A Thing You Should Do, and the Jen Fitz Mid-Summer Update

What’s with the radio silence?  Let me just tell you.

But first, the reason I’m breaking it: My friend Sarah Reinhard asked me to blog on Theology of the Body stuff in the lead-up to this fall’s Theology of the Body Congress, which you should attend if you have the opportunity.  The line-up of speakers is stellar, and yes I would go myself if I possibly could.  So put that on your calendar.

The expression Theology of the Body among Catholics is a bit of a code word for, “Let’s talk about sex now.”  I usually stick to code on these things.  But there’s more to your body than just the parts and processes that make you a boy or a girl, as Susan Windley-Daoust will remind you periodically.  I’m going to write not-about-sex today, and come back to racier topics here and over at Patheos in the next few weeks.

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Now back on topic.  A little Applied Theology and the answer to the question, “Why on earth has Jen Fitz completely dropped off the internet?”

Short answer is: I’m not doing as well, physically, as I would need to be doing in order to both take care of my primary vocation (marriage, parenthood) and this secondary vocation as a writer.  So first things get to be first, and the rest has to wait.

File:Souq Waqif, Doha, Catar, 2013-08-05, DD 107.JPG
I needed a picture that would preview well. I love this one. It’s by: Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0. Click on the image to see all the details.

The very, very, long answer:

But here is something completely cool, because God is like this: Just in time for me to have something someone really wants me to write about (instead of just me running my mouth off, which is my usual niche), I can totally sit at the computer and not be light-headed!  Isn’t that cool?!  I keep forgetting this new fact, and thus my e-mail is way behind.  June was a pretty long month, computing-wise.

I theorize in part it was positional, which means I probably need to rearrange the workstation.  Here’s an interesting link about cartoid sinus hypersensitivity, which might cause you to suspect I’m really an old man just posing as a pleasantly-plump middle-aged housewife, but you’ve seen the photos, so whom do you believe? Sports Illustrated or my cartoid sinus barocepter? Anyway, my parlor-trick for June was that I could drop my pulse twenty points just by, um, taking my pulse.  No true cartoid sinus massage needed, just touch the thing.

It quit doing that, though, as far as I can tell.

Some other interesting body-things for this summer:

Dang it I can’t talk anymore again.  The speaking-part works fine, don’t panic, it’s the getting light-headed while I do it that is at about 80% of the time.  This is pretty common in tachycardia-themed autonomic dysfunction. (POTS people talk about this all the time in conversation, even though it never seems to make any list of medical descriptions, not sure why there’s that disconnect in the medical literature.)  80% isn’t 100%.  On a good day I’m completely normal, on a lousy day I’ve given up even lip-syncing at Mass.

–> Autonomic dysfunction creates these weird eddies of backward expectations.  Mass is pretty much my least pleasant activity, because it involves sitting still then standing still, with positional head changes (bad — I keep being reminded not to bow the head, just don’t do it), combined with talking.  So on a miserable Sunday I can feel extremely overwhelmingly bad by the end of the hour.  But because the problem is not at all with my heart’s ability to pump blood or my blood’s ability to hold oxygen, I’m the person who’s desperate to lay down while standing still, but will then escape without difficulty at full speed to the car and feel better as a result of the vigorous activity.

Basically I have this cardiovascular problem that makes being still feel worse and being active feel better.

Except for some other problems.

The stamina isn’t there.  This is a thing that keeps confusing me, because I swing all day long between being really quite fit and functional and being completely incapacitated with fatigue.  Here are a series of excerpts from a description I came across that describes me dead-on:

Patients might be able to muster adequate energy for periods of time but it is usually short-lived and they tire quickly, not unlike a battery that discharges too rapidly. . . . A period of rest or sleep is generally required before energy levels are restored. Following rest a patient may demonstrate apparently normal stamina and a clinician will not detect weakness on examination . . . .

This is me completely: Do something, then flop on the floor utterly exhausted, and then in a bit I’m fine again.  Happens hour-by-hour, and then also from day-to-day.  More on that below.

I don’t know whether or not I have a mitochondrial disorder (very difficult to diagnose) but I get this, too:

Impaired oxidative phosphorylation  [don’t know my cause] not only causes muscle fatigue but also muscle cramping with or without tenderness, or a feeling of extreme heaviness in the muscles. These symptoms are especially severe in those muscle groups being used, and patients often complain of discomfort in the legs or even muscle spasms.The discomfort may be felt immediately following the activity or later on, waking up the patient from sleep.

Funny story: I mentioned to a relatively new acquaintance that I’m prone to decrepitude, and the question she asked was, “So are you basically in pain all the time?”

The answer is that at this writing, no I am not.  But I have picked up what is turning out to be mild-but-intractable intermittent pain (in my legs, if you’re curious), and yes it keeps me from sleeping well, and yes, I’ve tried all the things, and the things help quite a lot.  (Other than deep breathing to relax, like the kind that works so well for childbirth — used to be my go-to, but now it just gives me a headache.  Which stinks, because it’s a good method if your autonomic nervous system functions properly.) But I think it’s very funny because the words “every day” and “intractable” do apply even if the pain itself is not very bad.  So if you use those adjectives, it sounds way worse than it is.   I think most other people can also use those adjectives.

[By “intractable” I mean “intractable using means that don’t require a prescription.”  I haven’t gotten around to being bothered enough to plead for the good drugs.  So no, nothing to worry about at this time.]

