depending on something bigger than myself

I have always had a special place in my heart for the Easter Triduum. I am sure it goes back to when I was altar serving in 8th grade. As an older kid, I was responsible for teaching the younger kids how to serve during the masses. And, when your priest is a nonsense Polish man that loves a high mass—you get everything right.

I remember the only time that I was openly disrespectful for a teacher—it was during on practice for Holy Week. Father would call every single altar server out of class to practice for the Masses during Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Somehow, I was never slated to serve the Easter Vigil. I have never, in my life been to one. My mother won’t go back to one because when she was grade school, she was in the choir and had to stand for 3 hours. She said she remembered deliberately dropping her hymnal so she could bend her knees. So, we always served the 7 am mass on Easter Sunday.

Anyway, my teacher wouldn’t let me and other 8th graders leave for practice, even though we were allowed. I told her that we had to leave, and she got this big attitude (for the record, this woman probably shouldn’t have been a teacher. She was a little nutty) and said that if Father had a problem, he could take it up with her. I snapped back at her and told her that she didn’t teach anything anyway, so what would it matter? Somehow, I didn’t get in trouble and she let us leave.

Holy Thursday was always required more practice than Good Friday. Holy Thursday we had to practice the incense, we had to practice the washing of the feet, the procession around the ENTIRE church during the benediction. It was a big church, and it always seemed to take an hour. We must have ran through the entire mass three or four times, and it must of stuck with me because at every Holy Thursday mass, I remember what we did, when, and I notice if it’s not done at other churches. For instance, during the Gloria—two altar servers go back and forth ringing the bells during the entire hymn. It’s the last time the bells ring during the Triduum. My parish doesn’t do that, I remembered that. I have been to parishes that don’t really do a procession—which I always find odd.

Holy Thursday always required a lot of planning, and it seemed like it was most important mass of the year since we practiced, literally for a week.

Good Friday was always much simpler—not a mass, veneration of the Cross, communion, and that’s it. Cake walk compared to Holy Thursday. However, there was one Good Friday that I thought we were going to be a man down. We had a very old monsignor—he must have been almost 90. My pastor had directly told him, when we prostrate do not lay down. So, when we processed in, our three other priests prostrated on the ground and one altar server tugged at my sleeve. I looked around, and there was the old Monsignor laying on the ground.

I went into the panic. What are we going to do? Is he going to be okay? Are we going to be able to get him up? Well, that’s exactly what we had to do. We literally had to hoist him up off the ground, and he just started laughing. I mean, it was amazing that he still wanted to do that, but it was definitely not practical.

So, I have always loved the ceremony behind the masses—I think they are beautiful and deeply meaningful to Catholics during this time. But, I have not always had the sense of connection and love for this time.

Before I started working at my school now, I was a substitute teacher in my Catholic school system. Looking back on those days, they were some of the most trying times in my life. My anxiety was a lot higher, I was really trying to figure out who I was, and looking back at it now it was a lot of growing pains.

I experienced a lot of failures at a particular school that I worked out. I was having trouble figuring out what kind of teacher that I wanted to be, I was struggling with who I was professionally and personally—there was this separation of it all, I think, and I just wanted my life to be different. This was all over a period of three years. I worked at this school for about six months, but in that six months—I gained something that I hadn’t gained in other places. I felt, in a way that I belonged—I liked the community and I really thought it was what God has planned for me. But, when we plan, God laughs.

So, after my six month stint, I kept going back to this school—I started helping a friend of mine in her office, because I was unemployed (This was the spring before I was hired at my full time job), and I needed something to do. Thankfully, that panned into a per diem job. But, then my grandmother died. Another shock to my system. I didn’t have a job, and I lost one of the closest people in my life. How could it get worse?

Oh, wait it did!

