Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Off to a Start

What kind of start I'm not exactly sure, but it's a start!

I actually woke up and got ready efficiently enough to make it to morning Mass, which helps with the fasting in addition to being just plain the best way to start your day. But, on the way from Mass to work I caught myself complaining around half dozen times... and it's only a 15 minute drive!

I don't think fasting is necessarily any more difficult for me than for anyone else, but I am a food person. Food to have something to do with your hands, food if you're bummed, food to celebrate, food if you "have a taste for" something, food to have a full belly; lots of reasons to eat in my little world. So today, fasting, what do I think about every time I get up from my desk - you guessed it, food! I am thankful for having had the opportunity to begin my day with the Real Food and Real Drink of the Eucharist, by God's Grace, every time I think of food today I remember that I am fasting. And why am I fasting? Well, if you said "Because it's Ash Wednesday you might be missing the point. I happened to read a great post at Adam's Ale about purposefully practic[ing] acts of denial, charity, and penance. I highly recommend it.

As for the complaining, well, the Complaint Free World idea is to switch a bracelet from wrist to wrist when you complain. I ordered one (and now think I didn't need to, alas and alack) but don't have it yet, so I decided to use a rosary ring given to me by a friend. The ring fits on my forefinger and not only do I move it from left to right (and back again) when I complain, but becuase it's a rosary I was inspired - deep breath, drumroll, can you imagine - to PRAY when I caught myself complaining. Now why didn't I think of that sooner?

So, here am I at my desk on Ash Wednesday - wearing my ashy smudge on my forehead in spite of the Gospel exhortation to " anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden." - fasting, praying, and working on the practice of not complaining.

Just for the record, how do we reconcile the "wash your face" exhortation with the fact that we walk around ashy all day? My intent is not to have people see my ashy smudge, I was blessed to be able to start my day with Mass, nevertheless, it's there and so I do "appear to others to be fasting"...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Catholic Blogs

All I can say is, "Wow!"

I knew there were Catholic bloggers out there, my very good friend at Franciscan Focus introduced me to the blogosphere, and Adoro Te Devote is the one who inspired me to finally jump in the pond and swim. I'd heard of Amy Wellborn and the Curt Jester, but after deciding to follow a number of blogs I discover that each blogger has a list of blogs they follow, and those bloggers follow others, and on and on it goes. Now, there are some folk who follow the same folk, but the lists still go on and on (did I say that already?)

Now, on the one hand, this is a little intimidating. I am neither a brilliant researcher, political analyst, or witty commentator. But what I find really amazing is that by entering the blogosphere I have entered a whole new realm of educational resources. Now, the risk is there that I may come upon some heterodoxical blogger who thinks the pope ought to ordain women or some such nonsense, but there are so many wonderful orthodox bloggers out there that I'm pretty sure I'll be able to winnow the wheat from the chaff. Now... where to find the time to read all these wonderful blogs...

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Complaint Free Lent

A few years ago I read about a church that started a program of not complaining. So, when I felt called to a complaining fast this Lent, I went to A Complaint Free World on the world wide web. People trying to live complaint free wear a purple bracelet (how fitting for Lent, eh?) and every time they complain, switch the bracelet from one wrist to the other. The general idea is to make it 21 days without complaining, and thereby creating a complaint free habit. The Lenten idea, for me anyways, is to teach myself to control with whom I share which information. Does everyone in the office need to know that I'm in a fibro flare up and am having a hard time walking? Probably not. Do they see me walking weird, of course, but I don't need to complain about it. Over the weekend I was having an exceptionally difficult time walking, and especially on stairs. I kept reminding myself to "trouble he who troubles me" and didn't avoid activities that required going up and down the stairs. Complaining about my physical issues has been my way of seeking human consolation rather than divine consolation, and it's difficult to offer up a pain that you're busy whining about, so I'm looking forward to focusing more on my relationship with God than with just anyone who will listen.

What I think I will find difficult is not complaining about everything else. Last week something frustrating occurred in the course of a claim, and I said to a co-worker, "Can we ban stupid people?" I have learned that I have a very low tolerance for mistakes in others (we won't get in to the mistakes I make - planks and splinters for sure). Never-the-less, I figure if I put detailed intructions in writing, and provide my e-mail and phone number in case anything is unclear or there are any questions, then by yiminy if I don't hear from you with questions I expect what I requested in detailed instructions! Right? Yeah, not so much. In fact, earlier that day I had mentioned to the same co-worker my complaining fast, so when I asked my him if we can ban stupid people his first response was, "Is that complaining?" Earlier he had seemed pretty tickled by the fact that he gets to hold me accountable to the complaining fast if he catches me complaing, so he said he was clarifying whether this comment fell into the parameters.

