Why this blog? Why Me? Why now?

Recently, after a series of particularly stressful events, I had a day that was full of tiny moments that all seemed designed to push me towards God. As I've never been a regular churchgoer and certainly not a believer, this came as a bit of a shock. I have never felt that I was missing anything, but it was too strong of a feeling to ignore. It is possible that in a month or week or day that the compulsion will pass. It is also possible that it will not.

I started this blog to document the process. I am starting from scratch, more or less, so please forgive me if I get some fact about your church or your faith wrong. I'm a work in progress.

Friday, May 25, 2012

7 Quick Takes, vol. 5

--- 1 ---
I promise, this week I will return the blog to it's orginal purpose. I've had a lot of time to think about life, and family, and God, and faith this week. I just haven't had a lot of time to blog about it all.

--- 2 ---
And if you'll pardon me for yelling, MY HUSBAND DID NOT HAVE A SECOND HEART ATTACK. Whooooo!!!!   Ha ha, fooled you, false alarm.

--- 3 ---
On Tuesday we drove back to a bigger city, and saw an actual cardiologist. He was a bit perplexed by the facts of the event and decided that the safest path would be to do an angiogram to check things out.

--- 4 ---
The angiogram showed ALL CLEAR. "Fantastic" arteries.  The doctor only wished his were as good. He suspects the Mike got really dehydrated, causing the dizziness, and then started to panic with his history of high stess and prior heart attack, and then the doctor here was trying to CYA. The stress test was a false positive and there was no heart damage.

--- 5 ---
They now can do a heart cath through the wrist instead of the groin. Recovery is a billion times easier, the patient goes home the same evening. Highly recommended if you or a loved one find yourself in that position.

--- 6 ---
As soon as we returned home yesterday, I completely collapsed. I took a 3 hour nap and woke with with an awful cold.  I can't sleep, my head hurts, coughing, runny nose, etc.  A reaction to the stress, perhaps?

--- 7 ---
Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers, I really really appreciate it.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, May 18, 2012

7 Quick Takes, vol 4

--- 1 ---
I meant to write a real post this week. I even started drafting it. But then...

--- 2 ---
On Wednesday my husband tried to have a heart attack, literally. And I got a bit distracted.

--- 3 ---
He's been in the ICU for the last two days. He feels fine physically, and it wasn't a full blown heart attack, but it's close enough for them to keep him. He has to do a stress test today, and will hopefully come home tonight. Meanwhile he's bored and cranky and lonely (I have only been up once, for about 30 minutes, hard to find someone to watch your kids during the day.)

--- 4 ---
He had his first heart attack 7 years ago at age 35, so it's kind of a big deal. How many chances do you get?

--- 5 ---
I am tired and stressed and a bit worried. And a little angry (see #4). The kids are being crazier than normal, of course.

--- 6 ---
The moral of this story is, of course, if you're busy thinking you'll start your diet and exercise plan next week, maybe start today.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have some kitchen clean out to take care of, and an exercise bike to dig out of the garage.

--- 7 ---
(last year on Father's day)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, May 11, 2012

7 Quick Takes, vol 3

--- 1 ---
I have been remiss on this blog. Life has been so busy lately (with what I'm not sure) and it seems that I haven't had time to give this the attention I feel it deserves. I'm sure that says something about me, but that's deeper than I want to get into in a Quick Take.

--- 2 ---
One of the things we did recently to stay busy was go out of town. I was invited on a work trip with my husband and my beautiful sister-in-law (the best Catholic I know) volunteered to keep my kids for four days so I could go. My sister-in-law does not have children of her own.

--- 3 ---
The first thing she did, on the first day she was here, was take them to church. It did not go well.

--- 4 ---
We did not go to church this week.  I typically work every Saturday night until 11pm or later. Then my husband usually works the next morning, which leaves us with 8am mass. And it's not a good excuse, but it's just so hard to get us all up and out the door for that. *insert whine*

--- 5 ---
Did you read this absolutely terrific post on motherhood at Mama Needs Coffee? I'm sure you did, but I have to share it. I saved it to read again.

--- 6 ---
And contrast that with this post at Dooce about living with a three year old. For us, three has been a million times harder than two, with both boys. The girl isn't yet two, but we'll see how that shakes out. (If you don't read Dooce, there is a lot of Language. You've been warned.)

--- 7 ---
Last, this weekend is Mother's Day. I hope all the Mothers out there get treated like royalty. May you be as happy as a girl with a yard full of butterflies. And a Popsicle.

