All the Zero Days

Hike Your Own Hike

(A letter to my teenage son, who stays up far too late on his phone because his suicidal friends reach out to him for a listening ear, and who will be leaving home for a week of co-ed music camp with his girlfriend this summer)

Some might say it’s just a trite trail axiom. Others might say it’s a way of life, or the only way to live.

I would say we don’t get much say in the matter. It’s not like we can hike someone else’s hike through life, as much as we might sometimes want to. Certainly no one else can walk our walk for us, although every once in a while someone else might be kind enough to help us carry our burdens for a stretch while we continue trudging along, slowly putting one foot in front of the other.

But ultimately, only you can hike your hike. Only you can live your life. No one else can do it for you. You get no choice in the matter.

Being told we have no choice pisses us off. Anger is a normal biological response to a stimuli, meant to fuel our desire to act in our own best interest and survive. When we get angry enough, we fight. But anger is a mask for fear, so sometimes, we flight. In our own best interest, we run away.

Sometimes, we do both.

That, I think, is what causes suicide. The fear we experience when we’re told we have no choice about the cards we’ve been dealt toxically mixes with the rage that fuels our desire to take action, to rebel. We throw down our hand in disgust, and refuse to play. “I do, too, fucking have a choice, and I choose to fucking end it!” And in an act of great paradox, we win the argument and lose the war.

Obviously there’s a lot more to suicide than that. There’s also the immeasurable burden of emotional or physical pain that one carries, often (but not always) amplified by chemical dependency, biochemical disorders, abuse, or trauma. The desire for relief outweighs even the strongest instinct to survive if the pain, even if brief, is intense enough.

Fear tells us the pain won’t ever stop. If the pain does stop, fear tells us it will be back, that it will keep coming back, that it will get worse, that it will kill us.

That we have no choice.

Fuck that, we say. Pain can’t kill me if I do the job first. To someone in pain, this makes all the sense in the world. So in a moment of simultaneous fight and flight, we end it.

I have a friend living with terminal cancer. Living with, not dying of; the words we use matter. He fights the cancer, hard. He carries pain that most of us can’t even fathom. I would have given up long ago. I don’t know how he keeps going, knowing that eventually the cancer will win.

Except here’s the thing. It’s not really the cancer that’s terminal. It’s life. The cancer will lose and die when my friend’s earthly body dies. The cancer will contribute to its own demise by continuing to spread and take over its host. But it’s not cancer that’s terminal, it’s life itself; we all die, whether we have cancer or heart disease or diabetes or addiction or happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or live a perfectly chaste and continent existence for more than a century. With death, as with life, we have no say in the matter.

But like cancer, we may be contributing to our own demise.

And that is a choice.

So it stands to reason – if how we choose to live can impact how we die, then how we choose to live can impact how we live, as well.

We can choose how we hike our own hike.

Hike your own hike means making choices in your own best interest, even if they are not the choices others would have you make. So first and foremost, make choices in your own best interest, not someone else’s. But keep in mind that cancer, acting out of unbridled self-interest, is contributing to its own demise.

Hiking your own hike means making choices knowing you will have to live with those choices, and with their consequences, and that sometimes your choices will be ineffective and flat out wrong, and the consequences will hurt and could do great harm. But choosing not to choose and habitually allowing others to make choices for you is also doing yourself harm. Do not purposely choose to do harm to yourself or others; that is not in your best interest.

Choose to give yourself adequate time to consider what actually is in your best interest. The easy choice is often not the best. The hard choice is just as often not the best, either. Learn to discern by giving yourself permission to make mistakes. If you have to make the same mistake more than once, forgive yourself and accept that many lessons take repetition to achieve mastery. Practice, however, does not make perfect. Practice makes better, until you are consistently doing your best. And that is something of which you can be proud, even if you are not perfect.

Remember that life is still terminal even when you consistently make the best choices. In those moments when the burdens of regret and shame from your mistakes and failures feel heavy, remember those feelings are the privilege of the living. The honors student killed in the car accident, the man in his 30s whose heart unexpectedly stopped beating, the mom in her 40s who went to bed, had a brain aneurysm and never woke up, the music teacher who lost her life while riding her bike no longer have the luxury of carrying the burden that comes with the gift of making choices. So choose to write the song, or eat the chocolate cake, or sleep late, or climb the mountain.

