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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Recovering from Codependency

Over the past year, I have focused on self-improvement.  The way this has manifested itself is through spiritual direction as well as counseling.  I remember sitting in the Confessional about this time last year, hearing myself say to the priest that I'm not sure my recurring issues need a spiritual director or a counselor.  The Lord heard me and gave me the answer: I need both!

Through my spiritual direction, I have slowly begun to turn over more and more of my life to the Lord.  I am learning to trust Him and to include Him in all aspects of my life.  I remember when I first started meeting with my spiritual director, Jennifer, how I argued with every suggestion she made as far as making a dedicated daily time for prayer.  I was full of excuses.  I had a new baby and a preschooler at home.  I couldn't be expected to find any time to myself.  And what little time I did have, I wanted to use it to relax.  "Couldn't you look at prayer as this unwinding time for yourself?"  Jennifer asked.  Nope, my go-to response.  When I thought of alone time, I literally meant alone, not even with God.  I wanted to pursue my hobbies, which were reading, watching YouTube videos, or otherwise researching homeschooling, sometimes among other things. I couldn't share this precious time with my Maker.  But I dutifully went through the prepared questions Jennifer would give me at each of our meetings, trying to spend about an hour on them once or twice a week.  I still don't spend daily time in this sort of long, dedicated prayer.  But I have since reframed how I view prayer.  Turns out I can and I do pray throughout the day in a variety of ways, and being conscious of this slowly opened up a bit more time here and there.  My baby growing into a toddler also has helped, and I expect it to only get better!

Through my counseling sessions, I've discovered that my issues have a name: codependency.  Even though I am not an addict in the typical fashion, nor am I married to one, nor were my parents, I nonetheless exhibit classical codependency thought processes and behaviors.  My "drug" of choice?  As it turns out - my mother's approval.  Both she and my dad are adult children of alcoholics, which apparently means that they grew up with a dysfunctional view of the world and then passed it on to me.  They tried so hard to make up for the issues in their families of origin, yet they were unable to realize how overcompensating for one problem led to another.  I'm sure my personality has a lot to do with how I internalized my upbringing.  After all, my siblings have very different attitudes towards life than I do.  My counselor, Dr. Brian, noted right off the bat that since I mentioned my faith, we could incorporate my Christianity into our discussions, which has been a great blessing.  In the last month or so, I finally realized how being able to include God in my counseling has led me to see His hand in my life, all of it, not just the compartment I labeled as "spirituality". 

I have been able to shed some of the guilt I carried for wanting that alone time.  I no longer think of it as either-or between my "research for fun" and my "prayer time".  I have different types of prayer that I engage in throughout the day, and only one of them requires an extended period of silence and light.  I say light, because over the summer I started praying the Rosary every night right before bed.  It is quiet, but I can pray in the dark.  I don't need to reference anything anymore, since all I need to pray the Rosary I've committed to memory now.  Praying consistently every day for five months will do that.  I try at least once a week to spend time with my Ignatian Daily Retreat book and prayer journal, reading Scripture, pondering the questions and comments, and praying from the heart without the constraints of the clock ticking.  I wish I could do this more frequently, but I don't worry about it right now.  As my youngest gets older, I will have more time.  For now, I give the Lord what I have.

And what I have is a new understanding of what my issues are, where they originated, and how to proceed.  I have started attending Celebrate Recovery meetings that just so happened to have started at my church about a month before I joined.  I am bringing to the altar my history, my confusion, my pain, my trials and errors, my hopes and disappointments, my guilt, my efforts gone awry, and I'm turning them over the Lord.  I am looking to the future.  I am trying to reinvent myself for the first time.  Apparently, growing up with codependency has robbed me of the ability to be authentic with myself.  I assumed I knew who I was based on what I was told I was.  No one ever asked me who I was or who I wanted to be.  Now I am making these decisions and it is freeing.  Scary, but freeing.

One of my hangups is that I have an internal voice that is constantly asking me what my mom would think about any given decision I'm making.  It's like it's playing on auto-replay, whether I want it there or not.  I assume that a decision not in perfect agreement with my mother is automatically the wrong decision.  I have allowed myself to be handicapped in my decision-making abilities.  I freeze when pressed for time and having to make a decision, especially a big one, but even small ones like where we should go to eat give me trouble at times. 

