Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Things We Carry

I read a book over the summer that was titled The Things They Carried. It was written by Tim O’Brien and it’s not like a regular novel—like with a clear beginning, middle and end, an obvious protagonist and antagonist. It’s a collection of mini-stories as part of a bigger story, and it’s all about a platoon of American soldiers in Vietnam. I was sitting at my desk this morning, mulling over something my husband said to me last night that hurt my feelings, and for whatever reason, I started thinking about that book. It occurred to me that we all have things that we carry with us…some good things, some not-so-good things, some things that keep us going when the roads we travel are fraught with darkness and misery. Some of the things we carry are physical in nature—maybe a St. Christopher medallion for a safe journey, a piece of jewelry or a lucky penny. Some of the things we carry are more emotional—a kind word from a stranger, a hurtful comment from a loved one, a glowing memory that we cling to, in the hopes that someday we’ll feel that good again. And all those things—the things we carry—make us who we are.

I carry a lot of things with me—memories, both good and bad, old hurts (see my earlier post on the trouble I have with forgiving people), hopes for the future. All of those things affect who I am and I really believe that I’m okay with that. And yet, every now and then, there’s something that sticks with me, something that just won’t let go.

It started with a comment from my husband—not the one from last night, but from a long while ago—and it was something on the order of, “Your knees are always bruised.” And they are. I swear, my knees are forever black and blue or that funny brownish-yellow color that bruises become when they’re healing. My knees are always bruised. At the time, I laughed it off, but the words did sting. Why? Because he had no idea why my knees were bruised. He had no way to understand how the bruises got there or what they meant to me. At that time, he was working a job with crazy hours, which meant I was the one who always got the short end of the stick when it came to daily chores and responsibilities. Simply put, I was the one on my knees giving baths, on my knees cleaning up the floor from dinner, on my knees scrubbing barf out of the carpet when the baby didn’t like dinner, on my knees pulling toys from under the refrigerator and the couch, on my knees, on my knees, on my knees.

And during that same time, I was on my knees in church, praying to God to help me find the strength that I knew I had somewhere deep inside of myself to keep managing an unfortunate series of events that tainted the joy of my baby’s birth and was ultimately a very sad, very dark time in my life. What kept me going was the time I spent in prayer—the hours on my knees brought me back from what was the closest I had ever been to the “edge” as it’s called when someone feels like if one more thing goes wrong, the only option is to run away screaming.

I spent a long time carrying a heavy heart and a mind full of things that I would rather have forgotten. I spent even more time carrying around the agony of wondering what might have been, what could have been, what should have been, what will never be the same ever again…

Fortunately, I spent the most time carrying the knowledge that God wasn’t going to give me more than I could handle—and even if my knees were bruised from the crushing pressure of my world when I was balanced on them in prayer, they were still supporting me. God was still supporting me.

Looking back on it, I tell myself that the bruises on my knees are nothing more than God’s fingerprints. Like “Footprints in the Sand” when the man looked down and saw only one set of footprints and realized that God had been carrying him, I see my bruises as proof that God was (and is) cradling my knees in His hands. The bruises are proof that He’s leaving His mark.

I saw a sign a few weeks ago that I’ve modified into a prayer. I think God appreciates a little humor every now and then.

Lord, I pray that I always remember when things are not going as I would like, I remember that while You may not get in touch with me through e-mail, You always hear me when I send up a message via knee-mail. Amen.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Daily Struggles: Part III

So, I'm not always nice and not so great at forgiving people. I also have a tendency to judge celebrities.

Even worse, it's not always celebrities. Sometimes it's people in my close-knit circle, too. I don't really consider myself to be judgmental, but every now and then, I have a fleeting thought that usually starts with, "What is s/he thinking?" or "I could do it better than that." Not nice, I know, I know. But I do it anyway.

So, I have to confess that the whole "Brangelina" (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) relationship annoys me. It shouldn't. I mean, I don't know these people, I know nothing of their lives other than the occasional entertainment blurb I catch on the radio, but I'm still annoyed. It's not because they're freakin' everywhere but because...because...well, just because. Brad was married--and granted, I know nothing about his marriage or what ultimately led to its demise--but the fact is that he was married when he started his relationship with Angelina. I don't know if it was a sexual relationship or not, and I don't particularly care, but there was obviously some type of relationship going on. A very involved emotional friendship, let's say. The problem is that when someone (Brad) establishes that kind of emotional intimacy with someone else (Angelina), it's going to affect the original relationship (Brad and Jennifer's marriage) of the people who are supposed to be the most intimate. If time and energy and emotion are being dispersed outside of the marriage, the time and energy and emotion that belong in the marriage is gone. And the relationship crumbles.

