Category Archives: Friendship

Be Real, People

There’s been a lot said lately by people more qualified than me about the current state of the Catholic Church. That its archaic. That it must change to keep people engaged. That the conventional wisdom of modern people is stronger than the doctrine of an institution that has survived thousands of years of in spite of the human brokenness of its members and leaders.

I honestly don’t have answers for any of the Churches critics, internal or external. I do know that I have made a conscious decision to follow Christ through the Catholic Church and to raise my children within it. Of all the adventures I have embarked upon in my life, this has by far been the most challenging.

When I began blogging and sharing how Christianity collides – sometimes rather harshly – with the daily life of my family, I truly believed I had found my role in the “new evangelization” the Church was talking so much about. I thought it was a great way to use the amazing technology God had given us to make the world a better place in my own little way.

I soon found that trying to navigate the intersection between adult life and Christian morality was not so easy. The more I explore, the more I realize how flawed I am as a Christian and Catholic.  I believe in decency, goodness and, as corny as it sounds, brotherhood. Even when, as I am currently, struggling to find these things within me.

I have been very blessed over the course of my life – for many years, I was one of those people who was hated by others, including my friends, because things often seemed to go my way. I got good grades from elementary through graduate school. I had wonderful family and friends. I was in good health, was motivated and innocent to a large degree of the harsh realities of living. I did not know how fortunate I was. The last ten years or so have brought me many challenges and battles for which I was morally unprepared.

A writer at heart, I thought sharing those struggles as I reconciled them with my faith would offer support and motivation to others facing personal hardships like mine.

May be it does.

But its done something else as well. Its made me more reluctant to wear my heart on my sleeve about my beliefs and experiences. We live in a world that wants conformity and homogeneity when it demands diversity. My most powerful stories of God in my life amidst my own numerous failings are ones I could never share here. Not because people might label me a religious fanatic. Heck, I get that by just going to Church on Sunday and being pro-life.

No. I can’t truly share because I must also live for the future in some sense. In many ways, I’ve already hindered myself through my writing. I’ve given the world reason to exclude me from social groups, employment opportunities, friendships, even family circles. It’s not because I’m trying to be Catholic – it’s because I share my un-perfectness in a world that demands flawless living. Funny concept for someone like me who spent my professional life “selling” businesses and ideas, and “putting the right spin” on straightforward things.

St. Paul faced great danger in his desire to spread the Gospel and God’s Word. Today, sharing our spiritual experiences in life can lead us to isolation. I often feel I have contracted Jerry McQuire syndrome, if you remember the old movie.  I know I have something to share, and my blogs do come from my heart. I just wish it was easier to know what’s right and get on with it like Jerry did in the movie. Or like Paul did in the New Testament.

I also hope I’m able to continue as Paul did in the face of adversity. Perhaps like he, I can learn to be happy with fewer friends and even fewer true companions on my journey.  Maybe I can learn when its best to keep quiet and best to share my life loudly. But more importantly, perhaps I can encourage others that the goal of life is not to be what society sees as perfect and acceptable. Perhaps we can never truly heal our own brokenness until we’re home with the Lord. But we can help one another cope through honesty and understanding.

 

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People are People

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the boxes we put ourselves in and the labels we put on those boxes. 

It’s somewhat amazing that in an era where we devote so much time to ensuring diversity in everything we do, that we actually end up driving people farther and farther away from one another.

My favorite incidence of this phenomenon this week is the idea that no white woman should have the audacity to wear hoop earrings. In case you didn’t know, those are apparently reserved for black women, and it’s wrong for white – or any other non-black woman I suppose – to appropriate black culture.

Huh?

If this is where we’ve come to in our culture wars, it should be clear that not one of us on this planet gets it. By sharing culture – music, art, fashion, food, and yes, even jewelry – we bring ourselves closer together and ultimately can find peace with one another.

Our love affair with technology often takes the blame for the social distance of the modern era. After all, it’s easier to say what we want to say (i.e., be insensitive to anyone and everyone) from behind a screen. There’s truth in that – I know I’m guilty of saying things online I’d never say to a person in the flesh. Who isn’t?

