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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

He is speaking, this is real, now it's up to me to listen

For me, stress leads to worry, which leads to fear, which leads to anxiety,  which leads to a panic attack, which leads to a manic episode.        I have heard all the advice, offered by well-meaning people about how to handle my anxiety and stress:  deep breath, exercise, eat right, don’t sweat the small stuff, and the ultimate favorite of “earth people”…..let go and let God!     The difficulty I have is no matter how stress-free my life appears, my mind does not shut off and what’s worse is I continually evaluate and discern if my stress, worries, and fears are real or imagined.      

To give you an example of how my mind works, I have been concerned about the future of our nation.   I wrote in my last blog entry about how our country’s moral compass has been turned  “upside down” and that what was once considered right is now wrong and what was wrong is now considered right.    I have been filled with anxiety over this issue.     To complicate matters, I have been reading some of the religious prophecies regarding upheaval and strife that our world may face in the next year.   Most of the writings I have read predict a significant change in our government and society as a whole at the end of November of 2016, but they see a great miracle occurring in November of 2017 which causes a mass conversion to Christianity and a unification of all religions.    Now I’m no stranger to false prophets and crackpot predictions, but for some reason I can’t stop obsessing about the possibility of these prophesies becoming truth.    Could they be right?   My husband wants to plan a vacation for some time in the fall, and I find myself thinking “We can’t go, we need to prepare for the worst so we can survive to witness the miracle!”    Now the difference between medicated and non-medicated bipolar thinking is that being medicated  I recognize that my stress and anxiety is not logical.    If I were unmedicated I would do one of two things, either go completely off the rails morally, spend all my money and in the iconic words of our dearly departed Prince “Party like it’s 1999”,  or I would put all my money into a bomb shelter, stock up on army rations, and hone my “Naked and Afraid” survival skills.    

So to avoid a major mental meltdown, I have reached into my bipolar episode prevention toolbox and pulled out the best weapon I know….my rosary.     While praying the rosary, I’ve asked Mother Mary to intercede to our Lord, on my behalf, to relieve my anxiety and help me to distinguish between what is imagined and what is real.   Last week, during prayer I was drawn to visit a Marian Shrine in Burton, Ohio, Our Lady of Mariapoch.     The following is a link to this shrine so you can read about the history and miracles associated with her weeping icon,  The prayer related to this shrine is as follows: 

O most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, adorned with miracles, whose icon shed tears at the place of your mercy in Mariapoch, we who honor you humbly beseech your motherly care.  Save our country from all its enemies; protect the church, and join all in one faith that, at last, the words of Christ may be fulfilled.  “There shall be one fold and one shepherd.”  Do not deny us your intercession, and obtain for us peaceful times, health for our bodies and peace for our souls.  Obtain the grace for us that our last hour finds us in the Christian faith and in a state of grace so that we may be enabled to gain eternal salvation.  Amen.   

I was shocked when I read the history of Our Lady of Mariapoch and the prayer associated with her icon.       The words of this prayer expressed what I was feeling and reaffirmed what I have been reading.    I saw this as a sign to pray and give my worries to the Lord.    I have no control over our government.   I have no control over future events.     My only defense is prayer.    So I have been visiting the shine as much as possible, lighting a candle, reciting this prayer and then sitting quietly in the presence of our Lord.   

My soul continues to pray, but my mind continues to worry; a classic symptom of bipolar disorder.     Last Wednesday, I was reading my daily reflection and the Gospel Reading for that day was Matthew 6:24-34 

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.   Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?   And why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  Therefor do not worry saying, “What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or “what will we wear?’  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things, and indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.  “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

After I read this passage I laughed, looked up to heaven and said “Really?     Take one day at a time!   This is your advice!”     So my prayers to our heavenly Father are being heard, but I need to listen and heed his words.   Why is this so difficult?     Why do I find it so hard to place my problems at the feet of our Lord and walk away?    I always think God is too busy to take care of my little problems, paranoia or craziness, so I have this tendency to leave my problems at His feet and then sneak back when I think He's not looking and take them back.    I need to remember that He is all knowing and all loving....He's got my back!        I've cried out to God to alleviate my anxiety, and he has answered me through scripture and prayer.   He is speaking, this is real, now it's up to me to listen!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Are We Really Free?

Freedom!   There is much talk today about freedom;  freedom of choice,  freedom to marry,  freedom to choose gender,  freedom to die, freedom to bear arms, freedom of speech,  and the list goes on, and on, and on!  We have so much “freedom” that we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we have the right to live without consequences.   We have tricked ourselves into believing what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right.     When did our world become so upside down?