Another hangup of mine is that I engage in wishful thinking.  If only my mom could see things from my point of view, then she'd be able to relate better to me and we'd have a better relationship.  If only she would love me unconditionally rather than imply that I am only worthy to be her daughter if I do as she would do.  If only my mom didn't get offended at my attempts to assert myself, then I could assert myself more and live a life of freedom.  Bullocks.  Dr. Brian has helped me to understand that my mother's happiness is not my responsibility.  I actually still get an uneasy feeling typing this.  It feels as though I'm saying that I don't care if she's happy or not.  But that isn't the point at all.  The point is that every one of us chooses to be happy or not, regardless of the circumstances.  Codependents like me and my mom often choose to be happy only as a reaction to something in our environment.  This is not healthy.  I can be happy even if my mom doesn't approve of my choices.  I can be happy even if she gets upset that I disregarded her advice.  I am not obligated to take her advice.  I wish (there's that wishful thinking again), I wish I could ask for her advice, hear her out, and then make my own decision and have her be happy either way.  Instead, what ends up happening if I don't take her advice is that she stops giving it.  As in, she refuses to give further advice in the future because she thinks the point of giving advice is that it ought to be followed. 

Finally, a hangup of mine that was probably the crux of the situation that allowed me to seek out both spiritual direction and counseling is this: I struggle with the first commandment.  I don't make golden calves to worship, but I do worry much more about what my mom thinks than what God thinks.  In this way, I have long idolized my mother, thinking that I was honoring her per the fourth commandment.  I am currently trying to iron out the details of what it means for an adult daughter to honor her parents.  As it turns out, it does not mean obedience anymore.  It does not mean taking all of my parents' advice.  It does not mean doing whatever they want, whether I want to do it or not.  It does not mean trying to make them happy.  This last one is going to be difficult to overcome.  I can't make my mother happy, and yet I still need/want to try.  I think that's called loving her. 

It's sad that I don't really know what it means to love my parents.  Or siblings.  I don't struggle with loving my husband or children.  I don't have any anxiety in those relationships.  I am able to be authentic and vulnerable there.  But when it comes to my family of origin, I get all confused.  Dr. Brian introduced me to a fantastic phrase that pretty much sums up the story of my upbringing:  the undifferentiated family ego-mass.  He got the phrase from a wonderful book I recently read per his recommendation. Another term comes to mind that I've long known but never applied to my family before: groupthink

One of the reasons I struggled with my identity as an adult is because the identity I was spoon-fed growing up didn't match what I felt on the inside.  I was told that I was a Scorpio, Polish, "smart, pretty, and polite".  These were treated as givens.  Now that my faith tells me astrology is not where my trust must lie, I'm having to rethink "my astrological sign's characteristics" and just think about what makes me unique.  Being smart, pretty, and polite were handed to me without explaining what I did or could do to maintain or lose them.  When times and cultures shifted, the old paradigms didn't fit and I couldn't understand what happened.  How come I wasn't considered these things by everyone, if they were a given?

Being Polish gave me the most trouble because I cannot deny being born in Poland to two Polish parents.  I even speak Polish, for crying out loud, so of course I'm Polish, right?  Except that I now live in the United States.  I married a non-Pole.  And while I speak Polish, it's certainly not at an educated adult level, so I am uncomfortable in Polish settings.  I lack a lot of cultural knowledge because I wasn't exposed to Polish culture outside the home, and I didn't have Polish peers growing up.  I'm Polish mostly in name.  My experience is not the same as my mom's, who didn't migrate to the US until she was 30.  And it's certainly not the same as my relatives who still live in Poland.  I'm "Polish, but..."  In other words, I'm Polish-American.  But I grew up looking down on this phrase because my family associated it with Americans of Polish heritage, people who didn't know the language and probably never set foot on Polish soil.  They weren't "Polish enough" to be called Polish.  How could I associate myself with them?  I clung to my Polishness so hard, that I changed my last name to my mom's because it was more Polish-sounding than my dad's.  I refused to check "White" on forms and would write in "Polish".  (White, to me, meant Protestant Anglo-Saxon.) With great pride I announced that we were raising our children multilingual, fully expecting to pass on our native languages (my husband's is Spanish) to our kids without much effort.  I panicked when this last bit started to become a challenge.  At three years old, our daughter already prefers English, and after some reflection, we had to admit that it's because... so do we!  We also prefer English!  I think in English.  I do math in English.  I speak to God in English usually.  I prefer to read in English.  I prefer to watch videos in English. I only find the Bible meaningful in English.

There is a very limited segment of the world that I like in Polish.  Namely, those things that I associate with my childhood in Poland.  I love Polish Christmas carols and other religious (and patriotic) songs.  But there are also plenty of English songs that move me.  I am moved to tears by a select few Polish poems, but again, English poetry also has that affect on me.  There are a handful of Polish prayers that I learned as a child that I easily recite (I pray my Rosary bilingually), but I don't have anything against the English versions.  I clung to these few things and finally realized they weren't enough to build a life around.  I felt like I was betraying my family by admitting - even to myself - that I was actually American, not Polish.  Ok, Polish-American, but that's the best I could do.  Even though I was born in Poland and started school there and even though I speak and read Polish, I am still more appropriately grouped in the category of "Polish-American" than "Polish" (or Polonia na emigracji).  I'm not merely living abroad.  I have made my home here.  For better or for worse, this is who I am.  I felt like I couldn't be both, American and a member of my family, but with my siblings, who were born here and don't have these same qualms about who they are, I was able to realize that 1) I am still in the family, and 2) their approval is not what makes or breaks me.

