to find exactly the words that I needed to hear.  I left feeling better than I had in years.

Slowly, though, this little bit of doubt began to creep in.  How was it possible that I could have committed all of these sins and be forgiven that easily? (not that it was actually easy by any means)

Three weeks later, I found myself back in his office, trying to make sense of everything. I explained to him the difficulty I was having with accepting that I was forgiven, and he mentioned the Diary of St. Faustina and recommended praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  That very night, everything clicked into place – I don’t really know what changed, whether it was those specific prayers or that I was in a better place spiritually and was able to be open to the idea of forgiveness, but I really started to feel forgiven.  I felt (and still feel) whole in a way that I don’t think I have ever felt.

One of my favorite parts from the Diary of St. Faustina:

Today the Lord said to me, Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy.

 

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God opened the door and I walked through it.

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3807565429_1758c76ebc_zWhen I was growing up, I always wanted to be an astronaut.  While everyone else was going to the beach, I spent high school Spring Break at Space Camp (because I wasn’t nerdy enough already), and eventually ended up working there during and after college.  There is just something I have always loved about the space program (I get that from my dad).

By sophomore year of college, I started to realize that I really didn’t like majoring in engineering and that I wasn’t REALLY going to be able to be an astronaut.  This left me kind of adrift – I had never really considered what I was going to realistically do with my life.  I changed majors seven times before finally graduating in Math, mostly because that’s what got me out the fastest.  After graduation, I decided that what I really wanted to do was be a nurse, so I spent three years in nursing school in Alabama.

Upon graduation, I moved back home and made it six months at the charity hospital before leaving to save my sanity (I am ridiculously empathetic and kind of a crybaby, so I would pretty much go home and cry every night).  I managed to get a job for a local business magazine doing accounts payable, which led me to eventually go back to school and get an MBA.

Getting an MBA was great – I loved being back in school and studying and made a lot of friends and eventually landed a great job that required a move to Houston.  After an initial period of homesickness, I ended up loving it there.  When my sisters started having kids, though, I felt like it was time to move back home, so I changed jobs and moved back home.

Fast forward to May 1, 2007 – I had been at my new job six months, and even though it was essentially the same job I had had in Houston, I found myself hating it.  The thought of staying there for 29.5 more years until I was eligible to retire was intolerable, and I went through a little bit of a midlife crisis, because here I was almost 35 years old and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up.  It took me two weeks of researching to decide that I might want to teach high school.  Both of my sisters and my mom teach, so I got a lot of support for the idea from the very beginning.

So I proceeded to plan it all out – I had already missed the cutoff for the teacher certification course that summer, so I was stuck at my job for another year.  I figured I could save money and get certified the following summer – I had little to lose, because I was so unhappy at my job that I would be looking for something else anyway, so if teaching wasn’t a good fit, I could start looking at that point.

But, God has a sense of humor, and less than a week after I had decided all of this, one of the local Catholic schools had a teacher leave unexpectedly, and a friend of mine (who knew I had been thinking of teaching) mentioned it to one of the administrators and got me an interview for the next day (my 35th birthday).  Private schools don’t have the same requirements for teachers as public schools, so I was going to be able to teach with my Math degree as long as I got 12 hours of education classes in the first two years.  Within two days, I had signed a contract to start teaching in August of 2007, just two months away.  It was a terrifying, exhilarating experience, but it really felt like God opened the door for me and that I should walk through it.

Whenever I tell people that I teach at an all boys Catholic high school, I can see their brain immediately jumping to Dead Poets Society.  People who have not spent any time in an all boys school (or in high schools in general), are generally baffled as to why anyone would voluntarily spend that much time with adolescents, but I have to defend them as being awesome.  It’s like living in an alternate universe from 7:25 to 2:47, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As a deer longs for running streams…

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deerFor my first six years of teaching, my schedule on a school day started by snoozing my alarm until 6:30 AM, which put me frantically trying (and repeatedly failing) to get to school by 7:15 AM.  To say that I was not a morning person is a GROSS understatement.  In my pre-teaching life, I was a cubicle nerd and was able to hide out alone until the time/caffeine balance had been restored (usually around 9:30 AM), but teaching is an alternate universe where I am expected to be “on” by 7:25 AM.  For an introverted non-morning person, this has always been a challenge. 

