Out of the Box

free crab

When I was in college, one of my professors told a story of these crabs in a box at the Fisherman’s Wharf in Seattle. He said that these crabs are alive and all just piled in this box, and every once in a while a rebel crab will try to break free and almost get out of the box, but the other crabs will pull him down.  In their chaos and confusion of trying to all climb over each other to get out, none of them get out because they keep each other down.  And they all die.  Steamed or boiled, dipped in butter. It is the inevitable fate of each crab all because they cannot stand to see another doing something different or better.

Several months back, when Papa Francisco was visiting the States, my old Sunday School teacher (from my Baptist days) said some very false and mean things about the Pope and Catholics in general on Facebook.  It was not pleasant and I was very hurt, and, truthfully, quite furious.  I wasn’t actually surprised and was sorta expecting someone from my past to pipe up over the course of that week with something, but when it actually happened my anger was stronger than I anticipated.  At first, I was a lone Catholic in a sea of Fundamentalists defending the Faith and Church teachings with Scripture and Tradition. I attempted to be outwardly patient and dignified as I was inwardly seething at the barrage of insults. I was seriously about to run out of grace and snap as the arguments on the opposing side got personal: someone said how “sorry they were that I had lost my way so badly in my sin” and that they “always remembered me as a very intelligent girl and who used to have a real heart for Jesus and whose dad sometimes wouldn’t let her come to church” (um… first: my dad is a Catholic who took me to a Baptist church at my request four times a week, and second: NO ONE says mean things about my daddy to this daddy’s girl).  I felt like the rebel crab being dragged down, my joy being sapped from me, when suddenly…

The Calvary (Marine-life activists?)  came to the rescue!  Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Non-denominationalists, back-sliders, front-pew-sitters, and even an atheist reached out their hands to pull me out of that box of snapping, fear-mongering, chaos.  I was reminded again and in many ways how ignorance and fear mostly lead to tragic consequences, but kindness and love can help in every situation.  I was also reminded that stooping to meanness only sucks you back into that damn box of crabs.

This past weekend was one of my favorite sets of Bible readings.  Each reading really spoke to me and entered the very cockels of my heart, which was still bruised and as yet a little resentful still of the attack.

Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19  The word Yahweh came to me, saying:

5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I appointed you as prophet to the nations.’

17 ‘As for you, prepare yourself for action. Stand up and tell them all I command you. Have no fear of them and in their presence I will make you fearless.

18 For look, today I have made you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze to stand against the whole country: the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the people of the country.

19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you, Yahweh declares, to rescue you.’

As the priest said during his homily, God made me a prophet. He made us all prophets, to proclaim His word and truth.  He made me strong, and with faith in His grace, no one can tear me down because He is with me.  I need constant reminding of this because I am wont to make excuses…

First Corinthians (or One Corinthians, as Trump would say, lol) 12:31—13:13

Set your mind on the higher gifts. And now I am going to put before you the best way of all.

1 Though I command languages both human and angelic — if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.

2 And though I have the power of prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, and though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains — if I am without love, I am nothing.

3 Though I should give away to the poor all that I possess, and even give up my body to be burned — if I am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

4 Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited,

5 it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances.

6 Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.

7 It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.

8 Love never comes to an end. But if there are prophecies, they will be done away with; if tongues, they will fall silent; and if knowledge, it will be done away with.

9 For we know only imperfectly, and we prophesy imperfectly;

10 but once perfection comes, all imperfect things will be done away with.

11 When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child; but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways.

12 Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face. Now I can know only imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known.

13 As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.

Isn’t this just one of the greatest passages in the Bible????? It just sums pretty much everything up, to me.  As Jeff Cavins pointed out in the fantastic Bible study I have been doing at my parish, I cannot have one hand raised for Jesus and praising God and the other around the throat of someone that hurt me, because forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a will…Jesus didn’t “feel” like dying for us, he chose to because he loves us. God forgives me over and over again, and I owe my fellow humans this same forgiveness if I expect God to forgive me.  Tearing someone else down for any reason does not build you up and it certainly does not make you holy.  I am called—no, COMMANDED—to love…holding on to resentments, thinking ill thoughts, and spreading meanness is certainly not loving.