As a teenager, I wanted to be like my mother.    I wanted to find a good man, fall in love, get married, have children and raise a family.   I wanted to be a "stay at home mom"  and raise my babies from the time they were born until they were grown.   I wanted to be a homeroom mother, bake cupcakes for elementary school parties and be a member of the PTA.     Sixty years ago, these were freedoms that women had and believe it or not, most women enjoyed their role as wife and mother, and lived happy and fulfilled lives.   But somewhere along the line my generation and those to follow were fed the lie that “all” women are oppressed,   "all" women need a career, "all" men dominate their wives and strive to suppress their creativity, wants and desires.    Women are told that we don’t need a man to have a child or raise a family.  We are now encouraged to delay marriage or not marry at all.   We are told that it is unnatural to control our sexual urges so we should just have sex with any man or woman we want.     In fact, in this day and age,  if you are still a virgin when your sixteen you are an oddity!   We are told that if we do become pregnant, we have the freedom to kill our unborn child.      I find myself asking "Have we really evolved?"   Where is a woman’s freedom now?    Are we as women truly free or must we conform to society or be chastised as being "old fashion", prudish or out of touch with reality? I know I’m upsetting a lot of women right now so let me make something perfectly clear, I’m not suggesting that a woman should be barefoot and pregnant, abused, or suppressed, but I am saying that all the things that come naturally to a woman and mother are now being taught to be unnatural. 

I was not diagnosed with bipolar disorder until I was thirty-nine so I had a good twenty years to make a mess of my life.       I am ashamed to say that I did just about everything wrong.     I lived with men before marriage, divorced, was sexually promiscuous, drank too much, was deceitful, and my list of sins could fill volumes, but in the back of my mind, I knew what I was doing was wrong because I was taught morals and boundaries.      Society labeled me as a "free" spirit, but looking back, I see only sin driven chaos.          The world whispered in my ear "You're an independent, modern, woman who can do whatever she wants!" But all this worldly "freedom" left me feeling empty, ashamed and downright dirty.            I wish I could go back in time and slap the woman I was across her face and say “Wake up!”    You see, the more “freedom” I thought I had, the more I eased God out of my life.   I had no boundaries…I had lost a sense of right and wrong thus rules or even laws, didn’t matter.    My worldly illusion of freedom became my private prison.    I was living life against my “nature”.     I wasn’t listening to the inner voice of God saying “Stop what you are doing, it’s dangerous…it’s wrong…you’re hurting yourself, your family, and your children!”

In the past, I believed,  God had to knock me down and break me apart before he could rebuild me, but in reality, God didn’t break me, I did the damage to myself.     But, like a good Father, He picked me up, nursed me back to health and welcomed me back into his house.    I believe what we are lacking in today’s society are morals.   We live in an era where anything goes.    If you are a woman and identify as a man… a man!    If you have a terminal illness and want to end your life….commit suicide!     If you become pregnant and, don’t want the child…kill it!   If you're married and see a man you want….take him.    In today’s society….anything goes, everything is okay, everything that is except God.  It is offensive to pray in the schools, at work or generally, in public.    Religion is wrong and if you practice your faith you are narrow-minded, rigid and an unenlightened bigot.     If you are married and have more than two children, you are thought to be irresponsible.    The old and poor are worthless and disposable.   Today, the life and welfare of an animal is more important than that of a child.  

I’m proud to be a United States Citizen, but I'm afraid for our nation.    We have two candidates for the presidency who, in my opinion, both suck!    I know the word "suck" lacks intelligence, but honestly, it’s the only adjective that fits the situation!    This is the first time in my adult life I don't want to vote because I don’t want to be responsible for electing either one of these people to lead our country.       Has my country become a prison of sin instead of the home of the free and the brave?

One of my hobbies is genealogy, and I'm proud to say that someone in my family has fought for our country since it was established.     My ancestors fought for "One nation under God", and "Liberty and justice for all!"   But, I truly believe that somewhere in the past sixty years our definition of liberty and justice have become twisted, and God has been removed from the equation altogether.     I have heard many people scream "There is no God!"  or "If there was a God, why does he let bad things happen to good people?"    "What kind of God allows disease, death, famine, child abuse, murder, rape?"        The way I see it, we as a society wanted it this way.       Like rebellious teenagers, we have basically given God the middle finger and said “We don’t need you!    We don’t need your guidance!  We don’t need your morality!  We are free to exercise this free will that you gave us!”    We have made the mess, not God.    In an effort to become like gods we have polluted our air and seas causing disease, death and famine.   In this "anything goes" society, we have destroyed the family and made the union between a man and woman an ancient practice.         In the name of advancement, we have substituted human contact and conversations with robotic customer service, text messages, and social media.  

