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.

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: Pride

Much of my life has been spent in self-reflection. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the person that I want to become, a lot of time figuring out what I am meant to be, and what I want to stand for. Not bad things, right? Well, yes and no. There is nothing wrong with self-reflection and knowing how to read the room. There is nothing wrong with figuring out what you stand for and making sure that is in alignment with what is true in your heart.

The problem comes when you focus too much on defining yourself, that you forget yourself. That you think that you are better than the past life experiences that you have had and have subsequently shaped you. That you negate anything and everything the people closest to you, and really know you have said and want for you. When you become something you are not, because it’s going to please the general public, isn’t authentic and you have lost the point of self-reflection.

For much of my formative years, I was always trying to be like someone because, at that time in my life, I felt that being someone else would be better than being myself. In high school, I struggled with my relationship with my mother. I thought that I would have an easier time to be like my brother who, by his own nature, is much more cynical, practical, and critical. I subconsciously saw how easy it was for my mom and my brother to get along, that I thought if I did that, I would too.

I was so, so, so, so, (times infinity) wrong. I just came across as angry, critical, uncaring, cold, and even though I tried to be something that I wasn’t, I was still sensitive and emotional. So, I was quick tempered, snarky, and just really a bitch. I couldn’t see how I was acting, and didn’t seem to care about what people thought. But, I remember when my grandmother said something to me, “Uncle Kevin thinks you’re being too critical.” Whaaaaaa? Me, of all people? How could he say that? See, I even got mad when someone pointed out a part of myself, that wasn’t myself, and something I knew I needed to change. If that isn’t prideful…

My second really significant phase came when I was senior in high school. I read Virginia Woolf once, and suddenly I was this tragic, romantic figure. Granted, I love Woolf’s writing, but the woman had some demons that she was working on. I felt like I craved for that kind of tragedy in my life, I wanted a place of deep hurt that would give me a reason to act a certain way. Seriously, what the eff was wrong with me? No wonder why my brother always thought I was crazy. I am sure at times it was like living with Eve from Three Faces of Eve.

But, I was yearning for a sense of belonging, because I felt like I was on the outskirts of life. A kid recently just said to me at school, “Ma’am, you must have been really popular, one of the cool kids in high school. You just seem like you would be cool.” I laughed in the kid’s face. I did not divulge to that child that most of my freshmen year was spent watching old movies in my room and crying because I didn’t have any friends. Hey, the kid things I’m cool, I didn’t want to mess up my image. But, if someone has said that to me in high school, I would have ran with it. I would have had this false optimism in my life that people liked me, or at least felt sorry for me.

Because of this sense of belonging, I mad friends that I shouldn’t have. Now, deep down, I am sure that they are both leading really fulfilling lives and making the best of what they have. But, at the time, we were three lost souls that happened to find each other. Our relationship wasn’t meant to last through high school. We got into trouble, we made mistakes, and I did things that are not part of the person that I am now. All three of us were looking to belong, but the other two were looking to belong to something bigger than what we had.

 

Senior year, I also met my friend and mentor, Judy. She was my principal at the time, and is responsible for endlessly trying to get my train back on the tracks. So, of course when she started noticing changes, she said something. She mentored me, she gave me examples of the person to be, how to be with people, and how to care for people. She has been telling me for years that I don’t have to define myself by other people’s standards. Sometimes I listened, and sometimes I decided to go my own path. But, I never really grasped her message—I have to admit that this still happens from time to time.

 

In college, I joined a sorority—but never really felt like a typical sorority girl, so that didn’t stick. But, I drank and I partied—nothing ever to hurt my future; but I did put myself into dangerous situations. Looking back, I probably drank because I was still feeling lost and going to parties gave me something that I felt like I needed at the time. I put myself into situations that I thought would make me feel better, but they never did. They just usually made me feel worse, and this was a pattern that continued.

 

I grew angry and rejected everything that I knew growing up. I rejected family, because I thought that I knew better about myself than they did. I thought that I didn’t fit in with them, that I didn’t belong to them, and it has been a repeated struggle for me. I rejected my faith because I thought that God wasn’t giving me the answers that I wanted. God just kept giving me struggles, he kept giving me things that I didn’t want to handle. At the time, I thought I had put so much faith in him, but He never gave anything back to me. Never in a million years did I ever think the answer to my questions and problems was to humble myself to His Will, instead of trying to fight against it.

