Living Life in Paradox

Tags

, ,

Previously published at the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Bright red strawberries alongside burnt pizza crust. Using the hospital tray, I meticulously cut strawberries into fourths to be drowned in Yoplait vanilla yogurt. Trash lines the people-flooded street we cross to enter the Orpheum Theater, tickets in hand, for a remarkable musical. The table beside my son’s medical pole holds unlooked for flowers.

Choosing to live life means living life in paradox, because life is hard.

If you are really living life, you have relationships and with relationships come the blood, sweat and tears that make life hard. Sure other things make life hard: loneliness and isolation, poor health. Those things are harder to bear without relationships; it all comes back to relationships. We ache for relationships. Relationships keep us in a paradox.

A paradox is a situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities. Life is a paradox.

Living life fully means feeling life fully in its wonderfully joyous excitement; calm tender quietude; and draining, nagging suffering. Living life fully means taking events, as they are, not wasting time wishing they were something else. Describe it for it what it is, terrible or exhilarating, but save your wishes.

Plenty of aspects of life requires us to find the middle ground between two extremes. In medio stat viritus, the saying goes, in the middle stands virtue. The best and happiest way will be in the middle ground. This does not apply when it comes to mood. Perhaps we would enjoy never wavering emotion. Some seem disposed to it; others force it upon themselves because the natural swing of life’s rhythm proves too difficult to tolerate. They prefer to know what to expect.

That is where we miss out. Imagine an opera-singer singing half-heartedly, a quarterback playing so-so, a dancer lagging behind the beat; a parent who visits only once in a while. Life is meant to be lived fully, freely, and fruitfully.

Fully means holding nothing back. Whatever one does, doing it sincerely, with one’s energy and resources, prudently applied. I may need to conserve energy today knowing tomorrow will be a hard day. Instead of doing tasks lightly today, I intentionally choose light tasks.

Freely means recognizing oneself as an agent of free will, making a conscious choice about one’s activities (when possible) and reactions. I do this better when I am in a habit of reflecting a little bit each day, starting the morning by running through my mind the plans of the day, thinking ahead of what I want the day to be like and preparing myself for days when I know the unexpected ought to be expected. Thus, I maintain in control, at least of my feelings, when anything could happen.

Fruitfully means doing my best to bring good out of a situation. This may be a lesson learned after observing my behavior and reaction during suffering, something to put in my notebook to better handle the next run around. It may be an immediate good, by choosing to create some art or craft, or a boon to a relationship by letting my six-year-old give me a ballet lesson. Perhaps it is putting the phone, world wide web, and text notifications aside to focus deeply on the production I am about to see, the conversation I am about to have.

Fully, freely, fruitfully. It is the life advice that will apply to any moment, whether the pendulum will swing this way or that.

The paradox of life is not meant to be observed only. The tension that comes from shifting our gears between tragedy and comedy is the motivating force to make us flexible and adept at living life, to grow stronger, to find peace. We do not become stronger by “white-knuckling it” through our trials, by tamping our excitement in great life moments, or by avoiding relationships that require sacrifice on our part (I say sacrifice, not abuse). Whether the moment requires us to push through hard times or actively find a way out, the strength lies in leaning into the workout it does on our heart. I may not know what it looks like on the other side, but I can get through this. It can be worked for good.

Weekend Links 8.19.17

Tags

, , , , ,

No fewer than fourteen links to fuel your weekend frenzy.

