The Thicket of The Cross

St John of the Cross

I always have loved New Year’s Eve for some reason. I used to sit all alone in my living room watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve in Times Square and wait until the ball dropped before I would go to bed. There was something about it for me. The fact that it was a whole new beginning, a clean slate and the possibilities of the New Year were endless. I wasn’t raised believing in the magic of Santa or the Tooth Fairy, but I somehow taught myself the magic of a fresh start that came with a New Year.

Unlike so many things in my life that ended up jaded from the things going on with me and to me, NYE always stayed being the romantic magical night that it had always been. Even while I working behind  bar for four of them. Those nights were the best. I will always cherish the memory of being next to my best friend Homer one NYE as the countdown was going on. It was the first and only time that we hugged each other. I always cry tears of relief and he never let me live down the fact that he saw me cry once. Now that he is gone that memory is priceless.

The thing that I love the most about being married to my husband is that every single year we have a great New Year’s Eve. Whether we are just home alone or out in the middle of the Times Square crowd with a dozen of New York’s finest, it is always a blast. It’s our special day. He knows how much I love it and what it means to me and he honors that.

The thing that he probably doesn’t really realize is that he is the answer to every one of my NYE prayers that one day my life would be better. I didn’t think that God loved me the way that He loved all the smiley spunky girls that went to youth group with me so prayer wasn’t really something that I thought would ever work for me, but the magic of that ball at Times Square was something that I wished on as if it was the biggest shooting star there ever was. Every year I wished that my life for the following year would be full of love. Real love, not the one night stands, drunken nights, booty calls, or just being one of many women in someone’s life kind of fake love that I was trying so hard to make myself think was all that I was worth having.

It was at 1AM on New Year’s 2008 that I gave up trying to make myself believe that lie. I sat sobbing in my closet begging God to either help me or let me die. I had moved away from Amarillo, stopped partying, worked and tried to do my best as a mother to my kids and still I felt like all of it was pointless. The next day I got the first message from Stacey, who is now my husband and was my childhood sweetheart. My life has never been the same. If he had not come into my life I would never have walked into RCIA and had my life changing encounter with Christ. My children would not have lived the last 7 years in the same neighborhood going to the same schools as their friends like normal kids. (They also wouldn’t be entitled brats, but that is a whole other subject.) The one thing that I always wanted in a New Year was answered by that message from Stacey on January 2, 2008. But unlike most love stories shown in movies or books, that wasn’t the end. The hard part never gets put into movies or books because it sucks. Who knew?

For the last year our life has been turned upside down with grief over the loss of a friend along with so many other things. The list is so long that I can’t even keep it up anymore. I stared into the dark last night wondering why exactly this is happening to us. Why it seems like I can’t feel God’s arms wrapped around me anymore the way that I once used to while others who are so full of shit seemed to be blessed like those girls that I used to know in youth group who were smiley and spunky. Not only do they seem to be blessed but one of them is going out of her way to make sure that anything good that comes my way gets taken away.  That I will never understand. I could handle it if it was someone who hated me from my past but for it to be a popular Catholic who is acting like a jealous Jr High girl angers me to the tenth power. For the life of me I can’t get why Jesus won’t let me just punch her in the throat once so she will get off my ass. But He doesn’t and so I sit in the dark and fume about it. Honestly, it didn’t seem like He cared much. But then this morning I finally started the Divine Office, which I’ve been planning to do since Lent, (I really need to learn some self-discipline.) and I read this:

Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross. ~ St. John of the Cross

Well, that explains it. Just like with marriage, the hard part of conversion isn’t really portrayed much in books or (horrible) Catholic movies. I’m right back to where I am every year at this time, planning to go to confession while waiting for the baby Jesus and a New Year full of possibilities. Whatever God’s Will for my life is, it will not be hindered by a hater, no matter who they are and how scared everyone is of them, because He uses all things for the good of those who love Him, even haterade. I would say ESPECIALLY Haterade.  I would be lying if I said that I’m not ready to get out of thicket of the cross. But I will take it and offer it up to the One Who I love to use as He sees fit. After all, He is my Shepherd, He made that clear to me a long time ago.

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7 Quick Takes on The Grace of Yes, the book and life

1.