But self-separation really isn’t as new as the latest tablet or phone. We’ve been doing it forever really, so it makes sense to think people are farther apart than they’ve ever been. Society decides who they don’t like, and then they pounce. When we don’t know the type of person we’re attacking, it’s easier to stereotype and “normalize” ostracism. 

I’m pretty sure that now a days, no one really wants equality. Every “group,” be they women, religious, atheist, blacks, gays, trans, hillbillies, millennials, hipsters, liberals, conservatives, married, single, etc, etc, wants to claim some level of superiority over everyone else. Like it or not, equal DOES mean all lives matter. Even unborn ones, old ones, and dare I say it, Muslim ones.

I’ve become sensitive to this lately watching my husband maneuver through life. He is a middle-aged white man. With a beard, who likes coffee, and working outdoors. He goes to church, owns guns and trucks, and likes big dogs. He grew up on a farm and understands American laws at all levels. I guess you could say he’s the guy everyone wants to hate and blame these days.

But like anyone else living under any other label, there’s more. He works long hours at a job he’s good at, but, like so many, he is disrespected everyday. He struggles with his own health issues. He supports our family financially to the point of exhaustion. He’s all about “girl power,” being the biggest cheerleader our two tween daughters have, urging them to strive to be all they can be. He fights the system where he sees it failing people, especially kids. He provided extraordinary end-of-life care for both is his parents, and had been rock solid in love and support for a wife plagued with illness and depression.

Maybe he’s not so bad after all. Like a lot of other plain white bread guys I know, he’s working hard at life with absolutely no time to worry if someone is black or white or yellow or green or purple. Yeah, he’s worn and broken in spots – just like EVERY LAST ONE OF US. 

So it’s this simple : people come in all shapes, sizes, colors and conditions. We’re all here for a reason and we all count. People who do wrong should faces consequences – not because of their “type” but because they have somehow hurt another.  What we should be doing is encouraging one another to do right – in though, word and deed. Because in the end, we are all the same. 

Who would have thought that in our modern, enlightened world that we’d still have trouble understanding this?

Lent with My Dogs

For Lent this year, I’m going to try to be more like my dogs.

Now before any of you very serious traditional Catholics run for the Rosary beads, hear me out. I’m not talking about eating out of a dish on the floor, barking to go outside or visiting all of the other dogs in the neighborhood like my Great Pyrenees does. No. What I’m talking about is learning from my dogs about some of the amazing things they do that people seem incapable of doing.

People who know me well know I spend an inordinate amount of time with two very white dogs – the aforementioned Pyr, and an aging, yet very playful, West Highland White Terrier. If you don’t know me well, you might guess this from the fact I’m constantly covered in white fur.

I like them better than I like most people. Even when the Pyr drools all over my leg for a pretzel or the  Westie erupts into peels of high pitched barking every time the washing machine switches cycles. Its not because they’re cute and furry, although that does help (especially when one of them just ate an entire birthday cake or switched the gas on the stove on trying to get to an apple pie).

It’s because dogs know how to love unconditionally.

I’ve been observing them now for some time and I’m really not sure exactly how they do this. I know they don’t forget things – like when they’re punished, or dog shamed, or where the treats are. And I know they aren’t stupid – the Pyr can open doors with knobs and the Westie can hide his toys successfully from the Pyr. And I saw a lab on tv last week open an armoire refrigerator and find the peanut butter.

It seems that when they greet me with uncontrolled enthusiasm at the door, watch over me when I’m sick, snuggle with me at night and try to sit on my lap (the big one, not the little one), its truly because they love me and are happy in my presence.

I don’t know a human, even those who I love and love me most, who has never been angry with me, showed me distain, let me down or felt unloving toward me at some point. I have a way of torquing everyone I know off at some point. That’s just me. And I’ve paid for it in human relationships (hence my preference for animals).

