The Wet Pants of Poverty

This week down at the laundry-shower place, a guy named Phil pees on himself.*

Oh, crazy street people, you say.

Nah, I don’t think so.  When you meet Phil, one of the things that stands out is that he almost certainly has miserable health problems.  A lot of the clients have that look.  From the way Phil has trouble walking, you might guess, for example, that he’s got a spinal injury or something.

Something else you notice after spending a little time in the same room, and getting to wash his clothes and to observe the care he puts into straightening himself up at the shaving sink, is that this is a guy who cares about his appearance.  He knows odds are against him, and he’s making the effort.  He doesn’t want to be that unkempt crazy street person.

No one who comes into the shower-laundry does.  That’s why they come.

So today from my post at the machines I notice the odd whiff of urine-fresh-scent, and it seems to pick up when Phil walks by, and sure enough when I glance over at him sitting waiting his turn for a shower, evidence is he either dropped a cup of water in his lap or he’s the guy.

He does what any sane person would do in his position: He stays cool and pretends it didn’t happen.  Maybe no one will notice.  Maybe people will think he spilled his ice water.

What else is he going to do?  In a minute he’s going to be able to shower and put his clothes in the wash and take care of the situation, but until then he’s stuck.  And I’m telling you: Phil is not a guy who wants to be sitting there with wet pants.  He just isn’t.  He hates it as much as you would.

***

Here are two things about being homeless:

  • You have to scratch together every bit of help from seven different places.
  • Poverty doesn’t wait until you’re ready for it.

When people with good stiff bootstraps visualize homelessness, they visualize a weekend with the Boy Scouts.  Be hard-working and resourceful!  No-match fires and a foraged meal?  Sure!  Except of course that if the Scouts went on a camping trip but you were in no condition to go, your mother made you stay home.

Poverty doesn’t check to see if you’re feeling well.

If you are homeless or nearly, depending on your area there may well be help for you with food and clothing, with shelter if you can get along in a group, and sporadically with medical care and so forth.  I’m not aware of any programs that stock incontinence supplies.  I checked our supply shelves — we don’t.  You have to have cash to cover that one.

That stuff’s expensive.   Price it yourself — everyone pays out of pocket, not just homeless people.   There’s a lot of help to be had for homeless people, but none of it involves handing out cash.  So if the problem’s new or infrequent, financially the calculus may well lean heavily towards hoping that if you have an accident it happens right before you go in to get your weekly shower.

 

*Heck no, I’m not telling you people’s private business.  All names and identifying info are totally changed.

File:The Dressing Table by Gribkov.jpg

Artwork: The Dressing Table, 1879, Gribkov.  Via Wikimedia [Public Domain].

The Blessings of Being Flipped Off

by: Vincent Weaver

Something a lot of people involved in the pro-life movement do is to stand up for the unborn by praying outside of abortion clinics. Happily, this effort has gone in a much more positive, loving direction over the last 15 years. It’s not even accurate, in most cases, to call these “protests” anymore. Make no mistake, this presence is intended to bring attention to the defense of the most vulnerable in our society. To take an innocent human life is objectively wrong. To take the most innocent of all human lives is unacceptable. There should be no minced words about that. To be silent is false compassion – it’s spiritual and emotional euthanasia.

However, it is incredibly important to heed that ancient axiom to ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner’. We all have an obligation to point out injustice and wrongdoing. However, none of us has any right to condemn the person carrying out that act, as only God knows their heart. So, if you see or hear someone telling a woman considering an abortion that she’s going to Hell, then they clearly don’t understand the point here, nor do they understand Christ-like love.

The much more common scenario these days is people calmly and quietly standing outside abortion clinics praying. Sometimes they hold signs with slogans like, “Pray to End Abortion”, or “Adoption: The Loving Option”. We’re there to provide women in unplanned pregnancies real choices (having literature on alternatives to abortion available) and to let them know how much they (and their babies) are loved.

This reality makes it that much more bewildering when you’re standing there peacefully praying and someone drives by and gives you the finger.  Admittedly, there was a time when such actions irritated me. They fed a desire deep down in my heart to give that person “what for”. While I knew that wasn’t the proper reaction, it seemed instinctive.

Then, I read Abby Johnson’s book, “Unplanned” a few years ago. For those who don’t know Abby, she was a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Then, one day (through some fluky circumstances), she ended up witnessing an actual abortion at her clinic. (This was the first time she saw the product of the business she was running.) She had a visceral reaction and knew she had to quit. And she did. Since then, she’s been an outspoken voice for life, and she wrote this book.