 

This periodic up and downs in my life have been sporadic, and each time I seem to go through the same problem. I am trying to live up to expectations that don’t exist. I am trying to live up to expectations that I created for myself, because it was a time when I was not being true to myself. The plan that God has for me was not the one that I was following, and it has been hard to navigate the paths of life because of rollercoaster I was riding one was slowly trying to through me off.

 

When my father died, and being diagnosed, I had to stop and think about what was right for me. I had to think about what was a priority in my life, what were some things that needed to be taken out of my life. I had to rethink life with fibro, and adjust. I had to focus on myself and what was going to add to my life. Well, then I started thinking—who am I? I had tried to define myself in all these ways, but I never actually figured out who I really was.

 

I started an odd healing process during my time spent in graduate school—I was doing something that I loved. I was learning, I was exploring, I was asking questions, and I was learning about things and topics that were of interest to me. So, now I was doing something that I loved, I started to focus on love. My faith was strong already, but it got better. I felt like I was having an authentic relationship with God because I was listening to Him, not simply asking him of things. I was trying to put difficult situations into His perspective; trying to figure out what God was trying to tell me.

 

My relationships with people got better because I was focusing on being me, and not what they wanted me to be. Life with fibro has meant, expressing myself truly and honestly—and if people can’t accept that, then I can’t make them like me. I learned that listening to people, is better than just talking and talking and talking. The most important thing that I learned was not letting someone else or something else to define you—regardless of what others tell you are made in the image and likeness of God. So, be forgiving of others, especially of yourself.

The Release Project: One Year

Today is a hard day—regardless of how well my day does, it is going to be a hard today, a year ago my father passed away. I cannot believe it’s a full year; there were months when the 7th came up and I thought, “Wow, 4 months.” I couldn’t imagine how I would feel when a year came around. Well, not I am here and I am okay. But, it’s hard. Thank God that I am on Spring Break, because I don’t think I have the headspace to be able to give myself of the kids—and that’s okay. Both my mother and my aunt took a day off from work.

We, along with my mother’s brother, went to mass this morning. 8 am mass, quick and painless. But, I remembered sitting at mass days after my father died, and even up before that. Mom and I would go to mass before we would head to the hospital to see Dad. So, Uncle Kevin and I took up the gifts, and it was nice to be in a safe place to start my day. I felt my Dad there, not that I don’t with most things that I do, honestly. But, I especially found him during the “Our Father.” Mom and I were standing next to each other, and there was another woman down at the end of the pew. She was older, I have seen in her church before. But, without warning, she came over and held my mother’s hand.

Which, most would think is a sweet gesture, but you don’t know my mother. She loves her space, she loves her bubble, so a woman that she didn’t know grabbing her hand during prayer freaked her out. Seriously, you would have thought she was sitting next to a serial killer. I laughed, Father laughed from the altar, and I leaned in and said, “That’s Dad. Teasing you.” It made my mom laugh. Which, on a day like this, was a welcome relief.

I think until I start to lose my mind, I will replay the days that my father went into the hospital every single day. I will think of the people, of the support, and of the love that was shown to our family. It was, simply, amazing and awe-inspiring. It was such a testament to my dad and how he lived his life—he would have been humbled. It helps when I remember those days when Dad got worse, and it makes it easier to heal.

I went to working not realizing anything. I went to class that night thinking that he was okay. I came from class and realized that it was quiet. Tommy was sitting at the kitchen table, Matthew was sitting in the family room. Matthew tells me from the kitchen, “Kate, dad was in the hospital.” So, my first instinct was to say, “Dad, why were you in the hospital.” Tommy responds, “He’s still there. Dad has a stroke.” Pause. A long pause. What was going on? What happened? A stroke, what does that mean? Is he going to be okay? Small stroke? What’s the difference anyway?

I ran up to my mother’s bedroom and asked her if it was true. My emotions ranged from angry, pissed, sad, confused, concerned. I didn’t know what to say, or what to do. Why didn’t anyone call me? “What would you have done, just sat around and waited?” I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what to do. I texted, I called, I sat and I thank. I was told that he was going to be okay, but something in my stomach told me that I need to start preparing myself for something more.