With this new radio gig on Real Life Network , I apparently get review copies of books. This means that I actually get to say the words “I have to read this book for work”…. Que choir of angels singing. I can’t express just how happy this makes me. I love to read, I always have. Now I have the perfect excuse for having 20 stacks of books all over the house. I’m happy to say that the first book that I got in the mail to review was Lisa Hendey‘s book The Grace of Yes. This book is part memoir and part life lessons on how to say Yes to God in practical ways as Catholics in 2014. When I first saw the title I knew that I had to read this book. I have been really struggling lately with how exactly to be open to God’s will as a wife and mother in this time in history. Sometimes it really seems like it would be so much easier for an angel to tell me that I’m giving birth to God than to have to deal with online friendships, debates, kids who are influenced by a culture that tells them everything I’m trying to teach them is a fairy tale and a marriage where we have both been married before, have kids from those marriages and both grew up in broken homes. It’s a lot to take on while trying to be holy.

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2.

Lisa does such a great job of making the point that it is hard to live life as a faithful Catholic without whining or making it seem impossible. Throughout that book she balances the struggles and the Grace of saying yes to God even in the midst of them in a way that I haven’t really seen many writers be able to do.

3.

The questions at the end of each chapter are really great journaling tools. I have meant to get back into journaling for a long time now and this gives me a great way to do that. Also, the questions are deep questions that help me to look at myself, my spiritual life and my life as mom and wife. Looking at myself is always helpful for me to make good confessions and to not be so hard on myself.

4.

I have been in therapy and a 12 step program for the last 10 months to work on my codependency issues and this book really helped me to see where my recovery fits into my faith. That recovering from my urge to control those around me is a way of saying Yes to God because I have to let those in my life live their own life. They have that right, given to them by God. Especially when it comes to my oldest son who is grown and doesn’t live at home anymore.

Lisa writes, “Moments of letting go are often as heart-wrenchingly challenging as our babies’ first bad falls or their first broken hearts. Most of us moms and dads can recall a times when we knew every hair on our children’s heads, the way a curl of their lips meant an ensuing burst of emotions, or just what spot to tickle to melt them into a bundle of giggles. Now my sons are both geographically distant and emotionally their own men. Today, my yes a s a mom means avoiding the urge to cyber-stalk, to make their decisions for them, or to wish them back into the nest. These struggles of parenthood call me to say yes to the grace of love and generatvity.”

BAM! That’s exactly what I needed to read when it comes to living my life with an adult child.

5.

Every part of this book spoke to me about something that I have laid at the feet of Jesus because I need help with it, which is awesome because I’m not good at listening so I need to read it for it to sink in. Chapter 3 is about the Grace of Creativity and how creativity can bring people to God. I have had so much guilt hanging over me about reading and writing for a living. It’s rooted in being raised to think that if you are not doing back-breaking work, whether it be out of or in the home, that you weren’t “earning” your way. Reading, writing or the arts are not work for a certain generation in my family. Lisa really opened my eyes to the fact that I’m not crazy in thinking that God gave me these gifts for His purpose, which means that I need to get to work instead of wallowing in a lie that it’s not real work. She also gives some great advice on how to get that work done.

6.

Lisa talks about forgiveness in the chapter on the Grace of Humility. I never thought of the connection between forgiving others and humility.  This subject is really in my face now because there is a lot of things that I have failed to forgive a few people for. I’m pretty sure that is partly why I have felt so spiritually attacked lately. Forgiving is not easy for me, but the fact is, forgiving others is an act of mercy, which all of us receive every time we go to confession. None of us deserves it either.

7.

 Lisa and I come from two different directions completely, I admire the fact that she has always been Catholic and has never really left the faith. She knew God loved her from the start and still she and I have the same struggles at this point in our life with Jesus. . At the end of this book, I felt a renewed energy and confidence that I am called to do God’s work and that I now have a little more of an idea of how to say Yes to that work. It is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone who is trying to figure out how exactly they can say Yes to God as well.

For more Quick Takes, go see Kelly who is our new 7 Quick Takes host!!! 

Post Conversion Friend Fail

As Catholics we sometimes get tempted to seal ourselves up in our own bubbles and echo chambers. In hanging out with only Catholics, in only talking about Catholic things, listening to only Catholic music or reading only Catholic books because it’s frustrating and scary to see a world in pain through a Catholic lens. We see train wrecks everywhere and we know Who the answer is and we just want to scream at everyone and tell them to get in the damn house where they will be safe.(The house being the Church)  It begins with the best of intentions to help those who are wounded. But so many times it leads to the prideful ideas that we have the answer, that everyone has to listen to us and/or that if they don’t then we need to cut them out of our lives.

