Thursday, September 29, 2011

No Offense

You know, there's something I've always found a little bit strange about practicing my faith: people treat me differently.

And no, I don't mean differently in the sense of persecution, though I admit that has happened to me plenty of times before.

What I mean is that a lot of times, people who are otherwise not religious will walk on eggshells around me.

For example, a friend of mine from undergrad once used a hefty expletive while talking to me over Facebook. Immediately afterward, she wrote, "Oh, excuse my language. I know you're religious."

I'm fairly certain that she was being genuine, and that her comment wasn't meant to be sarcastic. Feeling a little confused, I laughed and said, "What? Why apologize? Do you think my ears are going to bleed or something?"

"Well, no," she told me. "I just don't want to offend."

Oh, please. Spare me.

And just the other day, another friend wrote, "I swear like a sailor, except around..." another one of her friends, who I know is a proud and outspoken evangelical.

Attitudes like this blow my mind, not necessarily out of shock, but confusion. Have we suddenly turned into china dolls because of our faith?

When people say things like that, it proves that they don't really know me at all. Yes, I do swear. Yes, I am working on that. But half the time it's a wonderful literary device. ;) The funny thing is that if, in a rare moment I do let a word slip, some people will gasp and say, "Oh! I can't believe you just said that!"

I am no saint. In fact, I'm very far from, and I have no desire to show a forced, perfect facade to the world -- that time of my faith is long gone, thank God. More than anything else, those comments are just condescending. You don't see me gasping and clutching a rosary every time someone swears in front of me, after all.

I suppose that it makes people feel better about themselves if thy can "clean up" around supposed "religious people." In some ways, I can almost understand it -- I used to act the same way around priests, just because of who they are.

What I learned, to my great delight -- and what I wish people would learn when speaking to Christians -- is that we're really all the same. We all fall, and we're all broken. It's the human condition, and I think we'd be much better off if we stopped pretending to care and actually, you know, caring.

Instead of worrying about offending me, try worrying about offending God.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Life is an adventure...

On the bright side, I'm now the girlfriend of a ... physicist?

Don't ask me how that happened, because I'm still trying to figure it out. Ha!

Relationships have always been a serious thing for me, but have become even more so since my reversion because I am reasonably certain this is my vocation. Every time I start over, the question lingers in the back of my head, "So, is this what I've been looking for?"

It's probably that same question that leaves me feeling extremely reluctant to get involved at all. As much as I want commitment, comfort, security -- hell, even a family -- the incredible risks I have to take to get there can be overwhelming.

You might remember that immediately after graduation, I made a very brief reference to a budding relationship I wasn't ready for. At the time, the gentleman in question was leaving the place we both called home to pursue grad school, and I was adjusting to my new job, being back at home, and so on. Add to that the endless family emergencies at the beginning of summer, and all I wanted to do was be alone.

So I told him that as sweet as he was, we should just be friends, and sent him off to New York.

And damn me, weeks later, I started to miss him. So typical.

Though, by then I figured that I had lost my chance. Feeling sad and foolish, I left it all in God's hands and told Him to show me what He wanted.

Literally 18 hours after I said that prayer, my friend asked me out of the blue where I stood with him: if I still wanted to remain friends, or move forward as a couple. He needed me to make a decision.

While I still wasn't sure of what I wanted and had many fears about where this could lead, B wisely reminded me that sometimes, all we can do is take a deep breath and leap. My confessor believes God used him in that moment to force me out of indecision and into doing something for once. I think he's right.

So I'm taking this chance. I've learned a lot in the last two years ... that time was necessary to rebuild myself and figure out where I stood with God. But now, I'm finally ready to move forward.

God is good.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

God in the Dark

A few weeks ago, my parents and I planned a trip to Maryland to visit family. But as Hurricane Irene grew bigger and more daunting, we found there was no other choice but to cancel.

In the weeks leading up to that trip, I started to lose my footing again spiritually. I knew that I needed to get my act together, but apathy got to me before I could get to Confession.

Then, Irene clawed her way up the coast, eventually plunging us into the dark for the next three days. My parents spent most of that time sleeping, while I sat awake in the dark.

Cut off from all my tech "stuff" and God's grace, those three days forced me to actually take a look at myself. What was I doing? Not only did I not care about the position I was in, but in many ways I used it as an excuse to get in even more trouble.

