The Gift of Adoration: A New Peace

I haven’t slept in two days, so it’s time to blog! I’m up anyway.

Last night I attended my second deliberate Adoration in probably at least 10 years. It was never a part of my life growing up, even though I was very close to my aunt who was a nun. She never was pushy about our faith, and that gave me the freedom to come to it on my own. I appreciated that about her.

Since December I’ve been part of a large group of young Catholics in Wichita, and it’s been life-changing. I’ve grown deeper into my faith than I ever would have expected, because my friends are serious Catholics. And a lot of the activities we do are based around Catholicism and enjoying the fruits of it together as a group. None of us are married or have children yet– it’s awesome. We are able to just relax and really have fun together.

Last night I only went for about 30 minutes. But it was just right. It was in a smaller chapel, with lots of candles lit. I wasn’t dressed up– I was just me. I felt comfortable. I had brought along a book for reflection, my Bible, and a journal I haven’t written in since 2015. It has The Blessed Mother on the cover in the style of a stained glass window and it was meant to be a prayer journal. I found it at home and brought it along. I had a plan.

I wasn’t emotional this time, just very calm. And I didn’t put any expectations on myself to stay the whole hour– I just left when I felt ready. I drove home feeling cleansed.

The first time I had gone, maybe a month ago, it was a completely different experience.

I had just bought a book at a Catholic gift store specifically to help you pray, called, “God, I have Issues: 50 Ways to Pray No Matter How You Feel,” by Mark E. Thibodeaux, S.J..  It has an index of different feelings that might be challenging and I knew it would really help me. I was feeling stuck and helpless. Whenever I feel that way, I tend to look inward and pray about it. Finding this book felt like a clue, a way that God was reaching out to guide me through this confusion.

When I brought the book and my Bible that first Adoration, it gave me a structured way to both pray and to read Scripture. There is a Scripture quote, a reflection, and then multiple other Scriptural verses to connect more deeply with the message. Then quotes of regular people on the same topic. It’s amazing. I would recommend this book to anyone.

This focused prayer unlocked powerful feelings in me and I found myself sobbing. For most of the time I was there, honestly. And it was so healing.

I realized that Adoration is entirely different from Mass, in a beautiful way. There is no routine or expectation for how you spend your time there. I don’t need to listen to anything being read, keep up with the responses, look up songs, sing, stand, kneel, sit, get up to receive Holy Communion. I don’t need to Confess anything to a priest. I don’t need to move or interact with anyone nearby. It’s entirely my choice. I could simply sit there and be if what I needed.  But it was still communal– I knew my friends were around me, sharing the moment.

It was cathartic in a way that I’ve never even experienced in Confession.

And most exciting, I made it the entire hour! I never felt bored, or pressured.

I remembered my previous experience, 10 years ago. I hadn’t expected to go to Adoration, I had shown up to a meeting of single Catholic adults but sadly it was not as dynamic or organized. I was annoyed. I was bored.

I think I had left after 10 minutes.

It was good to know I have developed a deeper connection since then.

These events are held once a month, and I want to go more often.

 

A Baptism for Liam, an Epiphany for Me

I’ve been to Baptisms before, but today’s was special because it showed me something important about myself as well as celebrating the new faith of my friends’ first child.

It showed me that I do want a family life and I do want a Catholic marriage.

My friends Jenni and Ryan celebrated their first child, Liam. He was born on Ash Wednesday into an Irish Catholic family! They have been close friends of mine since high school, when all three of us went to youth group together. They’ve never missed a birthday of mine! They are both responsible but are silly enough to keep each other laughing, too.

Being there with our other mutual friends– also from youth group– was wonderful. They all have families now, and their kids were playing together in the back yard. I’ve seen them all be pregnant. I’ve been to their weddings and showers. I just felt so grounded and comfortable today with all of them.

A statue of the Blessed Mother was in the left corner of the yard and I found her presence very comforting. I found out it was passed down from someone in their family. My own Godmother has a similar one in her front yard. I’ve always hoped that one day when I hopefully own a home I will have one as well.

