Tag Archives: life lessons

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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Checking My “Privilege”

Everyone loves a good Internet quiz. I stumbled on one on Mashable I had to do this week.

It was about determining your “privilege” quotient. There were 100 check off boxes. You got one point for every box you checked off. The higher your score, the more “privileged” you are. 

I got a 52, which the quiz creators seem to think is somewhat high. Despite the fact that I’m not a man, was bullied as a child, and have been discriminated against for my gender and religion. After all, I am white, have never lived below the poverty line, have traveled abroad and remain the same gender I was when I was born.

The whole fight against “privilege” strikes me somewhat odd. Or maybe I should say backwards. I certainly understand that human beings have a way to go when it comes to equality, and I applaud strides to get us there. But why exactly does that mean we attack the achievement of those who have gained comfort?

Many of the questions on the quiz seemed not to be judging me so much as they were accusing my parents of beng successful people. I don’t mean one percent successful. There are many people between those in poverty and those swimming in money. I mean employed, educated, comfortable, hard-working middle class people. 

My parents sent my brother and I to Catholic grade school and high school. They sent us both to college – they made too much to get any real financial aid but not enough that paying tuition wasn’t a real sacrifice. Our family visited my father’s family in Germany, and he helped me buy a car when I was in grad school. He and my mother now enjoy spoiling my daughters, their only grandchildren. 

My father, who came to the U.S. after World War II, learned English, became a citizen, got a college education, and became a successful engineer, considers these things major achievements. Caring for his family, and preparing a new generation to contribute to the world, was a goal he set and achieved. He is a hero to me.

But apparently in today’s conventional wisdom, providing “privilege” to my brother, me and my children, is wrong. When my father came to this great country, it was all about using freedom to create opportunity. Some were more successful than others, but everyone had a chance to better themselves. Even German immigrants after the horror of Nazi Germany. Today, the best opportunity Americans seem to find is in discovering who is to blame for their misery and using the system to take whatever someone else has earned away from them.

I did not grow up rich. Nor am I now. My husband and I pinch pennies to provide our children with all we can. My parents were not “connected” people. They kept there noses to the grindstone, and have hard work and commitment to thank for what they have and what they have given to us.

Having lived a comfortable life does not make me insensitive to the needs of others. I know many people with varied human needs. I do my best to provide support, aid and friendship that lifts those who are down. I do that because it’s the right thing to do. The very international travel and education that’s supposed to make me “privileged” has actually brought me greater understanding of others, just like it was supposed to.

Not being black, Hispanic, poor, gay, trans or whatever does not mean a person has not been discriminated against. (The quiz, interestingly, did not have questions related to age, disability, etc) I’ve faced discrimination for being Catholic, diabetic, female, depressed, married and having children. My husband has faced hardship for being a farmer, hunter, union member, energy company worker, and white man with facial hair. EVERYONE faces discrimination at some time in their lives. 

Yes there is true, heartbreaking discrimination in the world. But it won’t be eased by driving a wedge between those who have found success in life and those who have not. Instead, we should be looking to those who have achieved to learn how to do it ourselves. We should be raising one another up with the gifts God has given each of us.

“Privilege” is something that is earned through hard work. It’s something that illustrates just what we can achieve. Not something that makes us less human, or less compassionate. It’s not yet another reason to throw stones at others.

And the Last Shall be First

A few months ago, my daughters started running cross country for their school.
I convinced them to give it a try for a few reasons. One needed to find something to engage herself in that she could call her own. The other needed a bit more physical fitness in her life. And I didn’t want either of them to become an adult like me who hates exercise.
While I was busy focusing on how they could benefit, I never stopped to think the pursuit -and my girls- would end up teaching me the real lessons.
One of my daughters it turns out has a real knack for this running thing. She improves all the time. The other…maybe not so much.
Today, they ran one of the more challenging courses they’ve been dealt so far. I knew one would finish near the end. The other I expected in the middle of the pack. Earlier, I had watch them set out with something of a wince. My one daughter, as expected, was dead last, and continued to fall behind as the pack moved out of sight.
As I waited near the finish line, kids were coming in one after another. But not either of mine. The field was thinning. Earlier finishers were heading home. And I saw one of my girls come into view. She had to be near the end of the heap, yet she didn’t look particularly spent or tired. Odd.
A few moments later, I saw her sister, the one who struggles more with her performance and technique. She was obviously exhausted. Pushing ahead in what seemed to be agony, she was also gathering the support of the parents watching, her teammates and competitors from other schools. They were running with her. Cheering her on.
Tears were clouding my eyes under my sunglasses. I hurt for her, physically and emotionally. All parents surely understand. It’s painful to watch your child struggle so publicly.
I hugged the daughter who had finished and handed her water as I turned back to the course. The other’s coach was now running at her side, encouraging her gently but firmly. Other runners from the home team came to run with her. Cheers were growing louder. I couldn’t help but wonder if the support – all genuine – lifted her or embarrassed her. But as she crossed the finish in a crowd of people, there was no frown.
She walked into my arms, and when she saw my tears, she cried herself. I turned her beautiful face, covered in sweat and wet hair, up to mine and kissed her forehead. I had never been more proud of her, my heart felt fuller than I thought it could.
Her perseverance was inspiring. And I told her so. That I would think of that moment every time I wanted to give up, take the easy way out. Take a nap instead of doing something that needed doing. And she smiled a beautiful smile, and said, “I love you mom.”
We gathered our stuff, and people came by, still cheering her on. “Great job, honey.” “Great way to hang in there, kid.” I was proud to be her mom.
As we were walking to the car, her sister, the more talented runner, took my hand. Another coach had been encouraging her to take on more in her training, greatly impressed with how far she’d come so fast. I wondered how that would progress now that she had finished second to last.
“She finished it, mom.” She said and smiled. I looked down at her and finally understood why she finished so far back. Just a moment before, I thought I couldn’t be more proud. But I was. I realized she had stayed behind on the course with her sister to support her effort just to finish, instead of pursuing her own interest in a stronger time.
My kids have done more than learn to run and stay healthy as I had planned. One has re-energized me to fight on when the days get hard. The other showed me that not all winners cross the finish first. Some do it last.