May 4. She found a bush full of flyflies! (butterflies)

Quick Takes is being hosted here this week, stop by to join the fun.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A quick update

First, thanks for your prayers for my friend's baby. Ainsley had Group B strep and spent 10 days in the hospital. She's home now and doing fine.

Second, I've been sadly remiss on this blog. Life got too busy to think there for a while. I'm going to try to rectify that.

Third, I recently had the opportunity to travel to Colorado Springs with my husband. While he worked I was able to go on a tour of Glen Eyrie, which was built in the last 1800s and is now a Christian retreat center/ Bed and Breakfast owned by the Navigators. The Castle itself was fascinating and I highly recommend the tour. The giftshop is small and religiously oriented, as one would expect. I picked up a couple books there- The Message Promise Book , which is a book of scripture broken down by topic, and The Bible: Think for yourself about what's inside (TH1NK Reference Collection) which kind of breaks down each book of the Bible into themes and events. I haven't really had a chance to look at them, and I'm not sure how biased they are towards any given denomination (the website doesn't seem to claim any one in particular), but they looked interesting.

I hope you all are doing well, and special congratulations to Clan Donaldson on your new baby GIRL.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Prayer Request, please?

My friend's almost two week old baby is in the hospital with an infection of some sort.  She'll be there for the next several days. Can I ask you all to add her to your prayer list? Her name is Ainsley.

Thanks, the very idea of a tiny baby being sick makes me unsettled.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Taking notes on reading


I find it really hard to read about something I'm learning about, especially something as interesting and nuanced as religion, and not to want to make notes in the margin and dog ear pages. I just started reading Lewis's Mere Christianity (on the advice of most of you) and  while most of what I'm noting won't make it into my eventual review, there are a lot of things that I want to mark for when I flip through the book later.  The problem is that I end up marking a sentence here or there every few pages, and then can't find what I want to find later. I'm considering swapping from my light pencil to a darker pen, and even then making notes on a piece of paper or text file for reference. Is this crazy? Does anyone else do this? Despite belonging to the book blogging community for 5+ years, I don't know anyone who writes in books.

Rest assured, I will never be the person who highlights more than she leaves alone. When everything is highlighted/ underlined, how do you know which was the truly important stuff?

PS. Who knew that Sharpie had a blog??

Saturday, March 24, 2012

7 Quick Takes, vol 2.

--- 1 ---
Thanks for all the great comments last week! I'm even more excited to participate this week.

--- 2 ---
One of my new visitors, jen, posted this thought provoking C.S. Lewis quote that led me down a wormhole of adding all the C.S. Lewis books at my library to my hold list. That's gonna be an ugly day when they all show up at once.
--- 3 ---
This guest post over at Camp Patton on NFP made me think about pregnancy and birth control in a different light. I'm still light years from making that particular leap (and if I'm completely honest, I don't see myself being able to fully commit there), but it did present it in a way that makes spiritual sense to me. I've added it to the growing list of things peculating in my brain.

--- 4 ---
I read the first 3 or 4 chapters of Catholicism For Dummies this week and I have to say, the Dummies books are really well done. I wish they were named something else though as I suspect the mere titles make people hesitate to pick them up. I can easily see myself reading them for a number of other subjects, but I can't see myself reading them at the gym.

--- 5 ---
It is turning to spring here (usually we still have snow) and it's really easy to see the parallels to Easter with growth and life and all. It makes me wonder if I'm just looking for things to notice now.

--- 6 ---

As a first time participant in Lent, I'm finding parts of it harder than others. It hasn't been hard to give up candy, but I did inadvertently eat some in the form of a McFlurry. My husband thoughtfully bought me one and I didn't occur to me at all that it had candy in it until I had eaten half of it. I decided that it didn't count since I stopped when I realized it. Yesterday was my husband's birthday and while we had a (shocking!) offer of babysitting, we choose not to go out to dinner because he really wanted a big steak and it was Friday. I hope that babysitting offer comes again!

--- 7 ---
I didn't get this posted yesterday, it was a long week of illness in our family. Including my own, what exactly was the flu shot for, anyway?

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, March 16, 2012

7 quick takes, vol. 1

--- 1 ---
I'm a bit nervous about today's post as it's my first time to participate in 7 Quick Takes Friday. Last week I read many of your posts, but failed to comment. This week I hope to do better!

