Lent Day 4: The Chicken of Vengeance

SuperHusband prays morning and night prayer per iBreviary, and when I’m around I pray along with him.  Usually he does the bulk of the reading and I get the responses, but this morning he is hoarse with a wicked sore throat, so I was the reader.

It’s a different experience.  When he reads, I get to sit back and listen and my thoughts can range over the psalms as they come my way.  As the person responsible for pronouncing all the words, in contrast, there’s no time for anything but quick thoughts.  Unlike lectoring, especially for a big event, where you take time ahead to pray over the readings and practice them a bit, morning prayer is dashed off on the spot.  Unlike praying one of the hours by yourself in silence, when there’s someone else waiting on you, you can’t just stop and ponder at will.

You get one shot at the reading, cold, no stops.

Another difference is that when an idea strikes you, it strikes and sticks and there’s no considering just how apt it is, because you’ve got to keep moving.  But the imagery can be quite vivid.  For example: Chickens.

The verse that got me was this:

Though the wicked spring up like grass and all who do evil thrive:
they are doomed to be eternally destroyed.

Our Lent down South takes place during true spring.  Plum trees are in blossom, azaleas are working on it, the camellias of winter are fading away and the daffodils are long since awakened.  The early grasses are bright and vigorous and lush, though they’ll give way in a few months to the stubbornly invasive weed-grasses of summer.  All year long, the various grasses take their turns at conquest.

But they cannot withstand the ravages of the chicken.

If a chicken decides she wants a square a dirt, that square of dirt she will have, and everything in it.  The chicken does not care what your plans are.  The chicken landscapes as she will, and if you wish to make her cooperate with your plans, you’d best set firm boundaries delineating which earth is hers and which is yours.

And so, reading this morning, I could not help, of course, to imagine the Avenging Angel as a chicken.  They’re both winged.  They are both, to their prey, a fearsome specter.  If ever a great chicken comes to destroy you, be afraid.

A chicken in the background on dirt, separated by heavy fencing from a bed of lush grass in the foreground.
Chicken prison. Because she may not have my strawberries.

Lent Day 2: Coffee Date? #LentProblems

A friend and I have been meaning to get together to chat for a few weeks now. This morning over breakfast I pulled out the calendar and added her to my to-do list for March, then headed over to Facebook to message her ASAP before I forgot:

Hey – do you have an opening coming up for a cup of coffee or tea or something?

Or something.  Dagnabbit I have no idea what you gave up for Lent, girl!  It could be coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, lunch dates . . . no clue.

The Forty Days of Complicated Socializing begins.

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Image by New York Tribune, circa 1919 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

There’s a Saint Out to Get You This Year

If you don’t already know who it is, go to the Saint’s Name Generator and let some holy soul pick you for 2017.

 

The first year I tried this, I got St. John Bosco.  It was an obvious.

The next year, St. Matthew.  The need was clear, though I’m not convinced I kept up my end of things.

Last year, St. Andrew.  He works in obscurity, but work he does.

And then there’s this year, 2017.

So about that Rosary thing . . .

If you aren’t already familiar with the story of how I accidentally joined the Legion of Mary, you can read that story here.  An excerpt:

I’d never even heard of the Legion of Mary.  But this lady was fast.  She had my name on those forms in an instant. There’s the x for your signature, here’s a copy of your prayers to say every day, and don’t worry, it’s not a mortal sin if you miss a day, but do keep up with it.

“But I don’t go to this parish,” I told her.

They weren’t picky.

I signed.  And then I had to go home and explain this to my poor husband, a protestant who believed in neither the Blessed Sacrament nor prayers to Mary.  Oops.   Luckily he recognized the swift hand of God in answering my prayers for a better prayer life, and if it made no sense to him personally, who was he to argue with God?

And who am I to argue either?

That was all great until, as I wrote in 2015, things began to get complicated.  It is difficult to pray the Rosary (or any other talking-prayer) when you get light-headed when you talk.  The hagiographers won’t have any work to do with me, because I’m not one of those saints with heroic perseverance.  After a long period of trial and error I finally decided to sub out the Office of Readings if I couldn’t reasonably pray the Rosary, since that’s far easier to pray along with silently.  It’s reading.  They put the word reading right there in the name of it.

(I thought about making myself a rosary to read. Like a slide show or something. But then I didn’t.  I guess I should do that.  And yes, I tried apps and things, but nothing suited.)

So then, as I wrote the other day, I got better again!  Woohoo!  Which means that I transitioned, slightly unaware, from World’s Worst Auxillary Member of the Legion, But She Has an Excuse to WWAML, No Excuse.  I had forgot I could do this thing again.

