I Don’t Want A Perfect Life

“Perfect” is an ambiguous adjective. We all have our own idea of perfection; the perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect spouse, the perfect home in the perfect area, complete with the perfect vehicle in which to transport the perfect kids.

My idea of perfect as a teenager was marrying a bull-fighting, guitar-playing poet. He would be handsome, charismatic, and deep. We would live in a run-down but well-loved flat in Prague. We would write, make love, and change the world through both. My plan was to be married by 23, and have my first child by 25, so that I would still be young and flexible enough to chase him/her around. Of course, my love-child would be gentle, soft-spoken, intuitive, and life would be bliss. The perfect husband, and the perfect child. This was my dream, and my plan.

 

I was 16. Give me a break.

Thirteen years later, my life is none of these things. My husband is not a bull-fighting, guitar-playing poet. He is handsome, charismatic, and deep, but sometimes these exact things drive me insane. Our home is run-down, but it’s not a love-nest in Prague. And I did manage to be married with a child by 25… In fact, I managed to be married with FOUR children. Four rambunctious, loud, sticky, impulsive children.

Thirteen years later, and my perception of “perfect” has drastically changed. I don’t want it anymore. I don’t want the perfect husband and the perfect kids. I want grit. I want to forge this family out of blood, sweat, and tears. Give me the sticky and obstinate children, the husband who snores and drives me absolutely bat-s*** crazy with how literal and analytical he is! I want the kids who talk back and make messes, who are stubborn and impulsive.

Why? Because these things are what help us grow. These are the crosses we have to bear—each other’s weaknesses. These things are mirrors reflecting where I myself am lacking, and where I could do better. These things serve as reminders, both through their actions, and my reactions, that I am flawed. I’m not perfect. I would rather this family be swords forged in fire than sprouted in a field of daisies that wilt beneath too much heat.

I am glad my husband is analytical, because this quality in him–as crazy as it drives me sometimes–has helped him to see things differently than others. It helps him to solve problems both at home and in the work field.

I am glad that my children make messes and are stubborn. If they never made messes, they would never learn to clean them. If they aren’t stubborn, then they will be easily swayed in life. If they don’t talk back, they’ll never learn to speak up for themselves and others when it is most necessary.

I know some parents would try and hammer these qualities out of their children, to make them quiet, docile little things, but this isn’t what I want. I want to hammer and refine their perceived negative qualities and show them how they can be used to find success in life, to establish a firm foundation of faith in morality in them. I want them to be stubborn and vocal when it matters. I want them to have backbones. I don’t want them to be afraid of life, to be afraid of screwing up and making a mess, because they will. No matter how they try to avoid it, they’ll make bad decisions, both big and small. And you know what? I’ll still love them.

Of course, I get frustrated and angry when they talk-back, when they do exactly what I told them not to, and don’t do what I tell them to do. There are times when I want to rip the hair out of my head just to show them how done I am with the way they act and speak sometimes. I’m still human. I’m sure there are things about me my children dislike. In fact, our 5yo daughter told us we’re the worst parents ever earlier today because I grounded her after she refused to do something I asked her to do.

And you know what? I pray that she’ll stick to her guns that hard if/when a boy ever tries to pressure her into sex, or when her friends try to pressure her into drinking or doing drugs. I hope she looks them in the face and tells them where they can shove it, fiery little thing she is now. I hope she’ll fight as fiercely against people who would want to harm or use or mistreat herself or others as she does when her brothers try to steal her Peppa Pig toys.

I hope my oldest son can one day use his impulsiveness to bring fun and silliness when and where it’s needed most. I hope he adapts it to quick thinking and being mentally agile. I hope it sends him on adventures worth telling his grandchildren one day.

I hope our second-oldest can take his incessant–and oftentimes infuriating–need to argue, and use it for good. I hope he finds something he is passionate about to put this quality to good use. I hope that his being able to laugh through literally everything will be a comfort to him and others when life gets really tough, because it will. It always does.

I hope that our youngest, the little boy who is like the Bruce Willis of two-year-olds, will take his adventurous curiosity and explore the world, explore other cultures and other ways of life. I hope he’ll never stop seeking, never stop wondering.