--- 2 ---
My children continue to be the most ill behaved present at church each week. I have hopes that the more we go the better it'll get but at the moment it's not at all fun. We're slowly learning little tricks and I discovered this week that other parents do bring snacks. In fact, the bulletin specifically said that children, even fussy ones, are welcome, but please do not bring raisins to church (too hard to clean up when they are smooshed into carpet!)

--- 3 ---
I spent some time chatting with my Favorite Catholic this week. I haven't ever really talked religion with her, because it's a strange conversation to have when you yourself aren't participating. So last weekend we had coffee (alone! no kids!) and talked a bit about church. I had asked her to bring me some books about being Catholic and she admitted that she doesn't really read or study her faith. Despite this, she is the very definition of a devout Catholic. She goes to church, she needs church, she believes and participates and loves with her whole heart, she just doesn't study.  Perhaps it's just my personality, but I can't imagine not needing to read about it. (She brought me Catholicism For Dummies, so now I have both The Idiot's Guide and the Dummies one. I'm trying not to feel insecure. She also brought Handbook for Today's Catholic: Fully Indexed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which looks promising.)

--- 4 ---
Which leads me to the next thought- last week I didn't spend a lot of time on this. My life was crazy, we had out of town guests over the weekend, after a week of my husband being out of town. I did read Girl Meets God, but I didn't follow anything else. I found that while I still wanted to go to church, I wasn't as interested in it, the longer I was away from it.  I'm not sure if this will be an ongoing problem. Will I always have to read? Daily? A book, the Bible, a meditation? Or will it eventually be internalized? I suspect that it will need to always be in front of me, but we'll see.

--- 5 ---
This week was another hard one, much like the week that prompted me to start the blog. (If you wanted to click on those stupid ads, I wouldn't stop you.) There are some people in our lives who we feel are going overboard on making us suffer. It honestly feels like they are getting their jollies from our misery. Church must be helping, because I find that instead of hating them, I feel sorry for them. I can't imagine living their miserable, shallow, hate filled lives. I haven't quite managed to pray for them, but the thought is there and I'm as stunned by it as anyone. Hmm. Maybe that is a form of prayer in itself, the honest (not sarcastic) thought that someone should pray for them?

--- 6 ---
I had to run an errand this week that was difficult for me. As I was driving over I was in near panic. As I was sitting at a redlight I had the thought that maybe I should give this to God. Maybe if I said a quick prayer He would help me through it, and I wouldn't actually puke on the person I was going to meet. So I said a quick one sentence prayer (something like, "God, I'm giving this problem to you in the hopes that you'll give me the strength to handle it.") I'd like to say I was instantly calm, but I wasn't. I was better though, and I did manage to hold myself together and conduct myself like an adult.

--- 7 ---
The next books on my self imposed reading list will be both the Handbook mentioned above (though I will likely find myself wandering off on tangets from this one), and Through the Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery by Karen Armstrong, which I am reading with a friend. I'm still taking recommendations for others, if you have a suggestion.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Thoughts on Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner

I continue to read and study about Christianity, as well as attend church weekly, and this week's reading saw me finish Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life by Lauren F. Winner. I've actually read this one before, shortly after it was first published. I wanted to read it again from the perspective of someone who was trying to decide her own beliefs about Jesus and Christianity.

Here's what the back of the book says:

The child of a Jewish father and a lapsed Southern Baptist mother, Lauren F. Winner chose to become an Orthodox Jew. But even as she was observing Sabbath rituals and studying Jewish law, Lauren was increasingly drawn to Christianity. Courageously leaving what she loved, she eventually converted. In Girl Meets God, this appealing woman takes us through a year in her Christian life as she attempts to reconcile both sides of her religious identity.

Ok, so this time I really did seem to read things a bit more personally than I did the first time. The first time I read it I enjoyed it, and gave it five stars on Goodreads, but it really didn't make me think about the religious aspects, beyond the intellectual. This time around I marked a few passages to think about further.

To start, on page 99, Winner is talking about skipping shul more to attend church, and in general being less Jewish. She says, "I doubt any of them knew I was filling my shul time with church, but they knew I was filling it with something, and none of them every said anything. None of them ever said, Hey, just checking up on you. Is something up? Is something the matter? Or, harsher, Lauren, you know, shul. You really need to be there. I was part of their religious body; saying those things was their job."

She explicitly says that it was the other members of her Jewish family's job to keep her going to church each week. That they share some of the blame (or credit, depending on your viewpoint) for her converting. Later in the book she's talking about her baptism, which happened during her years living in England, and lamenting that she will never again be a part of that specific church family- the ones who stood and promised to help her have strength in her faith. It is an interesting idea to me that other people have a responsibility to keep you on the straight and narrow, once you are there. It is a different thing from preaching to the heathens, and it is interesting.