The funny thing is, the more you love, the easier it is. That channel of grace gets wider and stronger.  I used to hold grudges ’til kingdom come, but lately my flashes of anger tend to cool quite quickly.  I still have an Irish temper and a smart mouth that gets me into plenty of trouble, but I am becoming more understanding, apologetic, and forgiving than I was before.  Though I have so much more room for improvement, I sure hope it counts for something, anyway, and I know I didn’t come that way, so it MUST be grace…

Finally, the Gospel: Luke 4: 21-30

21 Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.’

22 And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

23 But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself,” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own country.” ‘

24 And he went on, ‘In truth I tell you, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

25 ‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land,

26 but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a town in Sidonia.

27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many suffering from virulent skin-diseases in Israel, but none of these was cured — only Naaman the Syrian.’

28 When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged.

29 They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him off the cliff,

30 but he passed straight through the crowd and walked away.

So, God made me (and all of us Christians) to be a prophet and promises He will be with me; He commands me to love, which is the greatest of all things; and He reminds me that a prophet is rarely accepted in his own country (though His reward for us is greater than the suffering).  I am not going to convince everyone I meet, especially in my former church, of the truth I have found, but I can live it…and I can show and tell others of the love and truth…especially those others who have felt the “bad side” of so-called Christians and have the scars to show for it.  Refusing to give in and spread negativity is the only way to fight your way out of a box of crabs.  More than that, by building each other up and loving each other past our faults, showing mercy, and rejoicing in our faith, we can all get out of the box.

Marmee Dearest

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I realize I am a week late for Mother’s Day, but this has been a very, very, very hard week. My grandmother is under 24 hour Hospice care and I have been by my mother’s side with her as much as possible. It has been the longest week in the history of eternity, I do believe. I have cried myself sick, mended fences, and run the gamut of emotions. I have also learned that my mother is a pearl of very precious price.

I am an oldest daughter, and say what you will, I get the toughest of mama’s love because of it. I know my mama loves me just as much as she loves my sisters, but I guarantee you, swearing an oath on a stack of Bibles, that she is harder on me. I don’t know why this is, exactly, and I have no daughters of my own to prove I will be the same, (except in my imagination and imaginary Paloma already has high standards to live up to) but it is absolutely so. Ask any oldest daughter and she will give you the same story–including my mother, an oldest daughter herself.

My mama, or Marmee, as I affectionately call her after Marmee March, is a wonderful woman with a very kind heart. Her big blue eyes brim over with tears very readily in good times and in bad as she is very hyper-sensitive–a trait I inherited (the sensitivity, not the eyes–mine are little and green). She has the biggest smile this side of the Mississippi and I have always thought her a very beautiful woman. Until lately, however, I have never thought of her as terribly strong. Physically strong, yes. I have seen her run for miles and miles, dig a backyard swimming pool seven feet deep, build a 20 x20 foot wooden deck, and push and pull heavy furniture across the house singlehandedly. To be honest, though, I always thought was a bit of a pushover. She is not, entirely; she is just a nice person that chooses to believe the best out of others, which takes a different kind of strength. Perhaps her hyper-sensitive nature swayed my thinking previously, I am not sure, but it feels like I have only just noticed her strength in recent years. It seemed to me, when I was a kid, that she reserved her strength to “get my goat” all the time, but that isn’t true or fair.

My parents married very young–my mother was just a month over seventeen–and were desperately poor for a long time. Baby after baby came in rapid succession. Although I love my parents deeply, I always thought growing up that they should have waited. I thought it silly of my mother to obey her mother’s request to get married and drop out of high school and get her GED when she was at the top of her class. Maybe if she went to college, we might not be so poor, I thought. Maybe she would be happier. Looking back, I am ashamed at how hard I was on her, as it isn’t necessarily weakness to bend to the will of another. It can take immense strength to obey, and certainly it takes lots of strength learn to live on love and take on an adult role before you are perhaps ready to do so.

