Holey Heart

The Gospel of Christy

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

These words are found in today’s Gospel for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, and it is these words that connect me to the Blessed Virgin. Like Mary, I’ve spent the last year doing quite a bit of reflecting in my heart, though not so much in my writing for public consumption.

New Year’s is the anniversary of when I started this blog. Perhaps one day I will share the real motivations that lead to my first blog post, but for now, it is something I keep and reflect on in my heart, a distant memory.

Sharing my reflections became more difficult this year. Like many writers, I’ve gone through a phase where I’m questioning the value of my words. Most of the time my inner critic silences me by calling my work pretentious, self-indulgent, and self-centered. Why would anyone care what’s going on in my inner world?

Yet, when I consider the Gospels and their lack of detail about the early life of Jesus and his family, I wish I knew more about Mary’s inner world. I wish I knew what she felt when they had to move hastily to Egypt, and how she felt when they learned of what Herod did to all the baby boys back in Bethlehem. I wish there were a record clearing up once and for all whether she really did remain a virgin, as Catholics believe, or if she and Joseph went on to have a “normal” family after they returned to Nazareth, as most protestants believe. I wish I knew more about how she managed her household, and what being “full of grace” looks like when you have a child and a husband and are barely making ends meet. A “Gospel of Mary” would have been nice.

Instead, I’m prompted to write another installment in the “Gospel of Christy.”

And it came to pass, in the year of Our Lord 2016, that our heroine took on two new challenges in that first month. She fasted from sugar, caffeine, gluten, dairy, red meat, alcohol, and processed foods, and consumed a sour concoction before every meal, to cleanse her body. She did this for two weeks faithfully, and at the end of her fast, the Lord sent a massive snowstorm upon the whole city, a sign unto her that it was now okay to indulge in hot chocolate with her children. And she rejoiced in her heart, because she had successfully completed her two week fast with God’s help, and had lost the bloated feeling in her gut. She learned that loving herself in this way felt very good.

At that same time, an angel of the Lord named Sarah came to her on a social media platform and invited her to join a 6-week writing workshop on Tuesday mornings. And as she was blessed with a flexible work schedule, our heroine did join the workshop and rediscovered the joy of writing, not for a blog, but for herself.

The angel shared a powerful writing tool that she herself had learned from a powerful messenger of God: the “life in ten minutes method.” She was instructed by these angelic witnesses to set a timer for ten minutes and write using the prompt, “Right now I am…” and then read it out loud after the timer went off. And in this way, Christy learned how to keep a journal and continued the habit long after the workshop ended.

At the same time, Christy experienced a form of writer’s block, finding it difficult to complete essays or share her thoughts publicly, even as her private writing became more honest and intimate. But she did not beat herself up; she fully accepted that now was a time for inner work, and that God would give her the power to write for public consumption when the time was right.

As the spring approached she planned a trip with her beloved to visit his homeland. They made the journey together by air and by cramped economy car in southern Louisiana, taking in all manner of unfamiliar foods, such as crawfish and catfish and roasted oysters, and even a bit of alligator. His family was welcoming and gregarious, and as they left that place to return to their own homes, she longed to return one day. She was grateful for her first vacation in more than a decade.

And as spring proceeded, Christy protracted a seasonal illness that rendered her singing voice nearly mute. As she’d been singing at the Sunday evening service for several months, this came as quite a hardship for her. It was humbling having to sing knowing her voice was capable of much more. Months passed and still she could barely hear herself. But as suddenly as the illness came on, it lifted and she was able to breathe and sing once again. The joy of leading the congregation in song was something she would always cherish, even as she recalled the years of insecurity and believing she was not good enough.

And it came to pass that her firstborn son became a teenager, and she rejoiced in her heart that he still found joy in playing with Legos and nerf guns, even as she stepped on plastic blocks in her bare feet and found foam darts in her purse.

On the very anniversary of his birth, a new family member was added; for her son’s father had remarried and begat a male child, whom they named Finn, round of head and strong of lung. And Christy marveled at this baby and his mother, who endured great trials, and was filled with peace and gratitude that she herself was beyond the stage of night waking and cracked nipples and wiping behinds.

In the heat of the summer she took her children to the beach and to a water park, enjoying their first, though modest, family vacation. She traveled with her beloved to the hill country, taking in the cool mountain air and hospitality of his brother and other family members at the Homested  Resort.

