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.

Our Love Story: Or, The Only Piece of Advice We Are Entitled to Give

Whew! Sorry ya’ll! I have been on an unexpected hiatus because my busy-ness went up from about a level 8 to a level 18 on a scale of one to ten. I have plenty of things to catch up on with you guys, but today is a special day: my third anniversary with my sweetie! As it is a Tuesday and raining cats and dogs outside with terrifying lightening strikes seemingly in our yard, we are waiting until the weekend to do anything special, so I will take a little sec to tell you our little story.

My husband is always telling me “It is us against the world, baby!”

And, I tell ya, that isn’t far from the truth. We have dealt with family feuds on both sides, tackling and nearly eliminating a mountain of debt, the continuing pain of infertility, and major remodeling projects with a house that fights back.  But our marriage has a not-so-secret weapon: a Christ-centered relationship.

I met my husband in November 2010.  I met him online and I am not ashamed of that.  For some reason,  people think that is weird sometimes.  It’s not.  You and I are meeting online right now.

I had to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.  A lot. I AM ashamed of that.

I had a high-school relationship that spilled over into college and beyond.  This man is the father of my son and is a very good man and a wonderful father. He will even be a very good husband…for someone else.  We were too young and dumb and immature, with problems and obstacles way too big for us to overcome.  We did not have a God-centered relationship, though we both came from good, God-fearing stock.  Anyway, about three weeks before our wedding, this relationship imploded. Badly. I am talking we had third degree burns.  And I was MAD.  I went on some stupid rampage trying to prove a point—that I was desirable and I could have any man I wanted.  Of course,  he didn’t care what I did or didn’t do, so I hurt no one but myself and worse, I hurt my son. My son never really saw the men in and out of my life, but he felt the repercussions from them because I was sad, mad, or just honestly not as good as I could have been as a mom.  I never neglected him and I took very good care of him, but instead of trusting in God to find us someone, if we were indeed to have someone, I went hunting.  And continually got my heart broken, or broke someone else’s heart, and in either case, lost a little more of the person God intended me to be for the person that was out there waiting for me.

After about 5 years of my nonsense, God brought me to my knees.  My heart needed HIM, not a mortal man.  I joined the Catholic Church and fell in love with Him all over again and my heart healed up slowly.  I then prayed for a husband if that was God’s will for me…a real man that would love Him, me and my child. A man that would challenge me and guide me and nurture me, although I had my Savior, and I didn’t need another.

I made a list of criteria…of course the above mentioned was numero uno.  Because my faith was new and so important to me, Mr. Right had to be Catholic. I am not against people marrying outside their faith—that is up to them.  For me to be “equally yoked”, I needed a man that was of the same faith.  Besides, there are plenty of other things to debate about in marriage, and that was one thing I didn’t want to debate about.  Other than that, I had no real specifics other than there be no weird criminal history and preferably he be educated or talented in something.  I liked short, tall, fat, thin, quiet, loud. I trusted that if God wanted to call me to married life, he would work out the specifics that were best suited for me.  In the meantime, I just kept my prayer request in my heart and worked on being the best mom I could be and providing for my son.  I had a good career, bought a house with a big back yard and started my own little home improvements.

Eventually, I went on a free dating website because I was house poor.  It was the best mistake I ever made.  I was on the website a grand total of 48 hours.  I am not bragging, but seriously, after 24 hours, I had 57 emails from men—most of them disgusting creatures.  Rather than weeding through the slough of perverts and douche-bags in my in-box,  I did a quick scan of guys in my area and saw a photo of a tall, thin Latino leaning against a rail with a big boat in the background.  I thought to myself: he has traveled somewhere, so that is cool; he appears pretty handsome; and I sure do like Spanish accents. His religious views said he was Catholic and better and better, he lived within about 30 minutes of me.  So I emailed him a monologue and said I was shutting down my account and he would need to contact me ASAP if he was interested.  He will tell you that the email he received sounded like it was from a neurotic, demanding person…and if that is so, why on earth he responded to it is beyond me. My version is, I knew what I wanted and what I did not, and all others need not apply, and this was a limited-time offer, baby.

He emailed me back the next day and then we exchanged numbers.  He called and to my dismay he did NOT have a Spanish accent…but a perfectly normal American one.  But he was ever so nice…we chatted a while and a few days later agreed to meet up at a Chinese restaurant.  He actually was on his way home from visiting his parents’ farm and smelled…so he stopped at Wal-Mart to freshen up and buy a new shirt. I was in Target in my holey jeans and Chuck Taylors and not at all my normal dressed-to-the-nines first date self.  I quickly bought cheap make-up and fixed my face in the car. He showed up just as I finished applying my lipstick.  I took one look at him and knew…I was going to break his heart and ruin his life.  I was sure of it. I could see that he was a genuine person, an honest person, a simple person….and I was a hot mess, practiced in the conniving and deceitful ways of women.  I prayed a quick prayer that either God would give me the grace to a woman worthy of such a man or make him turn tail and run without me having to chase him off.

