Thursday, March 28, 2013

How To Always Be Successful

"We are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful." -Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Lately, I ponder this quote and its meaning on a daily basis. In my mind, I am never successful enough. I never get enough done in a day. The work I actually do is not productive enough. No matter how much I do, it does not make enough impact on society.

And, you know what? It won't. Ever.

I can't do anything without God. I can't blog. I can't brainstorm. I can't even breathe. Without God, not only is doing anything at all impossible, but everything I do becomes meaningless and pointless.

Our new pope said something today which rang true for me. He said, ""...self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all."

Before becoming Christian, that's what I did. I hopped from course to course, method to method, believing I would eventually get somewhere. I had gurus and teachers who told me there was nowhere to arrive at and that I was perfect as I was but those same teachers would sell me the very courses and methods that propagated the illusion. 

Amazing thing, grace. It's not just a "feel good" song. It's the truth. 

Grace gives us reason for living and the power to do it. Grace makes it okay to be human, because we let go and let God do what we alone cannot do. He becomes the fiber of our being, the blood in our cells.

So, what is being faithful? Being faithful is remembering just that. Believing and trusting in the power of grace. 

That's all God expects from us.  

Yet, just remembering the truth isn't really faithfulness. God expects us to embody and practice that faithfulness, through demonstrating our faith in all we do.  

But, when we let Christ live in us, everything we do is enough, no matter what our neighbors think, the government thinks, the media thinks, or anyone else for that matter.

Jesus expected the disciples to stay awake for an hour while he prayed. He expected them to be loyal and faithful. They all failed Him. Yet, was Jesus a failure? 

Jesus was the greatest success in history. We will always be a failure without Him.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Why Religious People Are Healthier Than "Spiritual" Ones

Almost everyone I know these days is "spiritual, not religious." I spent over forty years of my life that way. I thought it was the only "sane" way to be. Yet, I just read about a recent study that showed those who identify as "spiritual, not religious" are more prone to mental illness and drug abuse.

For most of my life, I've heard about how religion is bad for our mental health. I believed nearly everything I heard, too.
Here are just a few of the reasons why people say that religion is not good for psychological health:

(1) Religion is "fear-based."

 Rebuttal: The reasoning behind the accusation that religion is "fear based" is that people do not want to be "bullied" into believing things. People want to make up their own minds and not be threatened with hellfire for questioning religion. Well, that is certainly fair and surely God understands and wants us to think through things for ourselves. After all, He gave us free will, and it is so important to him for us to have free will that he allows evil to happen. God doesn't want to force us to do anything because then people would be robots or puppets and not people who choose to love Him, on our own volition. So, why do churches say things that scare people sometimes? I think it's out of protectiveness and caring. There are too many things to count out in the world today that can erode and destroy our souls. If we work to turn off "fear," so we can be "free," then how free might we be when we end up enslaved to addictions, harmful relationships, deception and exploitation? I think some types of fear are actually pretty healthy, for that reason.

(2) Religion produces unnecessary guilt.

Rebuttal: Religion is the best way to learn to live a life that produces less guilt. When we're focused on being loving and giving, we're more prone to feel good about ourselves. Sure, it's a drag to be told over-indulgence in pleasure is a sin. Truly, it will wreck your fun. But, life is more meaningful when we learn to give more than we take.  By working hard to turn off "guilt" because we believe it is toxic, we often end up shutting down our conscience, also. Instead of repressing guilt, it is a good idea to express those feelings and work through them in a way that leads to more loving and productive action.

(3) Religion causes sexual repression, which in turn creates a whole host of psychological problems.

Rebuttal:  Both Christianity and Buddhism are spiritual paths that require self-renunciation and self-denial. The most seriously religious of both faiths willingly submit to chastity as a discipline. When people are more in control of themselves and their instincts, they are not only far less likely to have unplanned pregnancy but they are also less likely to over-indulge in alcohol and drugs, to exploit other people or to have moody or violent outbursts. In other words, people who have greater self-control are more mentally healthy. Since the "sexual revolution," each generation has a higher rate of mental illness than the one before. I'm not so sure it's working out for us! 

Sexual repression might be unhealthy, but Catholic practice has been to sublimate sexual instincts rather than repress them. Saints often "fall in love" with God for that reason. When saints do that, the world tends to be a better, healthier place, don't you think?

Here are some ways religion can HELP mental health:

(1) Religion helps us understand how to cope with suffering.
(2) Religion helps us learn to comfort ourselves during hard times.
(3) Religion helps us think beyond ourselves about others and the community as a whole, which can pull us out of self-pity, which can lead to depression.

Maybe being "spiritual" also helps many people do these things, but I've been feeling much healthier since I embraced religion. I think there are many good reasons why that is true.

Here's a link to the study:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Carmel Heart Media- The First Four Months

This year, Lent has drawn me inward and has helped me clear out some obstacles from my mind. I've had an unusually good month. I've let go of some attachments to people, places and things that used to cause me spiritual and psychological problems. I've been able to relax more. I've been feeling "like myself" more. The last few years have been hard because I did feel like I lost myself and have just recently found myself again.