There was a guy that I worked with that I ended up really liking—he was everything that I thought that I wanted. Catholic, loved his job, and just was a great person. After months, maybe a year of interpreting and misinterpreting signs I told him how I felt. I actually believed that the feelings were reciprocal—and a lot of other people did, too. This was something that I never did before, and to do it took a lot of balls.

Part of my wanted to finally have an answer, and another part of my wanted to stop feeling like I was crazy or unhinged. So, I told him. However, the feeling was not reciprocal, and looking back on it—all the anger that harbored toward him was actually anger that I had toward myself. I was angry that I thought that I looked foolish—and put myself out there. Understandably, my ego was hurt. And, I thought that my life was spinning out of control.

I was unlucky in love, unlucky in my job, and I had lost my grandmother—I could and thought about giving up. But, I didn’t. This time was different, I prayed harder than I even could have in my life and tried to make peace with everything that had happened to me.

But, too this day, I am working on this. I still have bouts of self-doubt and jealousy of all those people that I worked with. After I left that place, it was like my connection to them was completely severed. Everything that I had done, and everything that I given of myself was just left there in a weird limbo and I hated it. I hated myself for being upset and scared, this was not who I was working to be and not who I wanted to be.

When you are hurt by someone and something that deeply, it is really hard to get over. But, guess what? It’s all going to be okay. Because, at the end of the day I still have my family and friends that still love me and still support me. I know the people that are supposed to be in my life. My friend Judy once told me about “reasons, seasons, and lifetimes.” There are people that are in your life for a reason, season, or a lifetime. But you don’t realize when or for what at the moment. I think now, those people that I used to work with were a season—they were there to teach me something about myself that would eventually make me stronger.

Learning how to deal with heartache and disappointment, but also being able to rely on God are what helped me through the death of my father. Something that rocked my world to the core, I was able to remember that I am that I need to lean close to God, not against Him. It was something that I learned to go through all that when I worked at the school, but in terms of what I have gone through now…it’s a blip. But, it was blip that made me learn.

So, this Holy Thursday—I actually went to my home parish for the first time. I was in so much pain from the fibro that kneeling and standing were taking such a toll on me—but, I persisted. I was thinking about how Holy Thursday has carried such an anxiety and disappointment for me that it was hard to focus on anything but that. But, I think that was what I was supposed to do.

I focused on the difficult things. The things that made me cry, the things that broke my heart, the things that had made me feel so small and so insignificant. I broke myself in front of God, because I wasn’t afraid anymore of my brokenness or of what was thought of me. I knew who I am in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the people that matter the most to me.

When Father took the Blessed Sacrament around the church, I had this heaviness of my heart. From everything that I was worried about, and once he walk by me…my heart felt light. As soon as he walked to the Repository and placed the Blessed Sacrament inside…my heart was light. Jesus had taken my suffering from me, and held with him until the next day—where that suffering would be shown on the Cross.

God never give us anything that we can’t handle in our lives. He doesn’t test us, nor does he enjoy watching us suffer. However, in times of struggle, we lean on God for what was cannot get from other people. There is a safety net about God; that can handle things that we cannot. And, being able to rely on Him during times of struggle has been something that I have needed in my life. It was powerful, moving, and I just felt like I could sing. I finally felt at peace, and it was the best feeling in the world.

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The Release Project: Guilt

I have a guilty conscious. I am the person that walked into a store, looks around but doesn’t buy, and walks out hoping that the people don’t think that I just stole something. Yup. I am the person who thinks, “Did I do that?” When I most certainly hadn’t seen, or communicated with that person in weeks.

Some people would classify this as “Well, you care too much about what people think about you?” Yes, but no. I care about what the people are that the closest to me think of me. If I cared too much about what people think about me, I could never do what I do daily. Teaching is getting up in front of children and not caring about how they view you, because you’re there and they are there. The purpose isn’t a standoff, the purpose is to make sure that they learn something in that time you have them.