Because I was once a prisoner to comparison. I would look at my friends’ children, the children who were so well-behaved and docile and quiet, and I would feel jealousy. It made me resentful towards my own children. It made me wish I had something other than what I do. It made me wonder what was wrong with me as a parent that my kids turned out to be the ones who end up on Ellen because of their shenanigans. How fair is that to them? That I should resent them for who they are, because who they are doesn’t fit into my neat little box of who they should be? What does it teach them about love, about acceptance and understanding if I try to make them fit a mold they were never meant to fit?

Yes, I want them to be successful, productive members of society, and I understand that this requires discipline, fortitude, and obedience. It means tact, social aptitude, and certainly not giving someone a detailed account of your daily BM, or loudly shouting “I FARTED” while in Mass.

I don’t let them get away with being disrespectful. They face punishment when they talk back, when they deliberately disobey, and when they hurt each other. Day by day, I’m teaching them prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. Some days we have to learn the hard lessons together. Other days I have to use my own shortcomings as lessons for them: don’t be like your mother and engage in fights with people on the internet! There are even some days when I’m the one who learns a lesson from them.

I thank God everyday for what I have, and for who I get to share it with. Even when they drive me batty.

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I Am A “Feel Like It” Catholic

A reflection on my personal struggle with acedia, spiritual apathy

The following is an excerpt from my personal journal, dated 4/23/17:

Maybe I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Your grace and mercy are inexhaustible because I am exhausted. I have a nasty habit of projecting myself onto You. I am tired of me, so how are you not? It must be like watching a mouse go around and around in a maze despite the number of times You have directed me to the correct path.

You lead, I stray. That’s how this [has] gone my whole life, and I don’t know why it is so difficult to just go the way You say. I knew from the start the path would be jagged. I knew that if I said “yes” to You, I would be plunged into the fire and purged. How many times have You put it into my heart that swords are forged in flame[?]

I don’t know where You want me to go. What do You want me to do? Because either way, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that you have great things planned for me. And I’m afraid that you have a very humble and meek calling for me. I want and don’t want both or either. But even more, I hate this skittering back-and-forth. This apathetic restlessness.

I cannot spend the rest of my life a lukewarm Catholic.

Is it better that I try until I feel, or feel it and then try? If I come [to You] out of obedience and not with my heart, is it better that I just stay home?

I’ve just returned from staffing an ACTS retreat over the weekend. Teaming with the ACTS apostolate is one of the very few things I feel like doing anymore. I love it. I love serving others in this ministry. I love spending four days and three nights on my feet. I love the way I feel after a retreat, this renewed yearning to go out and set the world on fire even when my body is exhausted. AcediaThe only issue is that I rely heavily on these feelings to be what carries me out of my spiritual apathy and into a new era of my faith; a renewal of my caring to do what God wants me to do. Every year I tell myself, “use this retreat to kickstart your feelings and get back on track”.

And every retreat, I don’t.

I, like many Catholic-Christians the world over, rely on my emotions to carry my faith. I don’t feel like praying or attending Mass or going to confession, so I don’t. I even asked a very good friend of mine, who is a newly ordained priest, if it’s better not to go to confession since I would be going more out of obedience than out of an overwhelming feeling of guilt and pain over doing things that have pained God. He lovingly explained the difference between perfect and imperfect contrition, and strongly suggested I GO!

You see, I have found myself in the grips of the noonday devil, acedia. And not in the manner that I think I’m possessed or anything so dramatic, but that I just don’t care to do the things I know I ought. I have found myself in this sort of restless stasis, not caring to fulfill the duties of my vocation as a wife and mother, or as one of 1.2 billions Catholics in this world who make up the Church. Both because I feel nothing, and because doing what I should doesn’t really guarantee that I will feel anything.

I don’t pray enough. I don’t attend Mass on even a semi-regular basis. I’ve put off going to confession by any means possible. I have put off having our youngest baptized, or putting our older children in faith formation to receive their sacraments. I always find something “better” or “more important” to do. I always tell myself, “I can do it later”, and I watch the seconds and hours and days and weeks pass while I remain stagnant so far as the laws of time allow. And all because I don’t feel like doing it.

Most of us have heard or read Jesus’ words to Peter when he finds the apostles asleep in the garden just before He is arrested: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The issue with acedia is that neither the flesh nor the spirit are willing.

In essence, I have dropped out of the fight because I don’t feel God’s presence at all times, because I don’t feel divinely energized by the Holy Spirit, because I in all my imperfect humanness don’t feel like doing what God wants me to do. The Lord knows that I lack obedience, that I lack the discipline to act when told to act and go where I am told to go simply because I rely too heavily on emotion and spiritual fuzzies. Instead I sit back and wait for–like I said–divine inspiration to carry me to Mass or confession, or to the church office to sign my children up for formation and baptism.