I spent the afternoon just catching up with our friends, getting to know both their families better, taking pictures and eating great food! It was wonderful to see them together as parents as well, knowing they prayed and planned for this blessing in their lives. They both have this wonderful, relaxed glow about them. And a big reason for that is their marriage is grounded in a strong friendship and shared Catholic faith.

If I’ve had doubts about whether religion is truly a deal-breaker for me in a relationship, today they were dissolved. Jenni has always been my voice of reason, reminding me that it’s not an unreasonable expectation and showing me that it’s possible in her own marriage. I’ve dated enough Atheists and people who profess no faith. They were all good men but there was definitely something elemental missing. I am unabashedly a woman of faith.

And the highlight of the day? Of course, it was holding Liam. He was so calm and cuddly. He felt comfortable with me and I got to take a few pictures with him. And for me, holding a baby is so natural and it just makes my day. To know this little being trusts you enough to relax and let you hold them is such a good feeling.

I will know when I’m in the right relationship and I’m genuinely happy single for the time being.

I’ve almost renounced my faith in the past because I wanted so much to be compatible with a man who was not religious. I am more confident now and will not compromise my religion again for the sake of being in a relationship. Now I recognize my faith is not only fundamental to my my identity, but my happiness.

My Christmas Wish

I was hoping this year to bring someone to my church for Midnight Mass. I wanted to share it, especially since it was my first TRUE Midnight Mass.

Other years and other parishes, it started at 10:30 or 11:30– not the same. And this was my first time celebrating as a choir member.

Our rehearsal on Wednesday was a full two hours, and WOW was it fun!!

We sang a record NINE songs in 1.5 hours, though not each in entirety.

I realized how deeply embedded these songs are within me, as I didn’t need to read the lyrics to most of them. They are just part of growing up Catholic or Christian.

Yesterday at work I prepared myself with a Venti Peppermint Mocha. I needed to stay awake. It worked!

Our service was truly unlike any other I’ve attended.

We began with a male member, Jim, singing a solo to “Joseph’s Lullabye,” while a younger member performed a beautiful dance to it.

Then the choir entered from the wings on either side, holding candles.

The lights were turned off.

Slowly we proceeded in to “Silent Night,” one of my favorites.

And I loved the symbolism– of Jesus’s birth. Jesus, the Light of the World, coming into our midst. I was happy to hold a candle, to directly participate in illustrating the love of God for humanity, that He sent his son to live among us, to indeed become human.

I felt a deep kinship with my fellow choir members.

I recognized faces from the pews on Sunday– even though they had a small child or are older themselves. Many would choose an earlier Mass.

There was another service option– this morning, Christmas Day.

But everyone I wanted to see was there. It was community.

And my wish was granted by my dear friend, Dulcinea. She came to see me and support me. She took pictures as I filed in. She photographed our performance, and  best of all, got it on video!

Watching it, I saw reflected what I love about our choir. Rather than stoic and militant, we were alive with movement, joy, and familiarity.

We swayed, clapped, and looked at each other smiling. We cheered on our soloists! It was special.

This choir has given me something vital. A deep sense of belonging. A direct and FUN way to serve my parish while rejoicings simultaneously.

A new group of friends who share my religion and values.

One day, it’ll be me soloing!

We ended with “Joy to the World.”

Dear Lord, what a blessing!!

I feel cherished. I feel grateful. I feel loved.

Merry Christmas to all!

 

 

 

Returning Home on Holy Thursday

After Holy Thursday Mass, I have a wonderful feeling.

I was told about a chicken dinner at my most recent parish– the one I left for a smaller, closer one.

I was glad to go back. I never thought anyone would notice I was gone.

Happily, I was wrong.

During Peace, this parish gives a few minutes to walk around and talk– there are a lot of huggers. It’s not just a quick handshake and a stoic nod like in most Catholic parishes.

One woman came up to me with a smile and a hug and said, “I haven’t seen you in awhile.”

Another introduced herself to me and I said I’d been gone for a bit.

“Come home,” she said.

I found myself wanting to cry.

“I will,” I said.

One of my oldest friends’ father was there, as always– he beamed and gave me a hug. He’s always treated me like his own daughter.