As the summer waned, Christy felt overwhelmed by all the activity of her family, as though she were losing herself in the commitments to children and work. But with the help of her journaling she made some changes, setting aside two days of her work week for yoga, meditation, and getting caught up on household responsibilities.

As her children returned to school, she joined with three strangers to take a challenging journey by foot on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. For three days they hiked 42 miles in the crisp, autumn air, ending in Harper’s Ferry. On that day, Christy committed herself to her childhood dream of completing the entire trail, even if she could only do it one section at a time.

As the year came to a close, Christy was inspired to publish her first book – a weekly planner about how she managed her busy life. She worked on it night and day at a feverish pace, and by Christmas she had completed the first draft, and held the copy in her hands, proud of the accomplishment. As she gazed at the cover, she wondered what new opportunities this book would open for her. She looked to the future with hope, even as she felt the ache that accompanies watching one’s children grow out of their childhood clothes and toys.

And after the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, ushering in 2017, she tucked in each child, kissed them goodnight, and gave thanks to God for the blessings of another year, and offered herself to Him for another year of service and learning how to love and let go.

This is the gospel of the single momma. Give God the glory.

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Tending the Temple

New Year Reflections

2015 was the year I had a chronic case of writer’s block, as evidenced by my sparse blog postings during the past 12 months. There were many reasons for this, but the common denominator was this: I was (and still am, by the way) out of my comfort zone. It’s one thing to write about past experiences and lessons learned well after the fact, and quite another to open up about growth opportunities as they are unfolding in all their awkward glory. The year I turned 40 could best be described as the puberty of middle age, substituting zits for unwanted chin hair.

Last year at this time, as I straddled 2014 and 2015, I reflected on the intentions I’d set for myself and lived that year, and I set a few goals, as if calling them “goals” rather than “resolutions” would give them a better chance at fulfillment. I must honestly report that it didn’t work. I didn’t accomplish anything on my list: I didn’t write my book, finish my back porch, write my will, meet with my financial advisor, explore new career possibilities, take myself on vacation for my birthday, or do anything to nurture my creative side or reduce sugar consumption. On the contrary, I gained 10 pounds, I worked on a huge project the week my kids were on vacation with their dad after my birthday, and I fired my original porch contractor after two months of excuses and an attempted rate hike. I most definitely did not follow my intention for the year – to simplify.

Some years, I think I know my intention on January 1, and other years, like this past one, I don’t discover it until I look back on December 31. In retrospect, my intention for 2015 was “boundaries.” I had to set quite a few, mostly for myself.

For example, it was no longer acceptable for me to have as much “stuff” in my house. I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and got to work on my clothing, discarding more than 2/3 of my wardrobe and keeping only what “sparks joy,” and a few other items which have a sentimental hold on me. That’s as far as I got with the “konmari” method, but I will sort through the rest of my possessions slowly but surely. If I can get through the next phase of konmari – books – by the end of 2016, I’ll be happy. Preferably I’ll do it this month, since the pile of every book I own is currently the first thing one sees upon entering my house. Doing the clothes was a remarkable life changing experience, and I feel confident I’ll never have to purge my wardrobe again, instead simply thanking my clothes for their usefulness immediately after they no longer belong in my closet, and send them on their way.

I had to end a few relationships with abusive people. Not all abusive relationships are romantic in nature. Some can be work relationships, or even friendships. Lack of trust on either side in any relationship makes it ripe for abusiveness, and there is no place in my life for people who take advantage of me, curse at me, bait me, accuse me of lying, or make unreasonable demands. Detaching myself from their behavior doesn’t mean I love them any less; it just means I love myself more. I love the people I let go of this year, from a safe (and in some cases, blocked) distance. God bless them, and change me.

Oh, and did He ever! This year I came face to face with some of my most ingrained character defects, which may have been useful at one time but have outlived their place in my emotional toolbox (not unlike the 2/3 of my wardrobe that needed a new home). I wrote literal “goodbye” letters to behaviors like “people-pleasing” and “perfectionism.” Until this year I had no idea how these traits, which are often encouraged by the world in which I live, were actually facilitating dishonesty in my relationships. Old habits die hard, but at least I recognize them now for what they are.