Family First

  1. The answer people have looked for! How to adapt the KonMari Method of tidying to fit a life with children. We so often look for a clear-cut answer: do this and your life will be better. True enough, we have been worked over by advertising campaigns since the 50’s simplifying our needs to this message. The KonMari Method fit my approach (keep what I love, get rid of what I do not love). Her methods improved my housekeeping (keep all cleaners in one place, use cardboard boxes for storage, fold clothes and store upright instead of stacked). I never felt trapped by the method. She said herself, do not do it for others. I could fold my husband’s clothes but did not worry about his possessions. Same for my children. We just do our best. Where it was not practical, the method need not apply (maternity clothes). Still, many seem invested in getting the advice of so-called experts. Better we learned to take it as recommendations, and learn to listen to our own voice, to develop our homes as best fits those who live in it.
  2. I think our society does very little to support mothers. The American value of independence and individualism infiltrated family life. While it was perfectly natural for multiple generations to support young mothers, as families members became more spread out, this became more difficult. Add to it, the lifelong goal of retirement. With our working mothers who tried to have it all, when retirement comes, many grandmothers may not have anticipated their daughters’ or sons’ hopes they would be involved in some way. Liberal government wants to help be reducing the number of babies born, providing free childcare and free preschools. How about some ideas that allow the mothers to be with their babies? France has some ideas.
  3. Loved this soulful post from Julie Walsh. Motherhood is nothing, if not a paradox.
  4. For all these reasons, I’m grateful “to have my hands full,” “to be busy,” “to be crazy,” to have embraced life to the fullest.
  5. For some theology and motherhood, an article from last year on how Microchimerism defends the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary.
  6. Simple advice from Edith Stein, the best kind, the kind we need to learn again and again: to grow in empathy (1) get out of your own head, (2) notice others, (3) practice love and (4) see persons, not labels.

On the Faith

  1. While I have never desired to get a tattoo, I find the symbolism it holds for the individual who has it fascinating. Reading these motivations, of declaring oneself for God is just beautiful: a tattoo as a way of expressing who one is in the Lord.
  2. This analysis by R.R. Reno (one of my favorite writers) is a subject I will keep my eye on.
  3. This advice how to rest on the Sabbath was a breath of fresh air to my soul. In my family of origin, like many families, the weekends were for catching up on things around the house. In our home, we try not to do housework more than the necessary garbage bag to the bin, some dishes). I am aware of a weakness in my mental approach to the Sabbath. We may rest and spend the day together, but my thoughts are little more spent on God than other days. It is a work in progress.
  4. Catholic liturgy, architecture, and music can be breathtaking. Why do people not only practice but insist on the banal and hokey? If we want to transmit the faith, let us fight the good fight to not only defend the capability of the masses to enjoy quality, but to give God our absolute best.
  5. George Weigel puts it succinctly about how passing on the faith will take effort, an effort, he remarks, is taking place in Detroit.
  6. As Weigel will tell you, we are in a generational shift in the Catholic Church. Maybe your parish is forming a committee to revamp the interior of the church building. Check out these painted interiors in Texas for inspiration. For many of our ugly modern churches, referencing Eastern European traditions may be just what they need to work with the architecture, but bring back beauty.

In the News

  1. I find Google News searches useless now, ever since Trump was elected. Most of the news relates to Trump, or racism, or ISIS. Would you have read there about the terrible flooding in Sierra Leone? No, you would not. News bias.
  2. A moving post making real for those of us with lives that feel far removed from Charlottesville. Better than anything I have seen in the news trying to use this tragedy as another political weapon.

Days of Promise

Tags

, , , , ,

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Today is one of the days of promise.
The Immaculate Conception is the day we celebrate God’s gift of redemption to Mary, through the merits of Christ cross, applied retroactively in order to prepare a place fitting for God-made-man to dwell. In the same way, he applies the glory of his second coming retroactively by assuming her into Heaven, body and soul.
In this, he honors his mother and shows us the way.

Assumption of the Virgin

Assumption of the Virgin, Adam Lenckhart

Today is a great day for me. Last year, I read post after post, related the Assumption to the Theology of the Body and resurrection of the dead. None of this resonated.
I have only held one deceased person in my arms, the same person I held within my body. This girl leaped with joy at John the Baptist did in utero. With the glow of angels around her, she died before she had a chance to breathe the air if she would have breathed at all. We did not see her body as it was. At our request, the nurse placed her bonnet on her head before we saw her.
I knew I had two children already waiting for me in Heaven, but I never saw them, never held them. I know there are other dearly departed in Heaven we long to be with, but we did not see them often on earth. My body was primed to know her every movement, as it was with all my children. This year’s celebration is different than before. When I think of Heaven now, it is a richer vision than ever before.

For the Lord himself, with a word of command,
with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God,
will come down from heaven,
and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left,
will be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air.
Thus we shall always be with the Lord.
(1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

These are days of promise. I will see her perfect body, restored and complete, not as she grew, but whole.