But Max and Penny, those white furry angels, forgive me anything – unnecessary vet trips, tripping over them, buying the wrong treats, staying out too long, etc, etc. Sure they’ll show annoyance, but they’ll be back in no time for an ear or belly scratch, or in the Pyr’s case, a full body hug, like nothing ever happened.

I wonder often in their presence about this amazing trait. From what other dog lovers tell me, this is a hardwired thing in almost all breeds. They know how to forgive and forget. They KNOW nothing in life is more important than the power of love. No wonder dogs are man’s best friend. Its too bad we’re not more like them. Or learn more from them. Incredible were the masters.

So, my Lenten promise to be more like my dogs. I will be making more concerted efforts to love people without conditions or limits. To forget about the things that rub me wrong and remember that I myself am broken. To spend more time out of my house and my yard and with other human beings. And to learn more about my own shortcomings in loving other people for who they are – the image of God in a crazy world.

Teach Your Children Well

School is starting this week all around our area. Parents are running to and fro making sure their children have everything they need on that list of supplies, making sure they still have uniform compliant clothing in their drawers, checking in on any new rules and teachers, and generally driving themselves batty with minutia.

More and more these days, however, there are a few things we need to provide our children with for school that we won’t. Or can’t, in some cases. What they really seem to need is the ability to enter school with confidence, a bit of psychological toughness and some humility.

Or, more clearly, either the capability to endure being bullied, or the values that keep one from becoming the bully.

Yes, I recognize that schools far and wide have what we now call “bully programs,” which in most cases dedicate time in the school week to sitting around talking about being nice to one another and telling on the bullies. Sound good? I’ll let you in on a secret. It doesn’t work.

Here’s why : every possible protection in our school system is given to the bully but almost no consideration to the bullied. Most teachers and administrators don’t want to deal with this, for good reason. The liability in confronting the bully and his or her family can be enormous, especially in a private school where there are entanglements with personal connections and potential for financial support. In the case of the bullied, there can be legal concern if someone is physically or emotionally injured. Best that no teacher, aide, or administrator has knowledge of the situation prior to any escalation. Plausible deniability means less monetary damage.

I’m not blaming teachers and administrators per se. After sifting through bullying issues and consequences, for myself years ago and more recently with both of my girls, I have been unable to discover any real workable solution to this problem. I have learned much about the bully phenomenon, however, and as school starts again, I feel compelled to share some of this with parents. So:

1. THIS HAPPENS IN YOUR SCHOOL. I don’t care where you send your child to school. Bullying happens there. If you think Catholic or Christian school is exempt somehow because children have classes in religion, are compelled to do service and practice the commandments, you are dead wrong. In fact, such schools, which rely heavily on parents for fundraising, donations and volunteer time, may struggle with this even more. Kids are smart when it comes to knowing what they can and can’t get away with.

2. BULLYING CAN BE MORE ABOUT HOME THAN SCHOOL. Carefully examine your child’s home life and experiences outside of school. Bullying is a learned behavior. Is your child in regular contact with someone who puts him or her or other people down? Are they berated, teased or laughed at? Kids imitate. Chances are, if your child bullies someone else, they have experienced it along the way, or have witnessed someone they love doing it.

3. ITS NOT OVER WHEN YOU SEPARATE THE BULLY FROM THE VICTIM Kids who get bullied don’t forget about it. They carry the damage with them, and constantly question their worth and ability as a result. Many will not engage in activities they enjoy for fear they will fail and be laughed at. They will not try new things, speak up, read aloud, or volunteer, and will act completely different at school than at home. They stunt their own personal development to avoid mean kids. I know many parents who think the answer to this is to remove their child from a school where they are bullied. But the stress of starting over at a new school after being abused by other kids only causes more problems. I know a parent who keeps moving her child between schools because she thinks teachers are mean to her when they reprimand her for bad behavior. Now children in multiple schools dread interacting with this child!