I didn’t know what to expect from this whole thing. I was told at the time, and we all firmly believed that Dad was going to be okay. I mean, people have strokes all the time. Tuesday came and went, I went to see him and he said that he was going to be okay. He knew that I was worried. One thing that I miss about my Dad was that he knew what was bothering me before I even had to say anything—he always knew when I was upset or angry. And, he offered a word of practical wisdom and comfort. This time, he just said, “It’s okay, Kate.” His speech was slurred, he was pissed that he was in the hospital, and he wasn’t hungry. I was so afraid to leave him.

That day he was supposed to get an ECHO and a CAT scan. Before I left, he had the ECHO, but no CAT scan. Wednesday morning I was getting ready for work, and the phone rang. My dad fell, and he still didn’t have the CAT scan. I went to work, but something felt off. It didn’t feel right. I was at work for a little bit of the morning, and then I decided to leave. I had to get out of there. I went straight to the hospital, and my father still didn’t have the CAT scan. Finally, after I stopped home and got changed, my father went in for CAT scan. We waited for what felt like 6 hours, when finally, the doctor came back. My father had had a stroke, but it wasn’t a normal stroke. It was a brain stem stroke. His neurologist explained that two of his arteries were not pumping blood to his brain, and that he kept having a series of strokes.

It didn’t sound good, and the options that he was given were not great. Whatever option he was given, seemed to end up with his as a vegetable or he would die. My father decided, before he know this all happened, that he would operate if needed. It seemed like the best options; the last that I saw my father, my real father was when they were wheeling him out. He was making jokes with the nurses and the transport service, but he was scared. I never saw my Dad scared of anything—but this I could feel. I was scared, too.

So, he had the surgery that was going to unblock his arteries, which was surprisingly very short. It seemed like it should have taken more time. But, when you are in a situation like this, you are constantly in a time warp. You have no idea which end is up, and you are focused on being there for your family. So, Dad made it out of the surgery, and had oxygen—but he wouldn’t keep the mask on. Which greatly frustrated his nurses. I don’t know what the protocol for patients after surgery, but my dad badly wanted to talk to us and see how we were doing. That was my Dad; amid facing a life or death situation, Dad was worried about us.

Dad struggled and, true to form, did not listen to the nurses. He had to be restrained and intubated. My father was incredibly stubborn—which was both a positive and negative quality in his life. It meant that he had the courage of his convictions, but it also meant that he never backed down from a fight and would never compromise on certain things. It was a quality that I admired about my dad, when it was in a positive light. However, he was picking the wrong time to be stubborn. He wanted to talk and be with us, but he wouldn’t take care of himself.

So, he had to be sedated in order to be intubated (which, for the record, I kept calling incubated…ugh, Dad would have laughed at that one). However, apparently, the sedation wasn’t enough for my dad, and he woke up and extubated himself. Yes, my father pulled the intubation tube out of this throat. Now, not even havening being intubated in my life, I told my friend Linda, who had a heart transplant and no stranger to intubation, she was shocked. I could tell from her words that this was not a smart decision, and how much that probably hurt my dad. *Sigh* That’s my Dad.

So, that had to sedate my father again, this time…my father would not wake up from the sedation. Between his blood pressure, which ironically was keeping him alive at this point (his blood pressure was so freaking high, and he never wanted to take anything for it *insert eye roll emjoi*) and the fact that he keep having a series of strokes, nothing looked good. In fact, at this point he was most definitely going to die.

Now, at this point, my mother and I have been at the hospital for in an out of week—people kept coming in and out, it didn’t seem like anyone was going to work, but there was always someone there with us. That Saturday, the Saturday before he died, I was getting a little stir crazy at this point—the cousins and my aunt’s and uncle’s were steadily filtering in and out of house, so when Saturday came around, we figured we would all hang out together. I decided that I wanted to go to mass. St. Patrick’s was also having 40 Hours, so if I could get to confession, adoration, and mass all in one shot that would have been amazing.

So, I went, hoping that no one would join me. And, I sat and prayed. I prayed for my father; that he would be released from his pain however it was in God’s Will. I wanted to understand, I wanted to be happy that my father wasn’t going to suffer any longer, but I couldn’t. This was my dad. I, at that point, was 26—I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I didn’t expect to lose my parents until they were in the 90s, not when my dad was barely in his 60s. That selfish part of me took over. I was angry, I wanted answers, I wanted to believe that this was how it was meant to be but I couldn’t.

