Sacrifice is the POINT: defending Lent (and Catholicism.)

I had a quick conversation today with someone very averse to Catholicism.

I mentioned my Lenten promises as an icebreaker joke. And she promptly told me that she grew up Roman Catholic and has since denounced it– proudly. She is not participating in Lent, no way!

I quietly listened, but was not impressed. I wish I had a better memory for the details, but basically she just said the idea of Lent turns her off to religion because it’s a sign of spiritual commitment.

I ask, what is wrong with that?

Next she bragged that her family has nothing to do with Mass! She seemed to identify it with control, as even oppressively controlling. She had been told by a parish that her child could not receive the sacrament of Baptism unless she had been a member of that parish for a year, I believe? Instead, she converted to Episcopalian.

I found her indignation immature. Like she expected the benefits of Catholicism for her children without anything in return, no sign that they would be raised in the holy tradition appropriate to those corresponding sacraments.

Today I realized how deep my Catholicism truly runs– and that I’m proud.

Usually I try to be impartial and understanding of anyone who isn’t religious or Catholic.

But today, I felt no empathy. I felt both defensive and proud to be Catholic.

Because being Catholic is not SUPPOSED to be easy or convenient. That’s part of the pride for us. It is an intense spiritual discipline. One that we choose. Many distance themselves in adulthood or go to a different Christian denomination.

I’ve chosen to stay.

To draw an analogy to Jimmy Dugan’s profession of love for baseball in “A League of Their Own,”

“It’s the HARD that makes it good.”

There is definitely a lot of crying in Catholicism! If you’re the type who cries– some do.

If you’re taking a hard look at your conscience, as we are taught to do.

And for me, crying is cathartic. I sometimes weep at Mass, or alone during Adoration. Or just praying by myself.

I know He sees them, and he hears me.

Those tears connect me to Christ, to my faith walk, to knowing He sees my struggle.

So today I didn’t talk back to this woman– I just listened.

And she revealed to me without knowing just how vital my Catholic identity is to me.

Hold the Cheese, Please. It’s Working!

I’m feeling more confident in my cheeseless vow (yes, I just made cheeseless a word!) for Lent.

Last night at Toxic Hell I ordered my usual– a #9, soft tacos– no cheese. It was easy to remember. I should have also asked for more meat, there was barely anything in there besides lettuce!

And today for lunch, I ate at a local cafe. I got a really good spinach salad to balance out my fast-food snack last night. However when it arrived, I was dismayed to find shredded cheese everywhere! It was just spinach with egg– they probably wanted to dress it up a little since I asked they hold the onions and mushrooms. At first I thought about trying to pick the cheese pieces out individually, but my salad was permeated with cheese.

I gathered my ovaries and called the server over– I sent it back, kindly explaining my dilemma. She returned in a jiffy with a new salad, not once shred of cheese. I felt slightly guilty for asking her to make another, but placated myself by thinking, “Hey! Someone in the kitchen is getting a free salad right now, thanks to me!”

And it tasted just divine. It was so simple I thought even I couldn’t screw this up at home. Spinach, tomatoes, egg, ranch dressing.

So quickly, I’m training myself to immediately specify to NOT include cheese- and when surprised, I have the gumption to stick to my plan. I never could have anticipated how great that would make me feel!!

Years ago when I worked as a weight loss counselor, I was pretty disciplined about eating. I followed our program and kept a food diary– measuring out so many servings of each food group and 8 glasses of water a day. It worked! I felt better, I had more energy, my skin looked better. But I didn’t stick with it after leaving.

If it’s this easy to stick to eliminating cheese, that gives confidence to continue eating healthier!

This is the best Lent ever, thus far. :) Who thought I’d be happy to give up something I loved so much??

However I must admit, later on I tried the Orange Crush cake from Jewel that someone offered– and I didn’t feel a smidgen of hesitation about enjoying every bite!

Cheese Relapse: Back on the Lent Wagon

So I didn’t last 24 hours with my Lent promise to forego cheese!

I had left-over mac n’ cheese in my fridge, which I had made Fat Tuesday as my last indulgence.

I couldn’t stop rationalizing.

“It’s only cheese POWDER, does it even count as real cheese?”

I could have offered it someone in my building. Or my parents, who still send me home with food when I visit.

But wouldn’t it be sort of rude to offer someone a half-eaten meal?

I could have thrown it away! I have no problem throwing away other leftovers I don’t feel like eating.

Thus, I did the only ethical thing: I finished it.

Ha! I called a friend who reassured me, “Jesus wanted you to have it!” Bless her humor.

The next night, my father called and invited me over to their house for pizza.

Ahh! When I made this decision I hadn’t realized I’d be giving up PIZZA!

But I was proud to stand firm in my rejection this time.

He wanted to know, “Why give up cheese?” It’s practical. It’s protein!

And that’s EXACTLY why I chose it– because I eat it so often. Because it IS impractical.

He accepted my answer and I thanked him for the invitation.

Last night after work, I went out to eat and ordered a strawberry salad — MINUS the bleu cheese crumbles.

Proud! It’s getting easier to stick to my plan.

I see this as an opportunity to also abandon my usual comfort foods and try new things.

The neat thing about Lent is that it forces you to become hyper-aware of behaviors you otherwise wouldn’t even notice, had no you not vowed to monitor them.

What are you struggling to remain vigilant about avoiding this Lent? Any good (simple!) cheese-negative recipes I should try? I’d love your advice!