  I have lost faith in our government and the man-made laws of society, but I   haven’t lost faith in God and His will for my life.     Nations will rise and fall, economies will collapse, wars will be won and lost, but our God remains faithful.   Our world is in utter chaos and completely out of my control.    In times like these, it is easy to give up, but as Mother Teresa said: "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."     I personally cannot handle the stress and anxiety our government has created.  Just thinking about this year's election causes a panic attack!      For my own sanity,  I need to let God have the reigns, live as Jesus taught, allow the Holy Spirit to work through me and practice the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy.     I have lost faith in our broken society, but I have confidence in the healing power of God.   I pray for the freedom that only our Lord can give.       My trust is in Him!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

My Walk in the Woods

It was revealed to me that when I try to ‘force’ a subject for my blog, I inevitably experience obstacles.    I find myself drifting from one subject to the next, words rambling without real substance.   Over the course of the past four weeks I have commenced to write four different blogs which reflected subjects as scattered as my thoughts.   I wrote about my mother, visiting old friends, my husband’s sobriety and our Blessed Mother.   You would imagine I’d be able to complete volumes from these four subjects alone, but sadly I would scribble down two or three paragraphs, and then my thoughts would come to an abrupt halt.    What point was I really trying to make?     How were these four topics helping me along my spiritual journey?       Why was I struggling to write?    To help me clear my mind, I decided to return to my favorite past time…..walking.

Walking the Appalachian Trail is on my bucket list of things to do before I depart this world.    Don’t get too excited, I also wish to learn to quilt, tour the Holy Lands and meet Stevie Nicks, but I don’t see me reaching any of these goals in the near future.   As crazy as it might sound, walking the Appalachian Trail seems to be a more attainable goal at this stage of my life.    The  idea of walking from Georgia to Main, experiencing God’s glory, meeting new people and the thrill of adventure appeals to me.   My hubby and I hiked a couple of trails in Hocking Hills a month ago and I realized how out of shape I really was.   I had gained weight over the winter and had found myself huffing and puffing while hiking up the steep hills.    There is a world of difference between walking a paved, level walking track in my neighborhood park and hiking up the side of the Smokey Mountains, so if I was going to attain my goal, I needed to begin training!    

 I Googled “walking trails” to find trails near my home and  discovered an easy walking path located in an old boy scout camp called Chickagami.      The man-made gravel trail may be too easy, but it’s a start! I have now walked the trail about five times.   I recall being a little scared as I first entered the woods.    Why?  Because I was alone and in an unfamiliar place!  The park was empty,  in fact, I wasn’t quite sure I was allowed to be there!    I really had no idea where I was going.  Questions raced through my crazy brain.   Would the trail be clearly marked?  What if I get lost?   No one knew I was here, what if I fall?  Is the path going to be steep or flat?     I stood at the foot of the path and said to myself “Stop it Sandy!   Every new adventure is frightening, so put on your big girl panties and get to movin’!  If  it gets too scary, just turn around and come back!”     So I took off where Sandy had never gone before and made it through the clearly marked 1.5 mile trail.    

Last Monday, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and walk the Chickagami Path twice, once to clear my jumbled mind and a second time to increase my Fitbit steps for the day.   I am always so focused on how many steps I put on my Fitbit or how quickly I can walk a mile that I forget to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds me, so I decided to make a sincere conscience effort to really experience the woods.   At first I was amazed at the quietness that surrounded me.   The city is never quiet.    Where we live, I am surrounded by the sounds of lawn mowers,  weed whackers, radios and children playing.   Our home is also located near a hospital and a small airport so you can imagine the noise created by those two babies!   As I strolled through the woods, I prepared myself to experience the quietness of nature, but quickly saw that nature was loud!     I heard the wind moving through the barren trees, rustling the leaves that lay on the forest floor.     I listened to bird songs  and marveled at their secret language.   I felt as if I was eavesdropping on the woodland gossip.   I laughed softly to myself as I imagined the birds making  fun of this middle-aged, city dweller invading their peaceful world.    I must have watched too many episodes of “Naked & Afraid” because I became a little frightened at the sound of animals scurrying through the leaves.   At first I was sure it was a rattlesnake, rabid raccoon or angry skunk, and then smiled when I caught sight of  a small squirrel scavenging for food.   