My daddy was under immense pressure to care for his wife and expanding family as the sole breadwinner with an electrician’s salary. This, coupled with him being quite young himself, led to a drinking problem. I am a daddy’s girl through and through, but I have a healthy fear and distaste of a drunken man, and wondered why my mother put up with such shenanigans. He never struck any of us, but we had some strategically placed pictures in the house covering up holes in the walls. I thought her weak for staying with a man that had so little self-control, when he came home drunk again on what would have been the last straw for me. Marmee took her vows seriously though, aside from loving him to distraction, and her years of prayer and faith in the marriage brought around a miraculous change in Daddy’s behavior and he quit drinking. I realize that not every marriage is salvageable, particularly if there is addiction and especially if there is abuse involved, and it takes strength to realize that and leave if necessary, but it also takes strength in situations like ours (which didn’t involve either, but was generally stressful and unpleasant) to know when to stick it out and pray for change rather than throw in the towel. I am proud of my mom for her faith, and my parents’ happy marriage is a witness and a model for my own.

Perhaps because she did marry young and had to leave school early, my mother made damn sure her girls went to school and excelled. Nothing less than our absolute best would be tolerated or acceptable. College was expected and obligatory. When I got pregnant as a teenager, I thought my mother would kill me like she always promised she would if I did such a thing, but she practiced the right balance of tough love and nurturing to put me on the right track so that I could become self-sufficient and care for my baby. My mother taught me how to be a mother, and thank heaven I had her give me some hands-on training because I might have been a miserable failure without her.

It is somewhat expected, I guess, that a mother should be an example to her daughter on how to be a wife and a mother, but it is my mother that is teaching me how to be a better daughter that has been her surprising lesson for me. My Mamaw–my mama’s mama–is slowly wasting away with Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, the Hospice nurse doesn’t expect her to make it through the night. It is not as physically painful as cancer, perhaps, but it is just as heart-wrenching and horrible. Marmee  has faithfully visited her mother every single day, rain or shine, for the past year or so, feeding her lunch (when she used to eat), changing her, bathing her, and generally soothing her. Mamaw has been quite cranky and sometimes downright mean with my mother in a way that she never was when she was in her right mind (can’t say I blame her, either–for being cranky, not for being mean to my mama).  My sweet, sensitive mama tries not to take it personally and just lavishes love and care on Mamaw even when she is at her worst. She has a strength I never hope to HAVE to possess in her care of her mother.

This past week has been a real turning point in the way I view my mother’s love. I have seen her at her most vulnerable and at her strongest. As my grandmother lays in bed practically comatose, my mother has not left her side–for a week. She has been living in a nursing home for a WEEK with her mother, relentlessly praying for a peaceful passing and making sure she is comfortable, with all the general unpleasantness that comes with caring for a person that is on their deathbed. I have had to take turns with my sisters to beg her to eat and practically pry her away to get a shower. She has had perhaps two hours of sleep a night since Mother’s Day, curling up next to her sister on a twin hospital bed in the back corner of the nursing home. It is heartbreaking to see the exhaustion and pain in her eyes, but so inspiring at the same time. She has never looked more beautiful to me.

So, a week late and with nothing to give but my undying love and wholehearted awe, I want to tell my mother how much I love her and admire her strength. She may have been hard on me at times, but she is whipping me into shape because someday I may have to face something as scary and devastating as she has. I pray not, and I certainly hope that nothing ever happens to my mother to make her suffer so horribly as my Mamaw has, but I will always remember to draw from her strength, whatever my lot. Thank you, Marmee for being a shining example of how I should be as a wife, mother, and a daughter. I love YOU a bushel and a peck.

