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: It Starts with Love

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.