But you know what?  God didn’t forget, and neither did this other guy.

Enter Rosary, Stage Left; Saint, Stage Right

Two big things happened in the last weeks of December.  I can’t remember which happened first.  One was that in the course of cleaning out the house, I came across the stunningly beautiful rosary that a friend had given me as a gift some years ago.  I used to pull it out for the Easter and Christmas seasons, but I’ve been slack about keeping up with liturgically-timed theme-changes lately, and honestly I had sort of, I’m mortified to admit this, forgotten it.  But it pushed its way in front of my nose before Christmas, you betcha.

Then I forgot it again, because it was still Advent.  I know!  But it gets worse!

Meanwhile, my boss here at the Conspiracy posts that she got St. Andrew for her 2017 saint.  He’s well-used among Conspirators, but still in good shape.  So naturally I had to go compulsively find out who my 2017 saint would be, even though it was still firmly 2016, but you know, Facebook.  Must click the link.

So I go, and I pray briefly, hit the button, get to the screen which tells you to pray, and I pray again.  A Hail Mary this time.  Hit the second button:

St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort.

If you are in the Legion of Mary, you are now laughing manically and thinking about wiping up the coffee you just spewed all over your screen.  Sorry about that, maybe you should read the blogs of more reputable members.

The Case of the Unblessed Rosary

So I was officially put on notice.  No shirking in 2017, not for me.

Meanwhile, I again discovered that gorgeous rosary I’d re-forgotten, but had cleverly put on a shelf where I’d stumble across it more reliably.  The second time, I remembered something else: I’d never gone and gotten that rosary blessed.

There are two reasons for its heretofore unblessed state:

(1) My friend who gave it to me is not a Catholic, she’s just an extremely thoughtful and generous person who had this beautiful thing she knew I’d treasure made for me.

(2) At the time I received it, I had no idea rosary-blessing was even a thing.  No one tells you anything when you’re Catholic.  You can go years and years not knowing all kinds of stuff “everyone knows.”   Problem I might rant about another day, but for now, on to the happy ending.

So I’ve got St. Louis M. breathing down my back, a forlorn rosary dying to be put to its proper use, and hey, the year begins with the feast of Mary, Mother of God.

So yes, even though Father was miserable with a cold today at Mass and it pained me to ask him to say one more thing with that throat of his, I totally hauled that rosary out and had it blessed.  And then I went home and used it.  1 down, 364 to go.

Get yourself a saint if you haven’t already.  Happy New Year!

File:Людовик Мария Гриньон де Монфор.jpg
You could do a lot worse than having this man on your case.

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

 

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St. Nicholas Magic, even in the off-year

St. Nicholas 2015 was more festive, but this year, thanks to the wonders of iBreviary, a poor spiritual life, and my top most annoying-to-other-parents parenting habit, we just scraped out an observance of the feast.

What happened is that late last night I finally unearthed my long-interred blogging computer.  Things have been good here.  I took about two weeks to get over a cold, then a third week to pounce on the opportunity to turn my bed into a work table while the SuperHusband was in Canada for three nights on business, and forsook a return to blogging in order to sort and purge the wall of backlogged paper files that had been looming over me for about a year.  Now, finally, the layer of dust on the screen of my tablet has trails of finger-marks where I returned to the internet last night, briefly, and am trying again today.

How to make me have a crush on you like I’ve got a crush on Ronald Knox: Announce that you’re hosting Stations of the Cross during Advent!  Yes, friends, I’m living in the wonderland.  Mind you I have not actually attended Stations at my parish this Advent, because the timing hasn’t worked out yet, but I can be all happy and joyous that other people are having their spiritual lives put in proper order, anyway.

Me?  My 1st Week of Advent gift was showing up to Adoration for a half an hour before fetching the kids from school, and sitting there in the pew when guess who walks in? My own kid. The whole fifth grade, not just my kid, but my kid’s the one I was particularly pleased to see.  How to make me have a crush on your parish school? Random acts of Eucharistic Adoration, thanks.

So that was last week.  This week, the gift iBreviary gives to good little children with bad parents: Time Zone Problems.  If you check my sidebar on this blog (click through if you are reading this from e-mail or a feed-reader), the iBreviary widget will take you to today’s readings.  Except that iBreviary is from Italy, so today means What Italian people are experiencing.  And thus, late in the evening in North America on December 5th, what you see is the feast of St. Nicholas of Bari.

Ack! A celebration!