Takin’ What They Givin’, ‘Cause I’m Workin’ For A Livin’–A Working Mom Duly Chastised By Mary

Huey Lewis, Dolly Parton, Johnny Paycheck, BTO….all have songs that speak to the soul of working people. They sho’ do mine. How many times have I felt like saying “Take this job and shove it!” More times than I can count.

First world problems. I hear ya. I am super-grateful that I have a job, especially one that pays decently well. God has given me not only the ability and the capacity to work, but a job that pays the bills. I am not ungrateful for this. I need a job because those horrible student loans will never pay themselves and I need food for ma belly and a roof over my head.

I even have a job that is not exactly awful. Certainly, I didn’t say “I want to be a claims adjuster when I grow up”, but it isn’t SO bad. Yes, I get yelled at on most days. I get talked down to, lied to, pleaded with when my hands are tied (it is a contract, people, ain’t nuthin’ I can do about that). I talk to so many people in a day that I don’t feel like talking at all when I get out of work. I answer a phone so much at work, you better not EVER call my cell phone unless it is a dire emergency, cuz I ain’t answering. I drive an hour in the mornings, leaving before sun-up, because I gotta get the kid to school and traffic is stupid and there is no straight way to get from point A to point B when you live in a land of a 100,000 lakes. I drive another hour home, to a house with dishes in the sink and dinner needing to be cooked. In the winter, I literally never see daylight during the week. So, ok, it sucks, but it is not THAT bad. I get to help people. I get paid decently well for the area I live in, and I have benefits (though don’t get me started on how much I hate health insurance). I have cool work friends and a great boss. I learn new things all the time, every day. Best of all, hubby and I are busting our butts to pay down the mortgage early and eliminate all debt so we can retire in Mexico. It may never happen, but having a dream gets me out of bed.

So why am I “bitchin’” about it, as my dad says? Because, dammit. I don’t wanna HAVE to work outside the home. I am all for women having equal rights and the ABILITY to work if they want to. I absolutely admire the strides women have made to come this far and fight for these rights. I adamantly agree that there should be more women with powerful jobs. Women are, by and large in my opinion, pound for pound smarter than the average man…at least a lot of the women I know. They are resourceful and gritty and strong. As my Mamaw always told me, the man may be the head of the household, but the woman is the neck that turns the head. Women put up with a LOT, are capable of so much, do the lion’s share of housework and child-rearing most of the time, AND lots of them work outside the home. And if we get sick, the world doesn’t stop turning for us…we gotta just suck it up and keep on truckin’… My point is, women already have loads to do without HAVING to be a bread-winner too.

What do I mean by have to? Well, I don’t need charts and graphs and a power point to prove to you that the dollar doesn’t buy what it used to, even for people that live simply..and trust me, we live pretty simply. You can look up cost of living difference from 1950 vs 2014 and see thousands of articles about how the middle class is being systematically destroyed by inflation.

Just because I work outside the home, does not mean that I can stop cleaning my home, providing dinner for my family, stop taking care of myself, stop creating a “home” environment, stop creating a domestic church…all of this and still try to find time to relax. Even the word relax sends me into spazzed-out panic…I cannot relax, there is too much to do! “Why are you spending hours writing this blog, Janie?” Because that IS me trying to relax…to find some outlet for myself.

It feels so selfish to say so, when there are many that desperately need work, but I think my quality of life has suffered. The truth is, I see all these other awesome mom bloggers with their close-knit families, their brilliant home-schooled kids, and I inwardly seethe a little. I actively engage with my child a grand total of perhaps 60 minutes a day and most of that is cozied up next to him while he watches Dragonball Z because I am just too tired to do anything else. The rest is “Jack, get dressed. Jack, take out the trash. Jack, pick up your things”.   I have epic meltdowns if someone tells me they have no clean socks. I get angry when I have to go visit family sometimes because it takes away from our precious home time, which is dumb. I know without a doubt that the SAHMs work their butts off, but for me, as a girl that really had no great desire to do anything else other than be a mom, the grass sure looks greener and life more fulfilling. I dunno if these ladies somehow married well or they somehow escaped the horrible vortex of student loans, but even scratching a living off of a rock, I couldn’t quit my job right now.

