Sitting at mass today, I had a lot of thoughts on my mind: Getting to work, when are ashes distributed, these people don’t belong to my parish, I hope everything is okay at work, just two more days until Spring Break.
As I knelt down, I started with my list: Heavenly Father, please keep me in your grace today. Let me show your grace to others. Gift me with peace, love. Take me worry away. I was doing exactly what I didn’t set out to do. But, then I caught myself—and tried to be as silent as possible. I tried to clear my head, tried to hear what God was saying to me, but it is HARD. To completely clear my head and focus on God Is difficult for me (especially when I haven’t had any coffee).
But, I know what happens when I put all my focus on God—my heart feels like it swells with love and joy. I feel at peace with the world around me, and I know that I would be able to handle anything that happens throughout the day. I knew that I was going to be protected today, and that is exactly what happened (ironically today I taught symbolism, perfect for Ash Wednesday!).
As I listened to the Gospel (Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18) today, something really hit home for me:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and inhe streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
My pastor said that it was interesting that we have this Gospel today about humility and not being so overt with what we do, while we wear ashes today as an outward sign of our faith. He went on to say that the ashes are a symbol of our mortality and our hope for immortality. These little ashes that we wear symbolize the faith, hope, and love that we have in Christ as we prepare ourselves for our eternal lives.
I was thinking about which word or mantra I wanted to focus on today, and I was coming up short. I looked over the list, and nothing was speaking to me. I wasn’t feeling right in the spot to focus on a negative trait I wanted to let go. Not that I don’t have them (God Lord, I do), but I wanted to start this 40 days from a place of love. We are now in a season that celebrates the greatest sign of love that has ever been given; Christ dying on the cross for our sins. When Holy Week comes around, the one thing that I always think about Jesus’ relationship with Mary. My heart always hurts for Mary, because although she knew what Jesus’ was to do, it must of hurt her so much to watch her son die.
I think about love often, but I have never really appreciated love. In all forms—romantic love (that’s another post!), familial love, and the love that we have for our friends. I have always romanticized love, and had a picture of what it should be, but never appreciated the love that I had in front of me this whole time.
My mother and I have always had a rocky relationship. Since I was young, I have never really gave my mother much credit. Growing up, I thought that she didn’t understand me, I thought that she was embarrassed to have me as a daughter, that she wasn’t proud of me, or that somehow if I was different she would love me more. So, most of my high school and college years were spent having an identity crisis. I tried to be more like my mother, but it didn’t work. My mother is a realist and I am an optimist. I always have been, and much of my hardship was trying to get my mother to understand my hopes and dreams; while I thought that she was shutting me down.
It wasn’t until after my father died, when she and I had to learn to lean on each other mutually, did I finally realize what she has been trying to do my entire life. My parents are two of the greatest people that I have ever met in my entire life. My father has the humility that would make people question his motives and my mother is the strongest woman that I have ever met in my entire life. She is no stranger to loss: her father, her grandfather, her brother, her mother, and her husband. She has been through so much in her life, but she is amazing. She has taught me how to be strong in time of adversity, she has taught me how to rely on God when times are tough, and she has been consistently looking out for me since I was a little girl.
What I have mistaken for her “shutting me down” was her trying to make sure that I didn’t get hurt. She didn’t want me expectations to be too high, although she and my father have always wanted me to reach for the stars. She has just always wanted to make sure that I considered all my options; and always wanted me to succeed but never be disappointed. It took me a long time to realize this; it took a lot of tears, a lot of anger, and a lot of soul searching. But, having my mother there beside me has been one of the greatest gifts that I could have ever asked for.
My mother never wanted be to be anything that I wasn’t, but she wanted me to be the best that I could be and never sacrifice for it. To be my true self means to consider all my options, and to consider all the opposition that I have had to face in my life. To make sure that I had what I needed to get through life. Mom has never wanted me to suffer like she has had to suffer, because she knows that heart break is and what that can do to you. She has never wanted that for us, and she has always tried her best to make sure that we can overcome anything in our lives.
I have been lucky to have two mother figures in my life. In my last post, I talked about my friend Judy and how she has been a mentor to me. And she has; part of the reason that I love teaching and wanted to be a teacher was because I had her in my life to direct me on the right path.
And, in many ways, she has always lead me on the right path. In the years that I was struggling with my relationship with my mother, Judy was there to talk to and confide to. Then, she was my principal in high school and I was a senior that needed some guidance. The relationship that I longed for with my mom, I found in talking to Judy. She is patient, she is caring, she is understanding. She filled a void for me at the time, that I was worried that I would never find. However, in a weird turn of events, she has also helped me in my relationship with my mom.
She taught me to be more caring, understanding, kind, and selfless; even when I wasn’t listening. As I went to college, things got harder. I became some radical feminist who thought that she didn’t need people telling her what to do. Which, I learned that everyone goes through that phrase of sowing their oats. Giving the middle finger to the people that are looking out for your best interest and doing what you think is right for you. As a disclaimer, I see no fault or see nothing wrong with being a radical feminist, but that’s just not who I am….in some ways.
Through all of this, Judy was nothing but kind, caring, and compassionate to me during this time. She showed me unconditional love when I didn’t appreciate what she was giving me. During my nights of drinking and random hookups, she talked to me rationally and kindly, but she was met with resistance and anger. I didn’t recognize or appreciate what she was giving me, and I took advantage of her kindness and gentleness with me.
Now I am beyond grateful for the relationship that I have with Judy; because she has taught me so much as an adult. She, like my mother, has gone through so much in her life but, like my mother, does not hold her back from giving to people. She has gone through her struggles and her ups and downs, but in the end, she always bounces back—even when she doesn’t think that she will. It amazes me that she is able to do everything that she does because she does it with a fierce faith in God that can get her through anything. When I tell her how strong she is, she doesn’t seem to believe me. Which, because of her humility, does not surprise me. But, she is one of the strongest women that I know. Not because she simply keeps going, but she keeps goings with love and faith. She keeps going because she knows that ups and downs are normal in life, but she knows that God will take care of her.
The two most important woman in my life are so different in personality, but fundamentally they are the same person. They are strong, they are caring, they are understanding, they have a faith in God that can move mountains, they care about the people that they love so much, and they are two of the best people that I know.
So, the first day of Lent; I think of love and I think of Mary. I think of what she knew and what she had to struggle with during this time. I think about her faith in God, and her answer of “Yes” to the most difficult question a woman could be asked, but I think of her strength and her faith through all things.