What “Unplanned” showed me (much to my surprise) was the humanity of abortion clinic workers. Honestly, I had never given these people much thought, other than as some kind of faceless monsters. That caused my praying for a culture of life to take on a much broader focus. Only then did a human face start to appear on these folks for me. These are real human beings who deserve our love, who deserve MY love, because to cast them aside would mean I just don’t get what it means to be a Christian.

That realization also helped my attitude towards the bird flippers driving by. (You know who you are!) J All of a sudden, my immediate response when being flipped off was to have compassion. I’d immediately think to myself, “What kind of pain must that person have suffered to feel this way?” “What is the source of that anger?” And by making that pain and anger clear to me, therein lay the ‘blessing’. By having a reaction – of any sort – that person gave my prayer a target. I would launch into a ‘Hail Mary’ or a Divine Mercy chaplet asking God to rain down His love and mercy on that person. I’d pray that they find healing, peace, and the presence of God.

So, if you see me (or any of the 1000s of other regulars) standing outside an abortion clinic praying and encouraging others to choose life, it’s okay if you feel the need to tell us we’re #1 with your middle finger. But know that prayer is powerful, and that I’m calling for all God’s truth, mercy, and love to come showering down on you very soon. And I thank you for giving me that blessing – that reminder of your humanity. Please pray for me, as well. I need all I can get.

And for all you awesome pro-life prayer warriors out there, please consider this unsolicited advice. Arguments don’t help. Love, prayer, and genuine compassion (and the willingness to listen) do.

Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.

The Unbearable Sameness of “Cool”

When you study buzzwords or fad words from each generation, very few stand the test of time. “Groovy”? “Hep”? “Tight”? “Gnarly”? (Really?) Nope. All of them – gone from our lexicon. However, one has stood strong for at least 3 generations. That is “cool”.

I don’t know why this specific word has lasted for so long, but I think I understand why what the word represents has endured. The idea is that you not only fit in, but that you fit in very nicely. Cool is comfortable. It fills that 3rd level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It means we are accepted and maybe even respected by the tribe.

Long ago, ‘cool’ meant being different in some sort of interesting way. The ‘differentness’ is what made the person (or the action) ‘cool’. However, ‘cool’ wasn’t usually associated with virtue or engaging in something ‘good’ or particularly healthy or virtuous. And that’s the downside – the dark side – of ‘cool’. It was never about becoming fully alive. It was never about growing as a person or being the best version of oneself. It was typically about wearing masks and aspiring to something that wasn’t worth the effort.

That differentness imbued with a general lack of goodness or virtue has become sameness. When you look around these days, ‘cool’ is about blending and conformity. Challenging traditional values was once considered ‘cool’. Now, if you don’t challenge them and conform to the ‘new normal’, you’re likely to be marginalized with visceral enthusiasm. Wearing underwear on the outside of one’s clothing (or in place of outer garments) used to be reserved for Superman. (Probably not the impression he was trying to give, though.) Now, if you leave anything to others’ imagination, you’re prudish. Getting a tattoo was once a unique thing to do. Now, it’s not a matter of getting a tattoo to express individuality – it’s that you’re kind of strange if you don’t get one. (This is not a judgment on tattoos, by the way – just saying that they hold no inherent ‘goodness’ or value.)

This new definition of ‘cool’ doesn’t just lack virtue, though – it’s not even cool. It’s now about fitting the beautiful diversity of what every single person brings to the table into a very small box – and a boring box of sameness, to boot.

But perhaps herein lies opportunity to rekindle ‘cool’ in a whole new way – a way that makes goodness and virtue desirable as something ‘different’. Recall those words from 1 Corinthians 12 where St. Paul says, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.’”

There is a reason each of us is different. We all have unique talents which aren’t always appreciated by others, but that shouldn’t stop us from fully developing them for the good of mankind and for the glory of God. We’re meant to strive for goodness and virtue. Becoming more virtuous means becoming more like God. Anything else is disordered and a waste of our efforts. It’s just not ‘cool’ (in this new sense, of course).

Dare to be different. Dare to be the best you imaginable. Dare to let others see God through your actions. How cool would that be?

Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.

I’m Sorry if this Blog Post Offends You

If you found the title of this post a bit off-putting, then there’s a very good chance this post will resonate with you. (If you didn’t find a problem with it, you probably either decided not to read any further, or are looking for something provocative or titillating. I will gratuitously play along, and we’ll see if you find that which you seek.)