Even now, in this post, I feel like I’m scrambling in circles, all while the Lord stands off to the side with this “seriously, child?” look on His face. He’s holding a map and a torch, offering me everything I need to quench His thirst for souls, and all I want to do is snuff the torch and stuff the map in my pocket because I am tired–body and soul. I am tired of caring, and somewhat resentful that I ever learned the Truth in the first place because now I can never not know, and so I can never feign ignorance to what is expected/wanted/needed of me.

If that seems… harsh, I know. But I really try to be candid about things even when it bites me in the rear at times. And I know that I’m not the only one suffering with this exact issue, this acedia and this selfish pride as if the Lord owes me warm fuzzies simply for doing what He tells me.

Anyways, here’s the full excerpt on spiritual sloth by St. John of the Cross in “The Dark Night”:

As to spiritual sloth, beginners are wont to find their most spiritual occupations irksome, and avoid them as repugnant to their taste; for, being so given to sweetness in spiritual things, they loathe such occupations when they find no sweetness. If they miss once this sweetness in prayer which is their joy, – it is expedient that God should deprive them of it in order to try them – they will not resume it; at other times they omit it, or return to it with a bad grace. Thus, under the influence of sloth they neglect the way of perfection – which is the denial of their will and pleasure for God – for the gratification of their own will, which they serve rather than the will of God. Many of these will have it that God should will what they will, and are afflicted when they must will what He wills, reluctantly submitting their own will to the will of God. As a result, they often imagine that what is not according to their will is also not according to the will of God; and, on the other hand, when they are pleased, they believe that God is pleased. They measure Him by themselves, and not themselves by Him. . . . They also find it wearisome to obey when they are commanded to do what they like not; and because they walk in the way of consolation and spiritual sweetness, they are too weak for the rough trials of perfection. They are like persons delicately nurtured who avoid with heavy hearts all that is hard and rugged, and are offended at the cross wherein the joys of the spirit consist. The more spiritual the work they have to do, the more irksome do they feel it to be. And because they insist on having their own way and will in spiritual things, they enter on the “strait way that leadeth unto life” (Matt. 16:25), of which Christ speaks, with repugnance and heaviness of heart.

 

You Can’t Drink Poison Then Wonder Why You’re Sick

“Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.” – St. Josemaria Escriva

Yesterday was a bad day.

I don’t say that often. I have lazy days, frustrating days, long days, but rarely do I have plain bad days.

Since becoming Catholic in 2011, I’ve worked hard to meet adversity and meanness with charity and compassion. I work hard to control my tongue, and even more control my fingers on the keyboard when on the internet. It’s easy to sit in front of a screen and treat it as a line of demarcation between reality and fiction. When arguing with someone online, it’s easy to forget that there is an actual living, breathing, hurting, loved individual on the other end, no matter how intolerable they are to us personally.

Yesterday, I was not charitable. I did not meet the person with whom I was fighting (someone I once knew personally and intimately) with compassion. Anytime we interact there is tension. Both of us want to get at the other, even when we both claim that we don’t. I chalk it up to unresolved issues that 1. we had when we were dating, and 2. that we have accumulated over the years and not talked through because, well, neither of us really wants to listen.

You could say, “just cut them off, stop talking to them,” but the situation is a bit more complicated. There’s a third-party involved, and that relationship cannot be severed, nor can this party be thrown in the middle of our issues. The one I was fighting with is a person I will have to deal with for the rest of my life, and he is one of the only people in the world towards whom I feel this amount of animosity.

I lost my cool. Not once, but twice. I failed the first incident by responding to what I knew was him baiting me into fighting. I fell for it. I fell into it. I failed the second time by, while claiming that I was done doing this with him, that I was going to try and do better by not stooping to the levels and language that I did, I stooped again. I trash-talked, I made petty (albeit true) comments in a public forum.

I’m not going to try and excuse my behavior. I’m a grown woman and I should know how to act, even and especially on the internet. I failed to set the example that when someone hands you poison, you don’t have to drink it. And drink it I did. Then I proceeded to moan about being sick.