So I quick summon children and remind them to put out their shoes, then wrack my brain trying to think up some festive item already on hand that I can stick in those shoes to mark the feast.  Fortunately, the SuperHusband has had a bucket of biscotti from Costco stashed in a secret location.  Italian-American is our theme for this year.

But sadly, no, it’s not that simple.

Naturally, I completely forgot to put the biscotti in the shoes.  Thus it was a cold, dark, wet, barren St. Nicholas waking for us.

So let’s talk about lying.

People hate this.  I mean, they can’t stand it.  It makes heads spin.  But here’s what we do at our house: We let our kids know how the world works.

I know!  Thus over time they learn all kinds of  adult secrets, like where babies come from, and that there’s a moment in the mandatory confirmation retreat when you open a heart-warming letter from your parents, and also that Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are all games of pretend.

Is our home life thus devoid of all magic?  By no means.

The real world is far more, dare I say it, amazing than some cheap sleight-of-hand holiday trick.

If you tell your kids Santa is real, whatever.  Not my problem (I’m not going to tell your kid that, but you can).  So be it.  To me, orchestrating such moments of artifice is a pale and pathetic imitation of the beauty of faith in the real world, where real miracles, both natural and supernatural, happen all the time.

I don’t object to figurines of Santa at the Nativity; but today (December 6th) in particular, and every day more generally, we get St. Nicholas adoring Christ, for real, at the Holy Mass.

Is that too abstract for children?  By no means.  Children know very well that what something looks like is different than what it is. They know that there is real supernatural power in this world.  The game of Santa or St. Nicholas is, if you let your children play the game rather than hogging it for yourself, like a game of house or soldiers or any other dress-up: We’re children playing at real things, trying them out.

The game is marvelously fun, even when you nearly forget it, twice.

If your children are in on the game, the wonder of it no longer depends on falliable you.  It now can rest on its own power, and wreak its real marvels even when you yourself are a few marvels short of a shooting match.

Thus, today, as I was rushing out the door at 7:10 to quick drive a teenager to school before coming back for the 5th grader, said 5th grader noticed the shoes were still empty.

Oops. Time is tight, but the feast is only once a year.  “Run back to your room, quick, so St. Nicholas can come.”

I grabbed a stool, she went and hid in her room for a minute, and I found St. Nick’s stash of biscotti and quick doled it out, one-per-shoe.  Magic accomplished.

Related:

You Can Have Santa Magic Without Lying to Your Kids

Catholic Life Hacks: St. Nicholas Day S’Mores

 

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St. Nicholas Icon courtesy of Bjoertvedt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

5 Reasons Slacker Catholics Do Advent Best – #2 Will Shock You

This is a post that sounds like satire but is not.  This is a post about cold, hard, liturgical reality: The best Catholics are the slackers.

That’s right friends.  You agonize every year about whether you’re doing Advent, or Christmas, or Lent, or Easter just right, and you have the pictures on Pinterest to prove it.  Dear, dear one, lose your life and you’ll find it.  The best way to be liturgically on the ball is to drag through life barely holding your head above water.

Here are five proofs hidden in the couch cushions at the home of that friend who never invites you over because her life is such a trainwreck.  Not kidding.  This works.  Especially #2.

#1 No new music.

New music is for people who have time to learn things.  Now mind you, I don’t object to the odd innovator.  But nothing says in step with the season like singing last millennium’s music.  Or the millennium before that.  If it was good enough for Advent 1016, it’s good enough for me.

#2 No gratuitous shopping trips.

Christmas is so commercial! they weep.  Not if you don’t have the time, money, or energy to go the store, it’s not.  You don’t have to be poor in the spirit, just poor in something that keeps you out of the mall.  I’ve tried it both ways.  Not shopping is better.

#3 No decorating and entertaining excess.

Yes love, we’ve heard all about how so very tired you are from all the time and energy you spend getting your house (and office, and wardrobe) just so for the holiday season, and how much work it was to put on your fabulous collection of carefully tailored parties (one for clients, one for employees, one for the neighbors, one for the close friends, one for the other friends, one for the friends who can’t be with the other friends . . .).  Sweetie pie, if you were really tired?  You wouldn’t be doing all that stuff.

You know how tired people entertain?  By sleeping. That’s how.  It’s very entertaining, try it sometime.

Liturgical tip: Start the season utterly exhausted, and you’ll never, ever have to wonder if you’re losing the “real meaning of Christmas” amid all your busyness.

#4 Your Christmas tree will always go up at exactly the right time.