Apologies are hard. They strike at our pride and spotlight our need to grow further in virtue. That’s painful. Sometimes, it’s too much to bear. First, let me make a distinction. In our personal relationships, we should be liberal and sincere with our apologies. If I have an argument with my wife, and I’m even 1% at fault (though it’s usually well over 50% – okay, well over 90%), then I should apologize. I should do so quickly, sincerely, and without reservation or qualification. (We’ll look at examples in a few moments.)

As a management instructor, though, I’ve seen an abuse of apologies in the business world that render them wholly ineffective, sometimes even creating an unnecessary liability. For example, if a business engages in a well-thought-out decision to make a change in policy or process or product, then they should stand by it and offer the ‘why’ to the customer. Help the customer understand why this is a good thing and point out “what’s in it for you” to the customer. If a business just briefly mentions the change and ends with, “We apologize for any inconvenience,” they’re implying they did something wrong, and that it was not their best move. If it was a sound business decision, stand by it. If there is regret, either don’t do it or fully own up to it and make it right with the customer. To do anything ‘in between’ simply frustrates the customer and leaves the employees embarrassed about having to meekly address complaints. In some cases, a ‘feel-good’ apology in business could even be used against the company in court, as evidence of admitting fault or negligence.

On the other hand, in personal relationships (and when a public apology is necessary), there’s a right way and a wrong way to apologize. After the famous “wardrobe malfunction” during his and Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime show a few years ago, this is what Justin Timberlake came up with: “What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.” Sound familiar? Sadly, millions seem to be under the impression that this qualifies as an ‘apology’. It doesn’t (and I’m sorry if you’re offended by that). The underlying message here is, “Something went wrong, I take no ownership of it, but I am obligated to say SOMETHING, so if you’re offended by this then really it’s YOU who has the problem.” Classy. You make a mistake and blame others who noticed. “Apology” isn’t the right word here. “Cowardice” or “arrogance” would be far more suitable.

Instead, such unfortunate events could be seen as opportunities for developing virtue. If I play any role in something I regret (like saying some things I wished I hadn’t, which I’ve been known to do a time or a thousand), I can take complete ownership of it and grow in humility in the process. (That’s a good thing, by the way. It is the antidote for selfish pride. ‘Cause, you know, it goeth before a fall…and stuff.) “I said some deeply hurtful things to you (about such and such) and I’m ashamed of myself. You deserve better from me. Can you please forgive me?” A sincere apology doesn’t always have to follow these criteria, but it helps:

1) Identify the offense
2) Take ownership
3) Acknowledge the dignity of the other person
4) Ask for forgiveness
5) Offer no qualifiers or expectations of a reciprocal apology

That 4th item – asking for forgiveness – is often forgotten in apologies, but it’s important. And, when someone asks for forgiveness, give them that. Say out loud (and sincerely – harboring that grudge or ill will harms you, not them), “I forgive you.” (A hug might be a good touch then, depending on the relationship.) And that last item is the hardest. You’ll be a better, more mature person every time you successfully make an apology with that in mind, though, and you’ll strengthen your relationship with the other person.

Maybe there’s something you’ve done a long time ago for which you still have regret? Maybe there’s a relationship that is in need of repair? Perfect timing. It’s still Lent, after all. So, what are you waiting for?

Vintage photo of a juggler in top hat and partial clown-face walking past commuters on a streetcar traveling in the opposite direction.

Photo: Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons.

Lent Day 20: The Things You Learn About Yourself

 Just woke up the boy. Called through the bedroom door, “You are 6 feet, right?”

Tired boy, awake but not ready to join civilization, “Ymnf.”

“Need to know for your passport application.”

He is. Minus one inch for E (they just went back-to-back last night), and the two littles are a mystery.  We’ll have to measure.

[I am, meanwhile, praying the youngest gets tall enough before our trip to no longer require a booster seat in Switzerland.  One less hassle.  So if that prayer is answered, she may be traveling on an already-outdated passport.  All kids do, one hopes.]

Held my breath and put down “brown” for E’s hair color — I can never decide if it’s dark blonde or light brown.  Put down blonde for myself, which it is, mostly, but with the amused awareness that it’ll no longer be that by the time the new passport expires.  My eye color was debated for years — blue or green? — but at 15 standing in the passport office we all agreed on grey with a yellow circle around the iris pupil, hence the confusion.  Grey they are still.  Also I’ve grown half an inch (taller) since my last passport, I know because last fall when we were measuring kids we measured me too.