4. IT HURTS THEIR CHANCES TO ACHIEVE In the classroom, kids who experience abuse or trauma are known to go into a type of security mode where they think about nothing but avoiding additional damage. They’re learning ability actually shuts off. Catholics, I learned about this during my mandatory reporter training for child abuse. And I’ve experienced it with one of my daughters. After years of above average standardized test scores, hers fell to well below average in less than one year. But she could tell me all the answers correctly when I worked with her at  home. We have a lot to make up academically this year. It’s simply not fair for any child to be terrified of their school work because other kids tease them for getting an answer wrong or taking longer to complete an assignment.

5. BULLIED KIDS ARE NOT WHINERS OR WIMPS I often hear adults say kids who claim they are bullied are just wimpy and need to suck it up. Don’t believe it. These kids are brave and walk into the lions den everyday where people who are supposed to help them simply cannot for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes they do start to believe everyone is a bully, and have to be taught that not every bad thing that happens in their lives is aimed directly at them. But don’t underestimate them. Many are bullied because they are exceptional in some way or talented in another. Or even because they’re ordinary. I’ve seen kids bullied simply because they have both a mother and a father in their household. Or because their parents took them to Walt Disney World. Kids don’t have to have special needs, or be unconventional on some way to be bullied. It can be as simple as being the new kid.

The truth is kids can find lots of reasons not to like someone else when they regularly see adults disrespecting other people. As the adults, we probably don’t even realize that we do it. Do we favor some of our kids friends because they’re smarter, more athletic, more attractive, better dressed, more involved, whatever? Do we disrespect our kids and their brothers and sisters in the way we discipline them? Or maybe we make fun of random people we encounter during the day and invite our kids to laugh with us?  You know, that weirdly dressed woman in Wal-Mart? The kid on the ball team who never gets in to play? The grouchy old man down the street?

Take some time early this school year to remind your children that everyone has value, no matter how different or odd they may seem. Every child in their class and school deserves their respect, if not their friendship, and the opportunity to come to school every day without fear.

There may be little we can do to erase bullying’s impact once it occurs. But we can do a lot about our adult behavior, and how it influences the way our kids treat others. And we can serve as a reminder to them every day that the world takes all kinds of people to turn, and that everyone of them, rich, poor, cool, nerdy, acne-prone, tomboy, and on and on, deserves the most basic respect.

Make It Harder to Rape

I’m never going to understand modern feminism.

A few days ago, Catholic blogger Matt Walsh lamented via Twitterr that he found it sad that it was politically incorrect to warn young women off about the potential consequences of hook up culture. I publically agreed, saying I was sad women didn’t have more common sense.

We were of course talking about the infamous Brock Turner case. He’s the ex-Stanford swimming star who dragged a young women behind a dumpster after she blacked out at a frat party and raped her. Remember, his dad wrote that sickening letter asking the judge for lenience and actually got it?

Before I share , I want to say this : I think rape is more reprehensible than murder. I don’t know why men keep doing it (since ancient times), and I don’t know why we aren’t throwing the book at these jerks (Mr. Turner got a whole six months out of a possible 17 years). I do not feel victims are to blame in any case. I’ve known some and I know their plight. But I also know some women lie about rape (Rolling Stone, anyone?), damaging real victims credibility and hurting innocent men. I teach my daughters to protect their bodies as much as they can.

I have never had a response on Twitter like I have had to that comment. In fact it’s still going. More than 48 hours later. I see where it could have been misconstrued, but I was sure to explain myself. Ad nauseum. I’ve stopped that now. I’m belaboring the point, and it seems there is no end to the number of people who, without reading the conversation in its entirety, want to tell me I’m wrong.

Numerous young ladies want me to know they SHOULD be able to walk down the street naked and not fear rape. I don’t disagree with them. But unfortunately, reality does.

There seems to be no shortage of men who are capable of rape and assault. They won’t be stopping anytime soon. As a strong woman, I feel my best defense is to avoid situations where rape is likely to occur. If I’m in a situation of that sort, preparedness is prudent. Any women can still find herself in too deep, we are human. But if I can lessen my chances of becoming a victim, I’m going to do it. Wouldn’t you? It’s not about fear. It’s about odds.