This is the great thing about trees: They look great anywhere.  Your Christmas tree might be sojourning in the forest all winter this year — that’s very contemplative, you know.  But imagine for a moment that you mustered the wherewithal to drag a tree, or some inventive product that reminds the casual viewer of a tree, into your home this holiday season.

Some Catholics, under those circumstances, would have to worry: Have I done this too early? Too late?  When exactly is the tree supposed to enter the home?

Not you, exhausted slacker friend!  If it arrives early, it’s an Advent tree, or else it’s you managing to get something done ahead of a time for a change.  If it comes in the 24th, hey, perfect!

But what if, say, you pull it off the neighbor’s curb on the 26th? You’re a shining example of good stewardship, both financial and environmental.  Rejoice — you’ve been heralded in a century-and-change of papal encyclicals. Woohoo!

#5 No skimping on the fullness of the season.

What’s the big rush in taking down the Christmas decorations?

Would it really be the feast of the Presentation if there weren’t a few reminders of the Nativity artfully displayed about your home? What about the Annunciation, huh?  Are you so spiritually adrift on the tides of the seasons that you’ve never noticed the parallel between the manger and the tomb?  It might be easier to catch those connections if you weren’t so keen to whisk away your baby Jesus to His summer home in the attic.

And of course there would have been no Easter if we hadn’t had Christmas first.  Leaving out your past-due decorations is like living every day of your life in a dusty, slightly dented, but arguably beatific living Gospel.

While organized, industrious people pack up their holiday spirit in order to bustle onto the next big source of ennui, we slackers bask in the glow of eternity, our living-rooms perpetually witness to timeless truths.

Happy Advent! And other seasons, too, while we’re at it.

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Photo by Eag383 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

What Happens When You Go Out to Eat on Sundays

Before we begin, let’s clear something up: Sometimes I go out to eat on Sundays.  Credible witnesses can attest to this fact.

***

A friend recently shared St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter Dies Domini (On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy).   It’s a long, rich exploration of the what’s and why’s of Sundays, so naturally I just skimmed it and made a note to come back later and read it more carefully.  But I link to it now because I’ve been meaning to write about the restaurant problem since last summer.  Here are some pertinent quotes:

65. By contrast, the link between the Lord’s Day and the day of rest in civil society has a meaning and importance which go beyond the distinctly Christian point of view. The alternation between work and rest, built into human nature, is willed by God himself, as appears in the creation story in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11): rest is something “sacred”, because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God. . . .

66. Finally, it should not be forgotten that even in our own day work is very oppressive for many people, either because of miserable working conditions and long hours — especially in the poorer regions of the world — or because of the persistence in economically more developed societies of too many cases of injustice and exploitation of man by man. When, through the centuries, she has made laws concerning Sunday rest, (109) the Church has had in mind above all the work of servants and workers, certainly not because this work was any less worthy when compared to the spiritual requirements of Sunday observance, but rather because it needed greater regulation to lighten its burden and thus enable everyone to keep the Lord’s Day holy. In this matter, my predecessor Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical Rerum Novarum spoke of Sunday rest as a worker’s right which the State must guarantee. (110)

FYI, Rerum Novarum is no commie pinko manifesto.  Actually it’s an anti-communist manifesto.  [And some other things, too.] Go read it sometime, it’s really fun.  If you’re local, you can bait me into a conversation (bring the text, please) basically any time you want.

Anyway, the point for today is that Sunday rest, worship, and Christian fellowship are so important it just keeps coming up and coming up century, after century, after century.  It’s like the Church just. won’t. shut-up. about it.

So let me tell you about my kid.

Woohoo! Gainful Employment!

I have this boy who can cook really well.  Just last night I came home with a tray of chicken, pointed him to the grill, and he caused there to be dinner an hour later.  So last summer we sent him out to find a job, and yes we all considered it providential when he got hired by the local sandwich shop.  A few weeks of doing dishes and then on to cooking and he’s never left the kitchen.  He’s still working there and everyone’s happy.

When he interviewed, he said up front that he had to have Sunday mornings off.  Non-negotiable.  Since this place gets most of its traffic on weekdays, the boss was good with that.  But the restaurant is open Sundays, and so he does get assigned his share of Sunday afternoon-evening shifts.

As a result, he misses out on a lot of the Sunday-afternoon Christian fellowship activities that happen in our area.  He can’t do Sunday afternoon youth group events, and he ends up leaving early to get to work if a friend hosts, say, a relaxing family get-together.  We have some Christian friends with a pile of kids who are getting trained now to cut the birthday cake by 3pm so Mr. Boy can sing, eat, and run.  Everyone else can stick around for hours of heavenly conversation and camaraderie, exactly like St. John Paul II writes about, but the boy gets to go to work.