So, we had our first date and talked and talked.  I learned he was born in Mexico and immigrated at the age of 3 so that his older brother could attend a school for the blind here.  He had such a fascinating story and spoke so humbly and he was just so damn sweet that I just had to see him again, but I let him take the reins.  For once, I really tried to behave like a lady; and he was always a true gentleman.  He actually courted me, and interestingly, refused to kiss me until our third date. I lingered while he helped me with my coat and made my lips available like Scarlett O’Hara throwing herself at Rhett, but he didn’t take the bait.

He is so sweet and shy!

By and by, after we had been dating about a year, he decided he would move closer and he got a job at the same company I worked for.  It had been pretty much never since I had someone around so often and someone that I actually had to answer to, so I, of course, freaked out and had to break the whole thing off…on his first day at his new job…which was at MY job.  I was at first relieved, for about 3 hours, but I just knew in my heart it wasn’t right. God had given me exactly what I asked for…which doesn’t always happen. God answers all prayers, but they don’t always happen to be exactly what you ask for because what you ask for isn’t always the right thing.  Hubby was devastated because this really was an out of the blue thing.

I don’t remember who called who at this point, but it righted itself in the span of about 3 days and we were suddenly on fast-track because we both knew that we wanted to be with only each other forever.  He proposed on Valentine’s day 2012 and we were married just 4 months later in June.  We had a giant Mexican wedding and were married through the Church.

The night before our wedding, we thought we had a bad omen: we LOST our marriage license. After my Narc Cop BFF tore apart my husband’s car and took out his dash looking for it, my sister in law sent up feverish prayers to Saint Anthony. Our priest solemnly told us there would be no wedding without that paper and my heart nearly exploded. I went home in tears to ransack the house. Since there were boxes everywhere in preparation for his move in, I felt so dismal and overwhelmed. My husband stayed with me to tear apart the house and eventually we found the fated piece of paper in one of his boxes of junk to THROW AWAY in the wee sma’s if the morn. Exhausted, we sheepishly we curled up and slept on the couch, waking up to each other on our wedding morning to a knock on the door from Father Charles. His eyebrows raised, he flicked his cigarette and inquired if he should perform a wedding that afternoon. Still in my pajamas with my husband cowering in the shadows, I told him all was well and we would be there at five-thirty.

Father Charles actually said something on our wedding day that I will never forget.  He looked each of us in the eyes and told us it was our job to make sure the other got to Heaven, and that did not mean for us to kill each other to meet that goal. I cannot say I am an expert on marriage, by any stretch of the imagination, but I can tell you that we both take that statement to heart, though we do our lapses in judgment and downfalls and have come close to trying to kill the other to send them to Heaven prematurely.  Despite the double-whammy of nearly throwing our marriage away, quite literally, and seeing each other prior to the wedding, we have been doing just fine.

I can tell you that the first year was SO hard…learning to live with another person when you are both independent people is very tough.  When you come from very different cultures, it is even tougher.  We both had to learn that you are still YOU, when you become one as man and wife. We finally hit a stride and we have learned how to communicate much better and we have really become one. There is no one I would rather be with and I cannot even picture my life without him.  I have no advice at all to give because we are still “newlyweds” in a sense, except that if you ever hope to make it to a place and a time where you are entitled to give advice to others, you have to have God in the marriage. Bottom line is, I have never been happier, more at peace, and more content, and while we know that the future is scary with unknowns and obstacles are in our path now, if we keep Christ in our relationship and continue to use the example of His love for us and the Church as the center of our marriage, we can at least be assured that at the end of this journey, we will have got each other to Heaven.

Te amo mucho mucho, mi amor. Para siempre!

Trying to be a Good Samaritan in a Scary World

I shamefully admit that I do not keep up with the news. Honestly, a hurricane could totally catch me unprepared and I would just be chillin’ in my house without power for two weeks, like circa 2004 (the year of 4 hurricanes in Florida). The news depresses the heck out of me and makes me worry why God doesn’t rain fire and brimstone on us. I have a very stressful job (which I do actually love–the job, not the stress) that includes me talking to the families of people who just lost a loved one, or to someone who just caused someone else’s death by accident.  Sometimes, I talk to some really mean people who just have no empathy for anyone and just make demands on me. Often that is all the bad stuff I can handle, so I pet my dog instead of flipping on channel 9 when I get home.

When I have watched the news the past few weeks, or went on MSN, I have been more than sad. My old preacher used to predict the end of the world was coming because things were getting worse and worse, and would preach the Book of Revelation at us so that I had nightmares about winged-horned creatures devouring us all and would wake up in a cold sweat. When I watch the news I get that feeling all over again. The little things up to the horrendously awful just add up and weigh on my soul. Everything just gets overwhelming and I think there is nothing I can do outside my own little bubble.