My relationship with this individual was toxic when we were together, and ten years later, it’s still toxic. We both eat at each other, then we both turn around and act like what the other says and does doesn’t bother us. We’re both… excuse me if you will… full of crap. If neither of us cared about the other (in a broad, platonic sense), we wouldn’t nip at each other the way that we do. He wouldn’t do his best to show me how smart and wise and “enlightened” he is, and I wouldn’t waste my time trying to show him that he may be those things but he doesn’t know the first thing about being a father.

Now, this isn’t to say that he on his own is a toxic person. He says that he’s come a long way from who he was when we dated, and maybe he is. I don’t know because all I see is what he posts on Facebook, and what he tells me. And while I tell him that I’m not the same person I used to be, I always revert back to the outrageous, defensiveness 17-year-old I once was. I don’t show him a difference.

He hands me poison, and I drink it.

Two things shook me out of my tirade yesterday: one, a good friend and family member pointing out that I was being hypocritical by saying I didn’t want to stoop anymore, then doing so anyways when I had the chance to prove I’m not that person now; two, my mom said to me, “I hate seeing you like this. You have done SO WELL over the past few years when you weren’t speaking to him and now you’re right back to where you were before, and that’s not you.”

Thank God for people who are willing to set me straight even when it hurts. And I mean that with the utmost sincerity. I was making an absolute ass of myself and I’m sure it got a good “ha-ha” from his end, which of course cripples my pride. But that’s exactly what I need and needed. I need a blow to the pride. I need to remember that this person who keeps goading me into these behaviors has no power if I don’t give it to him. He may goad, but I’m the one who has control over my actions and reactions. I need to remember that he’s a person with aches and pains and past and present hurts just like me. I need to remember that even though he doesn’t claim religion or faith in God, he’s still made in the image and likeness of God. He’s broken, just like me, and we both have a Father who wants to make us better, who hates to see us bicker and hurt each other the way we do.

Right now, I honestly don’t want to be kind to this person. I don’t want to show him an ounce of compassion because I personally don’t think he deserves it. He won’t take it anyways. He’ll see it either as a ploy or a weakness, and he’ll exploit it either way because that’s just how this works. But it’s not really about what think, is it?

I’m done drinking the poison. I’m done letting him get rash reactions from me. I’m done speaking to him unless it involves the third party. Does that mean I’m going to kowtow and bend a knee? Absolutely not. I have the third party to protect, and even if it makes me look like the bad guy, I will never apologize for doing what I deem is in the best interest of said third party.

Mr. Wise and Enlightened can have the last word. He can prove how much smarter and wiser and all-around just a better person he is than me, and I’ll take it. I’ll take humility (and being humiliated) over pride and acting the way that I did yesterday.

Sometimes the suffering that we experience in life is completely self-inflicted, but we can especially in these moments allow God to work through others and show us where we’re lacking, and how we can do better, both for ourselves and those around us. I take full blame for yesterday, from the initial argument to the way it blew up on social media. I took a huge dose of humility, and it’s been much like a panacea to me. It’s been an opportunity for the Lord to remind me that at the core of it, I know nothing of patience, charity, and humility as it applies to temperance.

“Be slow to speak, and only after having first listened quietly, so that you may understand the meaning, leanings, and wishes of those who do speak. Thus you will better know when to speak and when to be silent.” – Saint Ignatius of Loyola

When Grace Flows Down

As is the case for many, many people, 2016when has been an extremely difficult year for us. Between taking in my niece through CPS back in January, a move, a car accident, several financial hardships, and enough family drama to rival a daytime soap opera, we walked into the Christmas season feeling completely defeated. My husband and I knew that we wouldn’t be able to provide a decent Christmas for our children without taking away from bills and other necessities, and so we decided to reach out for help.

Through the kindness of complete strangers, our children were able to have presents beneath the tree this year. Through the kindness of complete strangers, CPS was able to provide extra presents to my niece this year. Because of gift cards we received from friends and loved ones (and a certain “secret Santa”), my husband and I were able to purchase items needed to make some small repairs around the house.

And though it takes a lot for me to admit these things–prideful creature that I am–I want you to see first-hand what it looks like when grace flows down.

These people–friends and strangers, alike–took the time and effort from their own lives, from their own stresses and worries, to help us. They took the blessings that Christ has given to them and poured them out onto us. For all the blows we were dealt in 2016, it absolutely pales in comparison to the love we’ve been shown, and not just in the way of presents and monetary gifts, but for all the prayers offered on our behalf, for all the messages and phone calls asking if we need anything, or if we just need to talk for a bit.