Thankfully the State Department knows better than to ask your weight.

Oh, you wanted to talk about Lent? Scott Reeves has you covered, as usual.  Self-examination of the deeper sort.

Passport application from 1922.

Scanned passport application, circa 1922. US passport office (US passport office) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Click through on the Wikimedia link to see whose it was. Ha!

Lent Day 17: Cultural Propitiation

Next best thing to selling indulgences* is writing this:

Begging here – if anyone is looking for an alternate penance so you can have your corned beef for St. Patrick’s day, I’ve got you covered . . .

Sure is handy living in a dispensed-with-conditions diocese, when you’re in a pinch for nursery workers.

I’ll probably skip the St. Patrick’s Beast-plate myself.  Reason?  Compared to cheese pizza for dinner, the other prospects for penance are more annoying and less convenient. But it’s nice to have a meat-card in the pocket just in case.
File:Ballinasloe St. Michael's Church South Aisle Fifth Window Sts Patrick and Rose of Lima by Harry Clarke Detail Patrick Preaching to His Disciples 2010 09 15.jpg

If ever there were a day for Catholics to complain about “cultural appropriation” it would be today.  Okay and also Christmas, Easter,  St. Valentines, and Rosaries-as-Gang-Signs, but St. Patrick’s is right up there on the list of Catholic Things People Have Distorted Beyond Recognition.  Hey, guys, a saint!  Who nearly starved to death in slavery!  Who risked his life to evangelize the people who wanted to kill him!  Let’s get drunk on bad beer, that’ll show our love!

Not that Catholics are above that sort of thing, you know  — weirdly slipping into mortal sin just when they meant to be doing something right for a change — but still.  The word saint is right there in the title of the holiday, there’s no real hiding the part about this being a Catholic feast day.

But you know what Catholics don’t do?

We don’t go around saying, “Hey!  Are you actually the slacker child of a late Roman-era British patrician Christian family, who was kidnapped by barbarians, had a conversion experience, escaped with divine aid, went to Gaul to be ordained, and returned to Ireland to fight fire with fire in overcoming the persuasive power of the druids?  No? You’re not??  THEN NO GREEN BEER FOR YOU.”

Okay, so not all of us love the green beer.   What is even in the green beer?  Don’t drink that.  But here’s how Catholics feel about our vast collection of holidays and customs and cultural traditions:  The more the merrier.

That’s a doctrine.

It’s our job as Catholics not to hoard our faith but to share it with prodigious generosity.

Well, yes, if you insist on keeping the feast by breaking the faith, we’re going to have a few words about how to clean up your act.  But we aren’t going to tell you to keep your grimy hands off our religion; instead, we’ll show you where the washroom is.

We don’t keep our faith by carefully guarding it for the pleasure of the select few.  We keep our faith by giving it away.  What we have is so good and so big and so explosively powerful that a trillion-billion people could all be in on it, and it would only be more authentic, not less.

 

File:St Patrick Purgatory.jpgFile:Heidelberg cpg 144 Elsässische Legenda Aurea 338r St. Patricks Fegefeuer.jpg

Here are some pictures of purgatory.  That’s what people used to draw when the topic of St. Patrick came up.  It’s because of this place, which is the pit where we throw all the people who serve bad beer with creepy fake Irish accents.  

Artwork in this post:

*PS: I don’t approve of selling indulgences and neither does the Church.  That was joking.

Lent Days 10-15: No Silence

Monday evening SuperHusband walks in the door and he’s got a business call, important.  The children know what that means.  Time for quiet in the house.

They are finishing up the evening clean-up, but thoughtfully withdraw from the kitchen so their dear father won’t be disturbed by the clatter of dishes being washed.  Two children, surveying the mess in their bedroom, decide the old sheets of bubble wrap need to be tossed.  Immediately.  Which means bubbles need to be popped, immediately.

Well aware their father is on the phone, they cross the hall to the bathroom, shut the door, and start jumping on those bubbles.

Children never cleaned so vigorously.

I knock and open and thank them for their consideration, but explain that one mustn’t pop bubble wrap at all while someone is taking an important phone call just meters away.

***

And that summarizes the State of Lent, Days 10-15.  FYI the reason for the radio silence here was not a fit of holiness but a significant computer problem which required the services of Senior IT Guy, who was out of town.  Seems to be fixed now and we are back on track.  Perhaps Lent is likewise. We’ll see.