How Do You Use Your Servants?

The reason he gets to go work is because other people want to eat.

People need to eat.  Every single day, even multiple times a day.  There are situations in which people have good reasons to need to hire someone to prepare food for them on a Sunday, and many more situations in which people have good reasons to want someone to prepare that food.

There are other services we likewise avail ourselves of on a Sunday, for various good reasons.  I do this.  You’re not the only one.

When we do this, it causes the people we hire to work for us to lose a bit of their Sunday.

This is an Evangelization Problem

There are people like my boy who aren’t under a ton of pressure.  Sunday is not a high-traffic day for his restaurant.  He is only working part-time, and if he were fired for not being available when the boss wanted him, he’d still have his parents at home gainfully employed.  He’s not supporting himself, let alone a family, on this job.

Other people aren’t so lucky.  If they are Catholic, they end up scrambling just to find an hour to run into Mass sometime during the weekend.  If they aren’t Catholic and you tried to invite them to join you for Mass, or RCIA, or that fun thing you do on Sundays, they’d chuckle-cough and say, “Yeah. Sure.  I’ll let you know when I get an opening.”

It is extremely difficult to evangelize someone who literally cannot go to church.

You Only Control a Slice of the Problem

There are parts of this problem that you can’t control.  Some services (medical, police) are non-negotiables.  Unless you’re in charge of the hospital or what have you, you don’t decide what the shifts will look like; unless you’re in charge of the parish, you don’t decide whether Mass times will line up with the local police and hospital and pharmacy shifts.

If that’s not your responsibility, it just isn’t.

Likewise, you probably don’t set restaurant hours.  You’re not the one who decided to keep the amusement park open until midnight and then re-open at 8AM.  To a certain extent, you can’t control whether the worker-bees get an opening for Mass or not.

But you do control a small slice.

When you make the decision to go out to lunch after Mass, you are making the decision that two or three people will report to work a couple hours before you arrive, and they’ll stay on a couple hours after you leave.  What does that do to their day?

File:Paris - A waitress making a Phone call - 4588.jpg

Photo: © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Dysautonomia Awareness: You’re Not Insane, You Just Feel That Way

It’s Dysautonomia Awareness month, and I’m hereby aware.  Dr. Google can tell you all sorts of things, but my favorite link is to Living with Bob, FYI slight language warning (which I don’t approve of), but I like the assortment of information.  When you visit Dr. Google and the major advocacy organizations, what you mostly hear about is POTS, to the point that some outfits equate the two.  That’s sort of like equating “leg pain” with “broken femur.”

[FYI: You don’t want POTS.  Or a broken femur.]

Dysautonomia, aka Autonomic Dysfunction, is when your autonomic nervous system doesn’t work right.  That’s the part of your nervous system that does all the things you don’t have to think about and really don’t control.  Any underlying illness or injury that affects the nervous system can cause autonomic dysfunction (MS, diabetes, lupus, spinal cord injury, etc.), and there are an assortment of disorders that have autonomic dysfunction as their chief complaint.

Since blogging is all about self-absorption, let’s talk about me.

Complaints, Complaints, Complaints

The most dramatic and pressing element of my dysautonomia is Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia, which drama longtime readers know all about, check the archives.  What happens is that on exertion my heart rate accelerates excessively, which leads to dramatic shortness of breath and an inability to do, well, anything.  Conveniently I’m one of the people who responds very, very well to a low-dose beta blocker, so the symptoms are under control.

Curiously, this study from 1966 recreated exactly what my heart rate does.  The difference between the “control” and “parasympathetic blockade” heart rates is pretty much me before IST vs. with IST. “Double blockade” is what I look like with IST controlled by a beta-blocker.

In everyday terms: One day on vacation last spring I forgot to take the beta blocker.  After a leisurely breakfast, about noonish I started getting ready to go out and do something fun.  Brushing teeth? HR of 120.  In the shower? 140.  In contrast, on the beta blocker, 120 would be my heart rate having just jogged up two flights of stairs carrying a full bookbag.

On the vacation story, once I noticed I’d obviously forgotten something, I went and took the beta blocker and was fine to go out and be a normal active person traipsing around the city all afternoon.

