faith


Running on Grief 6

Running on Grief

I’d like to try and start sharing a few other thoughts here about running and exercise and faith and grief that I’ve “kept in my heart” and pondered over, even though it’s almost impossible to try and put these feelings into the right words.

Sometimes while I’m running, I suddenly feel a little self-conscious as I think about what I’m doing and how silly it must look. Not just because of how I run (which I’m sure looks silly enough by itself), but I think about the why? Why would I run unless I was late (which happens often) or unless a hungry tiger was chasing me? (That happens less frequently.)

I’ve been a runner – meaning I’ve freely chosen to go out and run for “fun” – off and on for many years since about the time I was in 5th grade and track season was starting up. To many people, and even to me at times in the middle of a hard race or practice, I’ve wondered –

Why? Why in the world am I doing this?!

Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s always a deeper meaning and reason to running beyond pumping your legs as fast as you can and trying not to die in the process. 

For me, that reason has varied during different seasons of my life but it’s always provided a great space and time to process my thoughts and pray.

Around this time last year, I decided I wanted to make exercise a daily habit instead of something I did every now and then when I felt like it. A friend invited me to join her in an online “Challenge Group” – basically an online fitness accountability group.

Together with that and another friend’s advice to try the Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred programs and the BeFit videos and acquiring a treadmill from another friend (I have great friends!), I was doing very well with developing a good routine and starting to feel pretty good too.

Then mid-November came, when my Dad’s doctors found cancer on his lungs, and then early December, when they confirmed it was non-smoker’s stage IV lung cancer (but with a very positive “years not months” prognosis”), and then, just a few weeks later, his incredibly unexpected and shocking death right before Christmas.

 

Needless to really have to say, I had a hard time exercising during that time – it’s hard to run or do much of anything when you have a big huge emotional knot in your stomach.

In the weeks and months after that, it was still too hard to think about exercising – it was hard enough just getting out of bed and trying to continue life “as normal” since it was anything but normal anymore.

By March, I decided I needed to do something to get myself moving again but knew it would be too hard to do it on my own at home. I needed a place to plug in until I could get moving on my own again. So I joined the Y, knowing that by paying money per month I’d have to go and make the money well spent.  I made a daily schedule for myself based on the group exercise schedule and asked a few friends to help me stay committed by inviting me to come with them when they went.  I thank God for the many good friends he has blessed me with.

Most people say exercising helps them feel better when dealing with anxieties. At first, for me, it made me feel worse.

I honestly didn’t really feel like doing it and I mostly hated it while I was there. I struggled a lot with thoughts and questions like, “if we’re all going to die one day and the eternal life is all that really matters why waste my time on the things of this world by exercising?” I didn’t feel like dying (though I wished I could at least take a peek and see where my dad was), yet I didn’t know how to continue living, I honestly didn’t really know what I was supposed to do.  I was stuck in a room with no obvious way out.

I wanted a place to escape my grief and instead found myself confronted with it – it followed me and even intensified the harder I worked out. 

The faster I ran or the harder I pushed, I’d get flashbacks of our 24-hour ordeal in the hospital, re-living the trauma of those moments.  Images of my Dad in the hospital and weeks preceding it flashed in my mind with every surge of adrenaline. I missed him so, so, so much. I couldn’t get away from it.

I was lifting weights with my arms while hauling around the deadweight of grief in my heart. 

Yet, since I didn’t know what else to do, I just shrugged my shoulders and forced myself to keep going.

I remember one evening – or maybe it was morning, I can’t remember that time very well – I couldn’t stand it anymore. My spirit was drowning in grief and I could hardly breathe anymore, frustrated, annoyed, desperate and confused about life, death, God, everything. 

I angrily went downstairs, grabbed the treadmill key, turned it on and, like Forest, I just started running, and I ran, and ran, and ran. (Though I didn’t run till I grew a beard or reached every ocean in the US.)

I ran and it felt as if my heart opened while I ran and all the waves of emotions of sadness and confusion flowed out of me and pumped through my veins, powering me along. My legs and arms pumped and my heart sobbed and sobbed and prayed and cursed and grunted and screamed.

When I finally stopped – I have no idea how long I ran and didn’t care – a strange feeling came over me. Peace, maybe? Relief? Whatever it was, I knew it was good.

My body ran and my soul began thawing – healing.