A few chapters later, on page 190, a friend asks why she became a Christian. Winner considers telling her all the signs and all the reasons (which readers have already heard) but settles on, "I became a Christian because God gave me the grace to do it." She then tells a story about Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, who said people go to church for all kinds of reasons, but the real reason is that God sent them there. This is exactly how I came to feel about all the signs that pointed me to church a few months ago. God, if he exists, sent the signs that sent me to church. I realize this is not a new concept, that I am hardly the first person to realize that God may have sent me running to Him, but as someone who did not believe in signs, this is a pivotal moment for me.

One of the things that has been on my list to read more about is the Holy Spirit.  Winner spends a couple pages on that topic in the chapter on Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit is Elijah's still small voice.  The Holy Spirit (apparently) guides us in daily life, on what to do and what to say and how to live as a Christian. "Maybe that is what the Holy Spirit does. Maybe He silences all the voices in our head that keep us from hearing God." (p. 233) I take this to mean that the Holy Spirit is what is  urging me on in this exploration and study I've embarked on, and I've asked my friend G to find me reading material and verses to support this theory.

The last bit of the book that I marked is about sin (around pages 273-275.) I have never really stopped to think about sin beyond the ten commandments, and the idea that a person is inherently sinful, without having done anything wrong, is nearly new to me.  (I vaguely remember reading about this before, perhaps on my first reading of this book.) I am not quite sure how I feel about asking for forgiveness for my naturally sinful state, or about the idea that my toddler needs forgiveness. I like the concept of grace, but have never gotten the full implication of it before now. I suspect that this will be something that I stumble over again some day, and I'm not quite ready to tackle it just yet.

In general, Girl Meets God was still fascinating to me and I'm glad I choose to reread it. Winner is a lover of books and words and study and I could see myself in her (though I will never be the scholar she is.) I think she did a great job capturing what Christianity is like for her, what she gained and what she lost and why she did it. After I read this the first time, I checked out her other two books, Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline (Pocket Classics) and Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. I recall that I enjoyed the former more than the latter, but I don't really remember much of either. I see that she has recently published a new book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, that I will add to my list and begin pestering my library to get.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thoughts on Bible study, politics, Facebook

Bible study

I haven't posted in a week (I find it harder to write a post for this blog with my constant interruptions), but I am still reading my Bible(s) and thinking about God and going to church. I've been faithfully reading my Lenten Companion book every day.  I'm slowly starting to think about why one would believe in God, instead of just how one would participate in an organized religion. It's startling to me how different God is from what I imagined and what I thought I knew. Even as recently as a couple of months ago I could not have imagined going to church because you wanted to go to church. I actually had the distinct thought, that I could never imagine being upset about missing church. That it would be impossible to enjoy church.  Though I also think I'd enjoy it a lot more if I were there alone. (Note: Fill in "it" in that sentence with a multitude of activities- grocery shopping, the library, loading the dishwasher, etc.)

I am constantly stumbling across a pretty verse on Pinterest and pulling out a Bible to read the surrounding verses. It usually turns out that I like the verse much more as a stand alone verse, than taken in context. I struggle a bit with this, because it seems as though people who quote the verses maybe aren't reading them in context. Like the telephone game, does the verse become distorted over time? Does it matter?  Is it just as valid to quote out of context?  (I don't expect an answer to this, I just like to think about it. Feel free to offer your opinion but I'm not looking for it to be solved or anything.)

I'm also noticing a lot more religious intolerance in this political season. I'm not going to talk politics here. At all. I am not anywhere near entering that fight, and I suspect that I'd be even more conflicted and confused if I let it color my thoughts about God right now. I will say that the intolerance goes both ways, with both sides believing in absolutes with absolutely no room for  open discussion. Both sides are guilty of writing off the other side without considering the person behind the statement. It makes me sad and I tend to avoid Facebook more. I feel embarrassed to declare myself for either side of the fight, so I don't. This is partly because I am not sure exactly where I stand, but also because I don't want to be part of the ugliness.

I am still working on my spiritual reading list and I've asked my Favorite Catholic to bring me a handful of books when she visits in two weeks. I am not a book monogamist though, and my shelves are full of other interesting things as well. Most days I dip in and out of 2 or 3 different books, as the mood strikes.