While I understand that Christmas is not about the material things, it’s the charity and love behind what we’ve been blessed with that stands out the most. I see the selflessness of the gifts. I see the hands and feet of Christ at work. I see the kindness that the world feels is so lacking.

From the bottom of my heart I want to thank those who reached out to us, who helped give our children a good Christmas. From the bottom of my heart I want to thank everyone who has been praying for us. Thank you for taking the time and effort to sacrifice what you have for someone else. Thank you for being the examples of Christ that the world needs, especially now. ❤

 

 

Parents of the Millennial Generation

I did it once when our oldest son was about 7-years-old. It was one of those days when nothing seemed to go right at home. No one was having a good day. Maybe it was something in the air, a misalignment in the stars. Maybe the barometric pressure was off that day and it put everyone in a foul mood. Who knows? if-you-want-to-bring-happiness-to-the-whole-world-go-home-and-love-your-family

It was one of those days when all we could do was try to survive one another until daddy got home around five.

And believe me, survival is exactly how it felt. One minute to the next. I tried all day to remain calm, to be present, to not shut down and vegetate in front of the television like I’m prone to do when the stress is too much.

My then 7-year-old wasn’t having it. He did everything in his power to get a reaction out of me; whether it was good or bad, he didn’t care. He pushed my buttons until I finally gave him what he wanted: a reaction.

I set him out on the front porch. I told him that he wasn’t allowed to come back in until he was done acting the way he’d been acting, until he was ready to follow rules and listen to his mother. It was around 4:45, it wasn’t too hot or too cold outside, and I sat right by the window watching him the entire time. We were both angry, we were both at our wits-end, and it was a last-ditch effort on my part to rattle some sense into him.

Truth is, I hated doing it. Even knowing that he was perfectly safe sitting there on the porch, that I hadn’t put him in any kind of danger, I hated what I’d done as soon as I’d closed the front door on him. What was I teaching him? Sure, some parents will say that I was teaching him that I am the authority; it’s my house and my rules. If he can’t obey those rules, then he doesn’t get to be in the house.

I wasn’t teaching him tolerance.

I wasn’t teaching him obedience.

I certainly wasn’t teaching him love.

I was teaching him that he’s only wanted so long as he can follow the rules. I was teaching him that when people upset you, it’s perfectly okay to set them out on the curb like unwanted things, like you do with broken toys or appliances.

You’re taking that a little far, you may say. But kids think differently than adults. They are both far more literal and far more abstract than we are. They are not tiny adults, they are children, and children receive messages differently than we do. But you have to admit, even for our spouse to say, “you’re pissing me off so you need to go. I don’t want you anymore,” it would hurt.

I know some parents will say that I had every right, and that I did the right thing. They’d do the same thing to their children, because kids need to understand authority, they need to understand respect. They will say that children who have no respect for authority are the same ones running the streets and looting and setting things on fire as we speak. They will say that an inability on behalf of the parents to teach their children respect and obedience to authority is teaching them to be entitled, sniveling idiots.

But you know what I think these entitled, sniveling little idiots lack more than respect and obedience and self-control? Unconditional love. They lack a love that says, “we disagree, and I’m not happy with your opinion, but we can still work together, we can still be civil, we can still be friends.”

Sound like a bunch of hippy talk to you?

Do you know how many children are left to live on the streets because their parents found out they were gay? Do you know how many children have been kicked out or forced into abortions because they got pregnant young and out of wed-lock? Do you know how many children have been ostracized by their entire community because they chose a different religion, or because they chose to love outside of their race?

Nothing says entitlement quite like “this is MY house, MY rules, and if YOU don’t like it, you can get the hell out.”

Nothing says entitlement quite like treating your child like a possession that can be used and disposed of whenever they make YOU unhappy. Or telling your child that you brought them into this world and you’ll take them out of it.

Nothing says entitlement like the parents of the millennial generation.

And I’m not sorry if that pisses you off. You know why? Because if you’re offended by that then you’re probably old enough to be excluded from the Millennial generation, which means that you’re, of course, quite competent enough to handle your emotions responsibly. I.e. not sending me hate mail or telling me that I myself am an entitled know-it-all.

I get it. There comes a time in every person’s life when they have to make the decision that they’re either going to allow their past experiences, their childhood, to control who they become and what they do, or that they’re going to learn from it, grow from it, and do better. I’ve had to do it, and as hard as I try to be a good mom, I’m sure that my children will reach this point, too.

