On a personal note…

Why I Became Catholic

The short answer to that question is merely, “Because I was supposed to.” That’s really the best answer I have. Until I was 18, I faithfully attended a Baptist church, but as I entered adulthood, I had been burned and while I said I was open to finding a new church, I certainly wasn’t looking. No, no, instead, I was out looking for love in all the worst places, as if I were trying to prepare the most scandalous confession ever. At this time I was very curious about other denominations, but there was one I was definitely not going anywhere near: the Catholic Church. At the same time, I was undeniably drawn to the beauty of the Church. Not the inner beauty, mind you, the outer beauty, but I certainly wouldn’t admit to it.

IMG_8985When I was 23, I moved to Norman, OK to start a new life for myself. I was still in my wilderness years, but I had taken my wild behavior down a notch or twenty, and while I prayed a 30 second prayer every night, I made no move to find a church or really do anything. That’s right: I was the dreaded “more spiritual than religious.”

Things started to change on April 2, 2005, the day that Bl. John Paul II passed from this world. I had been in Norman for a month, and was still in training at my new job at a call center. I was getting some coffee in the break room when one of my trainers walked in. I immediately went into shameless flirting mode.

Me: He-eey: How are you doing? *big, flirty smile*

Mr. Hottie: *obviously down in the dumps* Oh, I’m alright. It’s my birthday.

Me: Oh? Well, Happy Birthday! You have any big plans? *please say you want to go out and celebrate tonight but you have no one to go with you*

Mr. Hottie: Nah, it just sucks because the pope died today.

Me: *slightly horrified* Oh… Well… Are you Catholic or something?

Mr. Hottie: No,… but,… you know. It’s the pope.

At which point he walked off, downtrodden. I was so confused. I had seen in the news that Pope John Paul II had passed away, but I had pushed the story aside. What did it matter to me or the rest of the world that wasn’t Catholic?

Two years and five days later, April 7, 2007, Mr. Hottie (who is better known as Mr. Scottie-too-hottie, my darling husband) and I were confirmed in the Catholic Church at the Easter vigil.

How did that happen?

Scott’s sister had converted a year or two before, and her husband is a cradle Catholic. Through his sister, Scott had been to Mass a few times, and a few weeks after we started dating, in November 2005, we attended a Mass together.

My first Mass was awkward of course! I wasn’t sure what I was doing–sit, stand, sit, stand, kneel! I was absolutely enthralled. The Creed, the choir, the columns–I had never seen anything like it before. If I had been asked to explain it, I would have said it was a conversation between God and His people. I didn’t know any of the words, but I longed to recite the Creed, and sing the Gloria. There was one part of the Mass I was able to participate in, however, and that was kneeling during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It was so good and so right to kneel before Almighty God. Of course, I didn’t believe in the true presence and I wouldn’t for for some time, but my soul felt it and was at rest. I don’t know how to convince someone to accept Catholicism, because I didn’t convert to an argument or a theory or a dogma. I converted to 10 minutes a week where I could kneel before God and be at peace, and at home.

As we were leaving, an older woman stopped Scott and I as we were leaving and exclaimed, “I just love a Mass!” I smiled at her and nodded, barely acknowledging her, but in my heart, I couldn’t have agreed with her more! That day, I knew I’d come home. It would take a lot of time for me to be able to admit to it, though!

For the next year, Scott and I went to Mass off and on, but neither of us was comfortable with admitting our love for the Church. We also attended services at a Baptist church and a Methodist church, but we weren’t ready to commit to anything just yet. After we got engaged the following August, we realized we would have to become members of a church  so that we would have a place to get married. After a heartfelt one-on-one, we agreed that we were both the most comfortable with the Methodist church. Scott’s parents are Methodist, as is his mother’s entire family, and my grandmother was, too, so it felt like the most logical route. Just like that, our decision was made: we were going to be Methodist.

A few weeks later, we started RCIA at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church without any further discussion.

I know, I know. That has got to be the worst conversion story ever. No fanfare, no big moral dilemma that came down to the wire. There was this little tug inside me, and once I got a taste of the Mass, it pulled me the rest of the way. Don’t get me wrong, I had some major issues; all the usual Protestant fare: Mary, the Saints, the Eucharist, and such, but none of my qualms were any match for the longing I felt for the Mass. To be perfectly honest, blind faith is not like me at all, and I have the unfortunate heart of a skeptic. However, I was given this gift of grace through my conversion that pulled me through for the simple reason that this is where I was meant to be. For that, I am literally eternally grateful.