I went to confession and it was the most honest confessions that I have ever had in my life. As an adult, I have always viewed confession as a sort of therapy; you tell the priest was is bothering you and hurting you because it is taking away from the person that God wants you to be. The only time I had a priest not understand that was when a priest told me that I should see a therapist—wow, thanks, Father.

But, not my priest. I told him how angry was I was with God, and I explained that I am trying to see this in the better light. But, I can’t. That my father was dying and I was sad. I was so sad. He would be missing so much. He wouldn’t be there to walk me down the aisle, meet his grandchildren, see my brother graduate high school. There is so much that he would be missing, and I was mad.

I told him about losing my grandmother, and how much my faith was rocked when I was college. How I walked away, how I shut out God from my life because I couldn’t understand why He would take someone from me. Part of me expected to hear “Go to a therapist, talk to someone.” But, Father and I had a conversation. He told me that I am allowed to be mad at God, right now because it’s expected. I can be mad because I am hurting, but He knows that I will find my was back to him when I was ready. I didn’t want to lose my faith again, because I have seen the amazing things that faith does for people. What it has done for my grandmother and my mother. That maintaining a close relationship with God helps us overcome difficult times in our lives.

I left confession feeling like a deflated balloon. Not because I thought it didn’t help me, but because I just felt exhausted from pouring my heart out. When mass started, I started to cry and I cried until mass was done. It was a release, it was grieving, it was time that I had to myself to process my dad’s death. After mass friends of my dad and people we know at church came over to talk to me, and I lost it again. I barely knew these people, but I couldn’t help be tell them everything that was happening.

God must have heard my prayer that afternoon, because from that moment on I relied on God more than I ever had before. In the time after my father’s death, I went to mass every morning. I put my brother on the bus, and went to mass. I felt comfortable and safe. God had seen me at my worst, but was helping me heal and get through those long and hard days.

My mother always told me what faith was got our family through, and now I know exactly what she is talking about. I don’t like my family or friends see me break down, I never let them see me cry. Which, was part of the reason why my family thought that I was internalizing my father’s death. To an extent, I probably was, and still maybe. But, I really can’t tell. My father’s death was certain traumatic for me and my family—to be dealing with this unexpected situation is never easy.

My friends thought that I had PTSD, which I thought, and still think, is ridiculous. I work with Veterans who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. THAT is traumatic—losing a parent is awful, but I don’t think the situations are comparable. But, then again, why does it even have to be compared? Trauma and sorrow are different for everyone; it doesn’t matter what the situation is.   It goes back to the Lenten reflections that we don’t know what another person was asked to walk through.

Which, might be why people think I downplay my dad’s death. And, I don’t at all, with my family and my friends. They know what I am hurting, they know what this has been a hard year, and they know what when I need them they will be there. But, I also don’t know what other people are asked to walk through. Every situation, every loss, every hard time, is a burden for someone. Which sounds very vague, but that is because what someone goes through is a personal part of their lives. It is a part that we might feel comfortable showing everyone, but only want to show those who are really close to us.

I think that this comes from my dad—empathy, and being there for someone when it counts. Dad was, at times, not much of a talker, but that is because I have learned that my father demonstrated by actions, rather than words. There was never a lecture on how to treat people in your life or what it means to be a good person, but Dad simply lived it. I think that it was more important to Dad for us to see him doing things for other people and be a living proof of these qualities that he wanted us to have. Not because he wanted to be put on a pedestal, but he wanted to see his children to become good people and care about those around him.

Aside from being humble, Dad was also very generous. He showed us that to give up your time for other people can be the greatest gift that you could give someone. When my father was able to do something for another person, he always did it. Whether it was fixing up a kitchen or painting, my dad would be there to help out. He never asked for any praise or acknowledgement, but whenever he would make someone else’s life a little easier he would do it. These acts that Dad did showed us how important it is to give of yourself to other people because it is what you do for the people that you love.

The best quality that Dad showed to us was unconditional love. My dad was always proud of his children, and our parents always trusted us to make the decisions that were right for us. He never tried to persuade us into anything that we could not put our full passion into—he wanted us to love what we did. For me, it is hard to explain how Dad showed us unconditional love, because it was something that was just part of him as a father. Regardless of what we did in our lives or how many times my brothers and I riddled him with pointless, hard to answer questions, he showed us that as long as we were doing what we loved with the people that we loved, not much else in the world mattered.