And this cracked me up, because every receptionist I’ve ever met knows this about me now:

Exercise intolerance is not restricted to the large muscle groups in the body but can also involve the small muscles. Writing can be a challenge; too much writing leads to fatigue and/or cramping or spasms. The quality of penmanship can be observed to deteriorate over the course of a writing assignment with letter formation becoming more erratic and messy.

This is why you don’t want to receive handwritten correspondence from me. Nothing new, story of my life.  Interestingly, I always take handwritten notes in classes, and if I don’t have a computer I’ll do my other writing longhand — but the writing degenerates fast into this baseline scrawl that’s just barely legible to me, and only because I already know what’s written there.  Once it gets down to worst-level, I can sustain it for a long time.

And one last one which caught my attention, from the same source:

. . . Debilitating fatigue can occur with infectious illnesses, may outlast the other symptoms of the infection, and the recovery time can be very prolonged.

This thing I hate.  I never know whether a cold is going to cost me a few days or six weeks.  Weirdly, I used to go into nasty bronchitis every few years following a cold, and knock on wood that hasn’t been a problem lately.  I just get all the fatigue.  (Um, and I always have a cough.  So, gosh, I don’t know. Don’t make me laugh and we’re good.)

Exercise does help.  The supreme challenge is in figuring out how much to do.  Too little, and you sleep poorly and lose conditioning. Too much, unfortunately, is not evident during the exercise.  I can work out and feel great and be sure I’ve figured out a great balance between rest and exercise, and then at the end of the week completely collapse and require days and days of recovery before I’m functional again.

–> The convenient thing here is that I can in fact borrow time.  If I know I want to be up for something, I can plan ahead, build up reserves, stretch them during the event through the clever use of pharmaceuticals, and plan to pay back afterwards.  Difficulty being that the mortgage interest is steep.  There’s no getting more out of the body than it has to give.

The inconvenience is that all the things I do are exercise, but some exercises are more valuable than others.  So if I want to work on my core muscle strength, which is key to preventing the injuries to which I am prone, then I have to not work on helping you out with that thing you wanted me to do.  Your thing is also exercise, but it’s a lower priority exercises, so out it goes.

Yes, I tried that thing you suggested.  Not being snarky there.  I’ve had a number of good friends recommend possible ways to improve the situation, and some of the ideas have been very helpful. (Even if the idea came after I’d already come across that suggestion and tried it, and thus could immediately report, “Yes! Thanks! That does help! Excellent idea, glad you mentioned it!”)  Some things people have suggested and that I tried did not help for the reason proposed (I am not, for example, allergic to wheat) but do help for a different reason (minimizing wheat products makes more room in the diet for intensely potassium-rich foods, which help a ton).

So a thing that’s got me occupied this summer is obsessively managing all the micro-factors that can make the situation as better as possible.  I think (but can’t be certain) that I’ve got the diet tuned to a spot where I can happily live off the things I seem to do best with, but also get away with deviating from the Ideal Thing at food-themed social events and no disaster ensues.  If all that proves to be true, I’ll chat about it later.  It might be just lucky coincidence.

Meanwhile, here’s the surprise of the summer:

Heat intolerance!

It took me a long, long time to figure this out.  Here’s the difficulty: The heat doesn’t bother me.

I live in a warm climate.  I don’t mind being sweaty.  I know how to dress for the heat, how to acclimatize as the hot season arrives, and how to get the most use out of a hot day.   Since I cultivated these skills, I’ve never had any difficulty with the heat whatsoever, other than some mild irritation about the truly obnoxious portion of sauna-season, which you just have to deal with and move on.   I even know the trick about watching for Seasonal Affective Disorder when the heat starts getting so annoying you hide indoors despite yourself.  (Same solution as per winter – bright light & vitamin D).

The problem I had in figuring out this one is that (a) I’m still functional above the temperatures when people from up north start whining profusely, (b) I still don’t mind the heat or being hot, and (c) since I have any number of other things that also make me feel terrible, it’s not like I was able to say to myself, “Gee, I feel wonderful all the time except if I’m someplace hot.”

It’s a perfectly manageable problem, it just came as a bit of a surprise.  Amusingly, my cold intolerance is getting worse, too.

The hardest thing: Not being able to concentrate.  Since I’m a master-complainer, I don’t know that we’d call this my “chief complaint.”  But it’s certainly my loudest.  As in: If I told you I NEEDED the house to be QUIET so I could do this thing, that’s what I meant so please go OUTSIDE.  This is the #1 reason I haven’t been writing.  I’m home all day with four kids.  There’s noise.  There are interruptions. Note that my entire career as a writer has been carried out under these exact same conditions.

What happens therefore is that I drift through the day doing tasks that are super-easy, and then if I find myself in some unexpected situation like trying to cook while other people are in the room, it’s alarming to everyone just how badly things go (until I communicate my distress so emphatically that everyone goes and hides).  And then I go back to easy things, and wonder why things that take my full attention just never get done.

So that’s the answer to the perennial, “How’s it going, Jen?” topic on this blog.   I’ll emphasize here that as much I just used my crotchety trans-old lady powers to moan about the ailment for very many words, it’s not as bad as all that.  But here’s a story that sort of sums up the situation:

Yesterday I was halfway through this post when I had to leave and get ready to go to a social thing at the lake.  Sunday had been horrible, Monday was not that great, and Tuesday wasn’t impressing me.  I was only going to this thing because (a) I wanted to go to it, and (b) my kids really, really, really wanted to go to it, and they’d done all the things I told them they had to do if they wanted to go.