So yes, I have been addicted - to approval by my mom.  It has been paralyzing at times.  And you know what?  It's not her fault!  I have blamed her in the past - in classically codependent fashion - but it is not her fault.  She raised me based on what she knew.  And she instilled a lot of good in me.  The rest is now up to me.  I can choose to keep letting her micromanage me, because it's what she knows and is comfortable with, or I can choose to set boundaries and assert myself and forge a new beginning in our relationship.  No more conditionals.  No more, if only.  No more.  I am who I am, and she is who she is, and that's all I can ask from God, who created both of us.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Why be Catholic if even atheists can go to heaven?

As eye-opening as my spiritual journey has been over the years, spending time immersed in other traditions, either merely intellectually or even religiously, one drawback has been that it's been difficult to shed some non-Catholic notions that have become ingrained in me over the years.  One of the influences that I'm having to regularly put aside is that of evangelical Protestant Christianity.

As a Catholic Christian, I do not share evangelical Christians' understanding of salvation.  I'm not just talking about the fact that Catholics often get scolded for including works along with faith as necessary for salvation.  (James 2:14-17: "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.") 

Both our current Pope Francis, and his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict, have gone on record as stating that not only do we as Catholics believe that one does not need to be a Catholic to be saved, but that even theists of other religious traditions and atheists can be saved... if they do good works.  So it seems that works even without faith can save?!  This doesn't seem to be found in the Bible, but luckily I am Catholic, so I don't need to be my own Pope and interpret Scriptures for myself.  Instead, I have the magisterium of the Church, with highly learned Scripture scholars who enlighten me. What this means that the authority for my faith comes from both the Bible and the Tradition (note the capital "t") of the Church. 

At any rate, the questions that is begging to be asked if we accept that 1) Catholic Christianity does hold the fullness of truth as much as that is possible this side of heaven, yet 2) one does not need to be Catholic or even Christian or even a theist in order to be saved and go to heaven after death, then.... what is the point of adhering to Catholicism/Christianity/faith of any kind?

This question is already found in the New Testament, where it is worded like this: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." (1 Peter 3:15).  What's different about me as a Christian than when I was not a believer? Why am I choosing to follow Jesus, if I believe that I could still get into heaven without following Him?

Well, for starters, following Jesus doesn't mean belonging to a specific organized religion.  I agree with what Mahatma Ghandi once said, "I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."  Ouch.  I had read that he considered converting to Christianity but ultimately decided against it because of what he says in the above quote.  Following Christ is about a lifestyle, virtues, morals, ethics, standards of holiness, not about a label or membership in a place of worship.  Therefore, there are lots of people who truly follow the example of Jesus - knowingly or not - and therefore fulfill the works part of salvation.  As for the faith... we believe God Almighty is beyond the limits of time and space, right?  So in the moment of death, something we think of as a split-second event, God actually has plenty of "time" to confront the dying soul and offer - for the first time or yet again - the grace of faith.  

That's another reason that the recent popes' statements resonate with me.  After my daughter was born, extended postpartum anxiety and depression lead to my loss of faith.  For over two years I actively tried to regain my faith.  I continued to attend church, read, and pray.  I finally attended a spiritual retreat as a last ditch effort to get my faith back.  This slowly started me back towards God again, but I could not yet say that I believed.  And then, one day, right before I found out I was pregnant with my son, I suddenly believed again.  I felt it.  I felt at home at church again.  I could again sense God's presence.  It was not through anything that I did.  The return of my faith was God's gift to me - grace.  So if I couldn't force myself to believe, how can God who made me, hold it against me?  Faith is a gift from God, not something you can just decide to have.  Therefore, it does not make sense to say that faith in Jesus Christ is our ticket to heaven, because this presumes that we can simply make up our minds to believe something, when in fact we cannot.

The other point is that following Jesus is not merely about "getting into heaven" but about preparing ourselves - and by extension others who may see our lives and be inspired by them - to be acceptable to stand in God's presence.  Heaven is not some exclusive country club that only the select few can "get into".  Heaven is God's abode, it's the merging of our selves with Godself, it's standing face to face with our Creator.  Indeed, none of us are holy enough to merit such an encounter, much less an eternity in the afterlife with God.  For this reason I believe that Jesus's sacrifice on the cross was "the key" to our salvation.  

Figuratively, I explain to my preschooler that Jesus came into the world to find the key to unlock heaven, so that after His resurrection, He was able to do just that, and now, precisely thanks to Him, we are eligible to even dream of going to heaven after we die.  Before Jesus, heaven was simply off-limits.

