Another Way

Another Way

This past week we celebrated the feast of the epiphany.  In the Catholic Church, our Sunday gospel was the account of the three kings, or wise men, following the star to find baby Jesus.  They recognized Jesus as the newborn king of the Jews and worshipped him.  They went back to their home country by another route after being warned in a dream not to go back to King Herod.

The part of the story that spoke to my heart this year was the ending.  After their encounter with Jesus, they took a different route.  Going back to report to King Herod was the wrong thing to do.  In those days, travel must have been terribly difficult, yet they were moved to do the right thing for Jesus.

When we encounter Jesus today, are we changed?  Do we go another route?  When Catholics receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, do we rejoice with great joy like the three wise men?  Do we endeavor to change our path to be more pleasing to God?

We can go about our day to day business mindlessly, going with the flow of the culture, not paying attention.  But when we stop and pay attention to the signs, we see that Jesus is real, He is God, and we want to do right by Him.  We want to make the effort to curb our road rage, gossip less, be less self-centered, stop watching movies and TV shows that pull us further from God, etc.  We meet Jesus, open our hearts to Him, and then go a different way: the way of Jesus, leading us to eternal life in Heaven.

Grammy’s House

Grammy’s House

When I was very little, before I went to school, we would occasionally get up very early, while it was still dark.  My mom got us ready while my dad showered and shaved for work.  The AM radio in the kitchen was tuned to WHDH, playing songs such as “Up, Up, and Away” and “Rose Garden” as well as traffic reports from Kevin O’Keefe.  Our growing family of mom and dad and us four girls piled into my dad’s Plymouth Fury and we made our way to Grammy and Grampy’s.

Dad dropped us off before he headed to work for the day.  We went in the side door of the two-story dark brown house with creamy yellow trim.  The door opened to a kitchen so big we could have roller-skated in it.  There was a large table at one end but a smaller table was set up for us kids.  We got real orange juice, which we never had at home, and individual cereal boxes.  The smell of the gas stove and coffee wafted through the air.  In one corner was a sink that seemed disproportionately small for the enormous room.  The ceiling was much higher than ours at home and the cabinets were taller than anyone could possibly reach.  I loved the old-fashioned refrigerator with its rounded design and the sound it made when it closed.  A pair of Dutch children ceramic wall hangings decorated one wall.  At the far end was a somewhat mysterious closet where the whisk broom was kept.

The den was much smaller but just as charming as the kitchen.  There were two chairs facing each other and we took turns sitting in the one that reclined.  Grampy loved animals and we spent hours looking at a heavy book that seemed to have more animals in it than God had created.  We were entranced with the dinosaurs since we had never seen them at the zoo.  On the wall hung a real German cuckoo clock.  And one corner housed a built-in armoire that had games in the bottom drawer, the most important being Scrabble, which Grammy would teach me to play when I was a little older.

There was a short hallway to the front door, which had a crank door bell and a mail slot.  A small table with a bowl of wax fruit decorated the hallway.  And the tiny bathroom was at the beginning of the hallway.  The bathtub had no shower and was half under the slanted ceiling of the stairs that led to the landlord’s apartment.  The sink had old fashioned handles and the bathroom smelled of Grammy’s Chantilly dusting powder.

The living room held the most old fashioned furniture I had ever seen: a formal couch, several chairs including wing chairs, a knick-knack shelf with a mirror in the middle, and a standing ashtray that Grampy used for his pipe.  The TV was large but made a buzzing noise when it was turned on.  When Grampy watched TV and saw animals, he’d call us kids in to see.

When my dad was done working, he’d come back and we’d eat supper before heading home.  On the ride home I watched my shadow as it crossed the car each time we passed under a street light.

The memories are fuzzy because they are so old, but the feelings of love and comfort and safety and magic will live on in my heart forever.

From Understanding To Acceptance

From Understanding To Acceptance

I’ve believed in God my whole life.  I accept that He knows everything and I try my best to trust Him, even when I can’t see His reasoning.

Still, I’ve compiled a short list of questions to ask when I see Him face to face.  Why are the house flies here?  Why do hornets and bees have to sting humans?  Could the benefit of lightning have been achieved without having it start fires and hurt people and keep me out of my pool?  And where did that Nintendo game cartridge go?  I’ve heard others mention similar questions of a similar nature.