So we went.  And I was fine.  Dreamy fine.  No problems.  Felt completely normal for the full three hours I was there, conversing, walking around, standing around, watching kids, etc.  Some of the time, I’m completely, totally fine.

Moments like that can make you think you’re crazy.  Maybe I just need to relax at the lake more often?  Two reality checks:

  • Part of being fine was that I aggressively managed as many factors (fluid intake, electrolytes, staying out of the direct sun) as I could.
  • If it comes as a surprise to you that you went to an enjoyable, relaxing, time-limited social event and had no experience of illness during all three hours, probably the fact that this was an unexpected occurrence tells you something.

So we can add this to my list of signs something is not normal: If you get to where it’s a surprising occurrence when you feel well, we can infer that there’s a problem.

And dang my legs were like lead when I dropped a kid off at VBS this morning.  So yeah, CAWOG.  I’m rolling with it.

I figured since this was the All About Me post, if you made it this far you’re the type of person who wants to see my new haircut.  (Hi Mom!) The third one is me posing in front of the dog’s blanket, which is still hanging up to dry on the screen porch a week after I told a kid to put it there.  I guess it’s dry now.  But I needed the contrast because I kept getting photos where the new haircut looked exactly like the SI photo shoot.

Your Whole Life is Worth Living, Not Just the Shiny Parts

Not Dead Yet is hosting a protest of the latest hot new pro-suicide film.  If you are unable to protest directly, at least share the information around social media, to let people know that you, too, think suicide is never the answer.

Meanwhile, on the question of whether life is worth living when it isn’t everything you’d always imagined, reprinted below is what I wrote two years ago today on the horrible expression, “I got my life back!”  Let’s just say that most people who use that expression didn’t actually experience the separation of body from soul.

PSA, if you get this blog via e-mail or feed-reader: All these links above I shared in my twitter reading-feed, which you can see easily, and any number of other good links, by clicking to through to jenniferfitz.com and cruising the sidebar.

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5/28/2014

At this writing, I am the poster child for Better Living Through Chemistry.  If we were to rely on a drug-ad cliche to sum up the post-prescription transformation, one might reach for the old reliable, “I got my life back!”

And that would be nonsense.

I’m not ungrateful, I’m tremendously grateful.  I’m thoroughly enjoying this dramatic change in circumstance.  I certainly don’t mean to squash the happiness of anyone who’s experienced some similar reprieve.  Nor would I ever dismiss the genuine suffering — far greater than anything I’ve experienced — that others endure with no such relief.

But here’s what: My life has been here all along.

It didn’t go anywhere when I was at my sickest.  I was living my life.  And don’t understand me to mean, “I was finding happiness in small things!” or “I realized that time with my children was such a treasure!”  Oh please.  I’ve always been easily amused, and I have the bunny ears to prove it.  I wouldn’t choose to spend all day every day with my children if I hadn’t treasured them from the get-go.*

My life is bigger than a collection of accomplishments and abilities and happy moments.  Laying very still in a big machine in a cold room, praying abbreviated rosaries to pass the time because I can’t keep track of ten Hail Mary’s without beads or fingers,  but I can keep track of three?  That’s my life.  Part of it, anyhow.  Doing routine tasks with no music, no singing, because I needed every ounce of concentration to get the work done?  Life.  My life.  Walking oh-so-slowly 1/16th of a mile around the indoor walking track because the little girls want to go run during their sister’s volleyball practice, but no going up on the track without an adult?  Mine.  All mine.

When you divide your life into the parts that you’ll claim ownership to and the parts that you reject, you steal from yourself.  You miss out on a chance to be everything that you could be.  Some of the parts no sane man would choose, but there they are, unchosen but endowed all the same.  Are you going to live them, or are you going to waste them?

Bigger on the Inside than the Outside

It matters because we are formed by what we do and what we choose.  Given our fallen world, what our bodies do reflects our inner lives imperfectly.  The effort to pray, poorly, comes out like so much failure when your body is not cooperating. The effort to work, to think, to love, all of it looks like so much worthlessness.  And then one day — in this life or the next — suddenly your body behaves itself, and you discover your soul was growing stronger through all that effort.  Effort that seemed, like walking uphill on a too-fast treadmill, to be getting you nowhere but miserable.

The paradox of redemption is that every good is to be sought, but no evil is to be wasted.  We work, diligently, for what is good. For healing. For an end to poverty.  For peace. For the good of souls everywhere.  We become more like Christ the more we work for that good.  And yet, like Christ, an integral part of our life on earth is making even the evil be good.

File:Detail of Silver Processional Crucifix - Museo Nacional del Virreinato - Tepotzotlan - Mexico.jpg

 

*No aspersions being cast on parents who find their children are best treasured as they get on and off the school bus.  Lots of ways to treasure those darlings.  Mine do well at home.  Except when they don’t.

 

This post first ran on Patheos.com/blogs/jenniferfitz two years ago.

Artwork by Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How to Have a Good Mother’s Day – 2 Steps

I don’t really, truly hate Mother’s Day, contrarian posts on the topic not withstanding.  There are reasons for this.  Two reasons, and they are my patented method for having a good Mother’s Day despite the fact that it is, as it happens, that day.  These two steps should work pretty well for most non-mothers, though in some cases the best you’re going to get is not as bad as it could have been.