Assumption of the Virgin Mary

Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Pierre Paul Prud’hon

 

It is easy to accept God what God has on resurrection days like this. That is what these days are for – to carry us through the valley and dark times with the light of God’s promise. They are moments of Transfiguration to keep in mind as we travel the Way of the Cross. So let us stop and celebrate, seeing the way it went with Mary, and how it will go with us, should we fight the good fight, and hold fast to the faith.

Autumn’s Idea

Tags

, ,

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

School is starting again. Methinks the summers are shorter, but the forecast tells me otherwise. Camps end. Lessons begin. Traffic increases.

As I wrote before, this was the first summer in which I experienced the promise of summer, of adventure. Through Scout’s eyes, Harper Lee tells us, “Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.” Summer is this abstract thing, this idea of a season. Here, it consists of barbeques, late evenings, local festivals, Hughson’s/Modesto’s/Turlock’s Farmer’s Markets, flowers from Kelley Flower Farm, and the County Fair. In this abstract thing is relaxation and exploration, camping and lake visits, quitting music lessons for Disneyland, and holidays at Knight’s Ferry.

But most of all, our summer seasons are something real, not abstract. What is the thing you had this summer that could not be had any other summer by any other person? It is the memory you take away with you. The treasure you will keep. Summer brought to Scout a boy named Dill and the adventures they had with him. The real thing you have in summer does not need to be because of summer. It may only be coincidence. It becomes the memory you can take with you into next summer. It is how memories are made and how traditions build into the abstract idea making it fuller, richer, stretching its shadow into the end of spring next year, plumping the time up with anticipation of the real thing again.

The real thing feeds the abstract thing. The abstract thing is passed down, just as each kid reads To Kill a Mockingbird. Southern summers are different than California summers, which are different than Midwestern summers. Public school summers are different than homeschool summers, which are different than full-time working summer. Still, the abstract thing is passed along. We feel the spirit of summer.

This may be why I felt this was my first summer. Attending year-round public school with nose-to-the-grindstone-parents, our vacations took place only on school and civic holidays, spending holy days at St. Anthony’s and the rest of vacation with family, hours away. Magazines, Pinterest, and endless questions of “do you have any plans this summer?” filled me with the idea of summer. Having a 6-year-old made it real. This summer art workshops became my “Dill”: The Real Thing.

Is fall any different? There is the idea of fall: pumpkin patches, changing leaves, hot apple cider, and Granny Smith apples for sale on Tully road. With two parents from the West coast, I learned the idea of fall while attending college in Minnesota. There, the idea of fall is strong. There, the idea of every season is strong.

As school begins and summer ends, I anticipate autumn. St. Anthony’s Parish Festival is marked on my calendar for September 30-October 1. The Four Friends Market will have a Holiday Special Market, October 7 at Dutch Hollow Farms. Does anything in this area illustrate the idea of fall better than Dutch Hollow Farms and The Fruit Barn?

The memory of breathing easily after recovering from bronchitis, riding in the backseat of a friend’s car, down the fiery-leaf-flanked Ford Parkway to Surdyk’s Liquor and Cheese Shop in Minneapolis not only taught me of the spell Minnesota casts on its residents with the beauty of fall. It became the heart of my abstract idea of fall. Thus I seek ways with each annual inauguration to make it real.

I could let it all pass. How easy it would be to be logical: it is just as hot as summer, or perhaps ten degrees cooler; most trees here do not have leaves that change color; a brief hot fall only precedes a soggy, foggy winter, if we are lucky. Or I could open the windows at night, purchase a warty pumpkin from Cipponeri’s, stock up on Spiced Apple Cider from Trader Joe’s and plan Halloween costumes with my kids. I think I will pick the latter. What will you hold onto at the end of summer to carry you into next year? What will your Real Thing be?

Weekend Links 8.12.17

Tags

, , , ,

 

Nine snippets of news and novelties for your weekend musing.

Our life has been changed and our son’s life sustained by the incredible and collaborative care at UCSF. It is not surprising to me that they should rank so high in this national survey.