Happy Lenting.

Right On Time: A Surprise Package/Faith Affirmation

Today I got a for-real surprise package in the mail!

When was the last time that happened? Even better, it was wrapped in brown paper. The kind we all used for book covers in grade school, like the paper bags we used to get at the grocery store. It was just wonderfully nostalgic.

A longtime friend of my father sent me a small devotional that she said had helped in the past. Not along ago, I called her for the first time in years. Talking to her was easy and so refreshing– she has that same incredible faith that my father does. She and her husband have been close friends of my dad for my entire life. She got through cancer and still works and has a bright attitude. You can hear the smile in her voice.

I thought she would send me her book, but she actually bought me one! And wrote a little inscription inside. What she wrote reminded me of the notes my Aunt Mary Jane (a Catholic nun everyone just called “Sister,”) used to write to me– about how God has a plan for me. I miss hearing that– it never gets old. It’s always comforting.

There was such warmth and love in that message she wrote.

The book is “Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence,” by Sarah Young.

And it arrives the second day of Lent. Not a coincidence, methinks.

I think I’ll incorporate reading this each morning into my Lenten routine. Something uplifting to start my day.

Although I’m strong in my faith, I still have moments of uncertainty. Receiving this gift from a strong Catholic woman I’ve known all my life was just what I needed!

Thanks, Lord. Thanks for speaking to me through our family friend to remind me that you’re listening.

I can’t wait to call and thank her!

Lent 2015: Resentment and Cheese

If I can survive 40 days without cheese, I can accomplish anything.

“Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

That’s what the priest said tonight as I received my ashes.

I’ve never heard that before, in all my years.

Before I left, I stopped to make sure that’s what he said. It’s alternative option, and I like it.

So simple. Doesn’t that just sum up being Christian or Catholic?

Take responsibility and be good to others.

This year I’m taking responsibility by doing my best to eradicate resentment. I’m not sure what that’s going to look like right now– but tentatively, it means always assuming the best and avoiding envy.

Envy is a killer for me. Can I do it?

I want to believe I can. And after 40 days of trying, I’m sure I’ll be a better person, either way.

What are you going without for Lent? Or are you taking up something instead?

Dear Forever Valentine, Thank You

Because you (I!) deserve a love letter today. Self, you are always by my side!

First, I am proud of you.

I see a woman who has nothing to prove this year. She is wearing overalls because they are what she feels comfortable wearing, and she’s STOKED at the ’90s are back in that style! With it, a pink and white baseball shirt because it’s a little feminine but also practical. Today she is wearing no make-up. Her hair is shorn in a pixie, which makes her feel free– she loves the feeling of the icy wind on her neck. She often goes without a hat, but zips her coat up to the hilt instead.

This year has been about realigning with what you need, and putting that into action. And you are making great strides every day! Even when you think I don’t notice the progress, I do. Even when no one else does, I see.

I believe in and admire you, Amee. I adore that name– your mother chose it with care. It’s not something to be found on pencils, which you used to resent. It’s singular and a little bit exotic–French. There is nothing typical about you. You forge your own way in every aspect of your life– you don’t do things like everyone else.

You are unafraid to sacrifice in the present for something you know will be better in the future. You are committed to what you need even when it’s not fun or popular. You are learning to value your own voice most. You can weather questions and the assumptions of others with increasing grace.

Like all humans, you have walls to protect yourself. Your heart is not impulsive as it once was, although sometimes I know you long for those days. Those were beautiful times of innocence, important to teach you lessons. Of loss, of how to lose yourself in giving. Of appreciating someone even when they don’t understand why you love them. You seek to understand others and comfort them.

You know how to love with abandon, commitment and safety.

You accept that not everyone deserves what you want to give– you are more patient. You demand that people prove to you that they are sincere. Never admonish yourself for that– it’s been learned with fire.

You always rise. You may slow down, you may hold yourself back with caution.

But conserving your energy and valuing what you possess to give others is something wonderful and smart.

Keep doing that.

Everything that you need is on its way to you. It is happening at exactly the right time and speed– just continue to trust in your judgement.

You are more real than many who put up a better facade. When you’re not happy, you don’t pretend. You’re polite and professional when needed, but never insincere. That is something glorious– the ability to know how you’re feeling and not be ashamed of it. That takes tremendous courage– it’s a skill not everyone has yet learned.

That writer heart of yours beats steady. I can always depend on you. We are always together.

Whatever comes your way, you will handle it with aplomb.

I am grateful that you preserve that delightful spark of silly, that propensity for wackiness. I am glad that you see beauty in the most ordinary circumstances.

You are loyal, affectionate, serious.

Thank you for not changing for anyone.

You are my favorite. I love you! You are beautiful and strong.

You are making peace with uncertainty and deciding to be your own hero.

And that is the best Valentine’s gift I could ever give you.


All the Love You Possess

The Blessed Hat

I have a cheap black stockingcap for winter that I bought this year.

It’s black with “BLESSED,” written in white block letters.

This hat keeps me humble AND warm.

There are so many gross, aggressive and disrespectful t-shirts and clothing out there… I like wearing something simple and positive. I like identifying myself as someone who is basically grateful.

The best part is how strangers smile at me when I wear it. I smile more. Sometimes they comment.

And it reminds me there’s always something I can count in my life as a blessing.

This little hat breaks up the monotony of winter, and brings warmth to me in the kindness of others.