Ten months later, I’m still running, still exercising regularly, and even ran my first 5K in my life! Slowly, I’ve started enjoying running and exercising again instead of just forcing myself to do it without any satisfaction.

I used to see people’s pictures they’d post of themselves captioning their exercise or running accomplishments and feel almost jealous of their outward “perfection” and happiness. Now I wonder if that’s what others think when they see me at the gym or hear about my running/exercise accomplishments. Maybe others think “she’s got it all together”. But really I’m still healing.

I think everyone finds different ways to process grief or anxiety or other challenges in life. For me, running and exercise (and writing about it) have become an important tool and aid in my own healing process.

Running and exercise have always provided an analogous way for me to better understand life and my faith. I’m still pondering how the finite and temporal act of exercising fits in with the whole eternal life thing. More on that to come…


Mary Mother & Queen of all Joy and Strife

Mary gothic statue from Pexels

“COME TO MAMA, MY CHILDREN”

We celebrated the Assumption of Mary on August 15 and her Queenship yesterday (August 22) and I’ve been “pondering these things in my heart” about Mary and why she is so important to me and all for the whole world.

One main thought I’ve had rolling around my head is this:

Mary has the full knowledge of ALL of the sufferings and ALL of the joys in the whole history of humanity.

She knows both the strife and the joyful triumph of life.

She has experienced pain personally but she is also in full knowledge of the meaning of her pain and of the whole world’s suffering.

This is what makes her the best Mother ever.

We can run to her with our skinned knees and our bruised and bleeding hearts and she will happily embrace us and comfort us. She will not wave us away or admonish us to “quit your whining and just trust in Jesus!”. She knows our pain is real. 

I used to be confused about Mary – if she was “without sin” how could her heart also be “pierced” by suffering? I was confused because I couldn’t understand if someone was “sinless”, why would they suffer? And why, if she truly “knew” God in such an intimate and pure way, why would she feel suffering and anguish? I guess, in a way like my Jewish ancestors of old, I thought only sinners experienced suffering.

But Jesus suffered too.

What I’ve come to understand better is that suffering, on its own, is not a sin. 

If you struggle, if life is hard, if you don’t always feel all happy and good inside – it does not make you a sinner.

It simply makes you human, living in the reality of this incomplete and broken world.

But this is why Mary is so important for us. She is a human, like any of the rest of us, conceived and born of human parents. The only difference is that God spared her the “stain” of sin. He didn’t just hide her from sin though.

Through Mary’s Immaculate Conception, God opened Himself to this one woman amongst all women and revealed Himself to her in His FULL “Be-ing” and Glory – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Like when Eve suddenly “knew” of the good and the evil too when she ate of the forbidden fruit, now Mary knew of ALL the GOOD in all its fullness.  God not only gave her a hint to how the story ends, He showed her the whole ending in a way that makes the “current” time not only make absolute sense but shows how our suffering is an integral part of the ending.

Because of this, Mary is fully aware of the suffering of the world but she also knows that our suffering has a greater meaning and purpose. Like a gentle and wise Queen, she shows us, by her perfect example, how we can embrace our current reality and not only “get through it” but how we can unite our lives completely with Christ so that we become part of the Great Story.

In Jeff Young’s (aka The Catholic Foodie) August 22 reflection in The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion (that I’m so excited to be a part of!), he encourages us to come to Mary with our pains and struggles and allow her to comfort us and then encourage us to get back on our feet and continue on this road because what we will find at the end will make it all worth it!

Mama Mary, you know what it is like to suffer with God. Please help me to accept my life as it is and to trust that Jesus is right here with me. – Jeff Young

 

 

 

(My personal Amazon affiliate links included in this post)

 


Laughing and Trusting in God’s Will

I loved this past Sunday’s Catholic Mass readings! They contain many angles of Wisdom but I especially tuned into the parts that speak to those of us who struggle with anxiety and doubt in God’s plan in our lives.  

Like I shared at CatholicMom.com this week, I struggle with accepting the trials God allows me to go through and often fail to see the gifts through the challenges. 

In the first reading from Genesis, the Lord shares with Abraham that Sarah, who is “advanced in years, and… had stopped having her menstrual periods” and was barren, would have a son! 

Sarah didn’t believe this could really happen for her.  In fact,  she laughed at such an impossible prophesy.  But the Lord, offended at her incredulity, asks,

Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do? 