If this reporting is accurate, that is a wonderful example of how we need to give more credit to lower income families and how family truly forms the child. My question regarding the author’s way of presenting the research is this. The author reports pre-school enrollment dropped in 2008, likely due to parental unemployment. If that gap narrowed in school readiness, then wouldn’t that put more educated parents at home than before the rise in unemployment levels. I would like to see if we control for parent education levels if the results still remain. For a resource on providing more books at home, check out this project by Dolly Parton, the woman you naturally think of when you think of family life.

I was moved by this video of Jim Carrey (never thought I would write such a sentence! It was in the darkness of grief that I began to cling to beauty and art, which before had been a hobby and simple pleasure. The contemplation of beauty draws us out of ourselves. It is a great antidote to grief, loss or depression.

 

Gratitude is a powerful force for good, as this article illustrates. Would you consider ending each day with a moment of gratitude, considering three things you are thankful for? It can help us through dark times, balance our perspective, and overcome automatic negative thoughts.

I suspect objecting to this painting is a matter of Conservatives trying to get back at or making a point that if someone did a Christian parallel of the same thing, it would be publically unacceptable. On a deeper level, patriotism is a spiritual thing, the Statue of Liberty is one of our national symbols, as is the American flag. I do not believe these should be altered to express one person’s message. They are enough in themselves. We could also analyze that this doe-eyed lady is an exaggerated form of how women are distorted in media, and the strong stance with the torch is diminished by her gentle hold as if it were a bouquet of flowers.

No matter how busy life is, we really should make time for events like the solar eclipse on August 21. I hope we do in this household, though there are no plans as of yet.

Your words matter! I began to guard my grammar as my children grow. It takes practice, but we can do it. “Gonna” and pronouncing to as “ta” (If you’re going ta do this…”) are two habits my husband and I are currently trying to root out of our speech. I heard a song yesterday that rhymed over with you by pronouncing them as “ova” and “ya.” Brain cells have been lost by listening to music like this!

My reflection from this article on the reemergence of a vocational crisis: A priestly vocation requires heroism in a world such as ours. John Paul II inspired this heroism in the youth of the world and encouraged us to go all in. That is why my generation of Catholics is referred to as the John Paul II generation. We need inspiration from our leaders in the Church to “be not afraid” and “put out into the deep.” Too many times, to draw people into the church, leaders in parishes water things down, make it simpler, gentler. Our generation and the generation that follows ache for something to live for, for something strong we can hold on to in the moral chaos of our society. We need something to fight for. John Paul II and the priests of this generation show us that.

This is worth sharing since an American paper seemed to have picked up the original absurdity. I wonder Associatedsociate Press will be able to restore its credibility?

How does it feel to be home?

Tags

, , ,

How does it feel to be home?

Well…

The long answer:

I go from being afraid for his life to seeing him run down the hallway, squealing at his siblings’ antics.

I go from him being watched by brilliant medical professionals to being the primary eyes on him.

I go from loneliness of wandering and sleeping in a city by myself to togetherness, the reunion of a broken family.

I go from a bubble personal space to the strong shoulder of my husband, and the cuddles of my children.

I go from meditative silence to multiple children, screaming and whining.

I go from isolation, with friends only in touch by email, to seeing and connecting with a husband and friends I love.

I go from a daily routine of reading, writing and learning to endless interruptions.

I go from a terrible mattress as bouncy as the floor to the greatest mattress in the world, 100% Pima cotton sheets and a colorful fluffy bedspread.

Basically, I go from sacrifice to another,

From loneliness to fear,

From contemplation to the busy life of a housewife parenting four kids.

Still, I would rather be home.

 

The short answer: Good.

Weekend Links 8.5.17

Tags

, , , ,

This past week, I have been in San Francisco along side my son who is in the hospital. I relaxed my Facebook restrictions and found I wanted to close the tab after too long. It is nice to ease the vigilance of wondering if there is another message for me. The interest in scrolling is almost dead. In my evenings, once filled with binge watching television shows online, have been filled with 30 minutes of writing and at least one hour of reading Kristen Lavarnsdatter. I look forward to that time as the day goes on.

On to the weekend links!