So! Fat Tuesday tomorrow - and no I will not be a compaint glutton tomorrow as a last "hurrah" - and then, Lent. This will be a good Lent for a complaining fast as it is booked pretty solid, and fatigue makes me more whiney. I'm actually a little nervous, and wonder if I'm over-extended, but committments have been made, so we'll see what happens. So far today, I don't think I've complained about anything, although, I have been alone in my office pretty much all morning...

A Lenten Motto: Phillipians 2:14,15

Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world... (NAB)

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe... (NIV)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Joy in Pain Part 3

In a comment to my first post on Joy in Pain, Joseph shared a teaching of St. Seraphim, that to those who "asked him why he carried a bag of heavy stones on his back, when he was obviously in enough pain and agony with his health, [he would say] "O my dear brother/sister, I am merely troubling he who troubles me!" Around the same time I read an article in Pray! magazine that pointed out that in Psalm 62 we are encouraged to "pour out [our] hearts to him, for God is [our] refuge." These two statements tell me that I can do at least two things with my pain. I can either embrace and welcome it, "thumbing my nose" if you will at the one who brought pain into the world. Or, if I've got complaining or whining in my heart, I need to pour that out to God so that once it is out, He can pour in to my heart something so much better - Joy.

I find it not at all coincidental that these two teachings should be presented to me as I prepare to celebrate the season of Lent. The season of Lent is a Joyful season, (many of the Eucharistic prayers for Lent remind us of this joy) so it's no surprise to me that that God is calling me to refocus on the joy in my pain. In fact, as I said in my reply to Joseph's comment, I had initially only planned on a 2 part Joy in Pain 'series' because I was feeling a little stuck in the whining side of my pain. But thanks to these two halves of a newly forming whole, I get to move on, not just to "part 3" in a blog, but to a closer walk with the Source of Joy.

I can't write in any great depth on either of these statements today, but that's not the point in sharing them. The point is that they are there. The point is that I have the next clue on the treasure map. The point is that, recognizing I was stuck, I have now been given the leverage to get un-stuck. What an exciting, joy filled Lent I have ahead of me! And, by Easter, or Pascha as it is called in the East, I should have a lot more to say about "troubling he who troubles me" and "pour[ing]ing out [my] heart to... God".

Joy in Pain Part 2

I mentioned in my previous blog that I have fibromyalgia, and included a link to the Web MD overview. But that doesn't really paint the picture, so before I go any further, I want to give you a better idea of how I frame the fibromyalgia picture.

First, I'd like you to imagine that you spent yesterday with the craziest trainer in the world. Though you've never worked out a day in your life, your trainer had you weight training like a WWE wrestler all morning, doing cardio like an Olympian all afternoon, and then put you back on weights in the evening. You then spent all night working on a project, the success or failure of which would mean either getting a promotion or losing your job. You then took a two hour nap somewhere around 4 am before getting up to get ready for work. Now, in addition to the mental and physical fatigue and the body soreness and stiffness, imagine there's a tribe of microscopic, invisible gremlins running around inside your body with sledgehammers and ice-picks, and they may strike anytime, anywhere. Have the mental picture? Good - that's your introduction to fibromyalgia.

Don't get me wrong, most days those gremlins don't do enough to hold down a job in the real world, and the fatigue and soreness is more of an irritant than anything else. But on days like today, when the 'symptoms' raise from a 1 -2 to a 5-6 on that pain scale, they become a very irritating interruption. Something that should take one minute takes five, something that should take five minutes may take fifteen. I can still do everything I need to do, it's just more difficult. And quite frankly, today I'm not going to get in to the 8 -9 level days. If you want to imagine it, take the above description and imagine it's a 75 year old doing all that.