As of today, Carmel Heart Media has been in existence for four months. I'm at work publishing an author's book on autism from a child's perspective and I have arranged a book signing tomorrow for another author. I'm working on memoirs for another author whose work will not be publicly released. 

The re-release of the original version of Borderline and Beyond is almost ready to go to press. I only need to get the new covers off the old hard drive from the computer that broke and had to be replaced. I've also begun the process of converting Borderline and Beyond to an e-book. Months ago, I started developing a Borderline and Beyond app and I would love to go back to finishing it up, but I have too many other priorities first!

In addition to all the above, Carmel Heart Media provides social media management services for 1st Way of Eugene, Oregon, and CHM is piloting the new internet outreach, "Talk to a Friend." My work for 1st Way ends up being a quarter to a third of all I do each week. I've also recently become a 1st Way Board member. 

The most helpful things for me this year have been spiritual direction, my Carmelite weekends and aspirancy process and my boyfriend, Mark. Mark is devoted to the Lord and far more disciplined in his spiritual practice than I am, so he serves as an inspiration. Having someone close to me who has the same goal of growing nearer to God has brought the two of us nearer together. We're now working well in synchrony and he is learning to do a lot of what I do and helping out with what has ended up being too much for one person. In April, I hope to meet with as many student pro-life groups as possible to help forward the mission of 1st Way, as well. I think of more things to do than I can do alone, and I tend to do too much of that!

Thanks to everyone who has lent support. I look forward to introducing new books very soon.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mercy and Miracles~ Reflections on Aspirancy

Today was my monthly "Carmelite Day." Each month, I spend the day at Carmel Maria Regina Monastery in Eugene, Oregon. It's a busy day. We have mass, morning and evening prayer, lectio divina and I have three classes. Every month, I have assignments to read and answer questions, but I've completed all the material for my Aspirancy now. The next step will hopefully be entering formation, which is the secular order's equivalent of moving from being a postulant to a novice. It's strange to think that this year hasn't been called "formation," because I'm definitely feeling like I've been being shaped and formed and the Carmelite way of life has had everything to do with it.

I reflected today about how I've grown in confidence this year. I'm feeling braver in the tasks I undertake. I have a fuller sense of what God wants from me in my life and I'm developing what can only be called a lay apostolate. In a year that I've also just been integrating what it means to be Catholic, I've been exploring what kind of Christian, or "new person in God," I really am. I'm nothing like I thought I was. I'm actually getting better at working together with others in groups and I feel like I have a better sense of humor. For an autistic like me, these are pretty amazing things. Just two years ago, I had no goal or purpose and had given up on life entirely. Just last year, I was afraid to be around people much at all. As amazing as this is, I am not amazing at all. The power of God working in me is what's amazing.

Our scripture reading for today was about the pharisee and the tax collector. The pharisee proudly tells everyone what a good and faithful Jew he is. He seems to do everything "right." He dots his I's and crosses his T's in all he does. He gives to charity, he fasts, he keeps the ten commandments. And, he certainly did not need Jesus' help. The tax collector beat his breast and said "O God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Jesus said that the tax collector was "justified," but the pharisee was not.

The tax collector was intensely aware of his need for God and of his absolute dependence on God. When we don't realize our absolute dependence on God for every breath we take and every thought we think, there's no room in our soul for God to enter in. After all, telling God you don't need Him is pretty much shutting the door on Him. It doesn't matter how many good works you do if you give yourself the glory.

You may have wondered why Catholics repeat, "God have mercy," so much. Well, the answer to your question is here. "God have mercy," is the equivalent of, "Help, I desperately need you!" The truth is that we do, desperately need God every minute of our lives. Our need to depend on Him will never go away.

As we go out in the world, we are bombarded with messages of how to "succeed" in careers and to surpass others financially or in the way we dress or look. We're inundated with messages to be the best in all we do and especially to be better than others in doing those things. These messages are so persistent and so strong that if I were not repeating, "Lord have mercy," to myself often, I would lose the realization of how much I need God. To lose that realization is to lose everything.

Humans are just so incredibly knuckle-headed. We don't remember such a basic thing. I know for me, I need constant repetition. My tendency is to be driven toward self-aggrandizement. I need constant reminders that I'm here to serve Him and not myself, and so I am Catholic.

Since I am dependent on God for everything, he deserves the glory in my life. I dearly want to give Him that, but sometimes I also want to steal the spotlight. This has been a wonderful year of growth for me, but it really has been all about God. He's been the center of my life and my constant prayer has been for His direction and help. I feel so grateful. This Easter will be my first anniversary as a Catholic. What a year!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Face Facts- We Live in a Fallen World

Four years ago, I turned forty and moved to Eugene, Oregon. Some say forty is too young for a mid-life crisis, but it wasn't for me.