I mentioned that faith is a grace from God.  Faith is a virtue, so all of the virtues are gifts from God.  Therefore, none of our works are our own, and therefore we have no reason to boast.  Indeed, any good deed we do is made possibly by God first putting that ability, opportunity, and inspiration into us in the first place.  So we do not "earn" our way to heaven because we do nothing outside of God's grace.  This is why doing good works is not at all contrary to the fact that Jesus died for my sins.  My good works are further graces from God that help me lead a happy life and prepare me for eternity with God.

One final note on good works.  I recently read an excellent book, "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus" by Nabeel Quereshi. In it, I learned that the Muslim understanding of what leads souls to heaven is a balancing scale of sorts that compares one's good deeds with one's bad deeds, and that so long as the good deeds outweigh the bad, the person is granted access to heaven.  I disagree wholeheartedly with this, because this would mean heaven is simply a place where mediocre people mingle.  I do not see how Almighty God would allow into His holy presence people who just barely did more good than bad.  So that is not the view of good works that I am talking about here.  Again, our good works are merely us putting ourselves at the disposal of the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us.  They are not evidence of our own intrinsic goodness.

Now, to finally answer the question posed at the start of this reflection.  What is the reason for my hope?  Why am I a practicing Catholic/believing Christian?  Because I have experienced life without faith, and it was dreary.  I have lived without hope and it was literally depressing.  There was no meaning in my life when I couldn't get a firm grasp on God's love for me.  With faith - and by that I mean, with the belief that God loves me unconditionally, to the point of incarnating and dying on the cross so that my sins could be removed from my soul and my seat at the "supper of the lamb" could be secured - my life has meaning.  

So I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ because it gives my life meaning.  Furthermore, Catholic understanding and practice of Christianity gives me great joy.  It is difficult at times, to be sure.  But to know that I am living for something greater than myself is incredibly fulfilling.  There is no greater peace than to know I am working towards the best version of myself thanks to the instructions available to me through Christ's holy church.  

In other words, I am Catholic not because I believe it will guarantee me entry into heaven.  I am Catholic because it makes this life better, and because it is preparing me for that eventuality of spending eternity with my Lord.

Perhaps this is why Jesus said, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand" (Matthew 3:2).  God's kingdom isn't in some far-off land in the distant future!  God is ever-present, and I can begin to partake in it here and now!  My Catholic faith is what helps me to learn how to do that.  How to love God, how to follow Jesus, how to do God's will.  Getting into heaven is only a small fraction of what it means to be saved.  To be saved from our sins is to start living for God right away.  To die to self, to detach from superficial trappings of the material world, and to see beyond the mundane.  

Being a Catholic Christian gives me great joy and peace!  I'm thrilled that God smiled upon me and brought me back to His fold - not once but twice!  Now, what I do with this grace is indeed not to keep it bottled up for myself, but it also doesn't mean trying to make others follow the path that's been paved for me.  God is present everywhere, including in religions that don't have the gospel.  There is that of God in all of His creation - it's His world and universe, after all!  To think that a person cannot come to know and love God because she belongs to the wrong religion is small-minded and not what Jesus taught.  We read in 2 Corinthians 5:15 that Jesus "indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."  

And it is possible to live for Jesus without even realizing that's what you're doing.  If we believe Jesus is God, and God is the source of everything, then living for Jesus means dying to self and constantly seeking God's face.  That ongoing search and struggle, whether it is rewarded with the grace of Christian faith or not, is what I believe it is all about.  

But I'm no Scripture scholar ;)  That's why I'm thrilled to know that those who are, those who have been tasked by God to lead His flock here on Earth (Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict) agree.  

My hope for others, for those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, is that they also find peace and joy in this life, meaning and means of preparing for the next life, and may their good works be evidence of their desire to know and love God.  God will reward each one of us uniquely. I think if more Christians spent more time on themselves, working out their own holiness, they'd be better prepared to enter heaven than focusing on trying to get others to "catch up" with them.  There's plenty to do with my own life.  

Thank you Jesus for this peace.  Amen.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

"They will also persecute you"

Some people compare themselves to others and decide they are better than others. Since they think they're better, they assume they're good enough. They don't see a need for Jesus. But their world view is based on a lie. Everyone makes mistakes and falls short of reaching their virtue potential.

Other people who know they've made mistakes, maybe big ones or maybe not, also believe the lie of the first group. They compare themselves to them and think they might as well keep doing what they're doing, assuming they cannot be redeemed.  They don't expect forgiveness, so they don't look to Jesus either. Even if they've stopped making these mistakes, they assume the damage is done and they're a lost cause.

Then there are people who are aware of their mistakes and don't deny them, but they don't continue in their life of sin once they've been exposed to the good news of Christ. They don't compare themselves to others because they know the only measure of virtue is God himself.  "Be holy because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16, quoting Leviticus 11:44).  