Sarah, like a true daughter of Eve, lies and denies her laugh but the Lord, being the all knowing Father,  answers back – and I love this line –

“Yes, you did.”

Ha! Sounds like a conversation I’d have with one of my own willful children.  

(As a side note,  I also love the irony the USCCB notes that her laughter prefigures the name of her future son, Isaac.)

It’s been said (and said and said), “The best way to make God laugh is to tell Him your plans.”

But how often do I also laugh at His plans in my life?  How often does He try to show me a better way and I laugh in disbelief or naive arrogance? How often do I doubt – or don’t even notice – the “marvelous” ways He works in my life? 

In a way, today’s first reading can also be very aggravating if we have yearned for something and feel like God is not listening. Sarah received what she’d been wanting (a few years too late in her opinion) after she had long since stopped hoping. 

What about those of us who, like Sarah, yearn and PRAY for something but never receive any special visitors from the Lord telling us we’ll finally get it? 

In our hearts we might know that the Lord has other plans for us, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future“, plans that He knows are good for us, and that we should just trust Him.  

But our minds remain anxious and restless when we cannot understand His ways or feel like He’s not listening…or maybe not even there…

When we stop trusting God, or when we’re left feeling abandoned by Him, we fill our lives with things or busy work to try and fill the gap or obstinately try to force our plans. We become resentful and obsessed. We stop praying,  we stop listening, we stop hoping. 

In Sunday’s Gospel, Martha is consumed by her work to the point that she seems to forget why, and for Whom, she’s doing it. While her sister, Mary, on the other hand, “…sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.”

The Laudate App (my favorite app) had a great reflection on Sunday’s Gospel shared by Don Schwager and Presentation Ministries. Don reminds us that –

Anxiety and preoccupation keep us from listening and from giving the Lord our undivided attention. The Lord bids us to give him our concerns and anxieties because he is trustworthy and able to meet any need we have. His grace frees us from needless concerns and preoccupation.

So what do we do when things aren’t going our way or we are confused by how God is working in our lives? 

I LOVE this point made in the Presentation Ministries reflection:

Some people say they are like Martha; others say they are like Mary. However, the Lord is not calling us to be Martha or Mary, but Martha and Mary.

​We are called to be like Martha and continue living and going about our days but we are also called to be like Mary and unite our days with prayer by making time to intentionally seek Christ’s Presence in our lives.

We give our anxieties to the Lord when we open our hearts to him and allow Him to enter us and heal our pains. 

We can find hope and peace again in any situation when we humbly pray,

Lord, I have no idea what I’m doing here or how to live with this. I give it to you. Guide me, lead me. Heal me.

(I used my WordPress mobile app to write this whole post so forgive any funky formatting!)

 


Grateful for the Fathers in our Lives

As much as I miss my own dad today, I’m filled with joyful gratitude for the fathers I do have with me [physically] in my life today. My husband, my father-in-law, brothers, uncles, cousins, all the Fr. priests in my life and all the great men and fathers we are blessed to raise our families along with.

For my husband, the best father my kids could ever have.

I love how much he loves them. I remember when our first child, our daughter, was born. We were both so overwhelmed by joy and amazement that this person could be our own child! It was terrifying and humbling. At first, parenting for both of us was like trying to learn how to drive a manual car. You know, the ones were you have a clutch you have to physically push down with your left foot while you simultaneously move your right foot off the brake and ease the gas pedal down while also using your right hand to move the gear shift and, oh remember to keep your left hand on the steering wheel so you don’t swerve into any other cars of off the road!

Yeah, that’s what first-time parenting is like. And boy did we struggle and at first our movements were rough and jerky and there was often the harsh sound of grinding gears as we figured out how to smoothly transition from one gear to another without breaking the baby.

But as our daughter grew and as we added our three sons into our lives, I saw my husband grow too – as a man and as a father. We slowly learned how to let go of ourselves so that we can fully enter into the love of our family and give of ourselves fully to our children together.

We’re still learning for sure and we have many more challenges ahead but I’m thankful today for the amazing and wonderful father my husband is.

When I’m going crazy and can’t handle all the pressure, he comes in and with one look everyone settles down and remembers they are human beings and not wild animals. When I’m all out of energy after a long day and everyone is about ready to explode, my husband diffuses the ticking time bombs with laughter while he chases, wrestles or tickles all the stress out of everyone.