Trappist monk, back to the photographer, sitting at his desk attending to spiritual reading.

Photo by Daniel Tibi (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons.  If you enter the search term “Trappist” in Wikimedia, most of the results are for beer.

Learning to Appreciate the Big Things in Life

So the reason I vanished from the internet like I’d been kidnapped in broad daylight is that I had to quick plan a massive trip to Europe.  (I know!)  A different day, I will write more about the how-to’s of pulling off that feat; for now just know that yes, it consumed my every free minute from the moment the opportunity opened up until the transport, lodging, and insurance were firmly established.

You understand, because you, too, have something you want to do that, if you were suddenly given the chance, you’d drop everything and make it happen.  I want to talk about what it takes to make that thing happen for you.

The One Big Thing

I think “bucket lists” are nonsense.  Life isn’t like that.  My list of priorities looks like this:

  1. God.
  2. My vocation as a wife and mother.
  3. Everything else.

#1 and #2 are inseparably intertwined — doing one means doing the other, always.  #3 is composed of all the other things that might be important, but that when push comes to shove you can pout all you want, I’m not available to do that thing you think I should be doing, if it interferes with #1 and #2.

Still, there’s a pile of good stuff behind door #3, including a long list of, “It would sure be nice if . . .” items.  It would sure be nice to have a bigger, prettier house.  It would sure be nice to visit New England.  It would sure be nice to take the kids to Mount Vernon (God-willing, that’s next summer).  The One Big Thing also sits behind door #3, but in a different corner of the Everything Else room.

We have a friend whose One Big Thing was to invest in a large, well-appointed home for his eventual wife and children.  It was so important to him that he started saving up for that house while he was still in college.   It’s not that he would have felt like he’d failed in life, or “missed out,” or that his happiness depended on having that house.  It was just important enough to him that he was willing to sacrifice a lot of other good things in order to make it happen if he could.  (And he did.)

You have some things like that.  Things that maybe are achievable or maybe they aren’t, but if you do get the chance, you’d be willing to set aside a lot of other good stuff in order to make your One Big Thing happen.

The Things We Set Aside

So I’ve been thinking about taking my kids on this trip since I was sixteen years old.

(Yes, that’s right: I wasn’t dating anybody, I hadn’t yet met the man I’d eventually marry, it would be another decade before the first child was even born.  I was sixteen years old and walking along a misty tree-lined alley leading up to a historic French chateau, and I knew that one day I wanted to share that moment’s experience with my future children.)

Everybody has a different financial picture, so this isn’t a talk about how if you just do what I do you can have your big thing.  But I want to make it clear that there’s a long list of good, worthwhile things we’re forgoing to make the One Big Thing happen.  On that list:

  • All superfluous purchases.  I was going to bring home flowers for Valentine’s day, but I need that $2.99 to be in the bank this summer.
  • A laptop that works.  My trusty Surface Pro has given it up, and thus one of the reasons I don’t write as much lately is that I don’t have a computer I can take to another room when the family’s all home, and I do have to jockey for time on the shared machines.  So basically I’ve made the decision that something I really love, writing, is just not going to happen as much as I’d like, for a while.
  • A new-used car.  Our minivan has 170,000 miles on it.  The doors either don’t lock or don’t open or sometimes both.  The paint job is Green and Black Cheetah because we’ve filled in with primer where the original finish is rusting out.  There is no interior carpet anymore, just bare metal with strategically-placed rubber mats.  We’d been planning to upgrade to something conceived this millennium, but my mechanical engineer tells me we can get that baby to 200K, no problem.  So that’s what we’ll be doing.
  • Living room furniture.  When we updated the circa-1985 paint in the living room and hallways this Christmas, we donated our couch and recliner, from the same era and in the same general condition, to other worthy recipients.  What’s there instead?  Lawn chairs.  Really nice ones, yes: They’re the ones we got from Lowe’s on clearance and had previously been using to kit the screen porch.  They just got promoted to a full-time, permanent gig as Chief Living Room Furniture.
  • More house space.  Eventually that minivan is going to need to be replaced.  Good thing we just painted, because this family of six is going to be squeezed into the three-bedroom ranch for a long time to come.

I mention that last one not because it’s a big deal (I know larger families living in smaller houses), but because to a lot of people, a spacious home is their One Big Thing.

You just have to know yourself and know what trade-offs fit the kind of person you are.  No matter how rich you are, you can’t have everything you’re able to want.  We all have to prioritize, and give up some good things in order to have other good things that are more important to us.