Some people from the first group may look at this third group - the only group who isn't fooling themselves or believing a lie - and look down on them.  They judge the mistakes of this group as being too numerous or too grave, and dismiss their faith claims.  They hold onto the idea that they - the first group - are the ones who are "right by God".

Others from the first group may feel threatened by those from the third group.  They consider their own mistakes as bigger than those of this group, and find it troublesome to hear that they're admitting as sin even lesser mistakes.  They ridicule them as "holier than thou" because they don't want to have to admit their own wrongdoing.

And yet it's only the third group - the people who do not compare themselves to others but only to God - who have any shot at perfecting their character, reaching their potential of a virtuous life, and pleasing God.  So long as we compare ourselves to others, regardless if we conclude that our sins are bigger or lesser than those of others, we are keeping the focus on ourselves and not on God.  We are pleasing ourselves and not God.  

There is no grading curve in Heaven.  God doesn't pit His children against each other and only take the top 1% of the good.  In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus tell His disciples, "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:2).

Elsewhere Jesus says, "Those who are well do no need a physician, but the sick do.  I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Mark 2:17).  Yet those who think they're better than others fail to understand this.  They don't think they need Jesus, and they don't think others deserve Jesus.  Well, I'm sorry, but who made them God?  

Many Christian testimonies seem to address the second group; they try to appeal to a sense of sinfulness in the person, extending to them the hope that is found in Christ.  But what I think has been ignored is this first group, addressed here: "If we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8).

My confession today is this.  I have been hesitant about embracing fully the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because I have bought into the lie of the first group.  First, I thought I was one of them - "good enough".  I learned to compare myself to worse sinners than myself and figured I was doing pretty well of my own efforts.  Then, I realized I had sinned and felt doomed to remain in my sin because I hadn't yet discovered the saving grace that should've been abundantly clear to me as a regular church-goer.  Now, I'm learning to find my place in the third group, not denying my sin, but not letting it stop me from nonetheless pursuing holiness.  And yet old habits die hard.  I still know people who would see my efforts and accuse me of being prudish, "holier than thou", or "trying too hard".  

The problem isn't that some people may think this about me.  The problem is that I even give their possible opinions a second thought.  My focus needs to be directed to God alone.  I can be "good enough" and stay mediocre while on Earth.  Or, I can claim the grace that has been offered to me through Jesus's sacrifice on the cross, and say, "I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me" (Philippians 4:13).  Even holiness.  Yes, I can become a saint!  Not of my own power, not through anything I have done or can do.  But only through the power of Christ, so long as I welcome Him to live in me and through me.

Jesus said, "'No slave is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). I have to learn to expect it.  I cannot wait for people to stop judging me before I start living the life I am meant to live.  I cannot wait to build up enough courage to stand up to people who judge me, for Jesus said that His grace is sufficient for me, "for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Ah, the power of one's convictions, to one day (hopefully sooner rather than later) be able to say with Saint Paul, "I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Friday, July 28, 2017

Homeschooling Research On Hold

I have been gung-ho about researching all things homeschooling for years now.  In fact, one of the reasons I was hoping to have children was so that I could homeschool!  I've enjoyed "doing preschool" at home with my daughter, but I've been noticing that I feel stretched and unable to balance everything I want/need to do.  The hard truth is that with my daughter only three and a half, homeschooling is not a current need.  It's been a hobby really, the research and the planning and the attempts at implementation.

Instead, what I think I'm going to focus on is laying the foundation of our future success.  A smoothly running household will require me to have a firm grasp on decluttering, truly finding a place for everything so that everything could actually go in its place, and then getting into a reliable schedule of household cleaning and chores.  I am slowly warming up to cooking again, so that is where my research and planning needs to be directed right now.  Gardening is another area that requires my attention.  All of these silmultaneously present educational opportunities anyway, just not standard academics.

So what I propose for the next year or so is this.  Still attend the Catholic Homeschoolers'  planning meeting at our church in August. Still participate in the annual Not Back to School online summit in September.  Still attend the homeschooling curriculum fairs/conventions next May.  And in the meantime, I know what I'm working on with Maya is letter and numeral recognition, letter-sound correlation, counting, as well as the things I have prepared on our Morning Board that just needs a few finishing touches for us to start using it daily.  And of course we'll continue with library books, lots of reading time in all three languages, and prayer and faith talks.

I don't need to incessantly view YouTube videos on homeschool room tours or curriculum reviews or how-tos of any kind.  I know what I need to be doing over this next year of preschool, and I am deciding to be intentional about how I spend my free time.  I'm done researching homeschooling until next summer, at which point I will access where we are and determine if we'll be starting Kindergarten "level" work, or rather how we're going to be implementing what is suggested in The Well-Trained Mind (I've returned to this resource and realizing I have the freedom to tinker with what doesn't resonate with me, I think this will be our primary go-to as far as choosing subjects and resources.  Basing our educational approach on the trivuum makes the most sense.  Everything else we'll take as it comes.)