My second lap around was different, I felt as if God was teaching me important life lessons.        I thought about my life and the hardships and trials I had endured.    At the times when I struggled most and I would cry out to God for relief, I would experience a period of rest.    Sometimes it was a forced rest, like a stay in the psych ward.   Other times I was blessed with periods of downtime  or peaceful vacations.  But more often than not, I found my peace in tranquil moments of prayerful conversations with our Lord.     Every now and again, the benches overlook a breathtaking country landscape of Amish Farms, cows grazing  in the fields and horses frolicking in the sun, all reminders  to live in the moment and be thankful for the peace and beauty around me.  
noticed that along the path, a park bench was situated at the top of every hill.

As I journeyed further into the woods I discovered a tall tree that had been uprooted by a storm.  
Falling Tree
The tree had fallen directly into the fork of another tree.   Now what are the odds of that happening?  The tree never hit the forest floor,  but was caught and held by a stronger tree.   This called to mind, friends and family that had caught me when I fell and supported me through the rough times.     The Lord often works through other people and I remembered the times when I had received a phone call at exactly the right moment, or someone providing me a kindness when I had lost all hope.      I remembered the miracles I had received and the loving support I felt from our Lord throughout my lifetime.   As I stopped and stared at the tree I noticed that it appeared to be young, not as tall and thick as the others.  I noticed that even though it was no longer living, it had a purpose….it was home to birds and squirrels and created a natural bridge for animals to cross from one area to the next.    Maybe God permitted the tree to fall, but caught it  just in time to save another of His creatures.    I began to think about my mother.  Why did God take her away from me when she was so young?         My mother’s death will probably never make sense to me until I meet our Lord face to face, but seeing that tree, made me realize in a small way, that God has a plan, nothing happens by luck, not even a young tree falling in the woods.

This past Saturday, my husband and I participated in our favorite pastime, a drive through Amish Country.  We usually stop and have breakfast before our Amish adventures, but because we are both dieting, we ate our healthy food at home and abandoned our bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy!    We stopped by an Amish owned greenhouse.    My Amish friend had told me that she was going to sell black petunias this year.   At first, the thought of black flowers sounded a little too morbid for me, but I was intrigued.   When I saw the baskets I fell in love!    The black Petunias were surrounded by sprays of yellow and white flowers making the colors pop.    With Mother’s Day right around the corner, I feared losing my chance to purchase these unique flowers so I scooped up four baskets immediately!    Leave it to our Lord to take a color associated with mourning and pain and transform it into something unique and beautiful… such is life.

After our flower shopping, I decided to show my husband the trail I had discovered.     As we walked the trail together, I delighted in watching his childlike wonder.   As I mentioned, the trail was located in an old boy scout camp,  and to my surprise,  my husband had camped there as a young boy.     He smiled as he shared his boyhood adventures in these woods.   He showed me bark from a birch tree and explained how he was able to start his campfire using this same bark.   His eyes dance  as he recalled catching crayfish in the small creeks that flowed throughout the park.   I showed him the fallen tree I had found and we shared our thoughts, both logical and spiritual for this oddity.      We discussed our Amish friends  and how blessed we have been to be welcomed into their community.   I had eyed a rose bush at the green house and expressed a desire to plant roses next to my statue of our Blessed Mother on our front yard.       My husband understands my devotion to Mary and has witnessed some of the miracles she has worked in our lives.    He thought roses would be a loving tribute to the “Queen of Heaven” and “Undoer of Knots”.  

As we continued to walk  through the forest, I thanked God for my husband’s sobriety.   He celebrated seven years of sobriety on April 20th.    Seven years ago, I would have spent my Saturday watching my husband get drunk.     My stomach would have turned every time I heard the sound of the next beer opening.     My heart would have raced as my husband staggered through the house, bouncing into the walls and falling down the stairs.    My silent prayer would have been for him to just shut up and pass out.   At least then I would know that the drinking had stopped and he was safe.     Our day would have been filled with anger, regret and a mountain of resentments,  but today, we were at peace and filled with joy just to be together, walking in the woods.  

As I write this blog, I find the words are flowing easier, I talked about my mother, my friends, my husband’s sobriety and our Blessed Mother…. Perhaps I was not intended to teach a great lesson, but merely share my experience walking  in the woods.      