Seizing the Day

I’m not omnipotent nor omniscient, and neither are you.  There’s no telling what will happen between now and the end of June.  Perhaps our plans all come to naught.  One of the ways you know you’ve hit your One Big Thing is because you can honestly say to yourself: Even if this doesn’t work out, I have to try it, because I will always regret not having taken my chance when it came.

[Tip: If you are making a significant financial investment in anything, get that investment insured.  You can insure a house, a car, a boat, a musical instrument, and yes, even a trip.]

In our case, what happened is that we were thinking about taking a much more reasonable, but still-ambitious, stateside family trip.  That was another thing we’ve always wanted to do and here we were: The kids were at the ideal age, my health was finally decent again, there was a slot when we could take the time off and make it happen.

So we talked about a variety of other, much more sane choices.  Then one day I came to my senses.  I told my husband: I would rather not go anywhere this summer, and save up for as long as it takes to make my One Big Thing happen.

And he briefly set aside all reason and scruples and determined that he really, really loves me, and that maybe we should talk about this.  I pointed out that I’ve been talking about doing this trip since as long as he’s known me, and also there has not been a single time in the past decade when I was physically able to make it happen.  Our son graduates high school next year.  If I wanted to do it, now was literally the only time.

So I did it.  Trip is booked.

File:1138357639 3c5c483074 o Haut Koenigsbourg CC by Fr Antunes.jpg

This is where we’re going.  Photo by Fr_Antunes (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. And no I won’t be live-blogging it, because: I don’t have a working laptop.  That’s fine.  My One Big Thing wasn’t “taking the internet on this trip,” it was, “taking my kids on this trip.”  I don’t recall ever giving birth to a computer, thanks.

PSA: Short Workouts for the Win

If you made ambitious fitness resolutions this year, they have probably fallen apart by now.  If so, this message is for you:

Try small workouts instead.

By “small” or “short” what I mean is an amount of exercise that seems hopelessly ineffective, but that you can actually manage to do.

When I was racing, “short” was a thirty-minute sprint on the bike.  When I was so sick I couldn’t walk an 1/8th of a mile, “short” was ten sit-ups, then lay on the floor and recover for five minutes, then do ten more.  Your “short” is someone else’s “long,” and your “big” is someone else’s “small.”  The key here is that if you are not succeeding at what you think you should be accomplishing, try scaling back instead of giving up.

Are short workouts beneficial?

Yes!  At the extreme end of the spectrum, here’s a study that found that breaking up a long day by just 1 minute and 40 seconds of exercise every hour results in lower plasma glucose and insulin than sitting around with no exercise break.  Even if you are ill to the point that you can do almost nothing, you’re still better off getting micro-bouts of exercise than doing nothing at all.  (And in fact, you’re better off than if you workout for thirty minutes then sit all day, the study found.)

If you can exercise more, have at it. But if you can’t seem to pull that off, trying doing something instead of doing nothing.

10 Reasons Short Workouts Succeed

The main reason I recommend short walks or other exercise is that it works.  That other thing you aren’t doing isn’t working.  This is a thing you can do.

#1 You can slip a short workout into a tight schedule.  The boss probably won’t let you spend 30 minutes mid-morning at the gym, but might be fine with five minutes walking around the building while other people are lounging at the coffee machine.  The spouse might not be ready to watch the kids for an hour at the end of a long day while you go off to do a super-workout, but probably can manage fifteen minutes while you sneak out and run sprints.  The baby will be hungry and angry after forty-five minutes in the stroller, but might put up with ten minutes.  You might have children at the in-between age when they can’t be left alone for long periods, but can safely occupy themselves while you jog around the block.

#2 Short workouts are easier on the wardrobe.  Not every workout can be completed in any clothing at all, but you can do push-ups while wearing business-casual, or go out for a quick walk in clothes you wouldn’t wear for a 5k.

#3 Short workouts are more weather-resistant. If it’s extremely hot, cold, windy, or wet, your body can tolerate short exposure with much less preparation and stress than long exposure.  If it’s snowy, a short trudge through the snow is realistic, a long hike through the snow is exhausting.

#4 Short workouts are easier to orchestrate and harder to miss.  You don’t need a lot of space or a gym to do some quick calisthenics.  You might not have time to go out for a three-hour bike ride, but you can ride your bike to the store for groceries.  You might not have immediate access to a good place to go for a forty-minute walk, whereas if you’re just getting out for five or ten minutes, you could do laps around the block, down to the corner store and back, around the parking lot, around the building — lots of options.  Likewise, if you get to the end of the day and still haven’t exercised like you hoped, you probably can’t cause an extra hour to be added to your day, but you could squeeze in a ten minute walk or a stack of push-ups and sit-ups.