Choose the job that pays less but gives you the time to hike your own hike. Call in late to work and put the phone on mute, and take the time to write the love letter to your child. Be grateful every time you pay for the roof over your head even if you can’t afford to buy a new car. Remember that you can only hike your own hike with help from a higher power, which most often comes in the form of other people, even people we don’t like, sometimes people we detest. No one hikes alone, even if we hike solo; at the very least someone else made the boots we wear.

Don’t use “learning” as a justification for knowingly making a mistake. Don’t deliberately make the choice that leads to regret or shame. Growth and strength come from the discipline of making effective choices repeatedly. Progress comes from choosing to walk, and choosing to rest, each when the time is right. Listen to your gut, especially in that rare (and it is rare) instance when you don’t have time for deliberation and discernment. Listen to your heart, because that’s where your higher power lives, and where that power will speak to you. If you have time, ask other people to share their experience so you can learn from their mistakes rather than making your own. In this way you avoid picking up the burden of shame while helping to lessen theirs.

And if someone (for example, your well-intentioned mother) gives you advice for which you did not ask, consider that perhaps the shame and regret of their choices is heavy, and it’s their way of trying to set it down. Let them. Take a good look at what it is that burdens them. You don’t have to pick up what they set down before you. Like you, they are hiking their own hike. Let them.

Tending the Temple

Loneliness vs. Depression

Author and blogger Jason F. Wright recently wrote a column on loneliness, encouraging readers to reach out to someone if they were feeling lonely (including the suicide hotline). You can read it here.

After reading it myself, I read some of the comments criticizing him and assuring us all that loneliness has a name – depression – and that the only truly “helpful” advice is to tell people to get professional help.

The piece was timely for me. I recently discovered that I have been lonely, some days debilitatingly so. I use that word “discovered” because it came as a surprise to me. I would have assumed a feeling like loneliness would be pretty easy to identify, but that was not the case. I’ve felt tired. I’ve felt sad. I’ve felt unmotivated. I’ve felt apathetic. At times I’ve felt despondent. Hungry. Sorry for myself. Sometimes I’ve felt physical pain, in my neck, my back, my chest, my gut, my eyes. Sometimes I’ve felt rejected by others, and sometimes I’ve felt like rejecting others myself. I’ve also felt a lot of shame about having all these feelings. I had a lot of feelings I could identify, but wrapping it up in a bow and calling it “loneliness” was not immediately obvious to me.

The obvious name for it was depression, and I did call it that from time to time. As the article suggested, I did reach out to my spiritual director when I was feeling especially depressed. It took every bit of effort I could muster to send those texts to her, and I could do so only because 1) I was desperate to unload the burden just a little, and 2) I trust her unconditional love, her non-judgement, and her ability to restrain herself from giving advice.

(Side note: When you are feeling those feelings and can finally muster the courage to tell someone, there is a very real risk that “someone” will assault you with well-meaning unsolicited advice, the worst of which includes, “Have you considered professional help?” and “There’s no shame in taking medication if you need it.” I can’t publish the words I want to say when I get advice like that, but I can say I’d rather be slapped in the face than hear those things, because it would sting less. What I can publish is that yes, I’ve used professional help and medication in the past, and neither worked very well and are very expensive, especially when your insurance has a deductible of thousands before you get any coverage. Finding a good counselor was like finding a needle in a haystack. Regarding antidepressants, the side effects were worse than the feelings I was looking to cure. I don’t say that to discourage others, nor do I look down on those who need and choose pharmaceutical solutions; they just aren’t for me. If someone has the courage to share their darkest pain with you, don’t offer solutions. She isn’t sharing with you so you’ll fix it. Sharing with you is the fix. Hug her and affirm her and thank her for opening up. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Then shut up and wait for her to ask. Maybe a listening ear is all she needed.)