Step 1: Don’t Expect Things

Evil presumably well-intentioned people use this holiday to sell you all kinds of ideas.  The idea that you should want to give or receive a particular gift, or that you should want to go to brunch, or that you should want to participate in their fundraiser, or heaven forbid, but it happens, that you should suddenly take an interest in purchasing greeting cards.*

Marketing plus cultural momentum can cause you to develop any number of unrealistic, unhealthy expectations.  Resist clinging to these ideas and others like them:

  • That your family life is and always has been just like the last five minutes of any episode of Little House on the Prairie.
  • That you like the food other people cook for you.
  • That today the weather is going to cooperate.
  • That you are going to get that nap you’ve been really wanting.
  • That the homily at church is going to be any good, and the Ave Maria is really going to hit that special place in your heart this time.
  • That the lady who gave you that really weird statue of Mary had better aesthetic sense than you after all.
  • That your kids are going to spontaneously give up fighting for twenty-four hours.
  • That your life is pleasant.
  • That you are going to enjoy this day.

Best Mother’s Day reading?  The Silver Chair.  Puddleglum has it going on.

Cultivate the right attitude, and when people ask you Monday morning, “Did you have a good Mother’s Day?” you’ll be able to respond quite honestly, “Well, it was almost exactly like the descriptions of the Second Coming, only heavier on stinging insects and with a conspicuous absence of an actual end to time and beginning of eternal life, which I’d been looking forward to — but hey, now I feel totally like the real Second Coming is going to be great.  So yeah, it was good.  How about yours?”

Step 2: Get Yourself a Present

Bacon is traditional, but you can totally branch out on this one.  Waiting for other people to figure out what floats your boat is overrated.  Take the initiative.  The only rules are that it be something you actually want, and that it be something you can afford.  Driving yourself deeper into debt is not Mothers’ Day compliant.

Wait a minute?  You’re not a mother? Hah.  Who said that had anything to do with it?  You have a mother, and that’s what counts.  Get yourself a prize.

 

Note to Skeptics:  I am not kidding.  Try the method for yourself and be amazed at the results.

 

* I know many people who purchase greeting cards and are otherwise upright citizens with precious gifts to share with the world.  Don’t judge, guys.  Don’t judge.

 

File:Charnel House at St Helens Church, Cliffe, Kent, England, 2015-05-06-5136.jpg

Photo:By Slaunger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.  Want to know what this quaint little cottage is?  Here’s the description from Wikimedia:

The Charnel House, located in a corner of the graveyard at St Helen’s Church in Cliffe, Kent, England. The Charnel House was built during the mid 19th century. It was used as a make-shift mortuary until the bodies were taken away to be buried. Its location close to the river Thames is key as bodies found were washed up or floating along the Thames were retrieved and taken to the charnel house to be stored awaiting identification and burial.

The building continued to be used until the start of the twentieth century, when a series of Public Health Acts forced buildings such as this to become redundant. After this, the Church used it for storage and at one time a hive of bees was also put in there to deter intruders. It is now classified as a Grade II listed building by English Heritage.

And why is it the Wikimedia Image of the Day on the vigil of Mother’s Day?  Because Wikimedia knows.  Yes, indeed.  What you need is a cottage full of bloated corpses, or angry bees as you prefer, and then your holiday will be shiny and bright just like it ought to be.

What’s a Parent to Do When the Parish isn’t Following Virtus Requirements?

Here’s a question forwarded to me by Simcha Fisher, because she knows I sometimes write about this stuff.  If it sounds like your parish, it’s probably not.  Anecdotal evidence from parents and catechists suggests this happens pretty often.

Updated: Here’s the link to the US’s Virtus program, for those not familiar with the concept.  Since every diocese sets its own additional policies, for the purpose of this Q&A, just think, “safe environment practices.”

This is my question: What is a parent supposed to do when the Virtus requirements aren’t being followed in his or her parish?

This is an actual problem in my parish right now . I don’t have any reason to suspect anyone of any wrongdoing, except for the lack of judgement being shown by our young priest who runs the youth groups. The problem is lack of chaperones. It’s a two-fold problem because (1) no parents are volunteering to chaperone the regular meetings, and (2) he holds the meetings anyway, even when no parents show up and he is the only chaperone.

All the advice I’ve been getting from the various people I’ve asked is to work with the priest to get chaperones. I’ve been trying to do that, but it doesn’t sit quite right. Obviously, if there’s abuse, you’re supposed to report it to the police. Hopefully we all know this by now. But is there an actual protocol or reporting structure that’s supposed to be followed for a problem like this?

Some opening thoughts:

The first thing to keep in mind is that the number one reason people ignore rules is that they don’t think there is a problem.  It’s possible Father Lackadaisical is up to no good, but other explanations are more likely.

Second thing: There may or may not be a strict requirement of more than one adult in the room.  With older students, alternate accepted practices may include:

  • Adult avoids being alone with students — at least three people in the room who are able to speak for themselves, but that might consist of one adult and several students;
  • Door stays open (only works if there are other people in the building);
  • There is a window into the room, and other adults in the vicinity who could look in at any time;
  • Event is entirely in public, such as if the leader meets the youth at a restaurant and is never alone with a student.

Your parish or diocese may have specific guidelines, or your pastor or program director might be given some latitude in assessing the situation and making a judgement call.

Even if none of these alternatives are accepted standards in your diocese, and in fact there is a strict requirement that two Virtus-trained, background-checked adults be present at all times, the most likely explanation (not the only) is that the youth group leader feels he is nonetheless creating a sufficiently safe environment, and therefore would rather not cancel an important program for lack of other volunteers.