#5 You can always go longer.  If you think the toddler’s going to mutiny after ten minutes but she’s still happy as a clam, you can keep on strolling.  If you thought you’d be exhausted after just your short circuit because you’re a weakling that way, but actually you feel great, you can add on more time.

#6 You can test the waters. Sometimes you feel sluggish because you’re getting sick and need to rest, and other times you feel sluggish because you need to get up and move around and clear your head.  If you go out for a short walk and it makes you feel better, you can keep on going or else make a note to do a more vigorous workout later in the day.  If you go out for what would normally be a refreshing short walk and instead you feel like you’re made of lead, you know you really should take a rest day.

#7 Short workouts keep you fit for bigger, better days.  If you have a sport you like to practice on weekends or vacations or with the team once a week, fitting in small workouts during your “off” days maintains a level of fitness for your sport that can help prevent injuries and improve your performance.  If you are currently dealing with a health or personal situation that prevents you from exercising the way you’d like to, small workouts now provide a base for safely ramping up to bigger things when the time finally comes.  If your life is always erratic, working out in small ways when opportunities are scarce allows you to take the most advantage of the odd spurt when you can do more.

#8 Short workouts work well with injuries.  You might not be able to put miles and miles on your bad knee, but maybe you could still do a lap or two — some walking is better for bone density and posture and heart health than no walking.  You might not be sure how to exercise for an hour without aggravating your back, your shoulder, and your spider bite, but you might be able to think up ten minutes worth of exercises that don’t make anything worse.

#9 Short workouts every day mean fewer days with no exercise.  Let’s say you pencil in two big workouts a week.  If you blow those days, they’re gone.  You might not have two other days when you can set aside that much time.  If your plan, in contrast, is several short workouts each day, if you don’t make your full goal for the day, you might still make half your goal.  If yesterday was a bust because you had that horrid cold that’s going around and also you were trapped in the cellar waiting out a tornado, today you can still get something done because you aren’t scheduling all-or-nothing exercise days.

#10 Short workouts don’t sabotage bigger workouts.  If your normal routine includes long, intense physical exercise, you aren’t going to blow yourself out by taking a quick walk around the block.  If you ride your bike three miles to work because you think you’re going to have to stay late and not be able to go on a real ride, and then the client reschedules and thus you can get your big ride in, those three miles aren’t going to prevent you from riding the other forty.  50 sit-ups this morning aren’t going to prevent you from finishing your whole CrossFit routine this evening, if it turns out you can get to the gym after all.

If you’re getting a lot of exercise, keep on doing that.  But if you are getting zero exercise, try aiming for an amount you can definitely accomplish.  You can always add more.

File:Promenade plantée, Paris August 2009 (20).jpg

Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmermann from Moulins, FRANCE (coulée verte (PARIS, FR75)) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How to Get Your Young Athlete to Sunday Mass

I’m not a fan of sports on Sundays.  I’d like to stay home, go to Mass at my local parish, then spend the day relaxing with friends.  Instead, I’ll be at a tournament this weekend, watching one of my top favorite athletes in the world do her thing.  Also, she and I will be going to Mass.  If you’ve ever had a child involved in competitive sports, you know that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Should You Even Be Playing on Sundays?

There are two questions every Catholic parent of an athlete ought to ask:

  1. Should we, as Catholics, even be participating in Sunday sports?
  2. Should my child in particular be involved in such sports?

The first question has been answered, for the moment, by silence and logic: I’ve never heard any priest or bishop forbid the faithful to watch the Olympics, professional football, or any other sport.  These activities take place on Sundays, and furthermore they require a decade or decades of training that involves, almost invariably, playing or practicing on Sundays.  If it’s moral to participate as a spectator, it’s moral to participate as an athlete — you can’t have one without the other.

That said, if at some point the Church should study the matter and determine that it is in fact immoral to play sports on Sundays, there we’ll be.  (I don’t mean kickball at home with your friends.  I mean the kind that dramatically interrupts church and rest for all involved.)  Until then, we have a conditional green light to play on.

So long as Question #1 remains a tentative yes, Question #2 is up to you as the parent to discern: There are many good reasons not to play sports on Sundays.  Some of those reasons may well apply to you.  Discern thoughtfully.