I also reached out to a very special group of friends for support. No broadcast status updates to everyone on Facebook for me; I don’t want to draw attention to myself in the midst of my emotional darkness. But reaching out to this select group and asking for their prayers helped lighten the burden, especially the feeling of shame. I can’t overstate how ashamed I was of the way I felt, and my instinct was to hide myself. But we are only as sick as our secrets, and sharing my secret struggle, not with the world, but with individuals I trusted, dissipated the shame. Thanks to their unconditional love, now I can share about this experience with the world in a way that maybe will help someone else instead of make people feel uncomfortable or sorry for me.

One woman with whom I shared is around my mom’s age. She said she experienced the same thing when her husband retired and was at home all the time. The irony, of course, is that her loneliness set in precisely when she was no longer spending time alone. She asked me point blank, how much time do you actually spend with just yourself? The answer is complicated. Although I’m a single mom of three, with a boyfriend who’d be happy to see me every day, I do have solitude built into my days. I have alone time each morning when the kids go to school, then I go to a job that usually involves just me in my office, alone. I tend to think I have a lot of alone time. But even during my “alone” time, my head is focused on others. Worrying about my son’s grades. Working out the family schedule and folding everyone’s laundry. Creating for clients. Answering emails. Learning music for church. My recreational time is spent with the fella or with hiking pals, not giving myself undivided attention.

Last weekend the fella took me to the Outer Banks for a much needed getaway. We did lots of fun things together: seeing the site of the first flight, climbing a lighthouse, flying a kite at jockey’s ridge, and eating gourmet dinners. But the part of the trip that rejuvenated me the most was the hour I spent alone walking on the beach to catch the sunrise Saturday morning. That one hour fueled me more than anything.

I had an epiphany that morning. I don’t have many complaints about my relationships with the people in my life. I have a pretty solid relationship with God; I can see Him at work in my life and in the lives of so many others, and I trust His care. But my relationship with myself kinda sucks.

I judge myself so harshly. I hold myself to impossible standards. Regret and anger turn inward, and I neglect self-care that used to be a regular part of my routine – weekly trips to the Y, yoga classes, support group meetings, nutritious food, writing and journaling, and most importantly, spending time alone.

It is paradoxical that one of the solutions for my loneliness is to spend time being truly alone. But it makes sense. I am lonesome for a relationship with the only person who has known me since the moment I was born and will be with me until the moment I die – myself.

Unlike my boyfriend, my close friends, my children, or even my parents, she knows and, more importantly, understands everything about me. She’s been with me through every heartbreak, every mistake, every triumph. Yet I routinely reject her. And then I wonder why I struggle with depression?

We can’t have meaningful social connection with others unless we first have that connection with ourselves. Healthy relationships are not possible without self-respect and a sense of self-worth, neither of which can develop if our focus is always on our relationships with others.

Loneliness is NOT the same thing as depression; loneliness is a symptom of depression. I think it is also a cause. There are studies demonstrating loneliness and lack of meaningful social connection are the precursors to addiction, more so than any other factor. This also helps explain why 12 step fellowships are effective for so many alcoholics and addicts, and those affected by alcoholism in their families. These programs give a sense of community and connectedness through shared struggles, and the 12 steps themselves, if actually followed, restore a relationship with oneself. No wonder there are 12 step programs for all the addictive behaviors to which we turn when we are avoiding ourselves – booze, drugs, food, sex, shopping, gambling. 12 step programs have a failure rate, too, probably because not everyone actually does the work required in the steps, or goes to meetings routinely enough to break though their isolation.

Mental illness is real. Clinical depression is real. But not everyone who experiences the symptoms of mental illness or clinical depression does so because of a chemical imbalance they can’t control. Sometimes addressing these crippling symptoms is very much within our control. A friend of mine who’s an avid cyclist reminded me that just 20 minutes of cardio a day can have the same effect on the brain as antidepressants. Another friend who’s a yoga instructor says her spiritual practice of yoga and meditation, along with some other spiritual practices, are what stave off her depression. Still another friend said that it’s when he’s helping other people that he finds relief from self-pity and low self-worth. “If you want high self-esteem, do esteemable things,” he says. And there’s always that reliable stand-by, the Gratitude List.

I practice all of these techniques occasionally, and I know from experience how much they help with my symptoms. That’s not to downplay that some people do need professional help. As my former counselor told me, sometimes we need the pharmaceutical solution to get us to the place where we are capable of embracing the effective non-pharmaceutical benefits of talk therapy and other activities. I understand that. But you can’t medicate loneliness away, either.