One of the things that people will say about these kinds of idiopathic tachycardias is that they must be due to “deconditioning.”  When I first started with severe shortness of breath on exertion, I had just gotten home from a trip up north where I’d spent one morning climbing up and down a snowy hill sledding with the kids, no problems.  You don’t decondition that quickly.  Likewise, once I was diagnosed and treated, I went in the space of an hour (time it takes to make propranolol start working) from unable to walk an 1/8th of a mile slowly to doing laps at the school walking track as quickly and for as long as I liked.

I assure you that if you are so deconditioned that you can’t walk an 1/8th of a mile, the lowest available dose of a beta blocker will not instantly improve your conditioning by a factor of twenty. Dysautonomia is not deconditiong.

Stupid, Annoying, Incurable

Because the tachycardia responds so well to treatment, it’s not a significant problem as long as I’ve got access to the drugs.  I would say the most debilitating and limiting symptom I have is that I will, intermittently, get lightheaded when talking.

It’s a sensation a lot like hyperventilation, and the effect is similarly cumulative — you can handle some amount of it, but eventually you have to quit.  It’s a fairly common complaint among people who have POTS (which I don’t have, but which is a different tachycardia), and one that there is basically no discussion of in the literature that I can find.

I manage this symptom by daily reconsidering whether maybe I should have been a Carthusian.  Just kidding.  I’ve never even had chartreuse.

What really happens is that if I’m particularly feeling it, I just avoid talking to people.  This is a tad socially awkward.  Alternately, I talk to people and secretly resent them for being a person that I’m talking to (tad immature); or I feel guilty for making my brain hurt having so much fun (tad scrupulous), because it does take a toll on my ability to do other things as the day wears on.

Much like the way people who get migraines or stomach aches don’t necessarily have those symptoms 24/7, sometimes I’m just fine.  So that’s even more socially awkward, because one day I might be, say, subbing teaching a class with no difficulties, and another day I might want to hide from people because they persist with this crazy idea about talking to each other.

On a medium day I can get away with pacing myself.  I do better if I’m the one choosing how quickly I talk and if I’m alternating with someone else. So a phone call to my grandmother works great; group Rosary not so much. On a medium day I might sing most of the best two hymns at church, but with a certain amount of lip-syncing interspersed because the pace is still more than the brain can take.

Simple, Manageable Paths to Insanity

The reason I’m writing today, mid-awareness-month, is not just because I’m procrastinating on other work (true) but because I was made suddenly re-aware of one of last year’s most interesting developments.

What’s happened is that we are now, thank you Hurricane Matthew, having beautiful southern autumn weather.  Lows in the 50’s, highs in the 70’s, huge clear blue skys, low humidity, you can’t ask for anything more idyllic.  This morning I dropped off the 5th grader at school and then picked up a few groceries on the way home, perfectly comfortable in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.  Sitting in the shade in the early morning, you wanted a flannel shirt — remember it was in the 90’s a week ago, so we southerners get a flannel shirt pass, thanks.

But let me emphasize: This weather is PERFECTLY COMFORTABLE.  Important to the story.

So anyway, later in the day I laid down for a quick nap (because: procrastination makes me sleepy, ha).  The bedroom was a comfortable 70 degrees.  I’m wearing jeans, socks, long sleeve t-shirt, flannel shirt.  All clothing is that perfect fit for temperature regulation, not-to-tight-not-too-loose.  No gaps at the waist or ankles or anything.  On top of this, because we humans cool down when we sleep, I pull on blankets.

Not just any blankets: A down comforter, and on top of that a synthetic comforter.  You are now thinking to yourself this girl’s going to wake up a sweaty mess in half an hour.

Nope.  It’s fall!  We’re down to a brisk SEVENTY DEGREES!  So it’s time to resume . . . the thing where we wake up shivering immediately upon falling asleep.

No, Really, I Can Do Winter

I spent many decades camping in the winter.  When the huge ice storm hit twelve years ago, and we had no power for a week and the house was 45 degrees inside?  No problem.  I won’t say I enjoyed it, but we all slept great.  I know how to sleep in cold weather.

What’s happening with the dysautonomia is that my body temperature drops too quickly when I fall asleep.  In the summer, it’s not a problem — hence the fact that I had two comforters on the bed even though it was in the 90’s last week.  Humans intuitively grab the amount of bedding they need, that’s a basic survival instinct.

I don’t have persistent hypothermia (which happens to some people).  My body will eventually warm up the clothing and bedding and I’ll be just fine all night.  But because of the steep temperature drop on falling asleep, I’ll go through three or four attempts at sleeping before I can stay asleep.

This will make you feel like an insane person.