Frat house rape is nothing new. I went to college and grad school. I lost a friend my freshman year to suicide. She’d gone home to regroup after being raped. We see major stories like the Stanford one in the news when college is in session every year. People study it. Law & Order recreated it on its various shows a million times. Every woman alive knows what a rape kit is.

Drinking too much elevates a woman’s risk of rape – for the very reasons we like it so much. It eases tension, blurs our decision making, makes us feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof. Unil it doesn’t. I’m not saying don’t have fun. Go out. Party. Be young. But also be smart and respect yourself. No, that does not mean that every single rape victim that ever lived asked for it. No one asks for it, let alone the aftermath.

But why risk the horrific possibility by getting black out drunk? Is drinking to excess that important? Do you really want to make yourself sick? Pass out next to a toilet on a filthy bathroom floor? Have – hopefully – some annoyed friends carry you to your bed? Maybe check on you once or twice if your lucky? Go to a hospital to have your stomache pumped? Get alcohol poisoning? Wonder what happened when you come to?

If you need more than me to tell you drinking can lead to bad situations, how about God? Wine is enjoyed a great deal in the Bible. But Paul warns us, “do not drink wine to excess.” Sirach chapter 31 hits the nail on the head, “…wine drunk to excess is bitterness of soul, with provocation and stumbling. Drunkeness increases the anger of a fool to his injury, reducing his strength and adding wounds.”

Men who want to rape will. What’s wrong with loving other women enough to warn them that even though men should stop, and be taught to respect dignity, reality hits a little harder? Rape will never be the victims fault – woman, man or child. But smart, strong women will avoid behaviors and situations that elevate risk simply because they SHOULD be able to do anything men do.

Ladies : Protect yourself. Protect your friends, sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins and nieces. Looking back on my younger days, I think I may have had many near misses. I was lucky. I’m more conservative now that I have more to lose. Life, it turns out, has much more to offer than a party and a good buzz.

Including the love of a decent honest man. We should all think about what could lie ahead before throwing caution to the wind for a good time.

Let’s pray that Brock Turner’s victim can rediscover the peace he took from her that awful night, and support all women, men and children who have experienced the horror of rape. We honor them by respecting ourselves.

Sorry, not sorry.

I heard some good news today about an old friend who had hurt me a great deal a few years ago. It soured my day.

But it made me realize, yet again, how fragile forgiveness can be,  and just how difficult it can be to live as Jesus did, and as the Father wants us to. Funny how we can assure ourselves we have forgiven in our minds, but when shocked or surprised somehow – like when you run into someone unexpectedly – the truth comes out. At least in your heart.

So, what to do? I guess I could sit around, walk around, whatever, feeling glum, excavating the pain and rehashing all the terrible things I think ruined my friendship. Isn’t that what we all do? Those of us who are willing to admit it, anyway. I know I do. But I don’t want to do that. I’m trying to live my life better, by what I’ve learned and by the path God is asking me to follow.

I tried something new instead. I said two prayers. One for me, and one for my old friend. Nothing elaborate. Just a quick nod to the Lord acknowledging that it’s hard to control our feelings, even when we can admit they are sometimes a little irrational. I asked him to help me let it go and find happiness in someone else’s success. And to remember the goodness of that relationship, not the bad ending. It was a long one. Most of it was special.

I also asked God to bless my friend and her family. I’m not sure if she ever understood the impact her actions had on my life. I prayed for her happiness, and that she always keep in mind that others are part of the decisions she makes, no matter how insignificant they may seem to her. The people or the decisions.

I find again that being a Catholic is indeed a great challenge, every day on every level. Forgiveness is not a one time thing, where you say your sorry, shake hands and everyone goes on merrily. It’s an ongoing choice to fight off the negativity and maintain your desire to make that “I’m sorry” stick. 

We certainly don’t make it easy for one another. Here’s to trying harder to forgive and to forget.