I was recently in my nearly perfect and blissful place: floating in my pool.  I feel closer to God there than almost anywhere else.  It’s heaven on earth, save for the bugs.  Biting flies, mostly, and pesky beetles that don’t watch where they’re going.  The thought of asking God someday why it had to be like this came to mind.  But in a silent, instantaneous inspiration, I realized that it wouldn’t make any difference.  By the time I arrive at Heaven’s gate, any issue I had with insects will be irrelevant.  My questions won’t matter.  I don’t need to know.

So in a flash of divine intervention, I changed from wanting to understand God’s reasoning to accepting His wisdom without needing to have it explained.  And by letting go of the questions and trusting God as a child trusts a parent, I arrived a place of deeper peace.

Positive Peer Pressure

Positive Peer Pressure

People talk a lot about resisting peer pressure, especially in regards to school-age children.  “Everyone’s doing it.”  “Just one time, try it.”  “Your parents will never find out.”

But there’s another side to peer pressure: being pressured to do something good.  We often are more willing to try something when asked by peers rather than parents or teachers.  I have two great examples of giving in to peer pressure with very positive outcomes.

The first was in high school.  I was in the marching band.  Back in the day before football fields had lights, the games were on Saturday afternoon.  We’d have band practice in the morning, break for lunch, and come back to perform at the game.  For lunch, my friends and I went down to the pizza shop.  I didn’t like cheese (still don’t) and therefore pizza, so I always brought my peanut butter sandwich in a brown paper bag.  One day, my friend Renée cajoled me into trying pizza.  It turns out that the unattractive, smelly, cheese-covered food actually tastes good!  I was astonished.  And I’ve been enjoying pizza ever since, although I still will not eat cheese otherwise.

The other time I gave in and opened up a new world, I was at a California amusement park.  I was visiting my sister and her husband.  I was in my twenties.  I would go on most rides and enjoyed roller coasters very much, but I refused to go on the upside down ones.  My brother-in-law was pressuring me to go on a corkscrew coaster.  I watched it intently.  It was not even 90 seconds.  I could handle 90 seconds, right?  I gave in and we got in line.  I was amazed at the experience.  It was nothing like it looked from the ground.  The corkscrews were more like fancy twists and I didn’t feel like I would fall out.  Since then I have enjoyed many more coasters with inversions, many of them more intense.

I am grateful to my friends who have put just enough pressure on me to try new experiences.  Even when they don’t end in success, as when my brother who just last year got me to try the horrible experience of putting guacamole in my mouth!

A Fruitful Mass

A Fruitful Mass

It was the summer of 1980 or 1981.  I was in my late teens and out of high school.  And I was marching in a drum and bugle corps.  We had a busy weekend and I wasn’t able to attend Holy Mass on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning.  As a lifelong Catholic, Mass has always been a priority for me, but this time I was able to fit in my activities as there was a church in my hometown that offered Mass at 5 pm on Sunday evening.  I knew for certain we’d be back from the competition in time to get there.

Well, we did get back in town in time, but there was no time for me to go home and change first.  The only way I could get to the 5 o’clock Mass was to go in what I was wearing.  And it was a doozy: a pink terry cloth shorts set with a fruit print (lemons, cherries, etc.)  Back in the day, we never wore shorts to church.  The outfit was decent enough for teenage cavorting, but not for church.  But the only other option was to miss Mass, and that was never an option for me.

So I headed over to the church and tried to slink in.  The usher tried to direct me to a seat, but I stood in the back, not wanting to be seen by anyone but God.  It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.  But I still chose to do the right thing even though I was mortified.  It was hard but I did the right thing and I don’t regret it.

Postnote: I do not have a photo of the outfit, so sorry.

Why My Antidepressant Didn’t Work

Why My Antidepressant Didn’t Work

Disclaimer: Do not ever start or stop any medication, especially antidepressants, without a doctor’s supervision.  Antidepressants must be tapered regardless of why they are being taken.

Back in the 1990s, during a routine visit to my primary care provider, I brought up the fact that I wasn’t feeling like I was at my best.  I couldn’t seem to get things done and felt blah all the time.  The nurse practitioner asked me if I felt overwhelmed and I told her I did.  So she wrote me a prescription for an anti-depressant.  I wasn’t depressed in the sense of staying in bed, having bouts of crying, and so on.  I just wasn’t enjoying life the way I thought I should be.