For me, depression is resentment and anger turned inward. It’s what happens when I set unrealistic expectations for myself, fail to meet them, and then hate myself for it and assume everyone else does, too. Often it comes out sideways in my judgement and criticism of other people, or envy and jealousy. In my recent struggles with loneliness and depression, my reaction to this cycle of negativity has been irritability, fatalism, and cynicism, a “why bother” attitude.

This week, I stopped asking “why” and got down to the business of “bothering.” I bothered myself to go on two early morning hikes after the kids left for school. I bothered to read my daily readers. I bothered to eat breakfast and have nutritious meals instead of fast food. I bothered to share my “dark season” with a couple people who would understand. I bothered to do some work I’d been procrastinating. I bothered to journal. To put myself first.

It helped a lot.

I’m bothering to write this because there’s no simple fix for loneliness and depression, whether it’s my own or someone else’s. Feelings can be overwhelming. Reaching out can seem too hard a task. Medication and therapy may be financially out of reach, and a depressive episode doesn’t schedule itself during office hours. Self-love is a choice that is always within reach. Not the feeling of love; the action of love. The kindness of taking a bath, eating a salad, walking in the sunshine and really feeling the warmth.

I recently saw a quote from Anne Lamott’s most recent book, Hallelujah Anyway, her newest book. “Love is seeing the darkness in another person and defying the impulse to jump ship.”

I bother to love myself. To accept myself just as I am, knowing only love has the power to transform loneliness and depression into unity and compassion.

Holey Heart

Recycling With Joy

In my garage there’s a bin I use to collect recyclables. An assortment of cereal boxes, milk jugs, and jelly jars accumulate there until I put them out for pickup.

Lately, though, the cardboard boxes aren’t making it out to the curb. My youngest child “liberates” anything made of cardboard and transforms it into homes for small toys, or “computers,” or anything else her imagination can conceive. Back before Christmas she turned a Cheez-Its box into a working Shopkins vending machine using plastic wrap as the glass front. A vending machine! The other day she tried to save an old bologna container out of the trash, and I drew the line.

She’s eight, and clearly she’s made in the image and likeness of God; just like her Heavenly Father, she uses everything. She’d rather play with trash than anything else.

This Sunday in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we heard: “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something.” Olivia chooses the discarded refuse of our modern suburban life to create and experience joy; like my little one, God also recycles the very things we try to discard, whether that’s people, or personality traits, or even less than ideal circumstances.

It reminds me of an old adage I’ve heard about ministry. “God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.” I can attest to that. Two years ago I felt God calling me to get involved in music ministry, even though I didn’t think I could fit it in my already busy schedule with three kids. Deeper still was a feeling of inadequacy about my musical abilities. And yet, I did as I was called, and much to my surprise God used me, not only to encourage young musicians in my church, but to become a cantor leading our entire congregation at our evening service.

If you had told me two years ago that I’d be doing this in 2017, I’d have told you about the time when I was 22 and subbing for our church cantor and totally choked, or a number of other stories documenting my musical failures. I guess God does qualify the called, because people clap after Mass. I don’t believe church music should be a performance, but rather, an invitation to participate. Still, it feels good to sing strong and well and to be acknowledged. I can boast in nothing but God, because it is only through his grace that I can stand up there and not panic.

I also think of times when I made serious errors in judgement, yet God made use of them (and not just to teach me a lesson the “hard way”). I was fired once. I made a mistake that cost me my job. But because of that mistake, I looked for freelance work on Craig’s List. I took a $30 design gig because I was desperate for anything. The client liked my work and sent me a few other small jobs. Eventually that freelance gig became a part time source of regular income, supported me through the early days of my unemployed divorcehood, and also stretched me creatively and professionally. I’ve learned how to publish books, have gotten referrals, and gained the confidence to produce my own inaugural publication, soon to be for sale on Amazon. If you had told me when I was fired in 2006 that I’d be self-publishing my first book in 2017, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s because of my hard work, yes; but it’s also because God used my failure as a foundation for something new.