I am going to miss the nights that I sat with at the kitchen table with Dad and pestering him while he watched “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”. It was at that table that I learned the important values that he wanted to teach us kids. He showed me, but not necessarily told me, that to do things in love is the most important things you can do in your life. He taught me that although it might not always be reciprocated or acknowledged, but the love that you put out will always finds a way back to you.

In our faith, we are taught that love conquers all things, even death itself. While we mourn my Dad’s death, his love for my mother, for my brothers and me, and the rest of his family is a gentle reminder that we will always carry him and his memory with us in our lives forever.

The Release Project: Be Gentle

Yesterday was a good day. Yesterday I watched my goddaughter get baptized in the Catholic Church. When my cousin asked me to be the godmother to Viviane, I was a little bit shocked. I mean, Carolyn and I have always been close, but I thought of a dozen other people that I thought would make a better godmother than myself. I mean, here I am just going about my business—why do I get this great honor? To be a witness to such a great gift, a great experience, and I get to be a part of it all. I was, and still am, humbled. It was so beautiful being able to be a witness to my goddaughter; and promise to help her grown in the love and presence of God.

I realized that this weekend I missed blogging. I could come up with excuses as to why I didn’t get around to it, but the truth is that I was feeling lazy. I would think of things to write, but I was just feeling uninspired. Part of it was I started Spring Break at school, and I was just enjoying the fact that I was getting a much-needed break. But, I was also thinking of other things—money, the baptism, and so many things that caused me unnecessary anxiety.

During Lent I get these emails from Dynamic Catholic for a series called Best Lent Ever.  They are daily emails that have a video and reflections for that day during Lent. I loved getting them last year, but I have fallen behind on the videos—I am consistent with being inconsistent. So, this afternoon after I did yoga I caught up on the series. I actively tried to take notes and listen to what was being said in the videos. This past weekend, and maybe longer than that, I have been in a funk. I just felt like something was on my spirit, and when I get like that it’s pretty hard for me to bounce back, at least spiritually.

I was going through the reflections, and was noticing a pattern. It’s all about happiness and allowing yourself to stop resisting happiness in your life and that happiness that God wants for you. I wrote about things that make me happy—being present in the moment, practicing yoga, and prayer. I listed things that make me unhappy—comparison, insecurity, and judgment. As I listened to Matthew Kelly explain that we have this void that only God can fill, and we often seek things that to not bring us closer to God because we are lost and the things seek out are not big enough to fill God’s place.

The reflection for today really spoke to me. It was titled “Life is Messy.” Isn’t that the truth—I mean, I always seem to have this part of my life where I feel on top of the world, but then I get drawn into this negativity and this passivity that adds nothing to my life. I don’t feel happy, I feel overwhelmed, my attitude changes, and I know that I am not being true to who I am and what God wants for me.

I woke up today sore—I almost didn’t want to get out of bed. Saturday night we were out late, and I had a little too much wine. So, Sunday morning was rough in the beginning—but since coming to grips with fibro, any night like that will set me back a few days. But, I was just feeling blah. I didn’t want to try for anything, I just want to lay in bed all day. But, something in my head refused to let that feeling take over, and I got up. I went to Rite Aid to get my meds, came home, threw out some old products in my drawers, and decided that I was going to do something yoga.

I felt like I need something gentle. I follow Yoga with Adriene on YouTube—she is great! Bubbly, happy, and her practice is all about finding what feels goods. So, you don’t have the worry about staring at her making sure your pose is exactly like hers. At the beginning of the year she started this Revolution series—where you practice taking care of yourself and learning to move through love and gratitude on the mat—in hopes that it will transfer off the mat. The first day of the series—Practice Ease. Sign me up.

This was a little more fast paced than Yin, but it was not Vinyasa. Yin is good for days where you might be having a little flare or are feeling stiff, but want to do something to make you feel better. Yin really clears my headspace when I am fight fibro fog. But, this was easy. The movements were more about finding and creating space in the body to make room in the future. It was a little challenging, and I did break a sweat; but I feel so much better about after done something that I always promise myself to do…but never actually end of doing.

I did some of the reflections after yoga, and like a stared previously, the reflection for today was perfectly in line with the yoga practice I did. The focus was on being gentle with yourself and with other because you never know what someone else is carrying on their shoulders. Something just clicked in my mind about this was a day to be gentle to myself. I take my medications, I make sure to pray, do some sort of movement with the body, say no to things that don’t serve you, and do things that you really enjoy.