The best part of Mass tonight was the foot washing. I haven’t seen that done in many years. The last time I experienced that was at a conference for young Catholics in our diocese. Roughly a decade ago, I’m guessing.

I lined up to have my feet washed. There was a small pitcher of water, a bowl, and someone with a towel. It symbolizes forgiveness– having your sins washed away.

Some of us lined up to have our feet washed, others stayed seated. In preparation we removed our socks and shoes. It was more difficult for me to volunteer to be washed than I expected. I was more comfortable with the idea of washing others’ feet. But I wanted to participate, so I took the role available. I had to put my ego away.

Foot washing is such an intimate act– it embodies humility and trust. The person doing the washing humbles themselves and those volunteering to be washed are also humbled– by making themselves vulnerable. Your feet are usually always covered and protected. Usually the only people who see us barefoot are are our families and those in our inner circle.

Another woman asked how work was doing for me– am I in the same place? I had asked her how I could volunteer to wash feet– “Next year,” she said with a smile.

Next year sounds wonderful.

During Holy Communion, I found myself weeping openly. I hadn’t realized how much I would miss this little parish– and especially not that anyone would miss me. I had gone to others that were more convenient– closer, with more Masses from which to choose. More activities, more people my age. I could hear better.

I even signed up officially at a different parish and took a picture to be included in their directory.

But I hadn’t felt anything. I kept going, hoping eventually it would grow on me.

Yet tonight, I felt something immediately in this parish. I felt welcomed. I felt MISSED.

No one asked WHY I had been gone– but only welcomed me back with love.

I felt gratitude. I felt sad that I had ever left. Like one of the lost sheep in the flock.

I had been searching for my spiritual home. Tonight, I returned.

I lit a candle afterwards, praying for this parish which captivates my heart. It’s struggling for attendance.

My attendance would help.

As I left Mass, I glanced up at the large Jesus on the back wall– a big cloth outline in which the names of all the parishioners were written on small pieces of felt and stuck on to symbolize that we all live in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

My name was still there, right where I left it.

A Sunday Evening Surprise

I over-slept for Mass this morning, but it appears there was a reason.

Instead I went to the 6 p.m. Mass at another local church.

I was feeling disconnected, lonely. This parish is huge– it was hard to hear. I arrived late, too. I felt bad.

But I thought I recognized the woman in the pew behind me to be a childhood friend’s mother. We were both alone. And both of us waited till after the priest had walked down the aisle and music ended– many others had already exited.

That’s a traditional thing, a respect. I learned it in my Catholic grammar school.

I didn’t see any signs of recognition, but decided to take a chance.

“Are you So-and-so’s mom?”

Yes, she confirmed– I told her my name. Yes, she remembered.

The smile of recognition! She had lived next door to my family when we first moved to Illinois. I probably haven’t seen her in around 15 years, if not longer! We stood at about the same height.

Same red hair and gentle manner.

I’ve never done that before– stayed that long to talk to someone after Mass– at any church I’ve attended over the years.

What a blessing.

Since I’m friends with her daughter on Facebook, I congratulated her on becoming a grandmother, and her daughter’s professional success as a police officer. She is proud! We talked about Adoration, about being Catholic, about different parishes in the area and how we like them.

She recommended a great priest at that parish for Confession, who really listens. She told me about her favorite Mass, since this parish offers many and it quite large and diverse.

I’m so delighted to reconnect with another devout woman! We may go to Mass together one day. She told me to find her on Facebook.

God, I know you’re listening. 🙂 Thanks!

The Family Right in Front of Me

I’ve always been wistful about living in a town with my family.

My Dad and my Mother’s family are both out of state.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in the city full of people with my last name.

That, I may never know. But my step-mother’s family lives in-state, and some of them right here in town.

I have two aunts within 50 miles, one of them within five.

They’ve always accepted me as one of their own– called me cousin, niece, etc.

But I always kept a distance from them, probably because I wasn’t close with my step-mother for a long time.

But as we age, we are both working together to change that– trusting and accepting each other.

On some level, I think I felt it would be disloyal to my Mother, who is deceased.

But they have never held that against me– included, invited, sent cards, given gifts just the same. Hugged.

I have some young cousins who are wonderful and sweet and people I’m proud of. Right here. Older cousins, here.