You will remember that sometimes when it’s very cold, people will wake up in the middle of the night looking for more blankets.  And then you will have to remind yourself: Those people aren’t going from perfectly-comfortable to body-shaking-shivering in the minute it takes to drift off to sleep.  Under a lot of blankets.  When it is seventy degrees in the room.

The Insanity of Dysautonomia

The maddening part of autonomic dysfunction is that every thing that happens is something that your body might also do under normal circumstances.  People get hot or cold.  Heart rates go up or down.  Something like getting dizzy talking or singing?  Hyperventilation happens.  You have to remind yourself that gosh, no one else in church is begging the organist to slow down so we don’t all pass out.  Every. Single. Hymn. in the hymnal isn’t some manic composer’s effort to see how many people have the breath to pull it off.

It’s not normal for an ordinary Sunday service to feel like some kind of survival-themed reality show.  Last Congregant Standing — Do You Have What It Takes To Sing All Four Verses?!!

But humans adapt marvelously, and this only makes you feel crazier.  You get used to the idea of needing an external heat source* in order to not be shivering on a seventy degree day.  You get used to the idea of assessing how much conversation your brain can take before you really have to stop.  You lose track of the fact that other people aren’t constantly managing all this weird stuff.

There’s more to complain about, but I’ll stop there.  To summarize: Dysautonomia is a condition whereby your autonomic nervous system has gone off its rocker and is trying to take you with it.  The end.

File:Stories for the household (1889) (14772566743).jpg

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

 

*For an external heat source, think electric blanket or heated mattress pad.  Basically it converts your autumnal weather back into summer in the area adjacent to your body.  If you also happen to need an extra two hours of sleep in the winter months because of the energy it takes to keep your body warm, if you religiously use such a heat source whenever you are sitting or lying still, it can buy you a couple more hours of wakefulness.

Related: Inside Tired World

Inside My Apologetics 101 – Faith, Evidence, and Objective vs. Subjective Truth

Today I was subbing for my daughter’s apologetics class, and thought I’d share the letter I sent home to parents, since it covers topics that come up online a bunch.  You blog readers don’t get to see the whiteboard photo referenced below because it has students’ names on it from a chart we made at the top of the hour, and I’m not smart enough to figure out how to blur them out of the image.  For your viewing pleasure, I’ve posted completely different photos at the bottom.  Close your eyes and imagine a whiteboard of illegible black scrawl instead, and you’ll know everything you need to know.

Dear Parents,

Attached is the photo of the whiteboard from apologetics at the end of class. Parents, the kids were starting to get the general concepts we went over, but were still having a hard time articulating the key ideas and applying them. It might be helpful for you to have them go through the picture with you and tell you, as best they can, what it is everything refers to. For your convenience I’ve written all the text in slightly illegible lettering so that students have to rely on their memory to fill in the indecipherable bits — you’re welcome.

None of this is in the book, since I was subbing for our regular teacher (Mrs. K) and just working off notes from a different apologetics class I taught a few years ago. But it’s all important stuff and well worth mastering if you enjoy life as a sane person.

Key ideas to draw out of your child:

1) Objective vs. Subjective truth. In apologetics, we need to be able to listen and identify when the person we’re talking with doesn’t understand the difference between unchangeable truths and those facts that are genuinely a matter of opinion, experience, etc. We need to be able to *explain* the difference between subjective and objective facts to friends who don’t realize there is a difference, or don’t realize when they are treating an objective matter as a subjective one. We need to know whether a given statement is a matter of subjective opinion or objective truth.

2) Types of evidence. There are different types of evidence for different types of things. Scientific laws, or laws of nature, are discovered and proven using the assorted tools of science to verify repeatable tests and observations. The facts about historic events and persons are established using the types of evidence that apply to persons and facts. You can’t, for example, do a series of scientific tests to know that Christopher Columbus existed — but you can collect historical evidence for that fact. We need to be able to know, therefore, what *kind* of evidence is suited to proving which kinds of facts. Because God is a Person, and because God acts in history, the types of evidence we are looking for are the sorts of evidence we use for determining historical events and the existence of persons.

In apologetics we need to be able to identify when someone we are listening to has the notion that God is a force of nature that should be subject to scientific evidence, and clarify and explain that God is a person and therefore a different type of evidence is valid. We want to be able to walk our friend through the rational, evidence-based types of proof that one would use in determining whether or not a person exists or an event took place. A useful tool is to walk the person through the types of evidence for or against their own existence.