I care that my students think that I am fair, kind, and there for them. I don’t care that they think that I’m a tyrant for giving them work as a 4th quarter senior (They keep trying to make this a thing, but it’s not). Before lunch, two of my students literally were so annoyed at the work I keep giving them, they wrote a declaration of how they weren’t going to do work. I laughed at them.

So, no….I don’t get wrapped up in what people think about me. However, I am sensitive. I have always been sensitive. Being sensitive has always been something that I haven’t been totally comfortable with, but it seems that I have start getting comfortable with it because it is most certainly part of me. I am the girl that cried during The Hunchback of Notre Dame when Esmeralda lost consciousness and Quasimodo lifted her up over the cathedral. I was six, and I was sobbing. Why was I crying? I don’t remember at all, I didn’t understand what unrequited love was, but I knew that this was a strong emotion and I had some response to it.

Now, this type of reaction would carry with me my entire life; and I would spend half of my adult life trying to stifle it. Sensitive was a word that I heard very often after this movie. I would cry, scream, express emotions at inappropriate times, usually. I would hold emotions in until I couldn’t take it anymore, and then explode. I was a rollercoaster; most of this was puberty and hormones finding their home, but I can still be a little unpredictable with emotions.

I hated that people called me sensitive. Women in my family aren’t sensitive, they are strong. They are bold, and they don’t let emotions hold them back. I felt like none of these things when I was growing up. I felt disconnected, I felt like I was a black sheep, and I thought that everything that I was annoyed my family. Completely disconnected and totally lost in life, I sought out different ways to cope with these feelings.

I was friends with people that I probably shouldn’t have been friends with in high school, I started (not excessively), drinking, and most of all I started smoking. My mother, my grandmothers, my aunt, and my uncle were all smokers at some point in their lives. Somehow, in my delusional mind, I made the connection to smoking with a family thing—maybe that I would belong or something. I was so lost that I tried everything that I could.

So, smoking and I have had a relationship for the past ten years, on and off. Mostly on. After I mended my relationship with my family and my mother, I started thinking “Why am I still doing this?” It didn’t make sense, because I was doing something that was hurting me. But I thought it was helping me. At this point, smoking made gave me a lot of outs in life—if I felt uncomfortable or annoyed, I could step outside, if I felt awkward I could leave, it was a moment of quiet in my life. It didn’t make sense at all, but to me it did.

My friend, Judy, has been there through the whole smoking ordeal—and I have put her through a lot. I used to lie about this habit, and still partially do, to everyone. My family, my friends, students, coworkers. Because to me, this isn’t me. This is not something that I am, or something that I do. This lie has hurt a lot of people—including myself. But, lying about it hurt a lot of people in my life. It especially hurt my relationship with Judy. I lied about it constantly, and I just never listened to her. Partially, because it was because I wanted to do my own thing, and sew my oats. At that time, I was disconnected with smoking, because I was hiding it the best that I could, but it wasn’t really that great.

So, recently, I have been thinking about giving this habit up for good. It just doesn’t make sense for me—I have been working on me, who I am, and what I stand for. I had this habit, but I was going to yoga, I was working out, I was trying to eat healthy, but I was still smoking. I would break off of my cigarettes, but then I would experience something that would send me back to my habit. Fibro pain, my father’s death, stress, nervous breakdowns. I was sifting through so many things, that I didn’t know which way was up—who was I?

Since I started this “journey” (that I haven’t been consistent about documenting), I have been doing a lot of thinking. Mostly about who I am, and embracing myself completely; faults and all.  And, I have been trying to answer this disconnect this question about why I still have this habit that I swear I will stop, but seem to pick it back up. I have learned to cope with my own stress (I have really tried to bad stress in my life completely, because of the fibro), I have come to grips with my father’s death (and still go back and forth with grieving), and all the ups and downs in life I have learned to deal with it all.