As a side note, I think Angelina is more to blame than Brad. Maybe he was already unhappy in his marriage and it was on a downhill slide long before his new relationship. Maybe. I don't know, nobody will probably ever really know. So, maybe he made the decision that he needed to back away from the relationship. That was his decision. But along comes Angelina and essentially gives him an "out." Sort of like, "Hey, things aren't so cool over there? Come on over here." She knew he was married, yet proceeded to engage in a relationship with him. In my eyes, it makes Brad kind of a jerk, but Angelina scum. See? That's the sinful part. I shouldn't judge either of them. Though sometimes I wonder what God sees when he looks at Brad and Angelina--a desperately unhappy man and a woman whose sense of worth comes from a relationship with a married man?

Part of this is very personal for me, because there's an element of personal experience in this. Maybe that's why celebrity gossip bothers me more than it should. But I just keep thinking to myself, "What's wrong with them? Don't they care what they're doing? And don't they care what kind of example they're setting for their kids?" Now, God willing, maybe Brad and Angelina are soulmates and this was just a path to destiny that they had to take in order to find each other. I'd like to believe that's true. Part of me needs to believe that's true, especially since there's a child in the midst of it all.

People make mistakes in their relationships. Mistakes are okay when they're used as learning tools. Mistakes are not okay when they're made over and over again. If you keep doing the same thing, you're going to get the same results, right? Hahaha. So, if I keep judging people, I'll keep getting the same results--nothing. I believe it's time for me to focus on problems I can actually work toward solving.

Dear God, help me to remember that just because grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it's just as difficult to maintain and mow. Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Daily Struggles: Part II

So, I’ve already discussed my sometimes-issue with being nice. Being nice and being forgiving kind of go hand-in-hand, so that’s my topic for today.

First, I have to say that I’m not always very good at forgiving people. Okay, honestly, I’m hardly ever good at forgiving people. I hold grudges. I know I shouldn’t, but I do it anyway, even when I know it’s wrong and the only person I’m really hurting is myself. But that doesn’t stop me from holding grudges. I wonder if that’s part of my personality—if I’m hard-wired to be that way. I only wonder, because it doesn’t always feel like a conscious choice that I’m making. It’s not like I got bad service at a store and I choose not to shop there again. It goes deeper than that when the issues hit closer to my heart.

Forgiving someone who has hurt me seems so unfair. It’s even worse when I’m still angry and upset about whatever happened. Those emotions run deep and I feel really nasty on the inside—and I don’t mean just the resulting stress-induced headache of bellyache. I’m talking about dark thoughts and even darker feelings that just eat at me and get me even more upset.

Though I wish I could, I can’t control the thoughts/actions/behaviors of others. I can only control those things in myself. Even when I feel like I’m out of control, I know that all I have to do is choose to be in control again. I get to choose what I do.

That’s part of what makes forgiveness so difficult. Choosing to forgive, I mean. It’s hard. Really, really hard.

For a long time, I believed that forgiveness was only possible if the offender was sorry. I also believed that forgiving people meant that I was letting them off the hook…that I was saying that what they did was okay…that I condoned their actions. I thought I had to feel good about them in order to forgive them.

Over time, I’ve learned that none of this is true. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling. Forgiveness just is. It involves letting go of the ugly feelings attached to whatever happened, and making sure that the ugly feelings don't come cascading down on you when you think about whatever happened. And oh boy is it difficult.

Sometimes I wonder if there are times when God doesn’t “feel like” forgiving people, but He does it anyway. Maybe He hears a confession and thinks, “Okay, okay. You’ve done this eleventy-bazillion times before, but it’s okay. I forgive you. Work on doing better.”

And did Jesus have good feelings, loving feelings, forgiving feelings when He was hanging on the cross? I don’t claim to know, but my guess is, maybe not. But that didn’t stop Him from asking God to forgive the people who put Him there.

Forgiveness was granted “just because.”

Gosh, He sure makes it seem easy. Maybe I need to work harder on following His lead…and I need to work on remembering that by not forgiving someone, I’m standing in the way of God. Real forgiveness means that I can’t hold anyone accountable to me to make things right. If I give someone’s transgressions (including my own, because I know I do bad things and I hold grudges against myself, too) over to God, then I am choosing not to have the responsibility and the burden of wondering what to do with it. By giving it over, it’s gone, and God then becomes the one that the person has to answer to. What a relief.