I recall when my dog died two years ago. I never knew how much that could hurt my heart. I’d never understood before how people grieved their pets so hard, but when Jake died, I discovered a compassion and empathy I previously lacked. In fact, every tragic thing I’ve ever experienced is something for which I am now grateful, because those experiences have allowed me to connect with my fellow humans on a deeper level, whether it’s the death of a pet, or a terrible year of bullying in middle school, or a painful and confusing divorce. God has used all these to help me be a better friend.

When my ex and I first started accepting the reality of separation and divorce, our first concern was, of course, our children. And he said to me, “I feel as if my whole life has been preparing me for this,” meaning being a divorced parent. His own parents divorced when he was very young, and there was a lot of unpleasantness for him, but God didn’t let those experiences happen in vain; thanks to God’s grace, and their father’s choices, priorities, and sacrifices, my children have a very different kind of “broken” home than their father had. Our family may be broken and blended, but we are a family first.

If you had told me six years ago when we started living under separate roofs that we would be able to handle birthdays and holidays without awkwardness and resentment, I would have been skeptical. It is not without ups and downs, but God uses even those. We are better today at communicating than we were when we were married, because we have to be, whether we like it or not. God uses our relationship to teach me to be a more inclusive person, to put myself in another’s shoes, to express myself even when I’m scared, and to focus more on the common good and less on my own personal convenience.

I can think of friends facing what most of us would consider a “tragedy:” cancer diagnosis, a child with special needs, chronic unemployment. I could also tell you how God is using these circumstances to enrich the lives of so many people in a positive way. Never will I believe that cancer or disease or the indignity of unemployment is “God’s will,” but I will always believe human tragedies are God’s opportunities.

This, for me, is the real grace being illustrated in the Beatitudes, which we also heard this past Sunday. Only when we grieve can we know what it is the be comforted. Only when we long for righteousness can we truly appreciate justice. Only when we find that God is all we have do we realize that God is all we need. When I turn to God in my need, I receive blessing beyond measure. If I had no needs, I’d never know the joy of receiving God’s blessings.

All of this weekend’s readings were in some way speaking about the quality of humility. It is what all of us are called to as Christians, but do we really embrace humility? I don’t think so. More often we embrace perfectionism, which is about as arrogant an attitude as Lucifer thinking he could be an equal with God.

Perhaps a better way to think of humility is “joyful acceptance.” That is the humility of the Beatitudes. My daughter joyfully accepts the discarded boxes as the raw materials for her creativity and inventiveness. Joy is what shames the wise, the proud, the strong, the powerful. Resentment and resistance only embolden the Enemy.

There is a lot going on in the world today, especially my own country, which concerns me deeply. It triggers my very human desire to resent and resist. But as a person of faith, I know without question that God is using it all, even the worst of it, in ways I may never see or understand. This is God’s justice, which goes so far beyond any attempt at human social justice. So I strive to accept it with joy, just as the early martyrs of the Church accepted unimaginable persecution with joy.

What we resist, persists. What we accept, is transformed.

Holey Heart

Allow It

Did your parents ever tell you about your first words? I think the first word I ever said was, “Dada,” followed not long after with “Mama.” All three of my kids’ first word was “Mama.”

We do not know the first words of the real baby Jesus. I like to think maybe He said, “Abba.” But we do know His first words in all four of the Gospels. In Mark, His first words were, “This is the time of fulfillment.” In John, they were, “What are you looking for?” And in Luke, “Why were you looking for me?”

These sentences are very thought provoking in their own ways, worthy of a personal response from me while I pray and meditate. But not as thought provoking as Jesus’ first words in Matthew’s Gospel, which we read this weekend.

“Allow it.”

The first reading from Isaiah lays the groundwork, describing the Messiah as a bringer of justice: “He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth. . . ”

Justice. Most of us associate “justice” with the concept of “fairness” or being morally “right.” Justice is also defined as the action or actions associated with the establishment of fairness, equality or righteousness.

To John the Baptist, it was not “right” or “fair” or “just” for the Son of God to be baptized for repentance; it should have been the other way around. It would be like my parish priest asking you or I to hear his confession. To John, baptizing Jesus was a miscarriage of justice.

“Allow it.”