There are plenty of times when cutting a certain someone or a few certain people from our life is completely understandable. Some people are toxic and are not meant to be in our life for many reasons. There is also a pride in thinking that we are called to help everyone, because we aren’t. God has it covered. He knows who can help who and He doesn’t need any one of us to save the world on our own, because He kind of already did that through Jesus, His only begotten Son.

So while it’s sometimes healthy to set boundaries with some people in our lives, and let’s be honest every single life has those people in it, it isn’t Christ-like to set up walls with people based on a list of do’s and don’ts. “Aren’t Catholic? Welp, can’t be your friend.” And things like that. I had a list. I would get frustrated talking to anyone who didn’t believe as I believe after my conversion. I couldn’t handle being in any group of people without talking about my faith constantly. It is good to witness about what God has done for us in our life, but not every single dinner party has to be turned into a Billy Graham special.

At this point in my conversion I am starting to get calls that some of those people who I turned my back on, thinking that I was somehow defending my faith, are dying. Not just dying but some have killed themselves. As a Catholic Christian I do not take that lightly. For me it is a failure on my part because I wonder how many of these people are now standing with the knowledge that one Catholic they knew was nothing like the Jesus they have now met? Regardless of where they will spend eternity, which is none of my business, it is still not ok that they now know my Lord and know that I failed to be a true witness of Who He is. Based on my knowledge of how Jesus has dealt with me in my life, I hate to think that anyone has had a conversation with Christ and told Him how I hurt them by turning my back on them.

In my attempt at becoming a “good” Catholic, I have left a lot of people behind who were not only my friends but at times my family. People who I ate with, drank with, danced with and laughed with. People who helped me when I was down and out and people who pissed me off like crazy while also saying hurtful things about me, which is no different from a lot of people in Catholic circles these days, because human is human. Those things happen in every family. The human condition is full of  times where we aren’t able to be good to people because we fail at loving others all the time, it is the part of living in a fallen world. I really thought that it would be different in the Catholic Church. It should be since everyone here gets that we follow a Savior who died on a Cross to show us what sin does. Sin put Him there. But the fact is, there is plenty of gossip, envy, jealousy and anger that plague this beautiful Church of mine. I’ve seen a lot of it and have been both on the receiving and giving end of it. Why then do we sometimes think that we need to stay away from certain groups of other people? Like atheists or gay people (living IN open relationships), or any other “worldly” group? The “them”, whoever “they” are on any given day.

I have no idea, but I know one thing, I have turned my back on my old life and nothing will ever make me go back to it, but the people who I love are a different story. I will not cut people out of my life for simply believing differently than I do. I will not close myself off from people who have plenty to add to my life and I to theirs based on some purist idea of what a Catholic life should look like. Jesus didn’t live like that and neither will I.  I will not stop being myself and loving the people who I love in some attempt to look like someone who I am not. I will also not use every opportunity to preach from a pulpit to others. People just want to be loved, to be in relationship and to know that if they need something they can count on you to be there. That is the best way to be Christ to them and if they ask questions on something or want to discuss some part of the Faith, then the friendship is the foundation to build that discussion on. But as Christians, we are never called to impose ourselves or our Faith on anyone else.

I pray for all of my friends who are now dead. May they rest in peace and I pray that God has mercy on their souls and let me stand in their place to make reparation for their sins along with my own.

 

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Sheep, Goats, Mentoring and Ferguson

The things that I have seen written by Catholics on what is going down in Ferguson has blown my mind. Even worst is that some of it is coming from Catholics that I respect and love and look up to as voices of my faith. As I sat and listened to the Gospel on Sunday I thought about how hard it is to get people to live this Catholic faith. Starting with me, but the thing about me is that I am a radical. I have been hurt too many times in my life to be a part of any bullshit. I do not do it. If I say that I believe something, then you best be sure that I am going to die trying to live it. (I will also make plenty of mistakes trying to live it, because I do not always listen well.) It is not just words with me. People tell me how courageous it was for me and my husband to get our sterilizations reversed and I simply don’t get it. In my mind, there was no other choice when God gave us the funds to do it. That radicalism gets me into a lot of trouble because I still had to learn to submit to God’s Will when it comes to my fertility. Now I want a baby and still have no baby soooo I’m mad. I get Peter, he was a radical and it got him in a lot of trouble. He jumped the gun a lot and he cut off people’s ears. Jesus was always getting onto him. Poor Peter, he really messed things up until he submitted himself to God’s will. I have so far to go when it comes to doing that. I’m stubborn and I run off without waiting for God’s timing. I’m like that 3-year-old that wants to do everything on their own but has no idea how the hell to even tie their shoes.