There are many things a mom can do, it’s true, but there’s so much that only a father can do. Trust me, I’ve tried to sound like him and make the kids listen to me like they do to him – I may have even recorded his voice so I would sound like him when lip-sync yelling at the kids. It didn’t work. It’s gotta be him. He has this certain power…or influence over them by his mere presence that I just can’t mimic.

I see how the kids are with him, how they love to spend time with him, how they love doing the silliest and seemingly meaningless stupid stuff with him and it brings them all so much joy. I love that he teaches them all about the random trivia of life, the science of the weather and all about the mysteries of the vast space that spreads beyond our imaginations. When our kids grow up and become meteorologists, astronauts, or astrophysicists it’ll be because of all the time their daddy spent sharing the scope of his knowledge and introducing them to all the wonders of the world.

You can tell what love language our first-born son speaks. (Ahem, quality time together)

We both bring our strengths and our gifts together and I’m so thankful I have him as a partner in this whole parenting gig.

For my father-in-law, a man I respect and admire greatly.

I know some people don’t get along with their in-laws but I gotta say that my father-in-law is pretty dang awesome. I’ve always loved that we can converse together and talk about the things of the world and also about our shared Catholic faith. Over the years we’ve mulled over hard mysteries and questions about God and our unique Catholic and faith experiences.

I’m immensely grateful especially for the gift of his craftsmanship and handy man talents. He’s graciously helped me turn many ideas into physical realities and rescued and fixed many of my attempts at trying to put things together on my own. Mostly I’m humbled by how my father in law has always welcomed me into his family and treated me as his own daughter.

Lastly, but definitely not least, I’m thankful for the spiritual fathers I’ve always had with the many Catholic priests I’ve known growing up.

For all the time they give to bring Christ’s love and healing grace to me through the Sacraments or by offering patient guidance in my times of discernment.

By their physical presence they are here for me as a father In Persona Christi always reminding me and pointing me to the One Father who has, IS, and always will be my Father who loves me and is with me. He knows me and will never forget or leave me.

Though I’m missing the physical presence of my natural father today, I’m thankful for all the great men in my life who I can also look to as fathers to guide me, protect me, and love me.

Lightning

My awesome husband captured this magnificent photo of an amazing lightning storm the other night. It reminds me of how we all connected by the same source of LOVE that spreads through all the veins of our human ancestry. 


Missing what’s Gone and Remembering the Good on Father’s Day 7

Tomorrow is Father’s Day – a day we remember, celebrate, and honor the Fathers in our lives in a special and dedicated way.

A friend asked if this would be a hard day for me [without my dad here for the first time]. At the time I hadn’t really thought about it too much – or at least I hadn’t been allowing myself to.

It’ll be fine…it’s just a day made up by the greeting card and retail companies, right?

Yes…and no.

Despite the historical story of how we’ve come to celebrate “Father’s Day“, it’s a good opportunity to think about the fathers in our lives and why they deserve recognition and thanks.

I’m sure this day brings all sorts of mixed emotions for many. Fathers come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, love languages and temperaments.

Fathers have gotten a pretty bad rap over the years, especially considering the sad high rate of father-less children around the world. Fathers have been portrayed as just the guy who “brings home the bacon” but then zones out in the recliner with potato chips and beer while mom – or the kids alone – fend for themselves only receiving his attention if they get in his way or make too much noise.

While I’m saddened to know this might be an accurate caricature of many dads it’s not that way for everyone and, I’d say for a majority, it’s quite the opposite.

Even those who didn’t have some fantasy super-star dad, we can’t deny that each of us – even those who have never met their own fathers – have been influenced in some deep and lasting way by our fathers. Our dads make up at least half of who we are, we come from them – they are our root.

And, for those of us who have been blessed to know our dads present in our lives but have recently – or even not-so-recently, “lost them” in death, this is a sensitive day.

For me, this being another “first” without him, I’m more aware of my dad than maybe even before. I’m grateful for the good memories I have of him and I’m trying to focus on those as I hold them even closer to my heart.

Even though he is not “here” for me to tell him so, I feel incredibly grateful for my dad – for the life he gave me, for the way he sacrificed for me and my siblings so we could have a good life and “become better people” as he always prayed at our meal times: “Help make us better people.”