How to Intervene

There are some basic standards for addressing safety violations of any kind, and after running through the list we’ll talk ramifications below.  Assuming there’s no reason to believe anyone is in actual danger (you’d call the police), your primary option is to run up the chain of command.  Who does what, where, and how will depend on your parish and your diocese, but it’s something like this:

  1. Talk to the youth group leader directly (which you’ve done).  Offering to help out is excellent.
  2. Bring the issue to the attention of the next higher-up in the parish.  This could be a parish Virtus coordinator, the director of faith formation, or some other administrator.
  3. Bring the issue to the attention of the pastor.
  4. Bring the issue to the attention of the diocesan administrator responsible for implementing your Virtus program.  This could be the diocesan director of  youth ministry, a diocesan child-safety coordinator, or some other person.  Ask around.
  5. Write the bishop.

FYI, experience speaking here, it’s easy to do this wrong, or to do it right but still end up not getting anywhere.  You may accidentally be referred to the wrong person, or to the right person but who doesn’t know what they’re doing.  It happens.  Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Some Things that Might Happen

Depending on your situation, this could all turn out any number of ways.  Here are some possibilities:

Your intervention is received with gratitude.  Some people know they are overwhelmed, and appreciate all the help they can get. Some people are conscientious enough that when they unwittingly err, they are thankful that others have their back and save them from disaster.  This is the ideal, and you have to act with the charitable assumption that it will be the case.

If this is the case, what you can expect is:

  • Father Naive will make an effort to reform his ways;
  • He will still some times screw it up, unless a superior (not you) manages to instill some serious fear into him.

Just keep patiently helping him out.  People who want to be helped will generally let you help them.

However, be aware that this might not be the case.

You unleash a nasty wave of gossip and backbiting.  If your parish or diocese is dysfunctional, you may already know this is coming, or you might be stepping into the mire for the first time.  If you happen to have a great parish, you might get away with just some temporary unpleasantness and then the restoration of good relations.

One or more administratively incompetent persons persist in carrying on as they’ve always carried on.  Of all the spiritual gifts, the gift of administration is the one talked about least but needed most.  Consider a novena to the Holy Spirit — no I am not joking.

You discover the joy of working with psychopaths.  If this happens to you, you’re basically out of luck.  If you were good at dealing with amoral, self-centered people who were masters at manipulation, you probably wouldn’t have written to strangers on the internet for advice.  Assume the psychopath is going to convince everyone that you’re the crazy one, done.

–> If there’s no crime taking place, once you’ve done your part to bring the problem to the attention of those in authority, you are free to move on.  You will probably want to find some other activity for your family.  You will definitely want to share your experience with a trustworthy, clear-thinking person who can help you sort out whether or not you’re the crazy one.

It turns out the youth group leader is a predator and there is in fact an abusive situation in the works.  This will make you dream of the joys of working with garden-variety psychopaths.  Expect a messy, long, painful ordeal that completely changes your life forever — and since you’re only the bystander, you’ll count yourself lucky.  This is, statistically speaking, pretty unlikely. But if it is happening in your parish, as much as you don’t want to be the one who has to get involved, thank God you’re there.

And finally, prepare yourself for one very likely outcome, regardless of how well or poorly everyone else responds:

You don’t handle the situation with grace and aplomb.  You’re an ordinary mortal with a limited set of gifts.  If you don’t happen to have that perfect combination of patience, wisdom, fortitude, diplomacy and pixie dust, there’s a good chance you’re going to at least partly screw this up.  Cut yourself and everyone else a little bit of slack.   When the other people who end up involved in this don’t handle it as well as you’d like, remind yourself they are mere mortals, too.  If you haven’t done so already, cultivate an abiding love of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

 

Best wishes.  Readers, in your charity please take a moment to say a prayer for all those who have to get involved in confronting problems of this nature.  Thanks.

File:Herman ten Kate The Chaperone.jpg

Artwork: The Chaperone, Herman ten Kate [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

When You’re a Catholic Who Doesn’t Have It Together

I have this friend whose job is to hold my life together.

I don’t mean that she’s a kind, caring, conscientious person — though she is that, too.  I mean that I pay her by the hour to take care of some non-negotiables in my life that would otherwise fall by the wayside.

I think one of Satan’s more pernicious lies, and it cuts two ways, is other people have their act together.

Well, some of us do, some of us don’t, and on our best days many of us are half-n-half.

How Do You Know When Someone’s Life is Coming Unglued?

There are people who do their best to keep their public face together despite inner collapse, and people who brandish a veener of chaos but secretly have their act together.  In my experience, people who are losing it exhibit a few common signs:

  1. The friendships get erratic.  If someone you had every reason to believe was your friend suddenly loses his temper, quits coming around, gets cagey about commitments, or won’t take your calls, unless you’ve really done something to deserve it, it’s probably not you.  Psychopaths will give you good reasons for why you deserve to be maltreated.  Your friend who is coming unhinged, in contrast, is the person who knows better, doesn’t have an excuse, and is probably too tired or overwhelmed to even explain why.
  2. Simple stuff goes out the window.  “Simple” is relative of course — if your friend never did keep up with the dishes, dishes in the sink are just a sign of situation-normal.  When your friend is losing it, what tends to go are the things that hit either the low-priority-high-pleasure corner of the spectrum or the should-do-usually-do spot.  Doesn’t get a thrill out of changing the oil, but always managed to do it before without any difficulty.  Always loved sending Christmas cards, let it go this year.
  3. Small requests seem monumental.  You’re unlikely to see this one overtly, because it often shows up indirectly.  Your friend probably won’t come out and say, “I was hoping to attend, but if they make everyone find a White Elephant gift I’m just not coming to the Christmas Party this year.”  It sounds so lame.  How hard is that?  Instead, the friend just doesn’t come, or else the friend values the event enough to pull off the cost of admission, but there’s a spike in #1 and #2 behaviors to go with.