Annnd, no good way to close this post up, but that's where I am today.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thought on Lent, from a first time participant

This will be my first year to participate in Lent in any way. Ever since learning about making a sacrifice during Lent (which I didn't learn about until I was about 25, there aren't a lot of Catholics in the Deep South) I've been fascinated with the idea of giving something up.  I didn't take the time to read about it, of course, but was always slightly jealous of people who "got" to do it. I was disappointed to learn that my Catholic husband (who I met later) didn't really participate.  This year, we are. We both gave up candy, including chocolate. This isn't particularly original, but we beginners and so this is what we chose. Last night we had some Easter candy and today it was supposed to go to work with Mike so that it would not tempt us at home. It did not go. I guess I get to learn strength the hard way. (Cadbury mini eggs might be my favorite candy of all.)

Last night as I was lying in bed, I did my usual prayer, but then was thinking about Lent and sacrifice and Jesus and how I didn't really know the meaning of Lent. This led to my getting up today and reading a few articles and blog posts of the more serious type.  Most of the blog posts were from the Catholic Exchange (WHY can't their RSS feed be easy to set up? It's like they want me to forget to click over. Also, you'd think they would actually link book titles to a place to purchase said titles, no?) Here's the most interesting thought that I read, from For Lent: Redefine True Womanhood. This one has great ideas for other sacrifices, than the obvious chocolate choice. I particularly like "Fast from negative self-talk about your value or appearance."  I'm not an overly negative person, but I think this one could really change a person, even if they failed.

After I read those, I decided I better read the Daily Mass readings for the day, so I went and did that. Which told me that I'm not supposed to let anyone know that I'm fasting and I'm supposed to pray in secret. This is all well and good, but how does that reconcile with wearing ashes from Mass? It's not like I really wanted a medal for participating, but I didn't realize it was supposed to be on the hush hush. If I had read that on any other day I would have assumed that it meant that a good Christian did not go shouting to the rooftops what a great Christian they were, but since it's the reading for today, a day of prayer, fasting and alms, perhaps it means today? Clearly, I have more reading to do. I think maybe it's time to go to the source, and read one of the gospels. My good friend G (not Catholic) suggests John, so that's where I'm going to begin.  I'm also going to spend a little more time thinking about today's readings, as it seems there's a good bit of other stuff to think about in there ("A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me." Ps 51:10 and "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise." Ps 51:15)[Side note: If you happen to be reading the wrong one, say Psalm 50 instead of 51, you will be utterly confused.]

In the hour it's taken me to write this, I've had to resist the mini M&Ms at least 6 times. Every single time I've thought, "oh wait, I gave those up for God." If this is any indication of how the next 40 days will go I will either be very devout or very bitter at the end. Perhaps I should get rid of the bag of candy now.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

The first book on my self-imposed, read-about-Christianity plan was Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller.  As the title would suggest, this is more a book of loosely connected essays on Miller's thoughts on Christianity and spirituality. My good friend G suggested that I read this one, and as she is one of my two greatest Christian inspirations, I took her advice.  It was a great book to start with, as it wasn't too serious but still managed to provide some food for thought.

It is hard to pin Miller down to any one organized religion, and the church he belongs to seems to be a homemade,  not particularly organized and full of passion,  and not held accountable by a larger organization, type church. I find this both inspiring (they are so passionate about Christ that they made their own successful church!), and a bit off-putting (passion is good and all, but is this a freaky cult?) There is no doubt that Miller believes in the existance of God and Christ. He seems to have been born with an innate need for a spiritual presence. He does question the details, and openly admits to seeing the complexity and the irrationality of some of the facets of Christianity. Miller ultimately comes through on the side of belief every time but it's really encouraging to see such a steadfast believer voice some of the same problems I have as a newcomer.

The book itself could have really benefitted from an editor. No one uses the other persons name in a face to face conversation as often as they do with Miller. No one.  Once, maybe twice, but not every sentence.  I understand that it lends urgency to a passage, but it really took my attention away from what was really being said. There were also a few chapters that seemed to only barely tie in to Christianity as well. Overall, a good first choice, but as with any books, annoying in places.

I'm not sure what book is up next, I did update my Spiritual Reading List this week with additonal titles already on my shelves.