So, now that I've provided an overview of fibromyalgia, you may be thinking based on my comments about Assisi that I am the most joyful person in the world. I wish I could say it were so, but I am sorry to say that what happened in Assisi doesn't happen every day. It "happened" in Assisi; it was a gift by the grace of God so I know it's possible, I know it exists - I know it's a choice. But, it's a choice I don't always make. Many days I am a complaining, whining, pity-partying fool. When a gremlin does strike, I am just as likely to stop in my tracks and wait for the pain to stop before continuing my work as I am to keep working, even though I know the pain is just a nerve misfiring, and nothing is actually wrong. Sometimes, if someone calls me at the wrong time, or makes the mistake of asking "how are you?" as they walk by, (the fact that most people ask that in passing without waiting for an answer is a topic for another blog!) they might even get an earful. But even though I whine and complain to others maybe 10% of the time, the rest of my whining and complaining is all internal, "self talk" as some call it, and rarely, when I think about it, directed to God. I sit in my chair or lay in bed and feel sorry for myself and ask myself why it's so hard "to offer it up" and why can't I be as easily joyful as I was in Assisi... I get caught up in thinking about how irritating, or annoying, or distracting, or hurtful, or frustrating the pain is... I get wrapped up in the negative, and because I don't want to "burden" anyone, or be the person who only calls a friend when she's miserable, I dwell there as though it were my home.

This is not the way I want to live my life. I think it was Matthew Kelly who I once heard ask, "Are you going to let your mortal body control your immortal soul?" I want to live in Assisi, not in Whine World. I want to be full of Joy, not full of frustration and complaining...

Thankfully, although the end of this particular post, this isn't the end of the story.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Joy in Pain Part 1

There seem to be conflicting views in the world on suffering and pain, and I have to say from my personal experience that the two most amazing, joyful days in my life were also the two most excruciatingly painful days of my life - and considering I have chronic kidneys stones, that's saying something!

In the summer of 2005 I was blessed to be a chaperone on a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, Italy and Cologne, Germany for World Youth Day, but before I can talk about the pilgrimage I have to back up a little. In April of that year I had moved in to a new aprtment. Due to problems with my right foot, I carried all the "heavy stuff" on my left side, and started to experience some pain in my left hip. I didn't think much of it until I noticed that trying to baby my left hip and my right foot was causing my right hip to jump on the pain wagon. Finally, around the 4th of July, the pain became so severe that I had to go to the doctor. When the nurse called my name to go back to the exam room and saw how I was walking she offerred me a wheelchair. To give you an idea of how bad the pain was, my blood pressure - normally 80s/40s - 90s/50s - was 112/96 (or somewhere therabouts). The pain was so bad that even with 1,000 mg of Vicodin and 500 mg of Naproxen (my prescribed dosages) I was in so much pain I couldn't sleep, I could barely move, and all I really could do was cry... this moment in life was just one month away from a two week pilgrimage. And what do you do on a pilgrimage? Aside from praying of course - you WALK! (By the way, the diagnosis was bursitis.)

So August rolls around - I have a large backpack with everything I'm going to need for two weeks (including Bible, journal, and rosary supplies) that I have to carry myself, 3 different prescriptions for the pain and inflamation, and on that ubiquitous pain scale of 1 - 10 I was vacillating up and down, but never actually pain free. And my companions on the journey? A group of healthy, energetic high school students. Now, don't get the wrong idea - pain and I were no strangers; I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia at age 19, and let's not forget those kidney stones, and I had been introduced to the concept of "offering up" pain by a seminarian from my dioces while at WYD in 2002 - but pain wasn't my friend, and I was more than a little concerned about my ability to keep up with the group walking around Rome, Assisi, and Cologne.

So, we then spent 8 hours on a cramped flight to London, then another few hours on a cramped flight to Rome, then a couple days walking at a fast clip around different parts of Rome. By the time a bus dropped us off in Assisi I was exhausted, and the pain... well, let's just say it wasn't taking a separate vaction. After unloading our bags and dropping them in our rooms, what do you suppose we did? If you supposed "walk somewhere" then you supposed right. And if you've never been to Assisi let me inform you that it is not flat. Think lots of up and down, (think San Francisco, but, you know, older :), think uneven cobblestone streets, stairs, hills, and narrow roads. Think, in my case, pain. Then.... Glory and Praise! Mass.

St. Stephen's Basilica was a small building that would fit in one of the unloading bays of the warehouse next to my office. It was a stone walled, stone floored ancient edifice with beautiful acoustics - and solid wood kneelers. During Father's homily he talked about what it means to be on a pilgrimage, and how we take steps along the journey. That particluar word "steps" stuck in my head, until later, during some part of the Mass during which I was experiencing great difficulty remaining standing (and didn't want to kneel on those solid wood kneelers) that word "steps" rolled around and around and around in my mind. In those moments, Father's homily about our steps, my awareness of offering up suffering, and the knowledge that there was over a week of "steps" left to make combined to become an offering to the Lord that every step I took would be an offering for the conversion of souls, in particular those of my family. I was still exhausted and in pain - but now the pain and exhaustion had purpose.