I’d like to pause here and say that while these “no longer have it together” behaviors can be associated with depression, a lot of people who don’t have their act together are not depressed.  These are things that you see among people who are the opposite of depressed: People who are working their tails off to hold their life together and do as much as they possibly can, despite the fact that the odds are against them.

Confounding Situations

There are a couple things that can make it hard to really believe your friend is going over the edge.

Your friend still accomplishes quite a lot.  Demanding vocations abound.  If someone’s running a parish, or a business, or a family, there will always be one more thing to do.  As your friend is working like crazy to hold together as much of that vocation as possible, you’ll see results.  You’ll see activity.  You want to know why Father just lost it in his private meeting with you (see #1, above)  about the candle budget, when he didn’t have any problem pasting a smile on his face through the entire two hour long Vacation Bible School songfest?  Because he just endured the songfest, and it used up every ounce of willpower he had.

Your friend doesn’t talk about his problems.  There are people who just love to talk about their problems, and there are people who don’t.  It’s a spectrum, and for a lot of people who are overwhelmed by significant, difficult, persistent life problems, there are some common reasons they aren’t going to bring up those problems in conversation:

  • The situation is confidential, embarrassing, or involves another person whose privacy would be infringed.
  • There are in fact no real solutions to the problem (and yes, they’ve investigated).
  • The problem is the sort best discussed only with those few people who have experience with it.
  • It’s depressing talking about what’s going wrong when you could be enjoying hearing about something good.

It’s easy to spout platitudes about the importance of “sharing one’s burdens” or “talk therapy,” but consider the hubris involved in appointing yourself the one person who must be informed of your friend’s every moment of difficulty.  Consider instead the possibility that your friend loves and values you, but still doesn’t care to talk about the situation right now.

Your friend continues to pursue personal interests, even impressive ones.  A difficult life isn’t necessarily an unhappy life, nor a life devoid of all talent.  There’s a tendency to say, “Gosh, she’s able to take care of that dumb horse of hers, how come she can’t help out with the church picnic like everyone else?  She’s just malingering.”  That dumb horse, as it happens, is the thing that keeps her sane, the one thing she’s going to hang onto until the bitter end, because when your whole life is a train wreck, you want a little refuge of sanity.

In the same manner, an overwhelming life doesn’t mean all your talents suddenly dry up and blow away.  If your friend was always perfectly capable of spitting out a copy of a Dutch Renaissance Master on a leisurely Sunday afternoon, unless his hands fell off, he’s probably still going to be able to do that (and even if his hands fall off, he’ll probably find a work-around and get back at it).  That he does something he finds easy but you find astonishingly difficult doesn’t mean he’s got his act together.  It means he’s still capable of doing some things that are easy for him.

The Two People This Matters To: You and Everybody Else

I write about all this for two reasons.  The first is that it’s easy to think everyone else has their life together, and therefore you’re a crappy person and a failed Christian if you do not.

Can moral failure be the reason your life isn’t working out? Sure.  But it’s also possible that your life is hard regardless.  For most people, moral failure is the bitter rind that surrounds our life, no matter how good or how bad the rest of the fruit is.  It’s the seed you spit out and eat the rest.

Your life can be going to pieces despite no particular uptick in sin, just an uptick in lousy life circumstances.  Don’t confuse the two.  Keep working on the holiness, but don’t measure the holiness by your outward success.

The second reason is that it’s easy to think everyone else has their life together, and therefore they are crappy people and failed Christians if they do not.

Pastoral Perspectives on Apathetic Catholics

There are categories of Christians who get a pass.  If they have some obvious or publicly acknowledged excuse for their inability to meet spec, the whole parish pats itself on the back for winning at the Welcoming and Accepting contest just for letting the miserable slobs in the door.

Meanwhile, there’s this cycle of desperation that causes the rest of the parish to eat its young.  It goes like this:

  1. Parish leaders are falling apart at the seams because they can’t do it all.
  2. Therefore they beg pewsitters to step up and do it all.
  3. Pewsitters were already falling apart at the seams themselves.
  4. Leaders burn out, pewsitters either develop a talent for ignoring pleas or else they give up and go home.

There are other types of dysfunction, but this is one I keep seeing.  Are there people in your parish who would step up and help out if only they understood the need and were invited to help?  Yes there are.  Invite them (and very often they go uninvited because they have some outward reason you think they won’t meet spec, when really they’d love to be wanted and put to work).

But there are other people who seem to have it all together and they simply do not.  They cannot help you, or they cannot help you in the way you are asking of them.

Suffering is Not New

Let’s quit talking about the modern world.  For a hundred years and more, people have been writing about about how the pace of the modern world is the problem.  Well, it is, in the sense that none of us have to live in any other world, so this world’s the one that’s going to give us trouble.

But life isn’t difficult because it is modern, it is difficult because it is life.  Not having your act together is one of the facets of human life since shortly before we got kicked out of the Garden of Eden.   The poor will be with us always, and when we get a turn at experiencing some sort of poverty, that’s just us having our turn at being those poor.  Not having your act together is, technically speaking, a sort of blessing.

File:The Scream Pastel.jpg

Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  I think Gary Larson’s Wiener Dog Art version is a little better, though.