Hopefully this decision will pave the way for more intentional prayer time, as well as using my desire to research and plan for more useful endeavors (gardening, cooking, homemaking in general). Sometimes just writing it down makes it feel more official, and so here it is.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What is the Good News?

"Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence"  (1 Peter 3:15)

For years I asked the question - what is the good news?  It seems so vague, reading about it in Scripture.  I hear it weekly, proclaimed from the pulpit.  It appeared as though every other Christian knew what this was all about, except for me.  I kid you not, I truly didn't know what exactly was the good news!  

Basically, it's like this.  God loves me unconditionally, and He sacrificed even Himself on the Cross to ensure that I could spend eternity with Him in heaven.  He loves me so much that He couldn't stand the idea of being separated from me, even though I turn from Him when I sin.  He loves me like no one else loves me.  He loves me like I love no one else.  He models true love for me.  I am loved to the ends of the Earth.  What can possibly be better news than that???

Ok, so here comes the natural extension of this realization.  If I feel so utterly loved by God that I live my life in a way that is often contrary to the secular standards of the world, then shouldn't I be grateful beyond measure for this gift of unconditional love and the resulting inner peace that comes with it?  And if I am indeed grateful, then shouldn't I desire to share this gift with others? 

(Of course, if I don't live my life any differently than Secular Sam, then I have to wonder if I really believe in God's eternal love for me.)

I struggle with self-consciousness.  But in Christ (the incarnation of God's love for me!), I am learning to accept who I am, praising the Lord for my positive attributes, and humbling accepting correction surrounding my negative tendencies.  

I worry. But in Christ, I trust God and needn't worry any longer!

I judge. But in Christ, I am aware of my own smallness and feel a sense of comraderie with my fellow sisters and brothers, all children of God, all struggling to some degree in various areas of their lives.  

I have been waiting to replace these faults with virtues (mainly humility and faith) before feeling ready to be able "to give an account for the hope that is in" me (1 Peter 3:15).  But perhaps the best way to attain these virtues is through practice!  Humble in the realization that I am not where I'd like to be, where God calls me to be, as far as virtue is concerned, I have faith that He can nonetheless use even my imperfect attempts to give a testimony of His great love.

So, if right now you do not have a sense of peace about your life, if you are anxious about the future or have regrets about the past, if you struggle with tendencies that you aren't very proud of, if you feel alone and unloved.... I have great news for you!  

Your Creator loves you beyond measure!  He made you on purpose, with a plan for your life. He forgives you for whatever is nagging at your conscience, so long as you admit your wrongdoing and repent!  He wants to spend not just this earthly life with you, but all of eternity!  Whatever is holding you back from living up to your potential, He can help!  He is, after all, the mastermind behind the blueprint for your life!  He can fix it!  He can make it better!  All He wants in return is your love.  Can you believe it?  Can you accept His love? Because that is all it takes - accepting His free offer of unconditional love and eternal life.  


Sunday, June 18, 2017

What Makes You an American?

What makes someone an American?  Is it merely American citizenship?  Or is that just a technicality?  What makes anyone associate themselves with a given nation?  I think a given country's culture is what makes that country unique.  This includes history, geography, traditions, food, clothing, religion, music, values, language.

I was born in Poland to Polish citizens.  I'm ethnically Polish (albeit about 75%, per my dna test results!)  I speak Polish and I'm Catholic (which highly correlates with Polishness). On the surface, this makes me Polish.  To boost, I hold dual citizenship, so my European Union passport likewise identifies me as Polish.

But over the years, I've struggled to put my finger on why this simplistic formula just wasn't working for me anymore.  I'm an immigrant, and as such, I'm essentially a cultural transplant.  I started my life on one trajectory, but at age 8, the trajectory of my life changed drastically.  Sadly, it was a much bigger cultural shock than my parents could've prepared me for.  They assumed a Polish-born, Polish-speaking daughter of two Polish-born, Polish-speaking parents would grow up to be - what else? - a Pole (Polka).

Whenever I did anything "Polish", I would be praised for it, in particular by my maternal grandmother.  My letters to her would always be praised, albeit with a grade attached: "You only made X grammatical mistakes, your Polish is still very good!" (Gee, thanks for judging and editing my letters instead of just reading them for pleasure, and for making me feel as though every letter "home" was a test of my Polishness.)