Monday, April 11, 2016

What If I'm Right?

Sometimes I forget how blessed I am to have born into a Christian family.    My father was raised Catholic and although my mother didn’t convert to Catholicism until I was seven years old, both parents taught me about God, Jesus, Prayer, Blessings and Thanksgiving even before I was baptized into the Church.  

I sometimes live in a bubble where I assume everyone around me believes as I do.  It isn’t until I’m challenged by a non-Christian that I am reminded of how paramount my faith is to me.     I have only been truly challenged about my beliefs three times.   On the first occasion,  I was severely ill-equipped to defend my core beliefs.   I had involved myself in a non-Catholic Church and when I came to them with concerns and questions, I couldn’t wrap my mind around their teachings.   They just didn’t make sense to me.    My gut was telling me I needed to search elsewhere for spiritual peace.  

The second time I was confronted; I had returned to the Church and was facilitating Religious Adult Education Programs.   I was provoked by an Atheist and although I knew what I believed, I couldn’t explain why I believed.      The Atheist viewed my answers as child-like, simple and uneducated guesses.     I've found that most  Atheists I have come in contact with tend to be condescending and scoff at my "non-enlightened" uneducated answers.    

This most recent challenge came through my Crazy Catholic Woman Facebook page and I believe I have been handling this situation very wrong.    Just as this person has his beliefs, it is not up to me to “convert” him, that’s God’s job and I’m not Him.    All I can do is express to him what I believe as a Christian and show him through my life and actions that I am living what I believe.

As a Christian, I must “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls me to account for the hope that is in me”, but I must do so “with gentleness and reverence” as stated in (1 Peter 3:15).
The hope that is in me is through my Christianity and my core beliefs are spelled out in the Apostle Creed.   I believe the Apostle Creed to be written by the original apostles as a Symbol of the core beliefs of Christianity.      This Creed was taught and learned, word for word by every Christian and because Christianity was against the law, punishable by extreme torture and death, the creed was used as a sign for believers to recognize each other.     The Fathers of Christianity died for their beliefs and Christians throughout the world are still martyred today because of this Creed.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit?
Born of the Virgin Mary;
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell;
The third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
Is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The Holy Catholic Church,
The communion of Saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And life everlasting. Amen.

I believe in God our Father because when I have tried to run things myself, I have made a mess of my life.    I have learned the importance of Prayer.    Prayer, for me, has become a powerful tool in doing “the next right thing”, and sometimes a weapon against evil.   There have been times when I have experienced a frightening dream and awake to find me reciting the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary.   Even my subconscious cries out to our Lord in times of trouble.  

I have recently been reminded of the miracles that have occurred as a direct result of prayer.    When someone asks me to pray for them, or if I have an issue that I bring to our Lord, I keep a journal of my requests and the outcomes.      I took my Prayer Request Notebook out the other day and was astonished at how the Lord has worked in my life in the past six months.     Through direct prayer and through intercession prayers through Mary, St. Jude and St. Dymphna, problems that seemed hopeless have been resolved, miraculous physical healings have occurred and my peace of mind has been restored.   Is everything perfect?   No, but through prayer, my faith and hope are continuously renewed.  

As some of you know, I pray the rosary every morning with my coffee: it is my private time with our Blessed Mother.    As I meditate on the mysteries of the most holy rosary,  I have a bad habit of rolling the bead between my fingers and have tangled the chains of many of my rosary and sometimes even broke them as a result.        A few months ago, I did just that.    I had twisted the chain between the last Hail Mary on the second decade to the Our Father bead in such a knot that it was impossible to undo.   I had resigned myself to the fact that I would have no alternative but  to enter my husband’s toolbox, get out the needle nose pliers,  dismantle the knot and piece the chain  back together.    For two months, I continued to pray my Rosary with this huge knot and every time I would come to that section of the Rosary I would become obsessed with that bothersome knot.    During that entire decade, I would recite the Hail Mary but my hands would be frantically attempting to undo the knot!      It was maddening and every day I told myself, “You need to fix this rosary!”   This particular Rosary is precious to me because my husband gave it to me for Mother’s day last year. Last Sunday, I got out my rosary to pray and the chain was fixed.   The chains and beads were perfectly restored and lined up as if they had never been damaged.      This was my own personal miracle.   It was a message sent to me from God to stop focusing on the knots and brokenness in my life and put my faith in Him.        