Quotes worth taking note of:
p 13. I believe that the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. The is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man's mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God.

p. 33. (re: the idea that you have to make a decision to follow or reject Christ.)  And, perhaps, I was judging the idea, not by it's merit, but by the fashionable or unfashionable delivery of the message.

p. 51. The goofy thing about Christian faith is that you believe it and don't believe it at the same time. It isn't unlike having an imaginary friend. I believe in Jesus, I believe He is the Son of God, but every time I sit down to explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circu or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn't figured out the show isn't real.

p. 87.  Every year or so I start pondering at how silly the whole God thing is. Every Christian knows they will deal with doubt. And they will. But when it comes it seems so very real and frightening, as if your entire universe is going to fall apart. I remember a specific time when I was laying there in bed thinking about the absurdity of my belief. God. Who believes in God? It all seems so very silly.

p.104. And that's when I realized that believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is like making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon. [Lisa's Note: I keep coming back to this one in particular.]

p. 197. "When we do what God wants us to do, we are blessed, we are spiritually healthy. God wants us to give a portion of our money to His work on earth. By setting aside money from every check, you are trusting God to provide. He wants you to get over that fear- that fear of trusting Him. It is a scary place, but that is where you have to go as a follower of Christ. There are times when my wife and I don't have enough money to cover bills, but we know the first bill, the first payment we make, is to the church. That is most important. If the other bills get neglected, then we need to watch how we are spending money. And there are times when we have found ourselves in that situation. But it works out. We are getting good at trusting God, and we are getting good at managing money."

p. 205. Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder.

When I think about the complexity of the Trinity, the three-in-one God, my mind cannot understand, but my heart feels wonder in abundant satisfaction. It is as though my heart, in the midst of its euphoria, is saying to my mind, There are things you cannot understand, and you must learn to live with this. Not only must you learn to live with this, you must learn to enjoy this.

p. 229. "Your value has to come from God. And God wants you to receive His love and to love yourself too."

p. 232. And so I have come to understand that strength, inner strength, comes from receiving love as much as it comes from giving it. I think apart from the idea that I am a sinner and God forgives me, this is the greatest lesson I have ever learned. When you get it, it changes you. ...  God's love will never change us if we don't accept it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The difficulty of going to Mass

As a family we've been to Mass three Sundays in a row now. It's become important to both my husband and myself that we make the effort to go every week. I see him embracing the church in ways he hasn't since in 14 years, since before I met him. We've talked about calling to see if there is a welcome wagon (if you will), and to find out about Baptism for our two younger kids. He is planning to go to confession before Lent. 

Since I'm not Catholic I feel a bit weird adapting some of the ritual and practices that he does, but I also feel weird abstaining. If he wants to say grace at dinner, and I think we should, shouldn't I be learning it as well? If he gives something up for Lent, I'd like to do it as well. Do I cross myself in church or is that reserved for those who are full Catholics? Do I genuflect as I enter the pew? I dug my copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Catholicism out of the garage (a process that led me to take a nap afterwards, true story) and will be looking through it for answers, but would welcome input from the peanut gallery.

The other hard part of Mass for us are the kids.  Understandably, this is all new and hard for them. They aren't used to sitting quietly for any length of time. My 6 year old is mostly ok, but the two younger ones (3 and 18 months) are unimpressed.  I feel like we're spending the whole hour herding cats.  There's no sense of sitting there gaining anything spiritual from the process, and since we haven't managed to find out about other services we aren't yet gaining community from the process.  Because of our work schedules, we've been at three different services (10am, 7pm, 8am).  It seems likely that the 8am Sunday service is the one we'll settle on, as it will rarely cause a work conflict.  I took a couple little soft toys in a bag for the baby today, and pens and paper for the boys, but I don't know if that's acceptable or not.*

Regardless of all this, the bloom has not worn off the rose and I still believe that going to church is the right thing to do. I want the routine and the weekly touchpoint of going. I'd love to feel a sense of renewal and fresh beginnings every week, and I suspect that going to church would come to do that for me. I'm not ready to proclaim myself Born Again, or even a true Believer, but I am comforted by the idea of becoming one.

*Another true story, once when I was about 12 and my brothers were maybe 4 and 6, they slithered up from our pew (3/4 of the way back) alllll the way to the front of the church, on their bellies. They removed a few shoes on their way through. They popped up at the front of the church, laughed at their victory, and proudly marched back down the center aisle to our family's pew. My kids aren't that obvious. Yet.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Quick Takes on Prayer, Mass, Bible Study and Stillness

Mass yesterday was a disaster. Due to work schedules we had to attend the Sunday evening service and it was just too much to ask of the kid's at the end of the weekend. It was only our second attempt, so we're not discouraged. (Grace, if you're reading, I wore pants, but not jeans. )


Thanks for your suggestions on my post about learning to pray. For the first time ever in my life, yesterday someone asked me to "say a quick prayer that I handle this right" and I actually did.  With the idea that it might be more than empty words.   Also, I was looking for a nice repetitive daily prayer, and Cari suggested something simple. I thought about what I wanted (needed) most, and settled on peace from anxiety and stress and everything that drove me here, calm and patience in dealing with others, and joy and love to and from my friends and family. (And a pony.) (And world peace.) I settled on repeating "Peace, calm, joy," and then if I'm awake enough to need to think harder, to expound on just those things. I thought maybe I could look for scripture that supported those ideas as well.