Being the radical that I am, I do not understand how a people who go to a Church that just read this gospel reading of the sheep and goats helping and not helping the poor, naked, thirsty, in prison and then turn around a few days later, see the poor on TV acting out in pain and say “Look at those animals”. Ya wanna be a freakin’ GOAT?! Maybe it is that I think of only some people as poor, because not hearing the words of Jesus when you claim to follow Him, is kind of poverty.

Someone said that Mike Brown’s step-father isn’t dealing with his grief in an “unhealthy way”. I can’t even explain just how much ignorance and privilege is packed into that statement. What exactly is the “healthy” way to deal with your child getting shot  and left on the cement for 4 ½ hours dead? Someone else said that the step-father calling for people to burn the town down showed what kind of influence Mike Brown had in his life. Really? So, it’s cool that the 18-year-old is dead? Because he had bad influences in his life? And people keep talking about Mike Brown’s size. Why? Because being big and black makes you an obvious threat to someone who is not big and black? Even though I do not think that Brown was shot in cold blood I do think that we all need to think about the way we see others. And I say that first to myself. I realized yesterday that if I hear of a cop shooting and killing someone, I automatically think of a white cop. I discussed so many things with my white husband yesterday and I realized that I have serious issues with my thinking of white people. The same way that pictures on TV showing black rioters cements a certain idea in some people’s mind about the kind of people who act that way, so do the comments about “animals” and “thug” cement a certain idea in my mind about the kind of people who say those things. And when the majority of people I’m looking at are saying those things are white, then it only adds to my own racism. I refuse to raise my children to carry on those ideas, so first I am going to take a long hard look at myself and change my own thinking.

I heard the Pastor of Bl. Theresa of Calcutta Catholic Parish on Real Life Radio yesterday do and interview with Mike Allen. In the interview he talked about how we need to follow the example of Christ and lean in to hear other people’s stories so that we can get to know what they are going through. Jesus always did that, He was never scared of someone’s story; in fact He is highly interested in it.  At the root of it, prayer is us telling God our story.  Telling Him about our day, of the things going on in our life, of our heartaches, of what’s good in life and everything else. Even though He knows, He still cares to hear it from us. So why are we so scared to hear the stories of other’s. Father’s words reminded me of exactly why I started the Red Door Foundation and what the mission of it is. It’s crazy that I put that project in the hands of Mother Theresa for her intercession.

When people do not feel heard and do not feel that their struggle matters, they do crazy things.  I once set a guy’s car on fire because he walked into a bar that I was at with another woman. We had slept together for almost a year and he said he was not ready to have a girlfriend. No matter what I did for him, he never wanted to commit to a relationship with me. When I went to jail for two weeks, he started seeing someone else and one night he walked into the bar that we frequented and introduced everyone to his girlfriend. I was heartbroken, embarrassed and angry so I set his car on fire. If my child was killed, even if it was justified, you can bet that my first instinct would be to lash out in anger. Jesus being in my life these days would probably stop me, but I won’t lie and say that I’m sure I would listen to Him, because I honestly do not know what I would do in that situation.

I strongly suggest for those who are sitting at home watching the 24/7 news cycle watching the rioting and looting while getting angrier and angrier at “those people” to think of the bad side of town where they live (the part of town they know to avoid) and look up the schools in that area. After the holiday, call up that school and ask them how you can volunteer your time to mentor students. If they do not know, then find someone you know who can help you and start a mentoring program for that school. I know in a Church full of homeschooling moms that there is one or two people who can help organize mentoring programs for students in public schools. And then find people who are willing to volunteer. Be a sheep, mentor. Don’t be a goat who doesn’t see Jesus in those suffering.

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Mike Brown, My Life and Peace

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Like a lot of people I sat glued to my TV last night watching the news coverage in Ferguson MO waiting for the announcement and the aftermath of it. The death of Mike Brown is a tragedy, as is the death of anyone. The fact is that an 18-year-old is dead and a cop’s life changed forever over a pack of cigars. That is tragic. A mother is mourning the loss of her child. That is tragic. The racist comments, coming from both sides at this point, are tragic. The fact that it is 2014 and people still insist on labeling others as “them” is tragic. I sit here totally heartbroken about the entire situation.