Another boundary I set has to do with romantic relationships. I’ve been in an exclusive one for some time now, and about a year ago I turned that relationship over to God to let Him guide it, instead of relying on my own sometimes distorted decision making. I didn’t tell my partner about this decision; I just lived it, and this boundary has been one of the most fulfilling. Intimacy is just the other side of the same boundary coin. Our relationship went from being a nice casual companionship to a more spiritual connection between us. It’s a wonderful gift that enriches my life as we both grow on our journeys. It’s also opening some old wounds I’d thought were healed during the divorce process. It turns out my independent behavior and communication shortcomings are still there. The ego is strong, but God is stronger.

One of the best boundaries I set was to let my boundaries down. Sharing my feelings with this man was only one example. I also found myself in a volunteer position as a group treasurer, and I felt like I was in over my head. I had anxiety for two weeks, fretting over it. I needed to ask for help from someone more experienced. Doing this was humbling, but it gave me a new perspective on finances, and I’ll carry that into the new year with me. I went to the sacrament of reconciliation twice, which was incredibly freeing both times as I set down the weight of shame and guilt and received peace. I opened up to a new female friend whom I consider to be my spiritual advisor, and in doing so I’ve released some painful secrets and expressed some negative emotions that otherwise would have wreaked havoc coming out sideways at my family and my job. And I made amends with someone I really respect and inadvertently harmed.

Another boundary was committing to doing what I said I was going to do. If “responsibility” was my 2014 intention, then “accountability” was its 2015 cousin. All that people pleasing has often led me to saying “yes” to doing a lot of things I could have avoided. But I’m responsible for all those yes’s. Being accountable for meeting deadlines, attending meetings, teaching children, and singing at church has meant saying no to going on vacation, having quiet family dinners at home, or being able attend the morning church service with my fella. It means I get some bellyaching from my kids, too. But keeping my commitments has its own way of fulfilling me and building my self-esteem. I’ve learned a lot about my limits, and I’m less inclined to say “yes” just so someone will like me or to build up that ever-present ego of mine.

Being over-committed is another reason why 2015 had less writing. The busy pace of life with three kids and a significant other has left me with less of the prerequisite quiet time alone reflecting, meditating and contemplating required for sharing myself this way. It takes courage to write, and it also takes time. I hope that 2016 will be the year I find balance. That’s the intention that keeps surfacing during those too-brief moments of solitude I had as the year came to a close.

To that end, I’ve hung a calendar on my wall downstairs. I’m sure this is a no-brainer for most people, but it is a revolutionary act for me.

Later this month I’m doing a 14 day “detox” from processed foods, sugar, caffeine, gluten, dairy, and basically everything I routinely put in my mouth. I’m glad it will be only 14 days, and I may not last that long. I’m sure it will be great fodder for the blog though!

The porch, though not entirely finished, is further along and looks good from the street. This year, I’ll get the details done, buy some furniture in time for my favorite season, spring, and enjoy my blooming back yard. It’s a work in progress, just like me.

I want to write more this year. You may never see a word of it, though. I’ve found writing for public consumption activates my ego in ways that are not healthy for me, which is why there are so many half-written reflections on my phone and in the notebooks scattered all over the house. This year, I write for myself first. My friend Joyce gave me a beautiful journal for Christmas and I intend to use it regularly. I may also join a writer’s workshop. Two of my friends are teaching them, and I’m feeling the tug of storytelling. Doing it alone has been fruitless. Time to do something different.

And now for the hardest part of this reflection. The concluding paragraph. This paragraph has tripped me up on many a blog post that you haven’t read, because I just couldn’t finish it. There’s a lot of unfinished business in my life and it would be foolish of me to state “finish unfinished business” as my 2016 new year’s resolution. That is more like the work of a lifetime, and one I will never complete. But that’s kind of the point of this blog, Holey Heart. I am incomplete. We all are. Sometimes we get the gift of a well-crafted conclusion before moving on to the next unfinished project, and sometimes we have to move on whether we are done or not, knowing we probably won’t be able to go back.

All of life is a grieving process. On New Year’s Eve, my youngest daughter, now seven, started crying because she didn’t want the year to end. I know the feeling, but I still haven’t discovered how to pause time and stop the sun from rising and getting an extra hour or two of sleep before meeting all the demands of the next day. What I have discovered is that most of those demands are my own, placed on me by the choices I made yesterday. So today, may I make better choices. May I love my future self enough not to make as many demands on her. She owes me nothing, and I owe her a good, long rest.