Not on the board, but an important idea which we discussed in class: Faith is the action of taking the evidence we’ve gathered and using it to come to a conclusion. I can gather all kinds of evidence about the existence of gravity or the existence of Christopher Columbus, but ultimately if I believe in either of those, it is an act of faith. My faith isn’t separate from and certainly not opposing evidence and reason; rather it is the follow-on to gathering evidence and using my reason. Think of it as the third step: Evidence + Reason (logic) + Faith = Belief.

I might be a person who comes to faith easily, requiring very little evidence and logical analysis before I take the leap of faith. For example: I believe in asteroids even though I’ve never had any personal experience with one, and know almost nothing about them. I have an even stronger faith in the existence and power of tornadoes, which I’ve also never seen, because I’ve got even more evidence and experience and knowledge about them — even though all my knowledge is second- or third- hand. Ultimately, though, if I wanted to disbelieve in their existence, I could. Faith is the leap I make to assert that I do in fact believe in these things.

I might, in contrast, be a very skeptical person. Imagine if I decided I would only accept a belief in tornadoes after extensive study and firsthand experience. All the same, even if I were very skeptical, if I’m a rational person there will be some level of evidence that is eventually sufficient to allow me to make the leap of faith and affirm that yes, tornadoes do exist. I can be very skeptical — that is, be a person who requires large amounts of evidence and long periods of logical analysis (reasoning) prior to coming to faith, but still make a decision to affirm or deny a fact. Faith is the act of affirming or denying facts.

[I didn’t use tornadoes or asteroids as examples in class, so that’s new fodder for you in chatting with your child.]

We acknowledged as well, in class, that there are people who simply refuse to accept any level evidence. In class we imagined someone who might, for example, dismiss my (Mrs. Fitz’s) existence, even if they met me in person, on account of how perhaps it was a hallucination, or an actor was paid to pretend to be me, or some other thing. Likewise you could imagine someone explaining away the existence of tornadoes by offering some alternate theory of why they thought they saw a dark whirlwind and heard loud noise right before their possessions were blown away. In apologetics it’s important that we distinguish between someone who is simply looking for more evidence to work through rationally prior to coming to a conclusion, versus those who would never be satisfied with any level of evidence, because they have made a decision in advance about the truth of this or that assertion.

(We didn’t practice this, but a good method for finding out where someone stands on this is just to ask them. Listening is the #1 skill in apologetics.)

Finally, a point that came up in class a couple times is that in apologetics we must be very precise. Please assure your students that in class it’s good to be brave in discussing ideas even if you aren’t sure of the right terms or facts; we will simply pause and clarify definitions as necessary. We learned the word omniscient, and affirmed that none of us humans are omniscient, so it’s okay if you have to acknowledge you don’t know something, and it’s okay if your friends help you clear up any misunderstandings you have.

Have a great weekend!

Jen.

File:Líneas de Nazca, Nazca, Perú, 2015-07-29, DD 46.JPG
 Eerily apropos photo by: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

And here’s a tornado, because: I’m a believer.  No tornado-deniers at my house.
File:F5 tornado Elie Manitoba 2007.jpg

Photo by: Justin1569 at English Wikipedia [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Update on the Radio Silence

Short version, since last I wrote:

  • The kids started school! 3/4’s are being farmed out to TOTAL STRANGERS, and 1/4 is home with me, thriving in the silence that comes from emptying the house each day.  So I was offline for a bit, focusing on the transition and all that.
  • Then 1/4 of the children came down with the wicked nasty evil virus you don’t want.  Thank goodness it was the homeschooled child, I think I would have cried if I had to pull a kid out of school for a week with an uncontrollable fever during the child’s first week of school ever ever ever.  Instead: Documentaries were watched.
  • Then 1/2 of the parents caught it (me).  Not as badly, actually!  More tropical depression than cat 5 hurricane.

So all that sucked up three weeks right there! Whoohoo!

I’m doing better now, thanks for asking, but am having to catch up on all the regular-life business that got neglected, and continue the transition to school year activities.  (Example: This week, I’m going to REMEMBER THAT ORCHESTRA STARTED and actually bring my children!  That will be neat! Teachers love it when you do that.)

That’s all I’ve got time to say now.  Headed to Adoration this afternoon while a child is at PE, and as always I keep my readers in my prayers!  I will write soon, I think.

 

File:Flamencos andinos (Phoenicoparrus andinus), Laguna Cañapa, Bolivia, 2016-02-03, DD 63.JPG
You know who takes good photos? Diego Delso. That’s who.

PS: Let me just say that if you have the option of sending your child to a good Catholic school or a good Catholic homeschool? Do that.

 

Photo: Andean flamingos (Phoenicoparrus andinus) in the Cañapa lake, Bolivia. Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 4.0