Non Christians often try to prove my faith wrong and try to ambush me with deep philosophical questions.   So I asked myself, What if my faith is wrong?    What if I live my entire life with a strong belief in Christ, attempt to follow the teachings of the Gospel and adhere to the teaching of the Church?   What if I live my life in the hope of spending eternity in unity with our Lord?   What if  when I die, there is no afterlife, no heaven or hell, I am just laid to rest in the ground and I cease to exist?   The way I look at it, I've lost nothing!   I would have lived a good life, done the next right thing, and lived with love in my heart.  I will live on in the memories of my children and hopefully, be an example and instill values that they will pass on to their children and grandchildren.    

Now, I ask those who do not believe this challenging question, “What if I’m right?"     Just something to ponder!   Have a very blessed week!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Alleluia! He is Risen and I Am Renewed!

Well, I’m back.    I suffered from depression during the season of Lent.   Thankfully it wasn’t the deep, dark, helpless depression I’ve suffered in the past; it was what I like to refer to as “depression light”.    I carried on with my day to day activities, and put on a happy face when necessary, but it was not without effort.  I was exhausted and every day was a struggle to move, my body ached, my memory was non-existent, my attention span was nil and I ate everything and everything I could get in my mouth.  Although I had grandiose plans of getting involved in my new parish, reading inspirational reflections and attending special services during the season of Lent, I did nothing.   My thoughts raced as I prayed my morning rosary.     My voice would be speaking the words but my mind would drift.      My inadequacies became overwhelming and the harder I tried and failed, the more I would tell myself “Why even try?”   Sensing my depressive mood, my husband suggested we get away for a few days.  I would turn 50 years old on March 14th, a milestone in life, and he desired to do something special to celebrate my birthday.   Thus, a get-a-way to Hocking Hills was planned.   As luck would have it, our four-hour car drive to Hocking Hills would take us directly through the city of Columbus.   A dear friend from High School lives just north of Columbus and my Father lives just south of Columbus so we arranged to visit both.     

I had kept in touch with my dear friend, through Facebook messenger for over six years.    Jokingly I told her that my online commitment to her lasted longer than my first marriage.      Although we wrote to each other at least twice a month for six years, we had not seen each other for over twenty-two years.     I was at her wedding shower, pregnant with my daughter and going through my divorce when we last laid eyes on each other.    So many things had changed. 

We decided to meet at Panera Bread for coffee.   My husband said, "Do you know what she looks like now?"    I laughed at the absurdity of his questions, of course I would recognize my friend.    As we pulled into the parking lot I caught sight of her.   She had not changed, she looked exactly as she did when we were in high school.     I could hardly contain myself and almost jumped out of the truck before it came to a complete stop.       I met her at the entrance of the restaurant and hugged her, it was so good to see my friend.       We sat and talked for two hours.   She brought pictures of our glory days.   We had sung together in a barbershop quartet called "Champagne and Soda Pop" and had won singing competitions through the Sweet Adelines.   The pictures invoked countless memories.     As I stared at the pictures of me at age twenty, I recalled how incredibly selfish I was in the past.   Who was that girl?   I expressed to my friend my regret for past mistakes and she lovingly replied: “We all live and learn.”   I’m grateful I was able to meet with my friend and hug her.   Life is too short to live in fear because of past mistakes.

After my visit with my friend, we set off to see my Dad and Step-Mother.  I’m ashamed to say that my trips to Columbus are few.   It is a three-hour drive so it requires an overnight stay.  My eyes are not what they use to be consequently night driving is not an option.   Driving in high-stress traffic fills me with anxiety and high-stress traffic to me is more than three lanes!     Unfortunately, this puts the burden of long distance driving on my husband which means trips to Columbus need to be well planned and within my husband’s work schedule.          Our overnight visit with my Dad and step-mother was a good one.    It’s hard for me to have him so far away.    For my entire life, my Father lived within two miles from me.   There was a five-year period when we lived two doors down from each other.   To have him so many miles away is difficult for me.       Although we talk on the phone every Sunday, nothing can take the place of a hug from your dad.    

On Monday, we set out for our “Cabin in the Woods”.  The cabin was tucked away in a wooded lot that provided privacy for the hot tub located outside on the back porch.     We had no WiFi or cable TV so we spent our days exploring the gift shops, antique stores, hiking and taking long naps.   Our evenings were spent sitting by a campfire, soaking in the hot tub and watching old movies on the DVD player.   These stress-free few days relaxed and rejuvenated us.   It was just what we needed as a couple.