I can use this time to get to know them, make plans with them, let them into my life.

I feel so incredibly lucky.

They are Catholic and Italian! Conservative. A generous, affectionate, outgoing bunch.

I DO have local family, even if we don’t share a last name.

Checking My Privilege at the Door

I can be selfish and narrow-minded. I need to admit that. I do my best to battle it, but it happens.

Sadly, we need to be selfish to a degree to survive. We’re raised to compete for resources. It’s the rat race.

Although my life has been hard in some aspects, in many others I have been privileged. I do my best to relate to others without judgement. I make a constant effort to view the world beyond my own narrow lens. I admit that I tend to focus on the negatives, what I need to do better. And while that may drive me to make changes in my life for the better, I need to balance it out with gratitude. Otherwise, you fall into self-pity.

Take a moment to consider your own privileges. How do they color your view of your peers, the world around you?

I’m glad when I meet people who challenge me to get out of myself. I like people who are fascinating.

So here is a list of things for which I realize I should never take for granted, and for which I’m thankful:

I was born white and Catholic, in the Midwest of America, to a professional family. My father has a Masters degree and was once the CEO of a hospital. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. My step-mother is the exact opposite: a woman who always worked. My parents have a solid work ethic and take care of their health.

I grew up in a sober home, without alcoholism or drug use. Or even smoking. My Dad smoked cigars when younger, but quit that. His father died smoking– the house caught on fire and he was burned in it. I’m sure that was a heavy influence on my father’s decision toward parenting.

I graduated college, even if I chose to leave my field. At least I had the opportunity to attend.

My parents and I may have yelled at each other, but at least we talked about things. Some families don’t.

I grew up in a world where adults were safe figures during my childhood. Some have neverexperienced that.

I grew up in safe neighborhoods, where we trusted our neighbors.

My father always provided for our family first, putting our needs ahead of his own.

I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never been beaten.

I’ve been threatened numerous times and had people pick on me because I was small. But I was able to escape and avoid escalating the situation. Being so short has been good in some ways– it’s forced me to learn conflict-resolution and diffusion.

I have faced discrimination. I’ve faced rejection. I’ve had a hard time making ends meet.

I still do.

But never abject poverty.

I’ve never gone a day without healthcare. I have parents who were in a position to help me, and did. Even if I resented it at times, at least it was a possibility. My parents are healthy now, which I appreciate.

I’m not saying my family is perfect– we’re not. We depend on each other and because of that, we get in each other’s business. But that is rooted in caring. My step-mother can be very critical and we butt heads because of that. But at least she’s asking– and she’s learning to be more aware and kinder. Think of it this way– even if someone’s criticizing you, they’re still paying attention. We struggle to connect, but are getting better. After a lifetime of conversations, we are finding common ground at last, and mutual respect.

The worst thing is to feel invisible. Who hasn’t felt that way in life? I certainly have.

I avoided people. I just shut down. But once I realized the onus is on me, I did something about it. I worked to change myself so that I can communicate with people what I need, and how I feel. And that is helping!

I have people I can turn to, even if they’re busy or don’t always understand me. They try. And if they are unavailable, I write about it. I get it out of myself onto paper, or this blog. And that helps.

We all feel isolated at times.

But I acknowledge a lot of people have had it much harder than I did.

And that’s why we have to be careful about judgement. Because you never know what someone is battling.

They may be trapped in ways that are invisible to you. They may be great at projecting a facade.

Be kinder than necessary. Take the risk to be direct and confront people. You might be surprised how relieved they are that you cared enough to bring it up. Maybe they are just waiting for you say something first.

Some people don’t deal well with confrontation, or some don’t deal with it at all.

Some people are afraid, or even terrified, to raise their voice. Maybe they were raised to be afraid.

But if you ask, they might answer you. You may have to ask more than once… it takes time to build trust.

If you show that you notice them, maybe it’ll make a difference.

Thanks for reading this. And whatever struggles you have, I hope you keep fighting. It will get better.

Whatever life you’ve had, I’m glad you’re still with us. I’m glad you haven’t given up.

You’re not alone, even if you feel you are at this moment.