When I decided to go back to Mass, I didn’t start by making a commitment to go to Mass on Sundays, which would have been a completely logical and normal place to start.  Instead, my first Mass back was at the ridiculous hour of 6:00 AM on a random Wednesday morning, freaking out my dad (who went home and told my mom, “You will never believe who was at Mass this morning.”).  I quickly fell into a habit of going to  Mass twice a week in the mornings – I wanted to go more, but my parish doesn’t have Mass until 8:00 on the other days, so it didn’t work out.  This went on for several weeks and I was finding that I actually felt better and was in a better mood on the days that I got up early and went to Mass, in spite of getting up an hour and a half earlier.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that there were other parishes that had 6:00 AM Mass, and soon I was going to Mass every day and feeling better than I had ever felt – it really transformed my life. (But I refuse to accept that I might have become a morning person.)

I use a variety of prayer books in class, but this year I have a new one called Psalms 2000 – it has a short inspirational story and then part of a psalm (working numerically through them).  The kids have really enjoyed it – I even tried to switch to a different one a few weeks ago and I had multiple kids in multiple periods ask, “What happened to the book with the stories in it?”  In October, I got to Psalm 42 (below) and realized that this is EXACTLY what I had been going through for the previous two months. I love this story so much, and the words just really expressed so well what was happening in my life – I was experiencing a thirst for God.

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The one where I out myself as having a juvenile sense of humor

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I was flipping through this month’s edition of U.S. Catholic in the library at school today and I stumbled upon this sentence and just can’t seem to stop laughing.

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I just don’t normally associate prophets who wrote books of the Bible with being “the pooper of every party”, but that is going to be my new favorite thing to say to people.  I even used the expression in class today and I’m sure you can imagine that it was quite well received.

The full quote is:

“Woe to those who yearn for the day of the Lord!  It will be darkness, not light!  As if someone fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or as if on entering the house, he rested his hand against the wall, and a snake bit it.” (Amos 5:18-19)

So yeah, I get it – he is definitely the pooper of all parties.  I just hope I don’t start giggling inappropriately if I ever encounter this reading in Mass.

This is what I get for teaching at an all boys school.

Can you be called by God to be single?

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I grew up assuming that I would get married and have a lot of kids, because that’s what you DO in my family (my dad is one of eight and two of those uncles have six kids each).  I took it for granted that I would eventually meet someone smart and funny and Catholic that also wanted a lot of kids, and that we would spend our thirties and forties going to swim meets and dance recitals and piano lessons and they would go to the same Catholic schools that I went to and everything would be perfect.

By 2007, I was 35 and still unmarried and I was starting to think that the husband/kids thing wasn’t going to happen for me.  I had tried endless dating web sites, speed dating, set-ups, etc. and all were unsuccessful.  That Fall, both of my sisters and my sister-in-law were all pregnant at the same time, which was a really bad situation for me in my depressed state.  Every time we would have a family gathering, the three of them would take a picture with their pregnant bellies and I would pretend like I was happy for them and hide the fact that what I really wanted to do was to go home and cry under the covers.

That same Christmas, 2007, I got the best advice I ever got, although I didn’t know it at the time.  My mom and I took my grandmother to see post-Katrina New Orleans over the Christmas holiday, and we met up with my great aunt and uncle.  While we were at their house, it somehow came up that I was single and my great aunt told me, “If God doesn’t want you to be married, then nothing you can do is going to find you a husband, and if God wants you to be married, you won’t be able to do a thing to stop it.”  Those words really bothered me when she said them – usually people would optimistically insist that I would find someone, I just had to keep looking.   To actually put it out there that GOD MIGHT NOT WANT ME TO GET MARRIED seemed like the most horrible thing anyone ever could have said to me.

