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: 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: 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.