Categories: Chasing After God, On a personal note... | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Being a Wife: Sometimes You Don’t Have to be “Right”

About 6 years ago or so, Scott and I went to a bridal shower. It was supposed to be men and women but, as these things usually turn out, there were mostly women at the event. Come to think of it, the groom-to-be wasn’t even there. The hostess’s boyfriend was present, and he and Scott hid in the corner for most of the event. I sat on the couch, wishing I could hide in the corner, too.

Most of the ladies in attendance were single or divorced, which made the “advice” game a bit idiotic interesting. It wasn’t really a game, per say, but everyone anonymously wrote down a piece of marriage advice on a little card, placed it in a basket, and the bride-to-be read all the advice aloud. I smiled to myself when I wrote down my advice. Scott and I weren’t married yet, and we’d only been dating for about a year, but I’d already learned a lot about the impact of the little things. “Surprise him with a romantic dinner…especially if you’ve been fighting!”

After Scott and I had our first argument, I was horribly upset. I hated the tension it put between us, and I wanted to take an eraser to that fight so we could be happy again. My previous relationships never made it past the first fight, and I just knew this one wouldn’t either. We’d only been together a few months at that point, but I couldn’t bear to lose the happiness we had together. After the fight was settled, the tension still hung in the air between us. I needed to make a gesture, take him on a romantic date–something! But I didn’t have any money to do anything.

So, I invited him over after work. I lit candles. I made Hamburger Helper. Hey, it’s what I had! He was probably dreading coming over to see me after our fight, but when he walked in and saw the candles, the dinner, and me in my fanciest dress, all of the tension was gone. I felt the anxiety melt away as we sat down together, happy again, no longer worried about that stupid fight. It was perfect.

I was confident when I put my advice card in the basket that it was a gem. Let’s just say I was the only one who thought so.

I don’t remember the exact advice on the other cards, but I remember the gist of it. “Tell him to do as you say. You are the boss.” When my advice was read aloud, it was ridiculed. “Who wrote that down?!?!” someone shouted. “Yeah right! Have him cook for you! I’m not cooking for my husband! Especially when we’ve been fighting!” The general consensus was that he’s always wrong, you’re always right, and make sure you get your way. Or else! And make sure he knows you’re not his maid and you’re not his cook!

It’s in our human nature to be selfish, to want to be dominant. When I look around at failed relationships, the most common themes I see are a complete lack of willingness to do anything for the other person, and an unshakable determination to be right and have your own way. How can we say we love someone with all our hearts, forever, but refuse to do anything in the relationship? How can we be so unyielding and so domineering that we put being right and having our way in front of our relationships? Just making a gesture to show your love doesn’t make you a slave, and neither does letting the person you love have their way.

Just ask Scott: I like to have my way and I like being right. We can’t drive to the grocery store without me correcting him on which lane to get into and when to change lanes. Doing laundry is a challenge because clothes have to be folded the right way–aka my way. And I cannot tell you how hard it is to hold back from going into gross detail as to why you have to get into a certain lane at a certain time and why shirts should be folded a certain way.

The last few months, I haven’t been feeling like myself. I’ve been back and forth to the doctor, poked, prodded and scanned, and there’s still more to come. I don’t know if it’s just from anxiety, but my energy level is zero. I feel exhausted constantly, and I’ve fallen behind on the housework. Without complaining or waiting to be asked, Scott started doing the laundry. He’s even made an effort to fold things the way I like them to be folded. He hasn’t mastered it by any means, but he’s put forth a real effort. It’s the little things, after all, that make you feel loved and protected.

I recently started following Hallie Lord, aka Moxie Wife on Facebook, and she’s been doing a marriage challenge with a different task for each day. Here are a few samples:

Happy Sunday, pretty ladies! I just love today’s marriage challenge! Are you ready for it? Simply “leave him a sweet note.” What fun!

Tomorrow’s task is another sweet one, my fellow marriage challenge participants! “Kiss your husband the first time you see him in the morning.” Well, that shouldn’t be too hard. 😉

Sounds easy, you say? Brace yourself for the toughie:

Oh, girls. We should probably start praying for one another right now. Tomorrow’s marriage challenge? “Go a whole day without correcting your husband.” Good luck! 😉

Now, I just started following, so I haven’t been doing the challenge….yet. When I saw that last one, I knew immediately that I needed to follow along, even if I’m a few weeks behind. Somewhere along the line, I turned into the stereotypical nagging wife and left the eager to please, young girlfriend behind in the dust. In a way, our relationship has matured. I’m far more willing to stand up to Scott than I was back then, and if something he does bothers me, I need to let him know–to a point! But while I’m just as likely to admit fault when I do something to hurt him, I’m less likely to make a romantic gesture in an attempt to erase the hurt. At some point, I allowed my want to control things get in the way of making his happiness my priority. Is our marriage failing? Absolutely not. But I do everything I can to make sure Scott knows at every turn that he is loved and the he is my top priority? No, I’m afraid not.