God often works in backwards ways. The entire Bible is filled with examples – in fact, that’s pretty much the unifying theme of the entirety of the scriptures. Short term injustice leads to long term justice for those who trust God’s leadership in their lives.

God establishes justice not by carrying out the law in the way we assume is correct, but by fulfilling it in ways that we would never expect. That an innocent man would die a shameful execution on a cross doesn’t seem like justice, yet this is exactly how the Son of God establishes justice.

“Allow it.”

To undergo a baptism of repentance when He hadn’t committed any sins doesn’t seem necessary, yet Jesus couldn’t exhort us to follow Him without first walking the way ahead of us.

“Allow it.”

We know where Jesus learned his first words – from the mother who said to the angel, “Let it be done to me as you have said.” In other words, “Allow it.”

When I think of justice, especially in response to an obvious injustice like generational poverty or terrorism or the gross income inequalities and rape of natural resources that exist in many third world countries, I automatically assume that justice should mean swift and immediate action. The contemporary response is almost always retaliation in some form or other, and whether it’s a “war on terror” or a “war on poverty,” the unintended injustices that result are often worse than the injustice it was intended to rectify. We human beings suck at justice.

There’s the small, everyday “first world” injustices too – the cable company giving me the run around, the jerk cutting me off on the highway or driving ten miles under the speed limit, my ex not being on time to get the kids (as if I’m Ms. Perfectly-On-Time-Every-Time).

My life has thrown me a few unexpected curve balls, some that do not seem fair, but the challenge of Christ is the same to me as it was to John. “Allow it.” Sometimes that means practicing a loving tolerance of people who are doing the best they can. And sometimes, it means practicing a loving tolerance of myself, for the same reason.

One that really trips me up is my house. I have a 3,000 square foot home. When I was first embarking on the separation process, I assumed I would have to downsize, for economic reasons at least. But I put one foot in front of the other living one day at a time, asking God to guide the outcome, and nearly four years later I’m still in my big house, with a smaller mortgage, no less!


There are times when I look at this big house of mine and think, this is not right. I’m a single mom. I don’t make enough money to be living in a house this big or nice, and even if I did, it’s too extravagant. You could probably house an entire Haitian village here, and you could feed them for a year if you sold all the accumulated stuff that is no longer used. And God continually answers these thoughts with the same statement.

“Allow it.”

I wonder about God’s plans for me and this big house.

It seems the most confusing and unjust situations are also the most useful for God in establishing justice. Certainly this has been the case in Ghandi’s day, or Martin Luther King’s, or Nelson Mandela’s. These spiritual giants endured tremendous injustice, and yet their response was not retaliation. They clearly followed the exhortations of Jesus, whether or not they realized it.

“Allow it.”

It’s a great paradox of the Church. It will never be understood by secular rationalists or moral relativists. It probably won’t even make sense to the church-going folk who cling to the black and white rules and lack the capacity to accept such a paradox – it is in weakness that God’s strength is made visible. It is through injustice that God can fulfill all righteousness.

That’s not to say that we should be complacent about meeting human needs. I think Jesus was constantly reaching out to the poorest and marginalized people, and He clearly wants us to do the same. But I don’t think He wants me to ride in on my white horse and operate a homeless shelter in my 3,000 square foot house. At least, not today. But maybe eating dinner with a CARITAS guest at my church is a baby step in the right direction. Small acts with great love done by each and every one of us would go a long way toward establishing justice, if we allow it.

The message I get from this weekend’s scriptures is that justice is not about following a law or a dictate to make the world peaceful. Justice means accepting things as they are, no matter how confusing or ugly or painful or just plain wrong they seem, and turning to Jesus for direction and guidance. What is God asking of me? How does he want me to respond?

I can read the Bible, the catechism, the words of the Pope, but only by praying and listening to God himself speak in the still small voice in my heart can I know my part in establishing justice. Doing it on my own with what I assume is the right course of action will likely only harm people.

Allow it and do what Jesus asks of us, even if it makes no sense. That’s the lesson of Jesus’ baptism.

Holey Heart

“Shortcuts” To Acceptance

We all have “tools” in our toolbox for dealing with circumstances which confuse us, scare us, or cause us pain. Some of us get angry and lash out. Some of us retreat and isolate ourselves. My tool of choice is to analyze.