My serenity quickly left me when we I woke up at home on Good Friday.   After my morning coffee, I stepped on the scale and found myself fifteen pounds over my goal weight.   I had fought for two years to lose seventy-five pounds and had carelessly allowed myself to start gaining it back.  The anger within erupted.  I knew depression had played an enormous part in my weight gain.  The vicious cycle of mindless eating and no exercise had certainly taken its toll, but I had to blame someone!  So I lashed out at my husband.  My husband is the great enabler and an unaware food pusher!   He loves to eat and is an excellent cook.    During my two-year weight loss journey, I resisted the late night meals, sweet treats, and excess fatty foods but somewhere along the line I had given in and given up.   I stopped tracking my food intake, measuring my portions and most of all I stopped saying “NO”!    Meaning well, my husband attempted to make light of my weight gained and told me to start my diet on Monday.     I screamed, “I have to start today!  You don’t understand! I don’t want to be over 200 pounds again.”      The despair I felt was paralyzing.   My husband’s attempt to lighten the moment with jokes and laughter enraged me all the more and that’s when it happened…I called my husband an awful name.  As the words left my lips I wished I could hit rewind and swallow them back up.  What had possessed me to be so cruel?   I immediately apologized but the damage was done.  I had awakened his anger which is something no woman, married to a full blooded Irishman, should ever do.    I had poked the sleeping lion and the damage was done.   I kept apologizing, but my words to him had been too harsh.  I was filled with shame, guilt, and regret.   Only an hour earlier I prayed the rosary as he read the paper.    I was not only cruel, I was a hypocrite.

We had planned to have breakfast together at a little Amish Diner in Middlefield and as my husband heatedly grabbed his jacket he said: “I don’t even feel like doing anything with you today.”    We drove in hostile quiet as we ate at our favorite diner. The silence was so loud I was positive that everyone in the diner that day could hear it.   Tears streamed down my face as I played back in my broken mind the demeaning words I had spoken.   I had sincerely apologized, but would he forgive me?   I silently prayed the Memorare, but felt undeserving of his forgiveness.   I was wrong,  I should not have cursed  at him, but didn’t he understand that for him to state, “One bad food choice wouldn’t hurt you”,  would be like me announcing,  “One beer won’t hurt you!”   I am not capable of having “Just one” of anything; once I go off “plan” I’m done. After a three hour cooling off period, my husband began speaking to me again and our day went on as normal, but my heart broke for the pain I caused.  What Christian speaks to their spouse with such disrespect?

I usually watch the Passion of Christ during Holy Week and here it was, Holy Saturday and I had let God down again.   My husband is not Catholic or even Christian for that matter.  He has faith in God but despises organized religious.  He views church goers as hypocrites and who could blame him?  Look at the way I had treated him in the past twenty-four hours.   For over ten years I have tried to convert my husband to Christianity and in less than ten seconds, I blew it, with a few thoughtless words said in anger.   As with every day, my husband cheerfully asked, “What‘cha thinkin' ‘bout Seetie? What’s the plan?  What’s going on?  What’s happening?”      Sheepishly, I said “I’d like to watch the Passion of Christ.”   I usually watch this film in private when my husband is not at home.      The one thing my husband hates more than biblical movies is subtitles and “The Passion of Christ” is over two hours of both.   Imagine my surprise when he agreed to watch the movie with me.    

As we began to watch the movie I found myself becoming perturbed with my husband right out of the gate.  He wasn’t watching the movie; he was playing on his iPad and missing critical points of the story.  My first reaction was to call him out and say,  “Hey! Pay attention!” But something held me back, and I kept hearing this voice say “This is for you as much as for him, be silent!”
I decided to listen to the logical voice in my head and keep silent.    Then it happened, he lowered his iPad and really began to watch.   He was asking questions and proud of himself when he would recognize some of the characters.    “Is that Mary?” he asked.   “Who was Peter?”      I explained who different biblical figures were and some of the events taking place.  When the movie ended he said, “That was pretty cool.”   To me, this was an Easter Miracle!   Not all had been lost!