Girl Power-Up

For a little while now, I’ve been reliving some of the worst memories of my adolescence.  I suppose it’s my way of living vicariously through my daughters, both now tweens. 

Like all mothers, I pray they will grow into level-headed, self-loving, decent young women. In my generation, many of us instead grew into neurotic, self-doubting, low-self esteem bundles of emotion. Sadly, and many women won’t admit this, we developed this way at the hands of other women – bullies, social climbers, gossips, etc. In my day, women were their own worst enemies. And I think very well may still be.

We give a lot of lip service these days to raising strong, independent, self-actualized young ladies. We encourage them to do whatever they dream, to be who they are, and see themselves as powerful. We remind them they’re capable of math and science. We have them playing football and hockey. We change the body type of Barbie so they don’t see themselves as sexual objects. And yet somehow, that cattiness is still alive and well in females everywhere, and at even younger ages.

I have been working for the last 11 years now at raising my own strong little ladies. I don’t sugar coat the lesser amenities of life for them – we all need to be responsible and productive. Even with my own very pronounced short comings (depression, diabetes, heart disease) I’m dedicated to providing them with the tools they will need to take care of themselves with confidence as they become adults in a very cruel world. 

Yesterday, for the first time, I began to wonder if I’m doing it wrong. 

My oldest daughter asked me if she could go to a different school. I was surprised…somewhat. She has had a hiccup or two in her emotional development, and is regularly referred to by people at our school as “sensitive.” That means she’s known to cry at school when she feels put down, alone, overlooked, overwhelmed or teased. She shows her hurt. That makes some kids think she’s not cool, and some teachers that she’s less intelligent. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. She’s quite smart, a wonderful cartoonist, dedicated musician and overall good-hearted person. Her academic test scores are well above average. And she’s very likable. Similar to other girls her age, she’s also a bit awkward and confused. Like others, she’s gained a little weight, struggles with athletics, is stymied sometimes by her developing body and feels left out of almost everything. She seeks affirmation.

She’s had a few “best friends,” but all in all, it seems when she finds one, that girl finds someone else who doesn’t want her around. It appears she’s been labeled uncool, and is regularly alone in a sea of little girls, who, unlike her, do not appreciate country music, trombone, Disney animation, black jelly beans and Minecraft. 

I was like this growing up. Like her, I lived a bit farther away from the others in my class, didn’t play with those kids often after school, and my activities were considered weird. I went through that awkward phase where I got a little overweight and couldn’t get my hair to lay just right. I was an early bloomer. I was teased and bullied regularly by kids who today don’t remember doing it. But I remember – and that treatment stayed with me my whole life. I still doubt my worthiness and abilities today.

I had hoped in this new age of the Strong Girl, my daughters would not experience this catty competitiveness that should have died off by now, allowing young women to support one another while appreciating their differences. Yet it now seems to start more strongly at younger ages. (For my youngest in first grade.)

What are we doing as mothers, teachers, role models that tells girls it’s ok to ostracize other girls on the basis of what society tells us is cool or not cool? Is it right not to invite one girl out of a class to a party because she doesn’t get an A on every test, or because she doesn’t have the coordination to play basketball? What about if she’s chubby, or tells silly jokes or repeats herself when she talks?

All girls, little ones, tweens, teens, even adults, want a friend or two to share life experiences with. As adults, as a society, are we subtlety telling our daughters that some girls don’t deserve friendship or an ally in the battle of growing up? 

It seems so. We can do all we can to encourage them to be who they are as their parents. But there’s little we can do when their peers deconstruct that confidence daily simply because who they are isn’t in style. When push comes to shove, they believe other girls over parents “who have to tell them nice things.”

As women, likely all of whom have experienced this type of abandonment by friends, shouldn’t we be encouraging our daughters to embrace differences and build support for and among all girls facing the perils of young adulthood?  Let’s find ways to kill the spectre of “popularity” among kids before we create more girls who are afraid to engage their gifts.