Women fought for the CHOICE to be able to work in any job they were qualified for, but they didn’t fight for the OBLIGATION. I am all about women being educated regardless of whether they choose to work outside the home or not, because education is vital to keep from regression and suppression and also because learning is fun.

I am not about pushing off working a traditional job all on the men, either. It is totally cool if a dad and mom agree that the dad will be a stay at home dad. It is totally awesome if someone has figured it all out and can somehow juggle both parents working, have a great home life and well-raised kids—PLEASE share your secrets.

What I am sad about is that somehow, in our quest for having everything, we have lost really vital things, or have half-assed everything…we live to work.  I am sad that we continue to entrench ourselves deeper into a society that must work longer, harder hours just to NOT make ends meet in some cases. I am sad that college has become a requirement to get the middle-class jobs (or in my case, just a regular ol’ desk job for which a degree is required but never ONCE used) that you must slave away in just to pay for the piece of paper that got you the job! I am sad that the United States, one of the strongest, richest countries in the world, is so uneven and has allowed poverty to run rampant and has crushed its life-blood middle class. I mean, we don’t even require paid maternity leave in this country—we are one of four countries that do not have this, and the only industrialized nation. Even if if I take my paid vacation leave—which is still far less than other European countries receive—more often than not, the work mounds up while I am gone and I am working some serious OT just to manage the beast when I get back. Despite having a household with two college educated workers with jobs, it is paycheck to paycheck.  What was all that college for, again?

It occurs to me, however, that despite my inward rebellion, I need to align my free will with God’s intention for me. Yesterday was a particularly bad day at work and I came home and ate coconut gelato instead of cooking. I had my little cry and then I surfed the internet reading other Catholic mom blogs and was suddenly reminded that today is the Feast of the Annunciation to Mary. Being a fairly newish Catholic and a very busy person, sometimes it is hard for me to remember all of the holidays at all, let alone prepare for them, but today is something quite touching. Today celebrates the consent of a mere woman to do God’s will, when His plan probably looked nothing like hers. Today celebrates that woman’s overturning of thousands of years of separation from God and His intention for His people caused by another mere woman. So yeah, she was immaculately conceived and sinless, and yeah, all of eternity hinged on her consent, but that pretty much makes my whining seem even more silly. I am not, in any likelihood, changing the entire course of humanity, but you never know what great things could be accomplished through you if you do not seek to do God’s will.

This morning I prayed to God, then I talked a little with Mother Mary and Saint Jane Frances. My role at work was pretty much the same as yesterday…worse even, because I had more to do and many people were out, but it went much smoother and I maintained my poise. When I felt like I wasn’t making a dent in anything, I prayed another Hail Mary and asked for just a little smidgeon of her virtues to align myself with God’s plan for me.

Things will not always go my way and they may never go “my” way, but I am okay with that if they go God’s way. Right now, God’s will is for me to contribute my knowledge and talent to help others navigate loss and turmoil in their lives. My hectic life makes me sympathetic to their plight. Right now, God’s will for me is to keep working hard to pay things off so that I am either in a position to have that traditional family later or to have much to give others (or both). His long-term intention for me may be very different than His current in-the-moment plan. Mary probably wasn’t too keen on becoming an unwed teenage mom facing the threat of her fiancé leaving her to the masses, who would undoubtedly throw rocks at her. She probably wasn’t understanding at all what an impact she was to have, but any inward reluctance at her lot in life was squelched by her trust in God and desire to do His will.  And although I am certain my work days will be smoother and my home life more rewarding if I emulate her virtues, I can tell you it will take a whole lotta Hail Marys to shine this tarnished girl up. Thank goodness eternity doesn’t hinge on me.