Saturday, December 31, 2016

Theme for New Year 2017: Self-Improvement

I used to make a laundry list of New Year's resolutions.  After keeping and reviewing my sheets of paper, I realized that all I was doing was listing what I wish I were accomplishing, and just rolling it over from year to year whenever it didn't happen the previous year.  I didn't actually have any specific plan in place to bring my "resolutions" to fruitition.  So I stopped making resolutions.

Recently I read about an alternative that piqued my interest.  In lieu of specific things to check off a list, some people think of a term or phrase to help them guide their overall approach to the year.  A theme, so to speak.  Almost immediatly I knew 1) that I wanted to try this, and 2) that my theme for 2017 would be "self-improvement".  This idea probably appeals to me in large part because of its minimalistic approach.  The goal is not what follows; the goal is "self-improvement".  It's a very subjective goal, but then, I'm only accountable to myself, so why not?

I have several areas of my life where I have specific action plans in mind to reach the overall goal of self-improvement.

In February, I hope to start meeting with a spiritual director.  I'm waiting for February because a couple of women from my church are being certified in January, and I hope to start meeting with one of them.

Since August, I've been going to monthly Confession.  Similar to broken resolutions, I've noticed that I tend to confess the same sins over and over again, which has helped me isolate some underlying problems that need to be addressed.

Daily prayer and Scripture reading. I was doing pretty well until my son was born.  As could be expected, having a newborn and a preschooler has thrown me off my game.  First thing in the morning was working well for me, but I'm squeezing in as much sleep as I can right now to help ward off postpartum depression and anxiety, which debilitated me for months after my daughter's birth.  And when I get some alone time in the evenings, I'll be honest, I feel like I should use at least some of that time to pray, but I don't.  So this is definitely an area in need of improvement for 2017.

We do pray together every bedtime as a family, and I've tried to pray the Guardian Angel prayer in the mornings with my daughter, and the Angelus at noon.  So we'll want to solidify these practices.

On a positive note, though, when the PTSD-style thoughts creep into my mind, I immediately call on the name of Jesus to push the enemy away.  And you know what?  It works!  So I suppose these count as spontaneous prayers, scattered throughout the day.

Retreat.  I'm not sure I'll be able to swing an overnight weekend retreat this year, as Fernando will only be 9 months old for the women's retreat through my church, and a year old for the silent retreat through my alma mater, and I'm not sure what our nursing status will be by then.  Though I am certainly hoping to not be nursing at night by then, but we'll see.

I've been slowly revamping my wardrobe.  With minimalism as my guiding light, and keeping femininity and modesty at the forefront. The idea is to have only items that I love, that fit me, and that go with more than one other thing.  My color scheme is neutral, so black, white, gray, brown, beige.  I am on a mission to find some solid colored tunics, or mini-dresses that I'd wear as tops, as well as a couple more maxi skirts.

My skin routine seems to have to change as I no longer have oily skin but rather combination.  So I'm in need of a new cleanser.  I think for moisturizer I will stick with the shea butter I got for my daughter last year.

I do want to have a bit of makeup on hand for going out, as eye liner in particular makes me feel more confident and, well, pretty :)  So I'll need to find something with natural ingredients.

I'm due for a new pair of glasses, and I think I'm done trying to get frames that are as inconspicuous as possible.  I think I want to go bold for a change! All around red frames, maybe?  This may end up less expensive as well, since I've been paying for the glass to be treated so as not to be as visible on the bottom, where I don't have a frame.

Exercise.  I suppose this should be in a category of health, but I'm being real here.  I want to lose the rest of my pregnancy weight and get my pre-pregnancy abs back, not because it'll mean I'm healthy, but because it'll make me feel confident and, well, pretty again ;)

Emotional Health.
Basically, I want to deal with my mommy issues with the help of a therapist so I can be a better mom to my kids.

But also, as mentioned above, I'm actively warding off postpartum depression and anxiety.  I refuse to succumb to it again.

I think that covers what I think of when I'm thinking of self-improvement.  So there it is, out there in the virtual world, hopefully to keep me accountable, so that this time next year, I can post about my successes :)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Holiness, Not Perfection

I have been spending my time on my parenting blog lately because I felt I had said all there was to say for now about my spiritual journey, because I was much more vested in my parenting, and because I had considered merging the two blogs together.  This last point remains unresolved.