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as it behoveth in the Lord. –Colossians 3:18

Probably the most hated verse in the Bible. However, you have to keep in mind:

Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter towards them. –Colossians 3:19

It’s about serving and loving each other to build each other up, not trying to beat each other into shape. It’s easy to forget that in our me-me-me culture. But we’re supposed to be separate from the culture. I’m not talking about any radical changes, just making an effort to do a little something for him every day, to put his needs before mine.  I think it’s time for a 30 day challenge; to make myself a little sweeter, and maybe rediscover the woman who cared more about being in love than being right.

Categories: Everything Else, Marriage, On a personal note... | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Farewell Aunt Sarah Pt 2: What She Left Behind

Sunday, my husband Scott and I were called upon to help out with the sorting of his Great-Aunt Sarah’s things. We laid out her worn jewelry, her little ceramic birds and angels, her collectibles from the states she’d traveled to, the afghans she made, her salt and pepper shaker collection, and her blue cornflower CorningWare. Over the years, her possessions were trimmed down; when she moved from her house in Carnegie to the independent living apartments in Norman, and again when she moved to assisted living. By the time she passed, she had only the things she loved the most. Every chipped ceramic bird, every tattered string of beads had a story. After spending so much time lately clearing clutter out of our house, I was loathe to drag anything back in, but I told Scott he could have any keepsakes he wanted. In the end, we didn’t take much. A salt and pepper set in the shape of a toaster with two slices of bread, a few pieces of jewelry, a book, and some other things that reminded Scott of the happy days when the family would load up the car and go see Great-Aunt Sarah.

At some point when we were sitting with Aunt Sarah on her final day, someone started asking about her will. Naturally, this caused a little tension, as it would in any situation. There was an additional bit of frustration because her will was of absolutely no consequence. Aunt Sarah had nothing. She was a widow and a retired beautician, not exactly a position of prosperity. What’s more is that she didn’t care about such things. Every Christmas and every birthday, Scott and I were very deliberate in our gift buying because we didn’t want to burden her with useless things. She would always insist that we not get her anything, but we would press her until she told us something she needed. A new lamp to crochet by, a bottle of perfume, some money to have her hair permed. We were always searching for some thing to give her, but when the time came, all she really wanted was to see the family, to hug and kiss the children, and to know everyone was healthy and happy and loved.

At the service, no one talked about how hard she worked to increase her personal wealth or what a big, beautiful house she lived in (she did have a wonderful home!). Everyone spoke of her faith, how much she loved and longed for God, how much she loved her family and friends, and how she found joy in caring for others. Aunt Sarah left a mark on everyone she met and it wasn’t because of her fine jewelry (she had none), her priceless artwork (none), her luxurious car (again, none), or any other treasures of this world. She was an inspiration because she filled herself with God’s love and passed that love on to others.

The message hit home for me. Hard. We’ve been longing to buy a house of our own, and as I look at houses online, my tastes have slowly become pricier. At some point, I added $50,000 onto our price range and I’ve started disqualifying homes that would be wonderfully suitable for us based on their lack of luster. Yes, yes, this house is very homey and would work very well for us, but I want something that looks a little nicer. So, the focus has somehow shifted to pleasing whomever is looking at the house, rather than the people living in the house. I’ve felt the same shift in other areas. When I’m looking at purses, I focus on finding one that looks nicer and pricier, rather than one that meets my needs and has the appropriate pockets. When I look at my little sensible car, I wish I’d gotten a little SUV instead. Even the gold-plated crucifix I wear on my neck should be replaced with one of solid gold. This is clearly not the way of life God intended for us.

And that which fell among thorns, are they who have heard, and going their way, are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit. –Luke 8:14

Aunt Sarah’s funeral really struck a nerve in me because she was a childless Aunt, and so am I. When I die, what will my nieces and nephews say and feel about me? Will they say, “Aunt Rebecca showed us God’s love” or muse over my obsession with putting on appearances? Aunt Sarah’s life was full of good fruit. There were so many people there who saw Jesus in her and there wasn’t a soul present who would crave any other sentiment at their passing. So why do we all spend so much time and energy chasing after the material things that don’t matter?