There are so many things going on in my head that I really don’t even know how to process, so I am going to the one thing that helps me; writing. I’ve been praying for everyone involved in this case since I first heard about it. I do not think that Wilson shot this 18-year-old in cold blood and I don’t think that means Mike Brown’s death is somehow less sad because of that fact.

I moved to Amarillo when I was 15 and I learned a lot about racism that I had never been exposed to in my entire life. I had never thought of black people any differently than myself. I grew up in a small cow town in south Texas where we had gay people in open relationships in Jr. High and the star athlete was black and it never occurred to me that he was anything other than that coolest person alive. Everyone in my town held him up like the prince of Kenedy ,Texas. He was great at everything he did and everyone that I knew wanted to be his friend. There weren’t that many black people in my town, but I never saw race as an issue. When I began going to high school at Palo Duro in Amarillo that all changed. For the first time in my life I was scared of people who were other races than me. That included my family. I was never mesican enough for them. Even though I went through a phase of trying to fit in with Dickies and flannel shirts.

I somehow became friends with one of the star football players who saw the look of fear on my face as I hid in the phone booth refusing to go to class with all “those people” one my first day at my new school. He felt sorry for me and took it upon himself to help me navigate through this new experience. What I found was that even if my family didn’t really accept me for who I was (a book reading band nerd), the black community did. My first boyfriend (who is now my husband) had introduced me to rap music and that was the common ground for me and my new friends. I liked Eazy-E and Snoop Dogg and music was my life saver. I began to go to church with the black kids and go to Sunday dinner at their grandmother’s houses. I was still a shy nerd, but they taught me what acceptance and loyalty is. When people would mess with me at school, they had my back. I learned the G code, which is that you hold down those that you love and they will always hold you down too. If you talk shit, then they will confront you so the best thing to do is to not talk shit or to talk it to someone’s face and not talk behind their back. I learned don’t start none, won’t be none. I learned how to stand up for what I believed in, that there is injustice in this world and that everything is harder in the hood. The level of frustration over life in the hood is always high. After a shooting at my school I stood behind a mic for the first time and learned that I had a voice.  I found the awesomeness that is a Friday night on the dance floor dancing to beat under the cloud of smoke with your girls. There is no place in this world that I would rather be than on that dance floor.

I have seen how I am treated differently than my black friends. I have seen how people who know nothing about them label them as thugs or criminals. I have seen people walk into a club that has “no guns allowed” signs and start shooting. I have hidden under tables or in my car when fights break out. I have also broken up fights. I have also been in fights using bottles or whatever I can to defend myself against someone who is trying to beat me down. I’ve been arrested  many times.

Now, I live in the suburbs and there is a huge difference in my life compared to my life then. And I would still rather be there. Not to be acting up still, but to help the people who I love. I love the hood. That is where my heart lives. I know there are great people with untapped potential there who are oppressed by some invisible force that nobody can really ever understand without living there. I don’t even understand it because no matter how long I lived there, I wasn’t black living there. There is so much that the media doesn’t and won’t ever catch on camera.

I also see how people see my husband’s cowboy hat and automatically label him a racist redneck and have no clue that he is the one who introduced me to Hip Hop and more than anything the fact that he can bump some Lil Wayne in his truck while wearing a Stetson is the reason WHY I love him as much as I do.

That is why rappers rap the songs they do. Because that is their life experience.It’s also a way out of it.  That is why I listen to rap music. Because a lot of those songs are like paintings using words to express what life is like when you are poor, black and live in the ghetto. Too bad that most people either listen to it to try to act hard or don’t listen to it because it “promotes violence”. Violence is part of life to some people; it doesn’t need to be “promoted” when it’s being lived.

When someone walks into a college library and shoots at “good” kids there are cries for something to be done. But when a kid in the ghetto is shot in the head outside of a club , nobody knows about it except those watching the local news. There are no cries for help. Because shootings on “that side of town” are the norm, but heaven forbid that those things happen in the suburbs where “good” people live.

I do not understand why, if I get this mother’s pain, get the anger of the black community that somehow I think all cops are killers. Or if I don’t think Wilson killed Brown in cold blood that I somehow have to think every police officer in America is a Noble Peace Prize winner. Why does everything have to be so black and white (no pun intended) and I have to choose sides? I don’t. The only side that I am on is the human side. I am Catholic, I mourn the loss of any life. Whether they are innocent or a thug makes no difference to me, or to God. He loves them the same.

I pray for the repose of the soul of Mike Brown and for his family. I hope that everyone who is making comments on this case one way or the other take time out of their day to do the same.