While it still might be difficult to move around and focusing on tasks, I know that if I move with gentleness and ease, it will make the day better for me. Focusing on the steps to getting there instead of worrying about the final destination helps me keep myself in check, and be gentle with myself.

The Release Project: Impatience

I am not a patient person. I have tried hard to be patient, but it’s a quality that I can never seem to grasp. For one, I want things immediately, more often than not. When I schedule something or pay for something (like student loans and such), I don’t want to wait the time for things to be taken away. I just want to rip the band-aid off.

As a teacher, I have worked greatly on my patience. I used to lose my temper really quickly with my classes, especially when they were not doing what I was asking–but working there I am now, patience is something that my students really value. Not because they tell me this, but their actions speak louder than words.

Teaching all boys is the messiest job I have ever had–literally and figuratively. They are noisy, they are big, they are 17-18 and easily revert back to 10 and 11 year olds. They yell at each other, they fight, they are inappropriate, but they are real. One of the things that I needed to adjust working here was my patience. With boys, you have to walk them through certain things, but you have to be careful not to order them around. Tell boys what to do works for the younger grades, but with my seniors–they have to believe that the choice they are making in their’s, not something that you are making them do.

They are feeling their oats right now, they are tapped in a weird place of adolescence and adulthood; they are trying to figure out what path is for them and how far they can go with certain things in their lives. Growing up with two brothers, I saw the bad side of being surrounded by guys. They are no-holds bars, they are in your face, and they will call you on your b.s. faster than you can get the sentence out of your mouth.

But, working here, I have seen the finer side of young men. They are compassionate, they are caring, they are sympathetic, and they try their hardest to help–but sometimes their motives are mistaken as something more than they are. But, in order to see this, you have to let them be themselves. You have to let them become who they want to be, and you can’t push them in certain direction.

In my personal life, I have a problem with patience with relationships. Romantic and platonic. I have a problem with being patient with making decisions, waiting to tell people certain things, and just wanting something to go in a direction that another person might not want to go in.

In romantic relationships, I might be the least patient person in the world–and also the most indecisive. I once when on a date with a guy that was fully ready to commit to a relationship (which was something that I thought that I wanted), but then go totally freaked out when it came right down to it. I wanted constant communication, I wanted a sense of belonging, but once I got that–I high tailed it out of there after a few weeks of talking.

The next guy that I dated was completely the opposite–totally aloof. He was nice, he was funny, and listened to me. He was shy, to an extent and I was annoyed that he wasn’t making more of an effort. I always had to make the decisions, I always had to pick where and when we met–and I wasn’t sure it that was he wanting to make sure that we were doing something that I wanted to do, or he was just wasn’t that into it. Or he was waiting for something more, which was something that was not going to happen in the immediate future.

So, I got out of there, too. Both of these relationships, looking back on it, I was glad to have. I dated a guy that was full force and I dated a guy drug his feet. I was impatient, and changed my mind constantly and doubted how I was feeling. I wasn’t sure what was right for me at the time, but I think that these experiences made me value what I am looking for in a partner.

I want to be with someone that is going to value and cherish me for who I am; not someone they want me to be later. I want to be with someone that I am going to value and cherish for who they are, not for who I want them to be. Things like a good sense of humor, compassion, and kind disposition are nice things to look for in a man, but they might not manifest themselves until much later in the relationships. As much as we don’t think so, men shield themselves, too, when it comes to matters of the heart.

I never wanted to the time to get to know the person, I always wanted to fast forward to a place where we would be happy and in a relationship–the idea of getting to know and understand someone was something that I did not want to much effort into or something that I didn’t think that I needed to do. With the right person, all of these things will be come naturally, and I won’t have worry about doing or saying the right things because, not everything I say is going to be the right thing–and that’s okay.

Being with someone doesn’t mean that everything has to be perfect 100% of the time–the beauty of the relationships is having those bad and stressful moments, being able to be angry or annoyed with someone, but still be able to love them anyway. In these moments, relationships grow stronger and you grow together despite what is facing you. Thought of eventually getting to share that with someone makes me so happy and so hopeful for what is to come in my future; but for now I only have to be patient. 😉

 

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.