That said, even though it’s almost been six months (which seems like a lot but isn’t really), I miss my dad, very, very much.

The funny thing is that we never really did anything too exciting for Father’s Day with my dad. Maybe a nice meal, I liked to try and make him a special dessert. We usually didn’t go out to eat because my dad didn’t like to “spend that kind of money”.  Once I was old enough to earn my own money, I tried getting him a cool new gadget or a new polo shirt and of course I could never go wrong with a package of his favorite chocolate bar – KIT KAT.

This year, though, Father’s Day means almost more to me than when he was physically here because his absence has left a gaping hole – exposing a space in my life that has always just been there…but is now “gone.” I can’t help but notice it.

Whenever I go to his house, I look for him still. I wait for him to come out of his room or up from the basement talking in his thickly accented voice that flooded out anyone else’s. I look for him out in his yard, puttering about in his garden or thinking over things on his bench or sneaking his finger into the candy jar in the kitchen. I think my kids still secretly wish he’d come out and play with them, build those amazing train tracks or fall asleep on the floor with them after reading countless books. We all miss seeing him wave us goodbye from his front porch or try to sneak in one last word through the van window as we hurried on to our next activity or home for bed.

I miss his voice. I miss listening to him interrupt us or go on and on…and on and on…about this or that. I miss being able to ask his advice or opinion, even if I usually received more than his two cents worth in reply.

I miss hearing his dry and calloused bare feet shuffle across the creaky wood floors.

I miss his face, even his worried eyes and furrowed brow. And his thick hair. 

I miss it all.

Yet, while all these memories of him make me feel his absence so profoundly and intensely that it fills me with a pain unlike anything else, they also carry a certain…good. These memories make me feel sad for what I don’t have anymore, but they also fill me with a special kind of joy and a deep and sincere gratitude for all the little things I loved – or even disliked – about him that I didn’t really appreciate or give much thought to before.These memories fill my soul to the brim and a wave of sorrow and gratitude spills over. 

One of the hardest things I’m learning with loss, is wondering what it’s like for them after death. When my husband travels I can text him or talk to him on the phone and see how his day is like. We can share pictures of our adventures with friends and family miles and oceans apart. But when someone dies, there’s no “Facebook” or Instagram, no long-distance phone service to find out how their journey is going.  I sometimes find myself scrolling mindlessly through social media feeds, maybe somehow subconsciously hoping I’ll be able to “find” him there, as silly as that sounds.

I wonder if he can hear me or see me. Maybe it’s like a baby monitor – he can hear and see me, I just can’t receive his transmissions back. 

But as I think and pray and reflect and let God speak through the silence of my grief, I realize that if I believe all of us, the living people here, are united with each other through Christ, I suppose those in heaven are still united with us here… In a different way, a deeper way.

It’s a highly sophisticated technology right, Dad? That allows you to be with me in my deepest inner self.

One day, a few weeks after he’d passed away, I was so torn and wished I could go and find him somewhere and just hug him or hold his hand.  In my heart, I felt as if my dad said to me –

You don’t need to go anywhere to find me. You don’t need to miss me because I’m right here with you now…in your soul now. And we are connected, joined,  now in a deeper way than we could have been before.  A better way. 

And so, that’s what I cling to. Some would say this is just a psychological survival mechanism to “get me through this”. Maybe so. But so what? I know I can’t prove that my dad is “in my soul” but you know what, it doesn’t matter. I can either choose to believe it or not. I choose to believe he is somehow connected with me still, not only because it makes me feel better, but because in some unexplained mysterious way, I know it’s true. Even though I know there’s nothing I can say to prove it to anyone else. 

So, to those who have no father physically present with you on this Father’s Day, let us celebrate and honor them anyway.

Let us remember the good memories. Let us reflect on their lives in a way we couldn’t have before – when we maybe took their presence with us for granted or when we couldn’t see the good through the bad. Let us be thankful – for the gift of our existence and life. Let us forgive any pains or regrets they may have caused us in the past. Let us hold them in our hearts, now, in a special and very intimate way. It’s through the spirit of gratitude that we will find peace and healing.

Here’s to you Dad. I love you. Thank you for being my dad when you were with my physically and now, as you are with me in a new – and maybe even better – way.

One day we’ll dance together again. I only hope they don’t play country music in heaven. 😉

 

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