I can’t solely blame the parents for the actions and choices of the child; my mom raised my siblings and I with the same rules and philosophies and we still have that one sibling who went off into left field and got mixed up with some bad people and bad habits. It happens despite our best efforts, trust me, I know.

My point is, unconditional love starts at home. Acceptance starts at home. Responsibility, obedience, and respect begin at home. And it begins with not treating each other like property. It begins with teaching our children that we can still be courteous and amicable in our disagreements with others, even when others call us names and act uncivil. It begins with showing our children that we will love them no matter their grades, their lifestyle choices, the music they listen to, the friends they hang out with, whatever.

If you’re Christian, it begins with understanding that Christ didn’t send Judas away, even knowing that he would betray Him. He broke bread with him, shared in Communion with him. He loved him until the end. He didn’t say, “love your enemies and pray for them, except for that back-stabbing bastard, Judas, over there!”

If Jesus didn’t do it to Judas, and we’re not expected to do it to Jesus when things aren’t going our way, then on what plane of existence would it be okay for us to do this to our own children? The most vulnerable and malleable of all.

Don’t teach your children through your own actions towards them that they’re allowed to treat other people like shit when those people don’t do what they want, don’t give them what they want, don’t fit themselves to their beliefs and ideologies.

We can teach our next generation to speak out against injustice and to speak their minds without being destructive and outright violent. It begins at home.


Disclaimer: I’m not talking about situations with adult children that compromise the safety of the household, and/or of themselves. My own family has been in this situation with addictions and stealing. It’s not an easy thing for a family/parent to do, to draw the line between being supportive and being an enabler, and my prayers go out to any families dealing with this type of situation.

Conversion and Surrender

Becoming Catholic was one of the scariest things I have ever done in life. Since childhood I’d been taught that the Catholic Church was a crooked, greedy, abusive, and judgemental institution where you paid your way into Heaven and only priests were allowed to speak to God. do-not-be-conformed-to-this-world-but-be-transformed-by-the-renewal-of-your-mind-that-you-may-prove-what-is-the-will-of-god-what-is-good-and-acceptable-and-perfect

My conversion to Catholicism didn’t begin with a blinding light and me falling off my proverbial horse like St. Paul. I guess you could say that God and the Church had pursued me my entire life until, at the urging of my soon-to-be mother-in-law, and in order to appease my husband’s family, I agreed to attend RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).

In retrospect, I basically imagine that God clapped his hands and said, “Whelp, that’s that. She’s mine now!” the moment I walked into the RCIA classroom.

Over the next few months, everything that I thought I’d known about the Church and her teachings was stripped away. I began to see the Church for what it was and not for what my poorly catechized family members taught me as a child, or what secular media showed me on television. I asked questions and they were answered. I brought up issues that have long plagued the Church and they were explained, sometimes to the benefit of the Church, and sometimes to its detriment.

My sacramental conversion began when I wanted my husband’s family to like me. I was tired of not knowing that meal-time prayer they all prayed together. I was tired of hearing words like “Holy See” and “Ecclesiastical” and “Pontificate” and not knowing what in the world they were talking about. I was tired of not understand the sit, stand, kneel, stand, kneel, sit, “Amen” in Mass.

My true conversion began when Father Paul asked me if becoming Catholic was really what I wanted to do. He explained that I was free to choose whether or not to become Catholic. I was free to walk away if I didn’t feel it was for me. I sat there in that chair, at this small wooden table, staring at a priest whom I’m pretty sure has the gift to read souls, and realized that I wanted this because I wanted it. Not because of my husband or my soon-to-be in-laws. I wanted to become Catholic because over those many months, I’d fallen in love with the Church, with Christ.

There have been far more profound “yeses” to God in the history of our faith, but mine at that moment felt pretty flipping profound. Why? Because I knew from that moment on I would have to surrender everything to God.

You see, conversion is synonymous with total and utter surrender. You cannot become Catholic without surrendering the former self to Christ. You take your most deep-seated philosophies on life, your most ingrained behaviors and habits, and you surrender them wholly. You empty yourself of who and what you are so that you may be filled with Christ’s love and mercy and grace to become an entirely different creature.