I remember falling asleep shortly after my head hit the pillow that night, and I remember waking up cranky. Very cranky. I rolled off the bed and mentally catalogued every ache, every sore muscle, and especially the sharp shearing pains stabbing through my hips and down my legs. After shuffling slowly toward the bathroom I stopped at the end of the bed and supported myself on the footboard as I rested, scowling and glaring at the expanse of floor separating me from bathroom. Sitting back down was not an option - that bathroom and I had a very important appointment! I thought to myself, looking down at my traiterous body, which shuffled heel to arch (the heel of my leading foot didn't even make it as far as the toes of the other foot) that with my teensy-tiny range of motion it was going to take me a hundred searingly painful steps to get to the bathroom.

And there was that word again. Steps. In an instant my fury, frustration, and self-pity were erased and replaced with the purest, most undistracted joy I had ever experienced. Steps! Every step is a prayer and offerring for the conversion of my families' souls! What would normally take me three or four unmindful, careless strides to accomplish was now going to take many, many careful, mindful, prayerful steps! Suddenly and without any forced intent I was thanking God for my pain, thanking Him for the bursitis, and most of all thanking Him for His Presence with me, and for making me mindful of Him, His promises, and my offerring.

I can't tell you which Basilicas we saw in which order (though I can see them all as clearly in my mind as if I had snapped a photo), I can't tell you which way to turn on any given road to get yourself to this, that, or the other location in the city, I can't tell you what Father's homily was about on our second day in Assisi. I can tell you I have never experienced such joy and pleasure in my life as I did those two days in Assisi, offerring up my pain for the conversion of souls and thanking God for my pain out of a thankful, joyful heart, and not just an obedient one.

In the last years of Pope John Paul the Great's papacy I heard many people ask why he didn't just step aside so someone younger and healthier could do the job. It was, they said, impossible for anyone to do anything worthwhile or effective in his condition. What I realized is that the world does not know that pain and suffering are not punishment, are not weakness, are not defects or shortcomings. Rather, pain, sufferring, sorrow... are Joy, Grace, and the Peace that the world cannot give. Pain and sufferring, like "all things" for "those who love God and are called accoring to His purpose", can be good.

Pax, Bonum, et Gaudium
Peace, Good, and Joy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Blog about Blogging

I don't know if everyone goes through this when they first discover blogging, but with the exception of my friend's blog Franciscan Focus I've never really been that familiar with blogs. I always thought they were something computer savvy people do. Then said friend convinced me to join Plurk and I met a lot of people, many of whom have blogs. It was AdoroTeDevote who, for whatever reason, inspired me to sign in and create a blog. I fully admit I'm, doing this the easy way, I don't know html, I don't know any codes, and apparently I don't know anything neat either. I discovered the "Next Blog" button, but couldn't find any blogs in English, and my French, alas, is nowhere near fluent. So how do you discover nifty blogs? I've figured out how to "follow" them if I find them... And what on earth am I doing this for anyways? I don't even have internet access at home! And really, how much blog reading can I do on my lunch hour... Then again, I did discover a great new read thanks to Catholic Bibliophagist. Well, my right arm and hand pain level just jumped to 7 on a scale of 1 - 10, so I'm going to take that as a sign to go do something else now.

I love the edit function... I have now discovered (at the end of my lunch when I have to put it on hold until another day) that by filling out my profile I can click on my interests and be directed to a list of bloggers with similar interests! O thrill, O joy! Now if only my arm would stop hurting when I clock back in.... Well, guess I'll be offering it up! For the next Cursillo I think.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My First Blog!

Well, this is my first blog ever so it will probably be short and test-like, but I'm excited. Now I can talk about pretty much whatever I want whenever want... within reason of course. after all, have to take into account this Sunday's second reading...

Reading II1 Cor 10:31-11:1
Brothers and sisters, Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God,just as I try to please everyone in every way,not seeking my own benefit but that of the many,that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Emphasis mine. Well, let's see how it looks...

Hey cool, I can edit. Thanks for the support, but it occurred to me after logging off, that I am bound to give offense. When I first read this passage I thought of things that offend me; profanity, disresepct, crudity, etc... but then I realized that what I beleive, that abortion is murder for example, offends many people in my society.

So, how does one interpret Paul's instructions to the Corinthians in American society? Talk about "points to ponder"...