I really liked this post on Psalm 46:10. Seems to go well with my prayer for peace.
I believe that this is a call to quiet our hearts when they are trembling with fear. It’s a call to quiet our spirits when the pressure of the busy schedules, and the kids and spouses, and the career responsibilities, all become more than we can bear. When the noises of our lives are drowning out our calm, peace, even our joy, don’t forget to quiet your mind and spirit and look to the Lord. Remember that He is in control, He’s got you taken care of.

I'd kind of like to find some kind of one on one study partner. I'm not up for what I see advertised (Learn the Book of This Guy! Women in the Bible!) yet, but something much more basic might be nice. Bonus points if it involved a cup of coffee away from home on a regular basis.


If you know anyone else whose blog I should be following, or who would be interested in reading here, please feel free to share the link.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Learning how to Pray

It is almost overwhelming how many directions I can try to go with learning about Christianity. When I sit down to read something other than a book (which is by it's very nature linear) I find that I have a hard time focusing on one topic. So then I wander off and play a few rounds of Plants vs Zombies or Angry BirdWords with Friends instead. I decided that I need to start with one idea and follow that for a while, and then move on to something else. I'll continue to read my books while I'm doing this, and make notes as I go so that I have an idea of where to go next.  Sounds like a plan, no?  (By the way, I'm not spending a ton of time a day doing this, that's hardly realistic for my life. I am spending time thinking about it though.)

I've decided to start with prayer. I really don't know how to pray. It's always seems so greedy to ask someone as powerful and important as God is (should be?) for my little things.  Oh sure, I could ask him to heal someone sick or help the victims of some disaster without guilt, but for myself? Does one pray for themself? If I'm going to be completely honest here, and that's the goal, I'd really like to pray for a little peace and quiet of the mental variety. I'd like to share my anxiety over life's details with someone who isn't going to take that burden and amplify it into his own brain, as my husband would do. But, isn't it weird to talk to God about that stuff? Doesn't it make my self-worth awfully inflated to think God even cares that the baby won't sleep and the phone bill is due and I never managed to mop the floor (for the 42nd day in a row?)

The other night I was rocking and nursing the baby back to sleep. It was somewhere around 1am. Normally I'd either sit in the rocker and doze and hope I didn't wake up with a start and wake the baby too, or I'd sit there and make mental to do lists that I wouldn't remember in the morning anyway. I had the idea that I needed something I could recite that would both keep me away and keep me from thinking of everything I needed to do.  I have very few things memorized and the ones I do know by heart don't lend themselves to repetition of this sort (really, the first paragraph of Gone with the Wind can only be said a couple of times before even I lose interest.) So I went with reciting The Lord's Prayer. I said it wrong, of course, Prebytarians don't say it like Catholics do, but it was a start. It still wasn't fascinating, but it did keep my attention and crowded out the other thoughts in my head. I started to think, maybe these Catholics with all their repetitive memorization are onto something here. I was about 99% sure that there's be a whole stack of prayers I could learn, and likely there would be one that fit middle of the night baby rocking. 

This morning I sat down and poked around on the internet for something to back me up in this idea. I found this link at Catholic.com, that talks about prayer in general and lists some common Catholic prayers. The next link on my search was for this list of 3398 prayers. 3398!! Isn't that a bit overboard there?  I have no idea where they come from, for all I know the person who created that site sat in a dark room and made them all up. I was particularly enchanted by this Blessing of Bacon and Lard. I found this link about daily prayer from ourcatholicprayers.com to be very helpful in solidifying the idea of starting with prayer.

All of this leaves me with the question of: which prayer(s) would be best for middle of the night solo recitation? My solitary research this morning indicates that I should start with the prayers that make up the Rosary.  Not that I'm anywhere near saying the Rosary, or really even wanting to, but if I'm going to memorize things it may as well be useful things (as opposed to the Bacon Blessing.)  Maybe if I learned this kind of guided prayer I'd be more receptive to asking for what I want? Is it selfish to want something from religion? from God?