As for the other two points, I have come to realize that my spiritual drama, as recorded in the posts on this blog, was in no small way affected by my serious postpartum anxiety and depression.  As it turns out, I had several risk factors for PPD, but due to the early breastfeeding... challenges, shall we say, it went undiagnosed during my postpartum midwife visits.

For starters, I had an awful time getting breastfeeding started with my daughter.  Painful latch due to her being small (5#10oz) and having a low palate (read: I'd have to get the nipple down her throat to avoid it being munched on), resulting nipple damage (as in, piece of skin hanging off and blood trickling down), resulting in mastisis and yeast and breast abscesses needing drainage (twice), leading to the need to supplement with formula, which my idealistic personality did not take lightly ("I'm such a failure for not being able to fully nourish my child!")

Once breastfeeding finally started to get better, we sold our house and moved out of state.  Not only was the move itself stressful (just because that comes with the territory, not because of anything in particular), but also because it meant a new place and environment (I hate change and am very slow to adapt and adjust), and social isolation (because I didn't know anyone, but also because I was exhausted from pouring myself into my new role as mother, unable to tolerate my daughter's cries.)

As I look back, this went on for months - six or seven, to be exact - before life started to gain a new normal and I finally began to have tiny pockets of time for myself that allowed me to think.  And when this happened, I realized that I hadn't been nourshing my relationship with God, and I just lost any sort of connection to the strong faith I thought I had when my daughter was born.

I have met a friend who has experienced something similar.  She used to be religious, or at least spiritual, but after the birth of her son, she has been completely blase about the whole thing.  There's so much talk about people turning TO God after having a child, but to this day I can't find much information about the opposite phenomenon.

Long story short, I now see that my loss of faith was one of the casualties of my postpartum depression and anxiety.  My daughter is now 3 years old, and it's only been about 4 months that I've felt at home again calling myself a practicing Catholic.  The final push in the right direction happened at a spiritual retreat.  I have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation every month since the retreat.  I prayed daily until about 6 weeks ago, when my son was born, at which time prayer became much more sporadic, but is slowly finding its way back into my routine.  I started enjoying the emailed readings of the day associated with daily mass (I had been signed up for years, but had been ignoring them).  Mass stopped being a routine and became a joy again.

The thing I feared most during my "spiritually independent/Deist/Quaker-Reform Jew-wannabe" time is challenging my faith in a good way, it seems.  I'm having to start explaining the basics of our Catholic faith to my daughter, and it's forcing me to truly consider what I believe - as a Catholic - and why, and how to best articulate it to her.

Am I back to where I was three years ago, spiritually?  No.  But interestingly, we went to our old Franciscan parish for Christmas Eve Mass last night, and both Alex and I agreed that we missed our current church!  I was adamant when we moved that we'd never find another church community like Saint Francis, where our daughter was baptized.  I have very fond memories of our time there.  But now I see we have both grown in interesting ways and no longer thrive in a church that focuses on community fellowship.  Instead, at our current church (OLPH), there's the community, but there's something much more meaningful at the center of it - a holy priest who sets the stage for a reverent Mass.  It's a New Order Mass, and yet Fr. Erik manages to keep the occasion solemn yet joyful.  His entire demeanor  points to Our Lord in the Eucharist.  He comments on the Mass, going off script.  He pauses  and kneels in front of the Tabernacle after Communion as the choir sings a "Communion Medidation".  He speaks directly to us, the people, about what the Lord is revealing to him in his private prayer time.  You can tell that this man spends time with the Lord, that he takes his calling seriously, and that he has a genuine love for the people God has entrusted him with.  I love Fr. Erik, and I credit "his Masses" to keeping my interest piqued while I attended merely out of obligation or tradition.

At any rate, I am Catholic, but it doesn't mean I necessarily agree with everything that is taught "top-down".  Nonetheless, I respect the reasons behind all the church teachings, and I certainly take them into consideration.  What's more, I wrestle with things I disagree with and try to challenge myself as to why I disagree.  Why do I give more credit to societal views over church teaching?  Am I that much of the world that I value what's "PC" over what's being faithful to the church of God?  Perhaps there are things I don't need to agree with, or undersand.  I try to focus on those areas of Catholicism that bring me joy, that help me grow into a better person, and figure the rest may be there for others.  Because there's something for everyone in the Catholic church.

Turns out that the Catholic church - like me - may be striving for holiness, not perfection.