 At the time, I wasn’t going to Mass and had never considered the idea that maybe God could help me find a husband, but I sure did latch onto the idea that maybe He was somehow KEEPING ME from finding a husband.  I filed the comment away in the back of my brain and chalked the entire experience up to the fact that 90+ year olds say the darndest things.  I struggled a little bit with whether or not God would maybe “let” me get married if I would go back to Mass, but somehow came to the decision that God really had nothing to do with it.

The summer I turned 37, a friend put the idea in my head that if I wasn’t married by 40, I probably wasn’t going to be able to have kids.  As horrifying as that idea seemed at first (no one likes to hear that they only have three years left to find the husband they’ve been looking for their entire adult life), I gradually started to realize that my life wasn’t nearly as empty as I thought it was.  I had a family that I mostly loved, four wonderful nieces and nephews (now six with one more on the way!), a job that was challenging and fulfilling, and a new house.  I suddenly realized that maybe there could be more to life than having a husband and kids, and that maybe God really did intend for me to be single.

What’s difficult about being single is that everyone assumes that you want to be married, and most of them are on a mission to help you find a husband (and assure you that you’re not too old to have kids, lots of people have kids in their forties!).  Once I decided that maybe I was okay staying single, I was hyper-aware of how much pressure that I had always put on myself to find a husband and how many years I had wasted being unhappy.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find like-minded single people.  My single friends all want to get married .  Most of the web sites out there when you search “Catholic and single” are either dating web sites or blogs encouraging you to hang in there until you find the right person.  What about someone like me that genuinely decides that maybe I’m called to be single?  I haven’t ruled out getting married, because I finally believe that if God wants me to be married, I won’t be able to do a thing to stop it.  And that’s just fine by me.

The beginning of the journey

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I keep having this nagging idea that I want to start blogging at the most random times – in the shower, driving to work, in the middle of the night when I can’t fall back to sleep, etc. Somehow, I have my best thoughts when I can’t write any of them down. In my mind, I am this fabulous writer with so many stories to tell, and yet somehow as soon as I have five minutes with my computer, I can’t think of a single thing to say.

The problem is that I have a lot that I want to say – my brain runs nonstop all of the time and when it comes to issues of faith, I don’t have a lot of people that I can talk to, in spite of living in an overwhelmingly Catholic part of the country. I’m hoping that if I can get some of these thoughts and ideas out of my head, they will make more sense to me and maybe occasionally reach someone else.

I was born and raised Catholic in a family of four (I’m the oldest). We all went to 13 years of Catholic school, went to Mass every week, participated in ministries at church, etc. It never crossed my mind to be anything BUT Catholic – I was never drawn to any other religion or doubted my belief in God, but then I somehow ended up spending most of my adult life feeling very apathetic about the Catholic church. I would go to Mass occasionally, mostly when I was with my family and couldn’t avoid it without them finding out that I wasn’t going. I convinced myself that surely God wouldn’t keep me out of Heaven just because I didn’t go to Mass, because I was a “good person” (it seems absurd now to even type those words out). From the outside, I think most people assumed I was a “good Catholic”.

On the inside, though, I began to struggle more and more with what God wanted for me and from me. I had started teaching at a Catholic school, and the strain of trying to project the false front of being a devout Catholic on the outside when I really wasn’t feeling it inside was overwhelming at times. It took a fairly severe depression that I hid from my family and friends to finally make me turn to God for help.

I have thought for several months that this sudden spiritual journey came out of nowhere, but I have realized recently that it had to have come from God, and it came when I needed Him in my life the most. I started saying the rosary, and then surprised my dad by showing up at 6:00 AM Mass one morning (to say that I was not a morning person would be the understatement of the year). The more I let God be a part of my life, the better my life seemed to get. Daily mass eventually got me to confession, which changed my life (and deserves its own entry).

As far as I feel like I have come in three months, I know this is just the beginning of the road for me. Thomas Merton has always been one of my favorites, and this prayer has given me comfort, even in the times when I didn’t realize that I needed it.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.