I was born in Georgia, but had been living in North Carolina before I moved. Life had really become meaningless for me at that time. I was dissatisfied, disillusioned and disappointed. What I had thought was profound and enduring in my spiritual path became nothing but a temporary escape from the real world. I had “flown off” to a world where everything is perfect, you and I are perfect and you and I can become God. If you believe in yourself enough, you can become rich, always happy and always in love.

I used to tell myself over and over that everything was perfect and that my problem in life was that I just didn't have the awareness to see it. I used all sorts of “techniques” to help uncloud the “smoke from the mirror” so I could see my perfection.

Lies, lies and more lies. Just teachers telling you that anything contrary to their “perfect” worldview is a lie, spouting off to no end. I've never been happier to face imperfection than when I removed myself from those influences.

Telling ourselves it's a perfect world and that viewing imperfection is a defect of the mind (by the way, what a contradiction there!) allows us to turn a blind eye to those suffering in our world and society. I was taught that the only way to be happy was to be loving and giving, but I was also told that we only do that for ourselves because we want to be happy. Still meaningless and selfish.

So, where did that get me? How did that work out for me? Once I got used to living that belief system, I did in fact feel happy, self-confident and even in mistaken ecstasy at times. And, so what? Life is just for kicks?

Life is not just a playground. Some things really do matter and that is why we're here.

And yet, four years ago, I did not realize that. For lack of anything better to do, I moved to Eugene, Oregon. I had heard they had good social services in Eugene and I have a disability so that appealed to me. I heard it was fun because “anything goes” and people are creative and do their own thing.

Four years later, I look outside my window here in downtown Eugene. For the most part, I see what I have always seen here- aimless and lost-looking people, some happy, some sad- but all with those lost-looking eyes. I see people walking along playing musical instruments, wearing odd costumes, cross-dressers, homeless teens and adults pushing carts, with plastic tarp on their head to protect them from the rain who are singing to themselves, doing kung fu in the air or screaming obscenities at no one, defending their rights to be homeless as if that is what they really want.

It is so sad to see so many lost lives, lost souls. I cannot judge anyone because I spent most of my life so lost like that. It is a painful, scary life in so many ways. But, how did I come to the place where I questioned the life I was living and realized I needed to change?

I had lived in California for six years, but came home to Georgia when I got pregnant. My boyfriend at the time wanted nothing to do with baby, but I wanted her with all my heart. I knew I needed to go home for help, though. I miscarried on the way there, as I was driving through Louisiana. The loss of a baby was devastating and I had already left my west coast life behind. I didn't have the financial resources to go back. My old new age support system just didn't seem interested in communicating with me anymore. Those I thought were friends rarely wrote back or didn't at all. I guess they knew checks for future workshops would not be forthcoming for me.

That is when reality hit that I was not living in a perfect world. Because of my unstable lifestyle, I would have had great difficulty caring for a child. Because of my unstable lifestyle, I wasn't married either, and my child would have grown up without having a relationship with a father. I remembered that when my mother became pregnant with me, both of my parents cried. They were in their thirties and had been trying to conceive for years. They were ready for me, having built the foundation for a home. I couldn't give the same to my baby.

I've never been pregnant in my life except for that one time, and I am almost too old to have children anymore. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mother. But, that was playing with dolls and wanting to dress them up in cute clothes and pull them around in a wagon. I didn't understand the responsibility and I did not prepare for it, either.

When I realized how far my life had fallen away from what I originally wanted, I realized that I had a problem. I had not just fallen away from what I originally wanted, but I had fallen away from what God originally wanted. God's original plan involved a different view of families. Those families would multiply and bear spiritual fruit. It's when we demanded the “fruit” only for ourselves that we stepped outside of God's kingdom.

When I was studying to become Catholic, our priest (who is now a bishop,) taught a class about morality. The gist of morality, he says, is accepting reality and living life on those terms. All sin, he said, is an effort to escape that reality. I thought about it. Yes. Drug abuse, compulsive drinking, shopping, eating, pornography, the need to steal and kill for what we don't have- all of these sins are based on the desire to flee reality.

I realize now the world is imperfect and that my problem in life was that I didn't have the awareness to see it. Now, I use sacraments and sacramentals to help understand the Reality that Is.

This is a fallen world and that is why a life of selfish pursuit of pleasure, fame, status and money will not “pick us up” and take us where we really want to go. The best these things can do is make our existence in the fallen world more comfortable. I think a lot of us wake up at about forty. At least, those who are lucky do.

My life has purpose now. My life has deep and rich meaning. I wake up with a sense of purpose and I am satisfied at the end of the day. I finally understood that in all the mad and crazy spinning of the universe and in my personal world, there are truths that remain solid and unchanging. This is not a perfect world, but I love and serve a perfect God who is guiding us toward perfection.

Every day that I am Catholic, I thank God with all my heart because he found me when I was lost, had mercy on me in my misery and when I lost all hope, He gave me a life worth living.