Religion

Some times we need a reminder that mass is more than meets the eye. This post from the ever clear and concise Fr. Longenecker on why only the ordained can preach at mass provided that for me.

Consumerism

I find the whole American consumerist approach to holidays fascinating. There is a vacuum of culture when religion backs away. Something must fill it. With advertisement saturation, consumerism filled that void. So yes, I do think retailers are giving the people what they want by opening a holiday shop in summer. It may be what they want, but it is not what is best for them.

I am a proponent of “we need to get with the times” and pursue renewable sources of energy. It is frustrating to see how these solar panel rental companies work. I will be following the developments of these Tesla roof tiles.

Art/Literature

Too often in the nitty gritty of parish life, with tight budgets and efforts to manage with few resources, the value of work is downgraded. We need volunteers, it is true, but if you are a freelancers of any kind, be mindful of how much you volunteer. Consider it your pro bono work, be open about the nature of it, and when the desire to give or requests come in asking for me, have your fees ready. This article from Catholic Creatives highlights the impact of working for free has on others in the same industry. In many Catholic parishes, we see this in how some want to hire a musician to play piano and sing and lead a choir at multiple masses for $100 a week.

I copied this here as much for you as for me. Reading Kristen Lavarnsdatter by Sigurd Undset, a boulder of a book with great depth and growth has not only been entertaining, but relaxing and restorative after long days. I hope you find something you like. From the list, I am interested to read Silas Marner, Treasure Island, and The Idiot. In this House of Brede and Brideshead Revisited were begun and set aside. No shame in that!

Education

Beware what you read. When even academic journals are subject to poor publications, imagine what happens by the time it hits the Associated Press and it boiled down further to your newsfeed. See this scientific paper on Star Wars for evidence of why you should read carefully, and evaluate the reputation and quality of the journal.

At my former place of work, I am quoted from a Catchphrase came. The clue: this is an animal that flies. I shout: dragon! I love to learn the origins of mythical and strange creatures. Behold, the Basilisk!

Are you tired of Pearson’s for-profit monopoly on testing supplies and Advance Placement programs? I am. This man has created a college entrance exam focused on classical Christian education. Over 60 colleges will accept it in place of or alongside the SAT and ACT.

Relationships/Family

Not all abuse is physical. This piece published on Aleteia provides some important information on what psychological abuse looks like and how to get help.

Culture

A few weeks ago I shared with you an example of coercing sterilization among prison inmates. I am glad to share this offer has ended.

Racism is real. The view and treatment of the countries in Africa by other nations is unacceptable. Let’s end the ideological imperialism by the West to countries such as these. Citizens of the continent are not in need of contraception and fewer children but food, clean water, access to quality healthcare (the real kind that treats disease rather than bodily functions like fertility), education, and pro-woman laws that protect wives. Can we stop thinking contraception solves all problems that ever existed?

 

 

View story at Medium.com

Hope’s Chance Horse Sanctuary

Tags

,

Published this week in my column at the Hughson Chronicle

I recently read a book called The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith. In it, she advises the reader-writer to carry a notebook at all time. “Use it or lose it,” she says. When some inspiration strikes, write it down because often, by the time we go home, we have forgotten it. Roach also tells the reader-writer that if you have lived through childhood, you have enough for a book. The things of our childhood will come back to us. The book should be mathematically done, every paragraph should mean something so that the seemingly random detail you share in chapter 3 comes back to have great meaning in chapter 6, just before the end. Like some ribbon floating in a puddle just before the heroine is killed off echoing the ribbon, she saw in her dead mother’s hair that reminded her of a dress on a doll she loved and lost in chapter 1.

For those who take a providential or fate-filled view of the world and our lives, everything is imbued with meaning. Some little thing happens, some event passes, some conversation that strikes us. Write it down, Roach says.

The problem, of course, comes when we walk through life looking for signs. We do this when we are excited or anxious about some event. Eager to read the tea leaves or see a rose in an answer to a prayer, we can easily walk through two steps ahead of the moment.

The catch is that we cannot see chapter 6 to understand the significance of the ribbon we noticed in chapter 3 until we live through chapters 4 and 5. It will not make any sense until we are the person we are in the later chapter, having learned and lived those experiences in the middle.