Plan Ahead. Way Ahead.

Let’s imagine that for some good reason you’ve determined that your child ought to participate in a sport that plays or practices on Sundays.  I hope if you had another option (a team with Saturday games only, for example) you took it.  But say this was your only realistic choice:  How do you make sure you’ll still get to Mass?

Answer: Talk to the coach before you sign up with the team.

Sooner or later, you are going to find yourself in a corner.  You’ll be playing in some town that only has Mass the same hour your child is scheduled to compete.  Your coach needs to know before you join the team that if push comes to shove, your player will be at Mass.

At that point, the coach might let you know that you should look for another team.  So be it.  It’s one thing to stretch the very limits of our freedom as Catholics; it’s another to abandon the faith altogether.  But chances are your coach will be willing to accommodate you, if you hold up your end of a fair deal.  What does that look like?

Don’t Be Obnoxious

You don’t have to make a big scene to the other families on the team about what amazingly holy people you are.  Come on: You’re playing sports on a Sunday, not fasting in the Adoration chapel.  You aren’t that holy.  Put together a list of parishes within striking distance and all their Mass times.  Then, when you get a break in the schedule, quietly head down the road to church.

Go to the first-available Mass opportunity you get.  You don’t want to miss your one chance to get to Mass free and clear, only to have to hurt the team later by skipping out on a game.

If you have more than one child playing at the same event but with different play times, ask around and find out if there are any other Catholic families also trying to get to Mass.  If your children’s breaks should line up just wrong, sending one child with another (trusted) family may be the only way you can get all children to Mass.

If you know you’ll have to skip a game, talk to the coach.  Have your list of Mass times laid out in a way that’s easy to understand, and let your coach pick which game your child should miss.

Be willing to accept any consequences that go with missing a game.  Charitably assume your coach has good reasons for having to bench your child if you miss a game.  If you don’t trust your coach’s decisions, look for a different team.

Be Ready to Do the Unreasonable

When you make your list of potential Mass times and locations, include every possible option, even if some of them are just horrible.  So you have to spend three hours on dirt roads getting to and from the Ancient Slobovian 10 pm Mass on your way home after a long weekend? If it’s a safe possibility, the fact that you’ll be inconvenienced is beside the point.  If you want convenience, competitive athletics is not for you.

There can be times when there is no safe way to get to Mass.  Weird things happen. In the winter you might, for example, be playing at a venue that is on well-maintained roads just off the interstate, but the nearest Catholic parishes are deep in the hinterlands with long stretches of dangerous ice patches.  Likewise, don’t be on the road later than you can safely stay awake to drive.  It’s better to skip a game and go to Mass during the day than to risk your life taking one for the team.  

But if there is a way to get to Mass without missing any games, take that option even if isn’t your favorite choice.  Don’t put the team dinner, touring around, or a relaxing morning at the hotel ahead of your obligation to attend a Sunday Mass.  Save your miss-a-game cards for when you really need them.

The How-To’s of Finding a Mass

  1. Look up your event location, then search Masstimes.org for nearby parishes.  If your hotel is in a different area, look for parishes near your hotel as well.
  2. If you will be traveling home on Sunday, look up parishes along your route home in addition to those near the event.
  3. Click through to the parish websites, and confirm that the Mass schedule is up to date.  Watch out for holiday schedules in particular, as Mass times can get irregular.
  4. Make yourself a list of parishes and their Mass schedules.
  5. Either include each church’s address in your list so you can get directions on the fly, or print out directions from the venue or your hotel (or both — whichever you are most likely to be leaving in order to attend Mass).

If you know the tournament schedule in advance, you might be able to pick out which Mass you’ll be attending ahead of time.  Otherwise, watch for an opening as the weekend unfolds.  When you get a chance head to Mass, out you go!

 

File:Karol Wojtyla-splyw.jpg
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]. Some guy who liked sports. Click through for details.
Related Links:

Come to Mass Ugly, Please

Is the Mass Just Like Everywhere Else?

Three Ingredients for Parental Sanity in Kids’ Competitive Sports

Sabbath 101: Giving Up the Work Habit (I know! I wrote that!  And I still believe it, even if my life interferes.)

What Happens When You Go Out to Eat on Sundays (So do what you can to minimize your impact, however imperfectly you pull it off.)

 

Copyright Jennifer Fitz 2017.  If you would like to reprint this article for your parish or diocesan publication, you may.  Please credit the original link.