It used to be that in order to accept an unpleasant reality, I had to first understand it, thoroughly. What were the circumstances that lead us to this place? What makes the people I love behave the way they do? Is there a family history of dysfunction? Why do I react even when I know it won’t help? I needed to be certain there was nothing I could do to change the unacceptable.

This tendency is ingrained in me. It’s even in my name. My initials are “C. Y.” Say it out loud. See why. It would seem my purpose in life is to get to the bottom of things.

There are some wonderful gifts that accompany this trait. It can help me to see the big picture and the details simultaneously when I’m working in a project. It cultivates compassion for people who hurt me because I want to understand what motivates them. It has also helped me develop a heightened sense of self-awareness, honesty and integrity.

But even the most useful tools can be used as weapons. Not everyone appreciates my ability to analyze a situation inside and out, especially if I’m analyzing them! I’ve irritated other people, and I’ve also prolonged my own pain by refusing to accept until I fully understood.

Ultimately, my obsession with understanding why is just an unsuccessful attempt at controlling the uncontrollable and postponing the only action that will give me peace – accepting people just as they are. Myself included.

When I’m tempted to analyze people and situations, I’ve had to learn to use a new tool. It’s a very simple statement of faith and trust – “More will be revealed.” It’s my shortcut to acceptance.

This weekend’s Gospel starts with Jesus telling the Apostles, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” It’s Christ’s way of saying, “More will be revealed.”

God has indeed revealed to me the “why” of my many troubling habits, but not all at once and only when I was ready to bear it.

St. Paul’s letter to the Romans today sheds light on one of my other shortcuts to acceptance – gratitude. Only he doesn’t use that word; he uses the word “boast.”

“We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint.”

It is easy to make a gratitude list of all the blessings in my life, all the reasons I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself. But personally, that doesn’t do me much good when I’ve over analyzed and come up with nothing to “fix” the circumstances I don’t want to accept.

However, when I do as Paul does and realize that even my afflictions have gifts hidden in them, I can find that gratitude and accept what I cannot change with a lot more grace. In fact, I am motivated to plunge deeper into the life I’m given to find those gifts. That is hope, and it has never failed to disappoint.

Holey Heart

Being “Single” In The Church

Since it was my children’s weekend with their dad, I was prepared to sit alone at mass last weekend until another single friend asked if she could join me. We chatted before the liturgy began about how many faces we didn’t recognize in the crowd anymore, and she commented that she’d drifted away from the parish because there were so few other single people and, as she put it, “too many children.”

Being on one side of that fence as a mother, I do understand where she is coming from. In a big parish like St. Mike’s, families – mine included – seem to dominate the congregation. Our needs and concerns are a lot different than those of the empty nesters and the childless. There’s sports practices, homework, playdates, college funds, peer pressure worries, tween/teen drama, discipline, and how to make them “let go of those electronic devices for ten minutes already.” Not to mention stretching the budget, planning the trip to Disney, inlaws, the honey-do list, carving out time for date night, and wondering how to relate to this person who shares the house – these are the issues that dominate our waking thoughts and distract us from sleep and spirituality. We pat ourselves on the back just for making it to mass by the time the choir is finished singing the Gloria.

But I straddle that fence and find myself in the “single” category as well, and I think I’m in good company at St. Michael. We may not have a formal “singles ministry” but our faces dot the congregation of every mass, and I’ve connected or reconnected with a lot of you since I joined your ranks a year ago. I know several men and women who’ve never been married, and a handful of folks whose spouses have passed away. I’ve also made new connections with single parents I never knew before or with whom I was just acquainted. You don’t notice how many kids come to church with just their mom or their dad until you are that single mom or dad yourself. Our stories and paths are varied, but we appear to share a common thread – we have found a special kind of support from each other as a church family, and many of us seem especially committed to contributing to the life of the parish, even if our “real lives” are busy and stressful.

In today’s epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul extols the virtues of being single as opposed to being married. Certainly we have a faith that promotes the virtue of Christian family life and the procreative nature of marriage, so much so that the Church elevates the institution of marriage to the status of Sacrament. As a single person, one can feel very left out, especially in such a family-oriented parish. Today’s reading is a reminder to me and anyone else, married or single, that it’s okay to be exactly where I am.