What does my in-house cheerleading squad think? (Yes, I mean YOU.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Reading the right translation

A week into this journey and I'm starting to get hung up on trivial details. I question which translation I'm reading and find myself looking up comparisions online. I start to think about if I should be using whichever Bible Catholics read, just so I'm on the same page from the beginning. I worry, if I'm so hung up on getting it "right" does that mean I'll stop trying?  The translations are often so different from each other that a verse that I enjoy on the first reading will lose meaning for me when I read another version. I'm trying to convince myself to let it mean what it will, but then when I think about discussing what it means to me and somehow being wrong, I hesitate.  Clearly, there is a right and wrong, or we'd all be one happy religion, right?

I'm going at this all from a very very basic knowledge of the Bible. I know the kid's stories- Noah, Moses, Jonah, Adam & Eve, the Birth. I am not familiar with many Bible verses, nor do I know the significance of it when someone  posts chapter and verse alone. I almost feel embarrassed to talk about a verse that is very well known, but for the most part the only way that I even know that they are well known is because I saw them on Pinterest or Facebook. I feel a bit like a kid who is the last one to get the joke, or maybe like I'm the last one to learn to read.

I realize that I'm overthinking a silly detail, when there are so many other things I could be overthinking. I'm having a hard time focusing on details of belief. My life is full of chaos and kids and it's hard to find a quiet moment for reflection. I am able to browse the internet and read books in the middle of chaos, so that's where I've started. I'm hoping that the books lead to thinking about what I personally believe about God. I don't expect that I will ever be completely firm on what that is, but I'd like to reach a point where I can say with complete honesty that I am a Christian, or that I am not.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

If Today You Hear His Voice, Harden Not Your Hearts

Today we went to church. I haven't been to a non-holiday church service since college. We'll be attending a local Catholic church, because my husband identifies as Catholic. While we were both raised to go to church, his experience was much more about faith than mine, which was more about what my parents wanted. This is not to say he wanted to get up and go as a child, but the God part was more of a factor than for me.  Since I'm not dedicated to a denomination, and he can't imagine being anything but Catholic, this is our choice.  So today we loaded up the kids and went to church.

There are a lot of parts to the Catholic Mass that I just don't understand. I find ritual very comforting and love the responsive readings and the formality of the sit, stand, kneel. I love the robes and the kissing and the part where the Priest does some things that are for God and not for the congregation. I don't know what half of it means. I don't know what comes next. I don't know which words I should capitalize! I'm learning. One of the things I learned today is that every Catholic church has the same readings as each other every week. The Priest creates his own sermon based on one of them, but everyone hears the same words and songs. I love that.  I love that if I had a friend in Alabama or California who was also Catholic that we could compare notes.

In a no-longer-surprising turn of events, today's Responsorial Psalm (another new term!) was the following from Psalms 95: 1-11:

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
"Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works."
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

This happens very near the beginning of the service, with the bold lines being the respsonse. Really? My first day back at church in 13 years (not counting baptisms and holidays) and it hits my exact situation? Does that really happen? As this week has progressed I've been feeling uncertain. I'm still planning to follow through, but it really started to feel like I made the whole thing up. I was starting to think that we were going to church for everyone else's sake, and for the community. I didn't know that I was going to be able to get anything out of this. So WHAM, first thing, harden not your heart. Also, there was a cello.  This was the best intro I could have had to the rest of the service. After we left my husband and I both commented on how appropriate this was, for our new beginning.

The rest of the service was a bit harder to pay attention to, as my children have been to church even less than myself.  We knew going in that we'd likely leave early (at Communion, for those of you following along at home, since none of us could take it anyway We were very happy that the kids were able to (mostly) sit and bear it that long.) but I don't mind, it's a start. When I first met my husband, I bought a couple books about Catholicism ( What Catholics Really Believe--Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions about the Catholic Faith and Catholicism For Dummies ). I think I should dig them out and add them to my Recommended Reading List.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

When in Doubt, Read.

As with anything else in my life, one way I'll be exploring faith is through reading. I've read quite a few faith based memoirs already, but would like to add more  potential titles to my list. I'm going to collect them all in one place, in case anyone else is looking for a Suggested Reading List for those seeking God. In no particular order:

The following books are books I happen to own. They have not been recommended to me as part of this experience, but they are about religion of some sort and are already on my bookshelves. In random order as I found them.