I was thinking just that yesterday when I got brave enough to read about the poor Coptic Christian martyrs. How can I make anything better? The evil just keeps coming and coming and it gets so overwhelming. Men are born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward.

But God always has an answer, my friend. He does not always answer us WHY particular things happen, but He always gives us an answer on HOW to make things better. Actually, it is the same answer He has repeated to us for thousands of years and then demonstrated with His own incarnate flesh and blood 2,000 years ago: love.

I realize I sound like a hippie and I realize this is a tired old mantra for some, covered very well by J.K. Rowling and better by St. Paul, but hear me out. It is very easy to get angry or feel hatred and want vengeance; but it doesn’t bring the person, thing or idea lost back to life and it does not make anyone safer or happier to further exacerbate and perpetuate an already horrendous situation.  It is very easy to build higher walls and taller towers around our hearts (or countries), but this does not make anyone really feel better, either. Who wants to live life looking over their shoulder or through a peephole in a door? An armed truce is not peace, either. The only way to make things better–the ONLY end-all, be-all cure is the love of Christ.

That is not to say that we should not protect ourselves or that we should not stand up for ourselves. Absolutely, we must show the world what is right and protect ourselves by truly trusting in God and using Him as our armor. We go into the trenches as Mother Theresa did, as Christ Himself did, by bringing love to everyone instead of waiting for them to come to us.  They may never know love until we first show it. Christ did not bid us to forgive literally seventy times seven times, but as many times as it takes until the person is repentant, be it more or less. Time and time again Jesus told parables about searching for lost items or people (sheep, coins, prodigal sons) to express the joy it brings God to recover a lost soul, and admonished people that he came for the sinners, not the righteous. He commands us to love our neighbor, and in so doing, our love for God becomes manifest.

It is very hard to love mean neighbors, let alone evil ones. And the world seems over-populated with them sometimes. I cannot even imagine the trust it must take to live in a country where your very life is in danger. I hope and pray I am never in a position where I have to forgive someone who has taken a loved one from me.

The thing is, though, people who trust in God and His promises have a way of overcoming overwhelming odds. Sometimes overcoming those odds happens on this side of Heaven, sometimes not. In the Bible, there are epic stories of people facing seemingly insurmountable situations and great evil and harm, but God sees them through when they place unfaltering trust in Him: Noah, Moses, Joshua at Jericho, Gideon, Job, Johnathan fighting the Philistines, David versus Goliath, Shammah defending his hill of beans, Daniel in the lion’s den…the list really does go on. There are other Bible stories of those that put all their faith and trust in God to overcome the odds on the other side: Lazarus (the poor man with the dogs), or my favorite, the mother and her seven sons of 2 Maccabees 7. Some may think they are fables, and maybe some of them are, who knows…but even if you don’t believe the old tales, the spirit of them lives on in real life people, every day.  People fighting disease, poverty, oppression. It resided in the abolitionists, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Nelson Mandela, Joan of Arc, Malala Yousafzai, and countless others that are not famous.

A young Rosa Parks

I feel certain that the souls of the martyred Coptic Christians have the reward of Heaven, overcoming the evilness of this world that would seek to destroy their bodies. I feel sorrow for their families and loved ones, I feel pain that we live in a world where barbaric acts like this happen the same as they have in millennium past (will we NEVER learn?), but I rejoice in the fact that they were so brave and so faithful. My wrath is rebuked by the words of Bishop Angaelos and my heart clings to the unity described by Pope Francis just days before this heinous act.

If we, as Christians, put our faith and trust in God’s message and show the love of Christ in our every action, as intended, we can overcome the overwhelming odds and defeat evil. Nothing will ever be perfect until the return of Christ or until we are called home, but we can turn the tide.

This is where I (and you) come in: not with a Care Bear stare, but with our individual and collective prayers, our individual and collective acts of kindness…not only to those that deserve it, but to those that need it. Paying it forward and loving past the pain. Choosing to live the life God intended for us by using our talents and gifts to their full potential. Being about His business until His return (Luke 19:11-27). Being the Good Samaritans by going out of our way to help the people we are not inclined to. It is something I struggle with, but the biggest thing I pray to change for myself.  It is a much greater and better lesson that God is teaching me daily during this Lenten season (and beyond) than the sacrifice I chose for myself.

I thank God Almighty that I AM in a nicer part of the world and that my troubles are few and paltry. I hope and pray it is always so, even as I also pray to be closer to Him, which I know involves suffering. I pray that God gives me the strength and courage to use my good position to help those in need and to show love in spite of my human sense for vengeance, scorn or derision. I pray that price paid in blood by the martyrs of this incessant war of evil against humanity is not in vain and that I do not help perpetuate wickedness with indifference.

reddresstheology.com

Pray for our brethren taken horrifically from this world and their grieving families. Pray also, and probably more so, that God turns the heart of wicked into good so that they may repent of their acts and stop this heinous violence. Pray most of all that we live our faith through our works, in ways big and small, so we can turn the tide against evil.