I am a person who always assumes things will work, so I looked for the changes to happen.  I felt a little less irritable and a little more productive, but honestly not much different.  Still, I kept at it, taking the prescription.  I knew people who were more severely depressed than me and I knew that antidepressants often don’t work or need the dosage to be adjusted.

Over the years I was off and on antidepressants a few times, with different drugs and different doses, but I never really felt much improvement.

Then in early 2008, with the help of a trained therapist, I discovered that I had Attention Deficit Disorder, primarily inattentive.  I started taking ADD medication and soon felt better than I had in years.  Under doctor’s guidance, I tapered off of the antidepressant.  Once off the antidepressant, I continued to feel completely different than I  could remember ever feeling.  The negative thoughts that had been deeply rooted in my brain were gone.  I was more productive than I had been, more of a participant in life rather than an observer.

My antidepressants hadn’t worked because I wasn’t actually depressed.  I may have exhibited depressive symptoms, but they were a side effect of untreated ADD.  If you’ve been taking antidepressants without much of an improvement of symptoms, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether something other than depression is causing your symptoms.  This may not be the case for many people, but it was for me, and figuring it out has had a very positive impact on my life.

Art Puzzles Me

Art Puzzles Me

For each of us, there are things that are easy and other things that are downright mysteries.  For me, music is easy.  It’s been a major force throughout my life.  I like listening to it, I understand why it goes one way or another, I find deeper meaning in many lyrics, I feel it.

Visual art has been the opposite for me.  I always had, and still have, a hard time coloring between the lines.  In second grade, a classmate who had an innate art ability more or less told me that I should color back and forth and that spreading the color multi-directionally was a skill for more advanced artists like herself.  I never got past drawing a basic block house with a sun in the sky and “curved v” birds flying around.  In college, I took a course called “Drawing 101” after being assured no art ability was necessary.  I dropped it halfway through the semester because I spent more time on it than my other courses and my very best work was getting a C grade.  The teacher couldn’t explain it to me when I went for extra help.

Now I’m in my fifties and have reconnected with a high school band-mate on Facebook.  He is highly trained in both visual and performing arts and I’ve learned a little about art from his posts.  He recently posted a piece of art that grabbed me like nothing before.  He posted this photo and asked why a piece of public art was propped in front of a public parking garage almost hidden from sight:

Puzzle Piece Art

To understand why this piece of art spoke to me, you also need to know that I have always loved doing puzzles, both mental and visual.  So this fired more cylinders than any other piece of art.  My curiosity took over, and once I ignored the poor plants that look like they need a drink of water, I got to wondering.

First of all, is this art just hanging out here or was it put here on purpose?  I tend to assume there’s a reason for everything, so I postulate that it was placed in that position on purpose.

Then what is the purpose?  I know good art often makes us think, sometimes about profound or uncomfortable truths.  And many times the best art, as the best music, can mean different things to different people.

So why was it placed here?  For me, seeing the photo, it’s here specifically to get my attention.  I couldn’t just say, “Oh, that looks nice” or “what an unattractive piece.”  I had to think about it.  So the first message is maybe that we won’t always understand life’s puzzles.

My next thought was whether the piece on the ground actually fits in the opening of the other piece.  I believe it does.  If I were there I would maybe, with help, try to see if it fits.  So it may be showing us that we all need help to fit back together sometimes.

Are there other puzzle piece sculptures around that we don’t see in the photo?  The message might be about feeling alone and breaking out to find someone else we can relate to.  Or maybe just breaking free and looking for someone or something to connect with.

If the two pieces were joined and we saw just a big block of concrete, we wouldn’t notice it.  But as it is, it gets our attention.  So perhaps the message is for us to stop hiding our puzzle (let’s face it, we are all puzzles) and let others see who we are.  Show your puzzle to someone and let them love or reject the real you.

Regardless of why it’s there and what the intention was, this piece of art reached me in a way no other art has before.  I think I am starting to understand.  Now I know my favorite genre of art is puzzle art.  And maybe this puzzle art sculpture is the first step towards my finally understanding art.

With gratitude to William Bolster for sharing his art insights and allowing me to use his photo.

An Old Poem About Life

An Old Poem About Life

Last year while decluttering I came across two old poems that I had written in 1997.  That was the year before I bought my house and two years before I met the man I would marry.  It was fascinating to see those glimpses of what I felt at that time.  I’d like to share one with you today.  This one still defines me pretty well still.  It has no title.