So, how do I connect the dots now with smoking and my life. Well, there is no connection. For the past few days, I have been feeling low energy. I feel like I am giving out more than I am taking in The kids, people that I work with, there are things that have been out of my control that have been taking a toll on me. Like I said before, I have always been sensitive and I take on a lot from other people. A lot of problems that are not my own, I seem to take them on.

One of the girls that is in my grad class seems to be having a hard time, and I don’t know the whole story but I got a little stressed out for her. I don’t even know the whole story, but I felt so bad for her that she was feeling bad. I couldn’t make sense of it all. It was totally misplaced and weird, because the pain became my pain. How does this make sense? It doesn’t. Somehow, now smoking and stress has becoming to feeling stress and pain for other; overly empathetic. I felt that strong urge to start smoking again because of the pain that I was feeling for another person.

I have been thinking about this a lot the last few days, and I think that I found the connection for my disconnect. I experience and feel pain that is not my pain to feel, so I go back to something that should not be part of me. So, now I am struggling to put this habit down—the last few days I have slipped with letting this habit go. I pick it up, but them immediately regret it. It’s like I go into a trance when I want a cigarette. It’s all I think about, I legitimize it, and I make it reasons why I should do it. I know that I shouldn’t, I know that I don’t need it, but for some reason I think that if I just do it a little bit—it won’t be that bad.

But, now it’s hurting me in so many ways. It hurts my body, physically and it’s hurting my emotional game as well. I am relying on something that does not give anything back to me, at all. I have this abusive relationship with smoking, I know that it hurts me and doesn’t respect me but I keep going back to it and cannot break up with it. But, I want to make that change. I want to make that move. I have all these plans to be healthier and get better. I ordered all these vitamins, I have doing yoga, my prayers have definitely been off, but I think I need to fix that when I feel the urge to smoke. I need to be patient with myself, I need to forgive myself for the times that I have hurt myself, but that doesn’t mean that I need to continue down this road or make this my life.

Time to break up with the bad,  and get in a relationships with the good.

The Release Project: Introduction

Lent. Call me a traditionalist, but I love Lent. I love what this time brings, I love the symbolism of the season, and I love that this is a time that people can stop and contemplate their relationship with God. Now, for Catholics, typically Lent is a time that we think about things to give up. In grade school, things to give up were chocolates, soda, candy, or a bad habit that we wanted to break. When I got to college, lapsing in my Catholic tradition, I decided that one year I was going to give up coffee. Such. A. Bad. Idea. Seriously, my addiction to coffee was so high in college—constantly pumping my system because writing papers and going to sorority functions were my life and I needed to keep going.

(The more that I digest this fibro thing, the more I realize that my college lifestyle definitely did not help my condition.)

Even when I walked away from the faith for a bit, I still loved Lent. I would think about giving things up, but would never really do it. I was angry with God at the time, and I decided that I didn’t want to give something up for Him. Once the fire was reignited, it was like that I had a new understanding of Lent. It wasn’t so much about giving up something, and denying yourself of something that you love; it is about symbolizing the sacrifice that Jesus made and giving yourself back to Him.

For the past few years, instead of giving something up I would do something extra. Two years ago, I tried to get to mass everyday—or a couple days out of the week to get myself in the right frame of mind for school. Last night I was thinking about what I was going to do for Lent this year. Getting up for mass every day before work would be hard for me now, so that’s out. Maybe I could get to Mass on Saturday mornings and a Friday morning here and there. I was also thinking about adding in more Eucharistic adoration back into my life. I used to go all the time, but grad school and life seemed to take over and I couldn’t make the time.

I thought that something was missing. I was talking to my friend about what else I could do, and things that I would give up for Lent. Judy is my mentor. Next to my mother, she is one of the most influential people in my life. Our friendship started out as one of student and teacher. When I decided that I wanted to become a teacher in my senior year of high school, she was the person that I looked to for advice. From there she and I developed this wonderful trusting relationships where we can talk about everything. She was the one that also helped me back into my faith after a particularly rough time in my life.