So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God. And he said to his disciples: Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat; nor for your body, what you shall put on. The life is more than the meat, and the body is more than the raiment. Consider the ravens, for they sow not, neither do they reap, neither have they storehouse nor barn, and God feedeth them. How much are you more valuable than they? And which of you, by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? –Luke 12:21-25

For some time now, God has been telling me to embrace a life of greater poverty. Reduce my standard of living and increase my spiritual walk. Over the ages, we have been given so many examples. Jesus Himself was poor and had no earthly possessions beyond the clothes He wore. We can also look to the example of St. Francis, St. Clare, Mother Theresa, and others who chased after God instead of chasing riches. And now, we can also look to the simple life of love Aunt Sarah lived.

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Suffering, Offering it Up, and The Jesus Prayer

For some time now, I’ve had painful “pins and needles” sensations in my legs, especially when I lay down at night. About a week and a half ago, it started keeping me up at night, which I went into a little more detail about here. Propping my legs up on pillows and taking aspirin has given me some relief, but I still find myself lying awake, in pain and afraid. Afraid, because I have a little medical condition called hypochondria which turns every ache and pain into a blood clot headed straight for my brain. It doesn’t help that my husband has been working the night shift and I’m lying in bed alone.

Since my conversion, I’ve heard the expression “offer it up,” however, as many times as I say I need to look it up or find out more about it, I’ve never gotten around to it. A few nights after the pains started interfering with my sleep, I was lying in bed, starting to feel like sleep was impossible. As my legs ached, I worried about my health; as I worried about my health, I couldn’t sleep; the longer I couldn’t sleep, the more I worried about that and the prospect of facing a workday on little to no sleep….my blood pressure soared and my legs ached harder. I kept going around in circles until I was on the verge of a panic attack. Suddenly, a thought came to mind: You need to offer it up!

“Lord!” I said, “I don’t really understand what that means, but I want to give You this pain and this worry!” I thought of a couple I know who are militant atheists. I thought of my sins. I struggled to find the words to say. I thought of a simple prayer I saw on a blog, The Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I said the prayer. Then again. And again. Then something unexpected happened.

I was laying there asking for just enough comfort to doze off. I certainly wasn’t asking for a lesson in the true nature of faith. However, as I prayed, I realized I was hoping for comfort. I asked Jesus to come to my side and I hoped He would come. The message came to me as plain as day: Faith does not hope God will come to our aid, faith knows that He will.

In that moment, I held on to the faith that God would come to my aid and prayed The Jesus Prayer over and over again. Within just a few minutes, I dropped off to sleep. Since then, my nights have been easier. When the pain troubles me too much, doing a few recitations of The Jesus Prayer soothes me to sleep straight away.

So what is The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer is a prayer used widely in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and is featured prominently in the book The Way of a Pilgrim. The prayer has scriptural roots in Luke 18:11-13:

 The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is repeated over and over, with the aid of a prayer rope as a meditative prayer, similar to how Catholics pray the rosary. The power of this prayer comes from the invocation of Jesus’ name, and the humility of acknowledging oneself as a sinner. Eastern Orthodox monks say the prayer hundreds of times a night in their private cells, in an attempt to internalize the prayer, thus praying without ceasing. Some say the prayer in sync with their breathing; others use it as a method of self analysis, listening as they pray to which words they emphasize. If the word “Jesus” is stressed, it points to needing to appeal to Jesus’ human nature, if the word “sinner” is stressed, it points to needing to repent and accept forgiveness of sins, etc. There’s more, of course, but I don’t want to go into it too far here. Bottom line, reciting the prayer helped me to focus on God during a time of distress and pain.

What is “Offering it up?”

This has been a strange concept to me, that would have been a lot less strange had I taken the time to do just a little bit of research. After browsing around, offering it up, is a means of drawing closer to Christ by uniting our sufferings to Him. There is no sacrifice or pain that can atone for our sins, but as Christians, we are meant to share in His sufferings. It draws us nearer to Him.

 For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us. –Romans 8:17-18

For unto you it is given for Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. –Philippians 1:29

But the God of all grace, who hath called us into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you, and confirm you, and establish you. –1 Peter 5:10

 Furthermore I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ: And may be found in him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God, justice in faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death. –Philippians 3:8-10

Our suffering brings us closer to Jesus, who suffered so much for us. The best analogy I can come up with (and it’s awful, I know) is a child “helping” their mother out in the kitchen. The child isn’t really helping at all! But the child is learning and bonding with their mother.

So when I’m in pain and can’t sleep, rather than getting upset, getting worried, and complaining, I can offer that to God. I will cheerfully bear this pain as penance for the ugly things I said about someone else. I will bear it as supplication for someone who doesn’t know God. It isn’t even restricted to pain. It can be fasting, hardships, annoyances.