The artist is on the look out for signs and connections. When I was a child, I loved horses. I loved horses like a madwoman. I was the girl with posters, models, educational books on horses, coffee table books on horses, child chapter books on horses and weekly horse lessons. And then it all went away.

Still, I looked longingly at the sign on Service Rd for Peachwood Horse Boarding that read, “Lessons.” After each pregnancy, I talked about how I would take lessons again soon. Nothing changed.

In working to create a local group bringing together artists of faith, I encountered a woman who is an artist, who also runs a horse sanctuary saving abused horses and giving them space and peace to rehabilitate and live out the rest of their lives in security and good care. Some of these horses go on to be adopted by others who are capable of giving them the sort of care a horse needs.

Maybe it was the reading of Black Beauty. Maybe it was reading about race horses who fizzled out and were not valuable enough to breed lucratively. Maybe it was any number of horse movies, seeing horses injured, animals rights lessons in public school. Or maybe it is the love that I bore towards horses as a child that never quite leaves a girl who loves them that much. Whatever it is, this non-profit is on my mind.

Today, August 5th starting at 10 am, Hope’s Chance Horse Sanctuary on 1476 Church St in Modesto will have an open house to show the community what they do. It is not cheap to raise horses, let alone 45 horses who were abandoned or abused. There is good work being done here. It stirs my heart due to that early love and the moral lessons in treating these animals, animals who are both incredibly majestic and integral to Western history. It’s not called the horse-less carriage for nothing.

This is chapter 1 and chapter 3 for me. I do not know what the future holds for me and horses. The present is filled quite a bit with other little animals I call my children. Still, the first poem I wrote was about a horse. Today I learned my husband’s uncle has horses I can ride for free. I think there might be something to that. We shall see.

Weekend Links: 7.28.17

Tags

, , ,

I find beauty means everything to me now. In this article from The Imaginative Conservative, Aaron Ames shares the great wisdom that our imagination is so important to our understanding of God because it is only through our imagination that we can possibly begin to glimpse what God is capable of and what God has in store.

I hear friends who blog debate, “I don’t know how much I want to share.” In youth group and professional work, I have seen those who want to bare all to get the reaction or attention they seek. This is an important consideration for those currently blogging or sharing from their lives with others. There several circles of intimacy around an individual. I share about my life here, yet there is a deeper level I will not share publicly. Maybe I share it with friends. Maybe I share it only with my spouse. Are you happy with where and how your circles lie?

If you are plagued by “shoulds” when it comes to writing, this may help. We tend to develop an image of what this type of person does and if we want to be this type of person, we had better check all out boxes. A bigger picture will yield different details.

With any project comes a level of vulnerability. Here is some practical advice on dealing with automatic negative thoughts. For me, the negative thought that pops into mind some when something goes wrong is “here we go again” or “of course,” as if our good times can never last or we could always expect something to go wrong. At least, with the latter, I am able to stop myself and count my blessings. A lot of things go right for us, even if some big things went in the direction of greatest difficulty.

Motherhood has a strange loneliness. This blog helps put it in perspective. The author writes, “For now, I’m viewing loneliness as one of the small (sometimes big) purposeful crosses of my vocation. It’s a cross that will turn me toward Our Lord if I let it.”

Think it is hard to manage kids in a pew? I rather resent pews on Sundays as my children pile on top of me and there is no place to put my feet. It brings me delight to know while there is a tradition of pews in churches, it is relatively new.

 

I fell off the wagon with Facebook and starting checking 2-3 times a day. I admist, it was relaxing. At the same time, I also stopped reading. My goal is unchanged. Time to start again. During the week we traveled to San Francisco for doctors appointments, visited the Legion of Honor and I contemplated the beauty of life and art. I am going to start practicing my Thursdays again, time away for reflection and short-form writing, and implementing writing days, 3-7 hours away from home to work on long-form writing. The husband and I also discussed a Writer’s Retreat (for both of us, separately). He could spend two nights away in the wood somewhere composing his heart out, and I could do the same on a different weekend of the year.

I hope you enjoyed these weekend links!