At least, that’s how it goes in theory. But you have people like me who cling desperately to facets of the former self, who battle with God over who’s will will be done. You have people like myself who are afraid to trust in God and step out of their comfort zone in order to achieve the change we need to grow. And so you wake up every morning and you surrender again and again and again, until the issue is resolved and God reveals another part of you that could be better, holier, and you start all over.

As Bishop Robert Barron says, in essence, having a relationship with Christ is like taking a piece of glass, which in darkness can appear perfect, unblemished, and turning it toward the light where suddenly you can see the flaws, the imperfections. And the beautiful part about it is that we’re given the tools to wipe the glass clean, to mend the fractures and see clearly. When we smudge the glass again, we’re given the tools necessary to wipe it clean, if only we’re willing to first accept that there is a blemish, and then accept that we need the help to mend it.

I wasn’t simply converting from one belief or faith to another (I was a polytheistic Pagan before my conversion), I was converting my entire existence to center around one Truth, and that Truth called for me to make radical, necessary changes. And I didn’t look at these things and think “wow, the Church is so oppressive and doesn’t want you to have fun!” For the first time I saw that these guidelines for the Church were no different than my having expectations of behavior from my children, of giving them a bedtime and helping them to establish healthy life habits. It was no different than my wanting the absolute best for my children, for them to be good, honest people, and doing my best–as their parent–to set them on the right path, to teach them the right things, and to implement discipline where necessary.

Any parent who truly cares for and loves their child is going to have rules and regulations to keep them from hurting themselves or others. They place rules not to keep the child silent and still, but to ensure that they can LIVE and live WELL. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. But that’s a different conversation for a different time.

I’ve been Catholic for five-and-a-half years now, and I can tell you that every day I go through small conversions, and every day I must renew my surrender to God. It’s a lifelong process. Even Mother Teresa spent hours in the confessional, surrendering her cotton-ball sins to Christ. Even up to our dying breath, we must surrender to His will.

 

Let Us Not Become Weary In Doing Good…

I used to wonder why it was so difficult for Let us not become wearyin doing good,for at the proper timewe will reap a harvestif we do not give up.people to just be good. What was so hard about being a decent person?

The short answer: sometimes, being good hurts. Sometimes, doing the right thing takes us out of our comfort zone; it makes us confront issues that we would rather not confront. Sometimes, doing good means putting ourselves in situations that call us out upon the water, if you will.

I struggle every day against doing what feels good, what makes me comfortable, versus what I know is right. For example, I know that keeping my niece is the right thing to do. I know that probably sounds extremely cold and callous, but hear me out.

This hasn’t been an easy journey, as I’ve mentioned before. I thought that after seven months, things would get easier. I thought that we would have gotten used to having five children, and that the children would have gotten used to having a new “sibling” in the house. I thought that after seven months, my niece would have better acclimated to our household. Obviously, I thought a lot of things and have made several erroneous assumptions.

There have been many times, in the middle of yet another day of screaming and other drama, when I wanted to throw my hands in the air. Yes, there have been times when I wanted to call the caseworker and say, “I can’t do this anymore!” I wanted to put my own comfort above the needs of my niece. I wanted to be comfortable and less-stressed more than I wanted to do the right thing.

Again, I know this probably makes me sound like an awful, selfish person, but I’d rather be candid in these difficulties than put on a front. Parents get tired. We get cranky and frustrated. We’re human; imperfect humans trying to raise up tiny humans whom we hope will one day be better humans than us.

Everyday I strive to be better; I strive to yell less, to sigh and say “what the actual ___” under my breath less. And everyday, when my niece is having difficulties with her behavior that go beyond simple two-year-old tantrums (which I’ve been through three times now and little phases me), I remind myself that this isn’t about me, or my comfort. My niece needs us. God gave us the capability to take her in, cleared the way and opened the door to not having to go into foster care, and all we had to do was say “yes”. Well, we said “yes”, and now it’s just a matter of remembering that everyday we must continue to say “yes” to God, and “yes” to my niece.

What we’ve been called to do isn’t easy. The situation we’ve been called to handle is a slippery slope, at best. We’ve grown weary in doing good, but as Galatians states:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

– Galatians 6:9

What harvest will we reap from this? Watching our niece/cousin blossom into a beautiful young woman who is full of potential, who got to be raised by her family, where so many children don’t get that opportunity. We’ll get to watch her accomplish all the goals she sets for herself, and then some, God-willing. At the end of the day, we get to know that the struggle wasn’t for naught.