When my grandmother died, I was angry with God…angry with everyone. She was the one person, at that time in my life, was there for me when I felt no one else was and it hurt to lose her. So, during this time, I wasn’t going to mass or praying, and honestly thought religion was stupid. Judy never gave up on me. She was patient and kind, and talked me through so many rough patches. Although at times it was really hard, we came out on the other side of things, and I would like to thank her for the inspiration for this project.

The Release Project is what I am going to be doing during Lent to focus on developing my relationship with God and with myself. Yes, at first, it might sound selfish. But, it’s totally not. If we focus on the positives things in our lives, and the positive qualities that we have, then it makes it easy to see God and Jesus in those around us.

Judy sent me an article from Daily World, part of USA Today titled, “19 things to give up for Lent that aren’t chocolate.” This list is awesome, and was exactly what I was looking for. The 19 things are:

  1. Fear: God is on my side. In Him I am more than a conqueror. (See Romans 98)
  2. The need to please everyone: I can’t please everyone anyway. There is only one I need to strive to please.
  3. Envy: I am blessed. My value is not found in my possessions, but in my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
  4. Impatience: God’s timing is the perfect timing.
  5. Sense of entitlement: The world does not owe me anything. God does not owe me anything. I live in humility and grace.
  6. Bitterness and Resentment: The only person I am hurting by holding onto these is myself.
  7. Blame: I am not going to pass the buck. I will take responsibility for my actions.
  8. Gossip and Negativity: I will put the best construction on everything when it comes to other people. I will also minimize my contact with people who are negative and toxic and bring other people down.
  9. Comparison: I have my own unique contribution to make and there is no one else like me.
  10. Fear of failure: You don’t succeed without experiencing failure. Just make sure you fall forward.
  11. A spirit of poverty: Believe with God that there is always more than enough and never a lack.
  12. Feelings of unworthiness: You are fearfully and wonderfully made by your creator. (see Psalm 139)
  13. Doubt: Believe God has a plan for you that is beyond anything you could imagine. The future is brighter than you could ever realize.
  14. Self-pity: God comforts us in our sorrow so that we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
  15. Retirement: As long as you are still breathing, you are here for a reason. You have a purpose to influence others for Christ. That does not come to an end until the day we die.
  16. Excuses: A wise man once said, if you need an excuse, any excuse will do.
  17. Lack of counsel: Wise decisions are rarely made in a vacuum.
  18. Pride: Blessed are the humble.
  19. Worry: God is in control and worrying will not help.

What is great is that there are Bible verse to go along with some of the things that we should give up. So, after reading this list I started thinking that I am going to take one things every single day and meditate on it. 40 days in Lent, I could work through this list twice. On Easter Sunday, my hope is that I will walk into mass and release all of thing that do not serve me. Hence, the release project. I want to be able to work on the negative parts in my life that I want to change, and bring out good qualities that I want to show people.

So, here how The Release Project is going to work

  • Word and mantra for the day—I might go in any way what might inspire me, or I might go down the list.
  • I might right this down in the morning, jot my thoughts about the topic,
  • Read a Bible verse that discuss the work or mantra
  • When I get a quiet moment in my day, pray about this. Ask God to free me from this problem
  • Now, this hardest part. Sit and let God talk to me. When I pray, it’s total stream of consciousness. I make lists, talk about problems, but I want this time to be about God talking to me and I need to be receptive to listening to Him.
  • Then I write about a blog post about my experience for the day and if this would be something that I should revisit during my 40 days.

I don’t want to limit myself. If I feel like I need to spend two days on fear of failure, then I am going to spend two days on fear of failure. If there is one word or mantra that you just want to solely work on, do that! This is something for you! This is taking care of yourself!

Part of the process with fibro is taking care of myself mentally and physically, and I have been trying to get a handle of the physical part, but I want to be able to work on the mental part—with the help of God.