Time to Order Chocoloate

PSA: My son reminds all you southern-North-American-types that it is time to make your last chocolate order before melting-season is upon us. Don’t let nasty corn-syrup laden, blood-tinged bunnies into your Easter basket.  Invest now, multiply your Lenten penances by not eating the peanut butter chocolate bars until Easter Sunday (goes great with bacon!), and get a minute out of purgatory for every dollar you spend  invest in duct tape for an assist when the flesh is weak.

Seriously.  The Equal Exchange folks put out good stuff.  You can set up an individual or a wholesale account (different pricing, but a higher threshold for free shipping if you order wholesale), and yes your private buying co-op of just you and your friends / family qualifies for the wholesale rate, if you do in fact eat that much chocolate among yourselves.  Feel free to link to other fair-trade suppliers in the combox.

***

Speaking of chocolate, for those who are following the vexing situation, here’s today’s FB update:

Details from yesterday, per Jon — not a lot to add, but some good spin. TEE was looking (in particular) for evidence of shunt in my atrial septum, which it did not find, nor anything else suspicious. Let us pause right now to observe that Dr. W *came in on a vacation day* to do that. Serious point-accumulation there.

–> Afterwards, he said that he sometimes runs into this — patients with definite symptoms but no obvious explanation for them. Sometimes it clears up on its own. (ER Doc pointed out last weekend that sometimes the tests don’t come back positive for a while after the symptoms show, too.)

And since we’ve ruled out everything imminently life-threatening, he proposes we take 10 days to attempt “rehab”, that is, Jen-directed gradual increase in activity level, and see how things go.

If symptoms persist, the next thing to do is refer me out to someone who investigates really nutso inexplicable stuff.

Day 1 Rehab report: Um, yeah.  Anyway.  It’s nice to be allowed to do stuff.  We’re a long, long ways from walking and talking on the phone at the same time, kids.  But I’m allowed to clean my desk, not a moment too soon.  You who are waiting on paper-based correspondence from me, there’s a light at the back of that cave.

Jesus and the Laundry Fairy

Two weeks ago I was still ostensibly the person responsible for doing laundry, though I’ll allow that a party of alpinists had contacted us about permits for ascending Mt. Foldmore.  But let’s harken back to the days of old, when it sometimes happened that a person could toss his clothes into the laundry hamper, and a few days later find those clothes clean, and folded, and waiting in the drawer or closet for their next use.

There’s was something of cycle to it, though, and often the sock and underwear drawers would get perilously empty.  And then one day, just when things had gotten very grim, a certain SuperHusband would wake up and discover his drawers were restocked, and he would proclaim, “Behold! The Laundry Fairy has come!”

And I would remind him that there is no Laundry Fairy. That was your wife who did that for you, thank you very much.

***

This morning’s Gospel is one of those miraculous feedings of the crowds.  (Mark 8:1-10).  What caught my eye today wasn’t the Jesus part, it was the people part.  Our Lord observes, “They’ve been with me three days now, and have nothing to eat.  If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way, for they have come a great distance.”  The disciples up the stakes: “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them, here in this deserted place?”

Those are the miracle conditions.  You’ve stuck around with the Jesus Person until you’ve run out of food and have no way of getting more.  You didn’t bail even as you approached the point of no return.

You’ve let yourself get desperate.  Empty-handed.  No way to make it on your own.

–> There’s an aid to faith here, by the way, if you can stick through the tempting part, the getting-out-while-you-still-can.  Once your case is hopeless, there’s really not much point in trying to turn elsewhere.  Makes it easier to stick the final corners.

And that’s when the miracle shows up.  Not before.  If there’s something consistent in the Gospels, it’s that desperation.  Joyful, hopeful?  Sometimes, yes.  But unequivocal: Jesus isn’t one more tool in the portfolio. It’s got to come down to Him being the only way.

(And yeah: You’re left as your only hope with Someone who’s idea of goodness involves self-sacrifice and an eternal outside-of-time-frame.  If what you want is a patched-up Old Earth, you’re fresh out of luck.  That’s not what He does.  Not how He does it.)

Of course God sends us thousands of natural helps every day as well.  Our very existence — in this life or the next one — is only by virtue of Him keeping us here.  But either way, whether in the day-to-day miracle of ordinary life, or the big moments of divine intervention on this side of the grave or the other, there’s a consistent theme: No Laundry Fairy.  That was Me, thank you very much.

****

Back to practical stuff: SuperHusband’s taken over the mom-jobs like groceries and meals and laundry, but in a pared-back way that makes it not so overwhelming.  Our friends and family are totally showing up to do all the extras, like getting kids to activities, or whipping out dinner when we’re way late getting home from doctors appointments. I had three different people offer to step in and get the girls their valentine supplies. All that makes the load on Jon much, much lighter.

But something specifically laundry-related that we did was to give me a basket in the bedroom where my clean laundry lives. So no one ever has to put my laundry away in drawers and closets, only to have to pull it back out again. The nice thing about my particular state of decrepitude is that it isn’t fashion-intensive*. A pair of jeans to wear and one to wash.  Ditto on PJ’s.  Underwear, socks, a pile of t-shirts, a jacket.  That’s it.  You can store all that in a single laundry basket, no problem. None of it really needs to be ironed.  Works great.

*In contrast, in normal life on any given day I might have:

  • Work clothes for doing stuff in the yard
  • Normal less-grungy clothes
  • Church clothes
  • Possibly something business-y, or business-casual.
  • Usually not workout clothes, because normal stuff works for that, but maybe yes, depending.