As always, I read something that seems to summarize it all:

Holy God, help me to remember that Your peace and healing are supernatural. They are deeper than anything a human can produce through work or willpower. Your way will bring me blessed freedom and a release of burdens. In Your name, I pray. Amen.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Daily Struggles: Part I

I’ve been mentally working on a post for about a week now, but I just can’t seem to get my thoughts together enough to form something comprehensive. I think I was wanting to tackle too much at once.

After giving it some thought, I decided to break it down a little so that maybe it will make a little more sense.

Sometimes I feel like being Catholic—or just a good Christian in general—is too exhausting and time consuming to be practical on a daily basis. That sounds terrible, I know, but it also sounds pretty human, too.

When I think about what’s so “hard” about it, the first thing that comes to mind is that I don’t always feel like being nice. It’s important to be nice, but it can be a struggle. A big struggle.

I don’t mean to say that I’m an evil, nasty person. I’m not. But sometimes I feel evil and nasty. Like when I get up an hour before I really want to because I have to go to work and on the way to work someone cuts me off and then goes ten miles UNDER the speed limit…when I get to work and can’t find parking…when I leave my lunch at home in the fridge and I have no money in my wallet (so I end up being tired and hungry—bad combination!)…when I work all day, go home, make dinner, start laundry, eat dinner, play with the baby, give the baby a bath, read her a story, rock her, sing to her and put her to bed, clean up from dinner, take care of the dishes, continue doing laundry, sweep/mop the floors, put away toys, wipe down the kitchen sinks and counters, wipe down the bathrooms and put up clean towels, squeeze in a workout before it gets too late…when I finish all of that and it’s late and I finally have fifteen minutes to myself, only to realize that the diaper pail is stinky and needs to be taken out, I didn’t plan anything for dinner for the next night and I still have to take a shower before I can go to bed…the last thing I want to think about or do is be nice to someone else.

All I want to do is crawl into an isolated spot and slap the next person who dares to look at me. Not a very Christian attitude, is it?

Then I put it all in perspective. Everything I did today was nice for somebody. I’m not always happy at my job, but the consumers who receive services are happy that I’m up and at ’em and I’m sure my students are learning something when I give them homework assignments. Making dinner and doing household stuff may sometimes feel like a burden, but it’s fulfilling, too, because it’s something nice for my family. Playing with my daughter, reading, singing—all those things are nice for my little girl. And even the stinky bag from the diaper pail is good—there are garbage men (and women) who rely on trash from my house to have a job.

I think most people do their best to be nice most of the time. Of course, there are people we meet who are hardly ever nice—but we don’t know what they do when we’re not around. I like to believe that when I do something nice, even it’s just something small, it’s a reflection of the core of who I am.

God made each and every one of us for something. I don’t know why God made me, but that’s part of the fun and wonder of being human. How boring would life be if we already had the answers to everything?

I came across this prayer that I really like because it sort of sums it up:

Holy God, You have created me for a purpose that only I can fulfill. I am unique, special, worthwhile and whole in You. Amen.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Word Clarification: Catholic-Style

How would Wii have been pronounced and spelled back in 1987?

When I look back on the years I spent in Catholic school, I can see that the students—and to a degree, the teachers, too—were very insulated from the “outside world.” What I mean is, going to a Catholic school was sometimes like being on another planet. Maybe we were a little too sheltered.

For example, rewind back to fourth grade. I remember that we were supposed to be writing a brief paragraph on what we liked to do in our spare time. One of my classmates, Kevin, raised his hand and the following conversation ensued:

“Ms. Paolicchi, how do you spell Nintendo?”

“How do you spell what?”

“Nintendo.”

“Say it for me again.”

“Nintendo. You know? You play games on it.”

“Like Atari?”

“Yeah, but it’s Nintendo.”

“One more time. Ninten—what?”

“Nintendo.”

“Hmmmm. Let’s see.”

She picked up a piece of chalk and carefully wrote it on the board.

N-I-N-T-E-N-D-A-L

Kevin was confused. “But it’s pronounced Nintend-O.”

“That doesn’t sound right. I think it’s supposed to be Nintend-AL.”

Of course, the rest of the boys in class were excited because they all liked Nintendo, too, but none of them knew how to spell it. So, as we read our papers out loud, every single boy who had included it in his own paragraph said, “Nintendal.”

And the girls, including me, just rolled their eyes.

Nintendal? Oh yeah, we were sheltered.