I hate to say it, but even though my parents adopted the United States as their new countr by virtue of moving our little family here (it was just me and my parents when I immigrated here), they never embraced it to the exclusion of our country of origin.  Unbeknownst to them, their Polish daughter was quickly becoming an American teenager, something no expat parent could possibly be prapared for.  I grasped at proverbial straws wherever I could, trying to make sense of the world I was living in, the world I was coming of age in.  My parents weren't able to prepare me for American adulthood - how could they?  They weren't American adults themselves.  Even my dad, who did become a naturalized citizen when I was 14, still only knew what he learned from colleagues and television about American culture and values.

I grew up trying desperately to please my Polish parents/family while at the same time making sense of the often contradictory values I was met with in my American school and among my American peers.  I had no Polish community to fit into, as we settled in an area without a Polish presence.  Now I know that community is crucial.  Humans are social beings.  We must feel that we belong.  One way or another, we will make it so that we feel we are a part of a community, any community.  This is why kids join gangs.  This is why people join cults.  Less extreme, this is why there are cliques, and why sports fans can be each other's mortal enemies.

So where did I belong?  We attended church, but that's just what it was - attendance.  It was not participation.  There was no fellowship.  I never made any friends through our church.  It was in and out, Sunday obligation fulfilled.

My parents worked very hard, so they were very busy.  My younger siblings were born 15 months apart when I was still a "tween", my dad worked overtime or two jobs in addition to a crazy commute, and once my siblings were in school, he and my mom started an alteration business for extra income.

I get that they were concerned about providing for us kids the economic opportunities they didn't think we could've had in Poland.  I cannot know how founded this concern is, because I only know life here.  But money was a big deal.  Making it, saving it, being very selective when it came time to spending it.  The assumption was made that the ticket to a happy life is a certain socio-economic status, and the higher one's formal education, the better one's chances at said status.

I'm a pretty literal person.  I set my sights on something and I'm not easily swayed to reconsider.  And so, having heard from my family that education is crucial, and since I was a pretty good student and - as an introvert - enjoyed studying, I took it upon myself to pursue a doctoral degree as my life's mission.  All because I simply assumed that having a PhD would mean employers would seek me out and offer me work.  It took many years of higher education - five years on top of my Master's Degree - to finally come to terms with the reality.  The truth was, there was nothing magical about a doctoral degree.  There was no guarantee of employment upon defending a dissertation, and even my own college professors were making no more annually than my dad, who did not have a college degree of any kind.

I withdrew from my doctoral program after many sleepless nights, lots of tears, and facing a total loss of identity.  Up until that point, I was the good little Polish daughter who would be "Dr. Karolina".  In fact, when we visited my grandmother and godmother in Poland shortly before I made the decision to quit my PhD program, I received gifts and congratulatory cards on account of the degree I didn't even have!  It was just assumed that I would follow this trajectory.  That was a lot of pressure, because what did I have to fall back on?  Absolutely nothing.

Being done with higher education after 11 years of post-secondary schooling was the beginning of the end of my primary association with the nationality of my birth.  By then, I had changed my name to my mother's because it was typically Polish.  When we became parents several years later, there was never any question I would speak Polish to my kids, but even choosing a baby name included considering if Polish-speakers could spell and pronounce it.  I was going to raise Polish kids.

And then, I started parenting.  And while I do speak Polish to my kids, when it was time to name our second, I was already disillusioned enough with the Polish aspect of my identity to not let that determine what we would name our son.

What was holding me back before?  On some level, I was still trying to please my Polish parents and relatives.  I was still trying to prove that I was Polish enough.  I was still trying to live up to an impossible standard.  I could no more claim 100% Polish identity than I could claim any other nationality.  Except American.  At one point in recent years, I thought I had figured it out.  I wasn't 50/50, I was 100% Polish AND 100% American.  But now I see that this was merely wishful thinking.  The truth is, I AM 100% American.  By virtue of my citizenship.  By virtue of my English fluency.  By virtue of my having served in the US Army.  By virtue of my understanding and appreciation of various (though not all - still learning!) American traditions and passtimes.

But I am no longer any more Polish than other Polish-Americans.  I used to differentiate between Polish-Americans and Polish expats like myself.  I followed my relatives' cues in judging myself to be more Polish than them. I no longer deem my language ability as some sort of secret handshake that gives me the priviledge of Polish idetity.  Nationality is circumstantial.  There is no reason to boast of one's national identity.  No nationality is any better than any other one.  I thought I believed this when I would call myself a global citizen, but really, before I was more like a nomad with no home base.  NOW I can truly call myself a global citizen.  An American, first, but with international ties and interests.

  What makes YOU an American?

Monday, May 29, 2017

10 Commandments of Parenting


1. "I am the Lord, thy God.  You shall not have other gods before me."

Our children are not the center of the universe, although it may certainly feel like this sometimes, especially in the beginning, especially with your first or only child.  You are not only not honoring God if you allow your relationship with your kids to take precedence, but you are also not doing your kids any favors.  How can we teach our children to live a Christ-centered life if we place them at the center of our own lives?

2. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain."

When speaking about God, show the proper respect.  In our family, this meant making a conscious effort to quit talking about Jesus as if He were our buddy.  We fell into the trap of "Jesus is my homey" and would refer to him as "J.C." (short for Jesus Christ).  When I think about it now, I'm appalled on one hand at the audacity of this practice, and embarassed on the other hand. Once we started to discuss religious topics around our preschooler, it quickly became apparent that we had to stop trying to make Jesus into something He wasn't, and give Him the proper respect He deserves.

3. "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day."

Take your kids to Mass every Sunday.  Teach them how to behave during Mass from the time they are little.  I do not like the practice of "kids' church", where the little kids are taken out of the sanctuary to be given an age-appropriate religious lesson on that day's readings.  I like the ide of the lesson, and would certainly support it before or after Mass, but Mass is Mass.  Our Eucharistic Lord is not present in the religious ed class.  In some churches, children are only taken out during the Liturgy of the Word, and brought back in time for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  But even then, there is a disconnect between the flow of the Mass.

Cry rooms, depending on how they are set up and utilized by the faithful, can be both positive and negative.  Positive because they allow young babies to be nursed or even have their diaper changed.  In churches where there are no cry rooms and a baby needs to be changed, the restroom tends to not have a speaker installed, and so the parent ends up missing part of the Mass that she or he could've still heard if there had been an appropriately set up cry room.  That said, some families take the cry room to mean a place to go hang out and let the kids play, rather than a place to still try to teach young kids proper behavior, but allow for more wiggling and noises that are natural to the young child without interrupting the larger congregation.

4. "Honor your mother and your father."

Model by example.  Honor your own parents and never speak ill of them in front of your kids.  But also, remember that respect is a two-way street.  You must respect your child as a human being, if you expect them to learn to respect you in turn.  Many parents treat their children as mere dolls, waiting for some magic day when all of a sudden (perhaps as they approach adolescence!) they can be given choices or asked for their opinion.  Of course, we are still the parents, but it doesn't mean we can't include our (even young) children in our decision-making process.

5. "Thou shalt not kill."

It is so sad that we live in a world where this has to be said, but here goes.  Don't have an abortion.  You can sugar coat it all you want, but that little life growing inside you is a human baby, no question about it.  There may be secular arguments for why your life is more important than that baby's, but let's not pretend that we're dealing with "a mass of tissue" when you can clearly see movement and hear a heart beating on sonogram.  Phew.

That said, more subtle ways to follow this commandment include avoiding lashing out in anger.  Don't kill your kids' spirit.  Don't crush their dreams.  Don't stifle their imagination.  Be life-giving in your approach to parenting.

6. "Thou shall not commit adultery."

First, honor your own marital vows.  Cheating on one's spouse betrays not only the spouse's trust, but the children's as well.  It creates chaos and anxiety and resentment where there should be peace, trust, and comfort.

Also, teach your children about the proper place for sex.  Don't treat sex as a taboo subject, as that will only backfire.  Sex is good, so long as it's in the correct context.  It's your job as parents to teach your kids this fact.

7. "Thou shall not steal."

Don't steal time away from your children.  Your job, your hobbies, your social life - none of these ought to be more important than time spent with your children.  It may mean taking a pay cut.  It may mean passing on a promotion.  It may involve some creative lifestyle changes.  Also, putting your kids in so many extracurricular activities that they don't have time to relax or spend time with you is also on you.

8.  "Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

I think we can all agree that the broader meaning of "don't lie" applies here.  And if we are to not lie to our neighbor, we must realize that our children are included in this category!  Don't lie to your kids.  I'm not talking about avoiding the subject so as not to ruin a surprise birthday party.  I'm talking big stuff.  Otherwise honest people may feel perfectly justified in lying outright to their own children. A rather big and obvious example: if you adopted your kids, for instance, they deserve to know the truth.  How can you expect to raise honest children if you allow yourself to be dishonest?

9. "Thou shall not covet your neighbor's spouse."

Similar to the sixth commandment, lead by example, but also teach outright.  Your children will see if you are flirting with someone or lustfully commenting on a celebrity to a friend.  This is a good place to mention modesty of dress, also.  I recently heard modesty defined as "humility in a nice, occasion-appropriate outfit."  So teach your kids humility (including modesty, as an extension of humility as a whole), both by modeling it and explaining why certain outfits or activities are not allowed in your household. (Unchaperoned co-ed slumber parties at a house with a pool come to mind...)

10.  "Thou shall not covet anything else belonging to your neighbor."

In other words, don't entertain envy and jealousy.  Don't let your kids hear you comparing yourselves with the proverbial Joneses. And if you hear your kids doing it, nip that in the bud as well.  Practice gratitude instead.