Completely different game.

And as long as we’re playing the gratitude game, you know whom I really appreciate? The people who’ve picked up slack for me on stuff I could do, but they could do instead.  It is remarkable how much fortitude gets consumed on accomplishing very very little.  I’m massively thankful for the slack I’ve been cut in a few places.  Pure luxury.

Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy – Book Tour & Giveaways

Welcome to Sarah R.’s stop at my place on her book tour!

Click to Enter the Nook Giveaway

We’ll start with some info from the publisher and from Sarah:

To celebrate the launch of her new book, A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, Sarah Reinhard invites all of us to spend her blog book tour praying the rosary together. Today, she shares this reflection on the Nativity:

The cave in Bethlehem probably isn’t what Mary had in mind for her Son’s birth. Straw as bedding and oxen as companions, with shepherds and townsfolk dropping in to wish her well?

Maybe it wasn’t so shocking to her, after being told she would be the Mother of God, that it didn’t go at all how anyone would picture it. Even so, I’m sure it wasn’t that comfortable even by standards of the day. She gave birth with animals all around, in the chill of winter, in a town far away from home.

So often, things don’t go the way I plan. I struggle with my knee-jerk reaction to the wrenches in life, to the natural temper tantrum I want to give in and throw. It’s hard to see God at work in the up-close of a situation turned differently than I think it should be.

But he is at work. Jesus being born in the most humble of circumstances made him accessible to all of us. It also makes Mary someone we can all turn to for comfort: if anyone knows what it’s like to go with the flow, it’s Mary.

As we pray this decade of the rosary, let’s hold all those brave women who have said yes to difficult and challenging motherhood in our intentions in a special way. Don’t forget, too, that we are praying for an increase in all respect life intentions as part of our rosary together this month. (If you’re not familiar with how to pray the rosary, you can find great resources at Rosary Army.)

Our Father . . . 

10 – Hail Mary . . .

Glory Be . . . 

O My Jesus . . . 

You can find a complete listing of the tour stops over at Snoring Scholar. Be sure to enter to win a Nook (and any number of other goodies) each day of the tour over at Ave Maria Press.

***

And a few quick comments from me:

  • This is an excellent book.   (Yes, I wrote five paragraphs of it.  But all the paragraphs are good, not just mine.)
  • When you’re pregnant, you naturally turn towards spiritual things.  This is the book that meets that need for Catholic moms.
  • It’s absolutely devoid of the drivel-n-feel-good nonsense of other pregnancy books.  Tackles the hard topics with maturity and clear thinking.
  • From here on out, it’s my go-to book any time I know a mom who could use it.

And for those of you local to the Diocese of Charleston, SC, we’re up to four copies for the giveaway from the Office of Family Life this coming Sunday, October 14th, at the Blessing of the Unborn Mass in Columbia, SC. See you there!

(For internet friends, check out the other stops on the book tour, there will be giveaways all over the place.)

 

My vote for Most Important Book of 2012

I just spent 3 days in the largest Catholic bookstore in the world.  I bought one book.  This is it:

Then I was stuck in an airport for five hours.  Perfect timing.

What it is:  Tiến Dương is a real guy about your age (born 1963) who is now a priest in the diocese of Charlotte, NC.  Deanna Klingel persuaded him to let her tell his story, and she worked with him over I-don’t-know-how-long to get it right.  Fr. Tien is a bit embarrassed to be singled out this way, because his story is no different from that of thousands upon thousands of his countryman.  But as Deanna pointed out, if you write, “X,000 people endured blah blah blah . . .” it’s boring.  Tell one story well, and you see by extension the story of 10,000 others.

The book is told like historical fiction, except that it’s non-fiction verified by the subject — unlike posthumous saints’ biographies, there’s no conjecture here.  It’s what happened.  The reading level is middle-grades and up, though some of the topics may be too mature for your middle-schooler.  (Among others, there is a passing reference to a rape/suicide.)  The drama is riveting, but the violence is told with just enough distance that you won’t have nightmares, but you will understand what happened — Deanna has a real talent for telling a bigger story by honing in on powerful but less-disturbing details.  Like, say, nearly drowning, twice; or crawling out of a refugee camp, and up the hill to the medical clinic.

–>  I’m going to talk about the writing style once, right now: There are about seven to ten paragraphs interspersed through the book that I think are not the strongest style the author could have chosen.  If I were the editor, I would have used a different expository method for those few.  Otherwise, the writing gets my 100% stamp of approval — clear, solid prose, page-turning action sequences, deft handling of a zillion difficult or personal topics.

Why “Most Important Book?”

This is a story that needs to be known.  It is the story of people in your town and in your parish, living with you, today.  And of course I’m an easy sell, because the books touches on some of my favorite topics, including but not limited to:

  • Economics
  • Politics
  • Diplomacy
  • Poverty
  • Immigration
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom, Period
  • Refugee Camps
  • Cultural Clashes
  • Corruption
  • Goodness and Virtue
  • Faith
  • Priestly Vocations
  • Religious Vocations
  • Marriage and Family Life as a Vocation
  • Lying
  • Rape
  • Suicide
  • Generosity
  • Orphans
  • Welfare
  • Stinky Mud
  • Used Cars
  • Huggy vs. Not-Huggy

You get the idea.  There’s more.  Without a single moment of preaching.  Just an action-packed, readable story, well told.

Buy Bread Upon the Water by Deanna K. Klingel, published by St. Rafka press.