Being single allows me to develop a deeper intimacy with God. I am sometimes lonely, but I was lonely when I was married, too. It’s tempting to dwell on that loneliness, but Paul says, “I should like you to be free of anxieties . . . I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restrain upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.”

I may not be without the distractions of parenthood, but aside from keeping relations civil with my children’s father, I am now able to channel the energy I used to spend working on my romantic relationship into working on my relationship with God. What a rare gift this is for a mom in this stage of life! Singlehood is far from being a shame or a state of “less than” for me – I cherish it. I might never have gotten to know God so well otherwise.

Not only can I nurture my faith, I am given the opportunity to be supported and loved by my fellow parishioners – those married and unmarried alike – in a deeper way. I can let myself cry at mass and lean on your shoulder. I can receive the gifts you’ve given to my children, filling those bare spots under our Christmas tree. I can accept advice and self-help books from those of you who’ve been where I am and got through in one piece. I can share my worst fears and shames with you and be held and supported. I might never have been able to receive this love if it were not for letting go of the distractions that used to keep me occupied.

Accepting ourselves and loving each other is “singles ministry” for all of us, single and coupled alike.

Tending the Temple

Spiritual and Stylish

Today my gratitude goes out to Kimberly Wilson – yogi, writer, do-gooder, entrepreneur, and eco-fashion designer – for showing me that it’s possible to be both spiritual and stylish. You can check out her blog at

Like most pre-teen girls, I was teased a lot about my appearance when I hit the “awkward years” around 10 years old. First, it was my bucked teeth, then the acne, the frizzy hair, the glasses. To make matters worse, I’d had years of stunted fashion sense wearing a uniform in Catholic school, so when I hit the public middle school scene wearing bright indigo tennis shoes, pink wide-leg cords, and a pony tail held back with those little “ball” holders . . . well, it was traumatic, and I’m still recovering. My response to that experience was an attitude I held to tightly for many years – “It’s what’s on the inside that counts, and fussing over my appearance is superficial.” I tended to look down on my peers who took great pride in their appearance and pretty much wrote them off, never seeing my own arrogance and superficiality in that behavior.

Never mind the fact that I also looked down on the other nerds, geeks and dweebs like me. I wanted to wear trendy clothes and look beautiful. I was obsessed in private over my horrid skin, skinny figure, clothes, etc. I just denied that I cared so that I wouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to look nice.

(Yes, I was crazy. But I was also a teenager, so craziness came with the territory.)

I’m so grateful I grew out of that distorted view. Today, I believe taking pride in my appearance is just as important to my self-care routine as praying, expanding my mind, eating right, becoming financially fit, and having a clean and serene home environment.

The key is balancing my choices between self-worth and self-acceptance.

I am worth buying shoes that fit at the department store instead of suffering with a cheap pair from Walmart, and I must accept that my funds are limited, so I shop sales or sacrifice something else in my budget to make it happen.

I am worth spending extra time on my hair some mornings, and I must accept that means I’ll have to get up a little earlier and perhaps even go to bed earlier the night before to accommodate a half hour with the curling iron.

I am worth well-fitting, attractive clothing, and I must accept that being petite and on a budget will often make this a challenge. Ebay is a great alternative to Ann Taylor. I am worth dressing my age, and I must accept that shopping in the juniors section may not always be the best idea, even if it does still technically fit me.

I must accept that I have a beautiful, sexy body, and I am worth wearing flattering styles that downplay my sexy side and minimize the male attention that isn’t good for me. The sexy undies, however, are ok; only I know when I have them on!

I must accept that I’m powerless over my genes and hormones and the zits and chin hair they produce. And I am worth the trip to the dermatologist, the laser hair removal, and the miraculous soap and moisturizer from Israel that keeps my skin gorgeous.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look my best. So often I focus so much on the “inner” work that I do to become emotionally healthy that I neglect the outer work that takes so little effort. One of my greatest desires is that my insides match my outside. It’s okay to work on both a little at a time. In fact, working on my outside may very well be what attracts someone enough to ask what I’m doing for my insides.