Sunday, November 29, 2009

34 and 97

So today is my birthday.

Birthdays as an adult are far different that birthdays as a child. You'd look so forward to that day, the family and friends and cake and modest mountain of presents, and when it was over, there was a palpable sense of disappointment. You couldn't believe you'd have to wait 364 days for another.

I also used to celebrate my birthday with my grandmother, her birthday being the day before mine. So we'd sit side by side, the 28th and the 29th, 8 and 71, 13 and 76, 26 and 89. The last birthday we kind of celebrated together was her last one, when she had two candles on an ice cream cake that she couldn't even eat. A 9 and a 6, and she dozed, in and out of the dream world we start to inhabit when our bodies fail.

We had a little room in the nursing home she resided in. She had a plastic rosary around her neck. I was about to turn 33, and I knew this was it. The last one we'd be at together.

On August 30th, I was thinking of my grandmother during morning prayers, and so I opened her St. Joseph Missal to the correct day, finding that it was the feast day of the very first American saint, who happens to be St. Rose of Lima. St. Rose of Lima happened to be my grandmother's church in North Syracuse.

I probably don't need to explain that I thought that was a sign, which is hysterical, given that I used to think signs were a bunch of hopeful hogwash.

I will never stop trying to figure things out. There are things about the Catholic Church that infuriate me, that I will never agree with. There are things that have deeply disappointed me. And there are things that I love, things that make it impossible to leave, like a dysfunctional family whose great undercurrent is the most magnificent love. It's my spiritual home, as it was my grandmother's. And I wanted to write this because it was truly my grandmother's death that brought me back to faith.

I wished her a happy birthday yesterday, lit an imaginary candle that was fueled by all of our love, and watched her blow it out and laugh. There is no greater gift than belief.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I think about sin a lot. Mainly, how to minimize my partaking in it.

In all seriousness, I've been trying harder to be a good girl. Not only to squelch the type of thoughts that lead one to walk away from God, but to actively entreat my brain to think differently.

Not surprisingly, this takes a lot of work.

I mean, a lot.

When you're used to being all Judgy McJudgerson and trying to work oneself in Ms. Love Thy Neighbor.

Despite my belief that God is merciful and loving, I do have a great amount of fear regarding punishment. That one day, I could be sitting at an intersection thinking about that hot guy that used to be on CSI:Miami (Agent Delko, where did you go?), and I could get run into by a tanker truck and suddenly find myself paying for those few last unfaithful thoughts of my life.

If you were to ask me my thoughts on hell, I would tell you that I didn't really believe in it. And yet, I'm terribly afraid of going there.

I'm reading a book right now where the authors believe everyone goes to Heaven, from the child abuser and the mass murderer, to those human beings we hold up as pillars of goodness. It's a heaven where Ted Bundy could be sitting side by side with Mother Teresa. They believe that everyone ultimately is welcomed into heaven, transformed and healed by God's love.

The memories I have of what Ted Bundy looked like, with a calculating jaw and eyes that radiated the evil of a madman, do not allow me to envision this. But I just finished another book where someone was talking about Marian revelations, and that one of the secrets of heaven is that when we get there, we'll find people we had already relegated to hell.

This was humbling, to say the least.

I recently read a quote on a blog. The author was describing one of the last conversations she had with a dying friend. Her friend, having almost fully wasted away from cancer, had come to a peaceful resolution regarding death. She stated emphatically that she wanted to go to Purgatory, to be fully cleansed, so that she could ultimately experience the fullness of God's love when it was time.

I thought this was thoughtful and poignant, realizing the messy creatures we are and wanting to have that burned away, so that all that is left is this bright, pure heart

But still, if I had my preference, I'd bypass any purifying fire to land safely on a perfect cloud. Who knows how I'll be judged?

Once, as I put my then 5-year old to bed, we were having a conversation about saints. She saw that I had been reading My Life With the Saints, and was curious about what made one a saint. I had a surprisingly difficult time coming up with a definition, so I said something like A saint is a person who usually gave up a lot to serve God and other people. A saint was an extraordinarily good person. And she said to me, "When you die, I bet you'll become a saint." And I had to laugh.

From her eyes, I was good. So good. Forget self-loathing or feelings of not measuring up for any eternal reward. In that moment, I wasn't a sinner. I was perfect to my child.

This is a bit how I hope that God sees me. Not as perfect, though, or even trying for perfect. Just as simply trying. And I hope that pleases him greatly.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

3 Minutes

If I could choose how my mornings go, I would have a good hour to myself while the world is still and cloaked in the light blanket of a fading night. I'd make some coffee and retire to the couch. It's a good time to pray, to get centered, to have a game plan. All before my husband gets out of the shower or the kids get out of bed, collect their stuffed friends, come downstairs, and begin to jockey for a position at my side.

It shouldn't be a surprise that with the kids being so young, 6 and barely 4, that this rarely happens.

This morning, I got up and was barely outside my bedroom door when my oldest popped out of bed and was at my side. I made the coffee, and by the time I had poured it into my favorite mug, my youngest was thumping down the stairs.

I sat on the couch between them, gently reminding them not to nudge me too much, lest some coffee tumble over the edge and onto my lap.

They chattered about SpongeBob, regaling me with synopses of recent episodes. And despite my desire for quiet, it was difficult not to be swayed by their infectious tales. How funny was this sea sponge and his underwater counterparts!

On any of the few mornings that I do have the couch to myself, I like to talk to God about my becoming a nurse, because it scares me. I've been home now for 6-plus years. In my past life as an income-earner, I existed in fairly tame administrative settings. This new path is something I desire, but as it stands now, is also way outside my comfort zone. Despite caring for two newborns and successfully raising them into young childhood, I have trouble seeing myself taking care of patients.

Despite talking to women on a breastfeeding helpline, and trying to help them find some resolution with any issues they are having feeding their babies, I have trouble. I've existed as a caretaker of sorts for years now. And yet, the doubt remains.

So I talk to God about confidence, and helping me to grasp that although there will be difficult days merely getting through nursing school, it's okay. I have the capacity. I have the empathy. I have what it takes. Maybe not in every setting, but in many settings.

This is my main prayer, because there are times when I look in the mirror after a hard day, and find myself wondering, "What are you thinking?" I see myself, in my bad state, feeling somewhat defeated, and I have trouble seeing myself accomplish anything outside of getting the laundry folded and put away. And even that is completed is stages, with clothes sometimes occupying the dryer for days, until the creases and wrinkles are too bad for ironing.

I also have prayed in that waning dark to be a better mother: more present, more positive, less exasperated. Because no matter my goals, they were here first. Each one, pulled from me, slick and screaming, and I signed on for our duration in my blood. Sometimes I forget this, just like I forget God. There are times when I sleepwalk, until something jolts me. The sound of their laughter, a cough in the night, how viciously they can fight.

A friend sent me a link to the Loyola Press website, as the Jesuits have a wonderful thing called the 3-Minute Retreat. Giving a brief quote from the Bible, the retreat asks questions of you and then offers a prayer. In lieu of my time, alone in the dark, I can turn here, as even I can usually find a few minutes of peace.

This morning, the retreat reminded me to "Rejoice in the present. See the Lord in everything and everyone." And though I usually find the prayer moving, this morning I actually wrote it down, intending to stick it with a magnet to my fridge:

O God, grace me with a rejoicing and glad heart. Bless me with saintly vision and uphold me in my times of doubt. Keep me aware, O God, of your constancy in my life.

Sometimes I have to laugh at His perfection, because when I'm open and listening, that voice I hear can be exactly what I need.

For this doubting, faltering, forgetful woman, exactly what I need.