It’s a way of tolerating the pain and sufferings of life, large, small, and minuscule, by joining them to Jesus’ sufferings. I’ll go through this for You, Lord, and I won’t complain, because You suffered for me without complaining.

It really makes me think about all the things I complain about. Instead of getting upset about having a headache, taking lunch a few hours late, or not being able to sleep because my legs hurt, maybe I should take it as an occasion to remember the One who suffered for me and offer it up to Him.

You can find more information about offering it up at these sites:

http://www.fisheaters.com/offeringitup.html

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2011/05/offering-it-up

I’ve been enjoying reciting The Jesus Prayer throughout the day, but I’m still working on the rest. I do love to complain and freak out. After spending a day calling just about every doctor in town and being turned away for an appointment, I was able to get an appointment next week with a new doctor. We’re praying that whatever is causing the circulation issues can be taken care of before there’s any irreversible damage. As far as smoking goes, in a week and a half, I’ve gone from 30-40 cigarettes a day down to 10 per day. As long as my resolve holds out, I’ll be done by the end of next week!

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Farewell Aunt Sarah, Part 1

This week, I’m afraid I’ve fallen a little behind in my blogging, despite just getting started. Sunday morning, my husband, Scott received a call that his Great-Aunt Sarah, at 92, had gone into kidney failure on top of pneumonia and wasn’t expected to last much longer. She passed away just before 2am Monday morning, with Scott holding one of her hands, and his dad, who was her favorite nephew, holding the other.

Ever since Scott’s birthday in April, she’s been in and out of the hospital, starting with a bruised leg that just wouldn’t heal. In June, she was moved “temporarily” from her assisted living apartment to the nursing home, but was still in and out of the hospital. Scott and his brothers and sister have been doing whatever they can, making sure her laundry is done, visiting her, and always making sure she got her chocolate milkshakes in the evening.

Last month, Scott’s parents flew in from their home in Saudi Arabia (long story short, Scott’s dad works in Saudi, however, due to Scott’s dark complexion, I have fooled a few people into thinking that’s where they’re all from), first his mother, then when Aunt Sarah was scheduled for debridement surgery on her leg, his father came. The whole family was together for the first time since Christmas. We finished moving her things out of the apartment and prepared ourselves for the worst. But the worst didn’t happen. Aunt Sarah felt much better after the surgery, and was moved to a nearby specialty hospital for treatment. Then, she had staph, but she started healing, all the same. She was back and forth between the regular hospital and the specialty hospital, but she was steadily doing better. Scott’s parents started planning for how to provide in-home healthcare for her. Aunt Sarah took four painful steps, the first she’d been able to take in almost two months. Then, a few days later, she was gone.

I rarely ever went to see Aunt Sarah by myself, but since this whole thing started, I’ve had a fair amount of alone time with her. It was something that was awkward at first, but as time went on, it was easier for me to make conversation with her. I learned to ask about the thing she loved most: Her husband. The first time I asked her about him, I was shocked at her candor. They were only married for 13 years, and he passed away over 40 years ago, but she was still so anxious to see him again. Aunt Sarah told me that she wasn’t sure why God was keeping her around so long, but she was ready. Ready to be reunited with her sister and her husband, to see her mother again, to meet her Savior.

When I joined the family at the specialty hospital on Sunday, it was bittersweet. We all took turns holding her hand and everyone had a story to tell. At 3pm, they turned off the breathing machine and moved to “comfort procedures.” The nurse removed her dentures, washed her face, combed her hair. We all got a little teary over her hair, because we never were able to get someone to come and do a perm for her. Aunt Sarah was a career beautician, and had her own beauty shop attached to her house. To see her laying there with her hair in less than perfect condition was especially heartbreaking.

The whole day was a flurry of family coming in and out, seeing their dear Aunt Sarah for the last time, telling their stories, and trying to find the right words to sum up who she was and what she meant to them. She never had children of her own (she had a hysterectomy long before she married, from what I understand) but there was no shortage of family members who considered her a second mother or second grandmother.

As the afternoon turned into evening, the family members who had come from out of town had to go. We started reading Bible verses, mainly Psalms, and playing hymns for her.

I went home just before midnight and Scott called me just before 2am, a few minutes after Aunt Sarah had passed. By then, it was only Scott and his parents left keeping watch. As soon as he told me she was gone, I headed back. When I got back to the hospital,  I went down the corridor and into the room, just like I had 100 times already that day, but as I walked in and saw the vessel she had left behind, I broke down crying. It hit me like a bucket of ice water. There are no words to describe the utter emptiness that was left behind. Scott’s beloved great-aunt, his second grandmother was gone.

We mourn, but not as those who have no hope. We know she’s free, now. She’s gone home.

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