Hey, no one ever said I was good at this walk.

As much as I had hoped to weather being back home, over time it started to get under my skin. By the time I realized, I was a tangled up mess. But actually making the effort to right things yet again seemed pointless. Eventually, I'd end up back in this place. Why bother?

Then, more out of boredom than anything else, I started to read the Bible on my iPod, starting with the Mass readings for the next day (Jer 20:7-9):
You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
Zing. Defeated again. And I had the answer to that "why bother:" He called me years ago and He calls me still, and no matter how much distance I try to put between us, despite all the lies and excuses I make to myself, I'm no longer happy unless I'm bound up with Him.

And sitting there in both literal and spiritual darkness, that stupid, persistent longing stirred up in me all over again.

It took three weeks for me to finally get to the confessional, but that waiting period ended up being very good for me. So often I take God and His mercy for granted ... and I think this is what I needed to wake me up.

He always knows exactly what we need, and for stubborn souls like mine, that's sometimes a bit of tough love.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ten Years Later

Everyone has their 9/11 story -- where they were, how they felt. Here, in brief, is mine.

My uncle worked for the NY Port Authority in the North Tower. An engineer, he was the sort that was always punctual -- never, ever late for work.

So that day, not yet 12 years old, I watched his tower fall on TV in class as it happened. That same minute, the bell rang to switch classes ... I ran straight to guidance and stayed there for the rest of the day. I was sure he had died. It was too devastating for me to even consider survivors.

What I didn't learn until about 2 in the afternoon was that, for the first time ever, my uncle was late to work. He was helping my cousin move into her new classroom -- it was her first day as a teacher in Newark. When the planes hit, he was on the train into New York ... watched it all happen right out his window. He also survived the attacks in 1993, and got caught in that huge power outage a few years ago. Bribed one of the ferry workers to take him and some coworkers over to the Jersey side.

Why he got so lucky is still a mystery to us, but in the last ten years he's seen his daughters marry, become a grandfather 4 times over, and settled into retirement far away from the City.

For a few hours that day, I got a taste of the grief the victims' families still carry. One day was plenty for me.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What Do I Owe You?

Over and over again in the past six(!) years I've been a Christian, I've heard the same thing: salvation is a free gift. It's by grace we're saved. Without that grace, we'd have nothing. Nothing we do can earn heaven. And so on.

Now, coming from a Catholic understanding, I believe that our salvation is an ongoing process that's made authentic through works. If our faith doesn't bear fruit, and if we don't work to keep up our relationship with God, then it's basically a moot point. (That doesn't mean that doing a bunch of pious things can save us -- it can't, not without faith.)

I have to confess, though, that I think sometimes we all struggle with a sense of entitlement. We might think, "I'm a good Christian. I go to church. I pray a lot and read the Bible."

For Catholics: "Well, I go to Mass every day. I pray the rosary. I have a regular holy hour."

For myself: "I didn't have sex in college. I don't get drunk. I try to be a positive influence at home and work."

All of it boils down to the same thing: we act like good people, and so God owes us. We deserve to go to heaven. We deserve to have good things happen to us, and to have our prayers answered.

And that sense of justice leads to frustration when things don't quite pan out. It leads to pride in ourselves, and judgment over others.

But guess what? The Pharisees did the same thing.

I see this streak in myself more than I'd like to admit...and realizing it is embarrassing.

Once again, He calls me to lay down in humility and accept that, despite all the good I do, it's never good enough for Him. He owes me nothing. It's me that owes Him -- and I owe Him everything.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Turning In

It's been a while, hasn't it?

I'm changing again. Every now and then, God sneaks up on me like a whirlwind, and I learn something new. Whether I like it or not, life isn't spent in stasis.

The thing is, this time, I don't know if I like what I'm learning.

I wonder ... do I love God? Or do I just love all the nice things I've heard?

Do I know Him? Or do I just know a lot of stuff about Him?

The answers have humbled me, and in the case of my blog, stunned me into silence. I want to articulate it, but for the first time probably ever, words fail me.

I've been getting nowhere up until very recently. Lots of cool people have challenged me to dig a little deeper into what I'm feeling, so we're going to take some baby steps in that direction. Or that's the plan, at least.

Stay tuned.