On Easter morning, I went to mass alone.  My children have wondered away from our faith and although my husband had expressed an interest in trying out my new parish, I didn’t want to push.   He will come in God’s time, not mine!  At Easter Mass, I was reminded of God’s forgiveness.   Jesus conquered death through the Resurrection!  I then was reminded of how Peter, the Rock, had denied Christ three times and was “forgiven.”  My Lenten journey had been filled with failures, disobedience, and periods of time consumed with my own ego.  I had Eased God Out!  Jesus forgave Peter and his apostles for abandoning him during his passion.   I cannot let my shame, guilt of fear, keep me from our Lord.  The resurrection was the beginning, not the end.   My spiritual journey had not ended!  Just as the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and sent out to preach the Word of God, I too can call on the Holy Spirit and get back spiritual track.   Alleluia! He is risen and I am renewed in Him! 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Engraved Images On Our Hearts

As I have written in the past, when I moved from Florida to Ohio I lost all my photographs: the photos of my High School years, my mother, grandparents and my babies.    When my mother and then later my grandmother passed away, I was fortunate enough to inherit their photo albums.    Although I’ve removed several pictures from the albums and placed them in decorative frames on my “Crazy Catholic Cabinet” and around my home, I still have a box of family memories tucked away in my bedroom closet.   It’s not a little box…it’s more like a big plastic tub that houses a collection of photographs spanning over 90 years.    My intent has always been to organize this chaos, but just like my life I chose to contain it neatly within a box.   Recently, I  took the box out of the closet in search of a picture I had of a childhood friend who had passed away.  I wanted to find a picture of us in front of our first lemonade stand.   I knew I was about five or six when the picture was taken so I began sorting through the individual plastic storage bags of memories I had separated by the decade.          As I held each picture in my hand, I started thinking about how precious actual photographs are.    In this modern digital age, pictures are taken for granted.   Everyone has an iPhone and pictures are taken and retaken until the perfect moment is captured.   We snap chat, tweet, Facebook, email and text digital images several times a day.    We have digital pictures not only of our family and friends but our food, dogs, cats, even strange bugs in our house.   We have sexy full body shots that we vainly took in the mirror.  We have embarrassing pictures of friends and loved ones.  Thousands of images are shot daily and sent to the invisible photo “cloud” in the sky for safe keeping.   Millions of pictures are taken daily, and  I have 90 years of photographs in a plastic tub. 

In the past when you took a picture you knew you had to get it right the first time.  You only had twenty or so pictures on a roll of film.    As a teenager, I was the official photographer of our group of friends.   I would be the one taking pictures at house parties, cookouts and birthday parties.   After the event,  I would race to the Kodak Picture Hut to have my film developed.    I remember sometimes waiting an entire week for the pictures to arrive.  I would park my car in the parking lot next to the hut and tear open the envelope only to find either a blurry, unfocused mess or a picture too dark because the flash cube didn’t work.        Photographs were precious back then because once in a great while, you were able to capture the moment perfectly.   You snapped the picture just as your baby boy smiled.  You caught your daughter picking a flower in the sun.  

As I sorted through my tub of photos, I was flooded with memories of my grandfather playing the guitar, family camping trips, my mother’s beautiful smile.     Over ninety years of memories contained in one plastic tub.   At first I was sad, I thought how nice it would have been to have the technology we have now, back then.   I would have thousands of pictures of my grandparents….my children….my mother.       Then I realized twenty years ago; we didn’t waste all our time taking pictures trying to capture the moment.    We lived the moment.   We snapped the picture, hoped for the best and moved on.  We enjoyed the party; we watched the dance recital, we cheered our kids on at their baseball games.    Instead of taking pictures of our food, we sat at a table as a family and ate dinner.   We talked to one another; we fostered friendships.  We took the time to visit each other face to face, touch each other, hug each other.   Now we are so busy taking pictures and posting them online that we have stopped being mindful of the moment.     I firmly believe that when my time on earth is through, and I meet the Lord face to face, he will not be impressed with time wasted taking electronic pictures and posting them to the world.   I believe that he will ask me how I lived the life he gave me.   Did I appreciate the beauty around me that he created?  Did I watch the sun rise and set?  Did I play in the rain, sing songs, make snow angels?  Did I love, nurture and protect my children?   Did I love, honor and cherish my husband?    Did I feed the hungry?  Did I help the poor?   Did I treat others as if they were Christ in my midst?    My point is this, as I examine my life I realize that hours have been wasted trying to “capture” the moment and, as a result, the “moment” has slipped by unseen. 

I found the picture of my friend.   I ran my finger over the outline of her face and held it close to my heart.   I remembered that day how we made enough money to buy potato sticks at the corner store.   I’m happy I only have one or two pictures of my friend because our time was spent playing hopscotch, catching lightning bugs and playing jacks.   We talked, sang songs and danced.    We didn’t need a digital device we lived the moment and engraved the images on our hearts.