Sometimes, I know, it’s hard
To walk towards the light.
It’s so bright
And I feel so dim.
But when I stop and turn around
And look the other way,
The emptiness of black nothing
Scares me more.

I gotta do what’s right
Even if I’m the only one
‘Cuz right or wrong
I’ll always be with me.
I gotta walk towards the light
Even when it’s blinding me.
Only truth will set me free.

Don’t tell me not to think that way
Just because you don’t.
You could too
If you had an open mind.

The struggle makes me stronger
So you can lean on me.
Side by side
We’ll walk towards the light.

Neither a Doormat nor a Bowling Pin Be

Neither a Doormat nor a Bowling Pin Be

As a life-long Christian, I have been conditioned to be nice to people.  Be kind, take the high road, forgive, give them the benefit of the doubt, etc.  Unfortunately, there are times when someone will see your virtue and take advantage of you.  My eyes were opened when somewhere in my twenties, someone told me that being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat.  It’s OK to say no.

Maybe you have a skill that was needed, so you volunteered once and now you are repeatedly asked to contribute again.  Perhaps you helped someone but your situation has changed.  Or maybe you were a listening ear for someone, letting them talk for a couple of hours on the phone, but now they call you frequently and you don’t have the time.  Perhaps someone is strongly suggesting that you’d be a great reader in church and they need lectors, but you’re terrified of speaking in front of people.  You may be a convenient “free” babysitter for a family member who has no regard for your needs.

Well, you are not a bad person if you say no.  As a matter of fact, you’ll probably be a better person.  You will stay away from a stressful situation and avoid resenting the people who seem to be taking advantage of your kindness.

The other situation that I have become enlightened to more recently is being a bowling pin.  This is more of an emotional issue.  Someone knocks you down, not in a physical way but verbally and/or emotionally damaging you.  A family member may point out your shortcoming at every gathering or bring up a painfully embarrassing part of your history.  Whatever the situation, you dread being around this person because you always feel worse afterward.  You may have a friend who regularly makes plans with you and cancels last minute.

You are not a bowling pin whose job is to be repeatedly set up and knocked down.  You are a human being with emotions and feelings that are as valid as anyone else’s.  You are not obliged to take this sort of abuse.  Depending on the situation, you may be able to speak to the person, who may not realize the hurt they are inflicting.  If they respond by telling you that you are too sensitive or thin-skinned, realize that they are wrong to be inconsiderate of your feelings.  You may need to avoid them in the future as much as you reasonably can.

Any of these situations may come up from time to time.  But when it becomes a habit, pray for the transgressor, pick yourself up, and move on.  As a Christian, you should be nice to people – and that includes yourself.

The Mental Health Stigma

The Mental Health Stigma

There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about breaking the mental health stigma.  People are starting to open up about mental illness, especially depression and anxiety.  It seems to me that this movement is aimed at getting past the question, “What will others think of me if they know?”  The goal is for people to honestly share how they feel without fear of being ridiculed or being looked down upon.

But I think there’s another piece of the puzzle that I haven’t seen while scrolling in social media.  “What will happen to me if I admit how I feel?”  For example, a person may feel like they can admit to a close friend or counselor that they feel suicidal without being told to snap out of it or get over it, but he or she may fear that the person they tell will have them committed.  Movies and TV have littered out minds with images of padded rooms, straight jackets, and zombie-inducing meds.  I imagine it’s not really like that, but I’ve never been an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital or ward.

Some people may think they’ll have to take meds that will have unpleasant side effects.  Some may be against taking medication at all or see therapy as a waste of time.  Others may not know that help is available for those without sufficient health insurance to cover the bills.

I have known people personally, including myself, who have resisted treatment for medical needs because of stubbornness and resistance to receiving help.  I’ve fought against being transferred to a big hospital because of fear, but the two times I rode in the back of the ambulance saved my life.  The same factors probably come into play with people experiencing mental illness.

Perhaps our discussions about the mental health stigma need to be augmented with information about what happens when a person reaches out for help.  Can a suicidal person get help without being committed?  Is therapy expensive?  What meds are available and how will they make a person feel?  Is any of it really useful?  Education about actual experiences rather than images from the entertainment industry might go a long way in improving the lives of those suffering among us.