Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Discipleship



Recently I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and I came across an interesting part on discipleship.

2233 Becoming a disciple of Jesus means accepting the invitation to belong to God's family, to live in conformity with His way of life: "For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother."

This really got me thinking. I started saying to myself "why did you become a disciple of Jesus Christ?"

The lingo of a Christian is so  over used today in movies, books and just with one another that some times great big important words like disciple can get passed over with out a second thought. But when I considered discipleship in the way that the first men and women followed Jesus suddenly I could not relate with being a disciple of Jesus Christ. It seemed so foreign, so important, so life changing. Did I really change when I became a disciple? Was I truly a disciple? It really got me thinking. So I headed back into my memories and tried to think of my first moments of discipleship.

When I was 10 years old I was baptized in a Baptist Church. I was baptized in the name of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so it was valid and in following of Sacred Scripture. And I remember going to my class to prepare and seeing a little picture of a man walking on a narrow road toward the sunset. I remember the Pastor being in the little room preparing for the service and praying with us and I felt so special. I remember being disappointed when the Assistant Pastor baptized me because I wanted the Head Pastor to do it. LOL. I remember seeing the Pastor at a Chinese restaurant after the service and being shocked that he left the church. I thought he must stay there all the time. I didnt know Holy men left the Holy building LOL...too funny! In my little 10 year old mind and heart I knew that I wanted Jesus to take away all the things I had done that were wrong in my life and I really believed he could do it. This was the beginning of my baby discipleship :) As I got older I became confused of who Jesus was and what He did because conflicting messages I got from different churches and people. I think my discipleship changed into wanting to be part of a community and having people think I was good and acceptable.  But I remember always feeling like a fraud around other Christians. I didnt quite have in my mind and heart what they seemed to have.

This sense of being in a community that I craved was something that I was born with; a DEEP need for others. I desired to know people to their deepest core. I couldnt have acquaintances...it just wasnt enough. I dont really remember having friendships growing up that ever felt deep enough for me. I was kind of weird LOL, because I was so overly expressive and borderline depressive that I had a very hard time relating with other people. The idea of knowing Jesus was confusing because He wasnt alive(or so I thought) and I wanted a living breathing someone who could know me and be known by them to the depths of their being. I was alittle intense and I didnt really understand myself as I do now since I was young.

When I was older and was invited  to  a Catholic Church. I was in AWE of everything in the church, the Holy water, the Baptismal font, the big cross with the sleepy hanging Jesus on it(ha), the statues, the big box(altar) up on the stage(sanctuary) with glowing candles every where...it was like a performers dream come true! And the Pastors had fancy robes with all kinds of hidden meanings on them! It was FANTASTIC! Not to mention the daily Masses in the small mystical Chapel where people would come so early in the morning while holding pretty sparkling beads and where beautiful smelling roses were placed all over! It was a joyful dream for a person like me with such a deep desire to know and be known. I felt like it was the ultimate expression of loving the people of the church and of adorning the home of this God they loved so much, the God that I had yet to really know and to love.

Time went by and I decided to become Catholic after attending 2 Masses and I learned more about God and the church but most of the information I received was "fluff" not very deep and very watered down. I still had yet to have that deep desire of love met. I searched the hearts of those around me and just felt a great lack in my ability to love others and the ability of others to love me. Its a hard feeling to express.

By the way, the love I am talking about is not Romantic comedy movie kind of love. I actually have never been a fan of these movies. The love in them always seemed so superficial. I always preferred a good action movie because atleast the characters fought to the death for one another and expressed great charity for their friends or companions. I remember the first time I saw The Last of the Mohicans; I was prepared for this amazing action romance with the most amazing love story ever, atleast this is what every woman I knew went on and on about especially with the main character  Hawkeye. Well as I watched the movie I kept waiting for this Hawkeye guy to be a love to last all ages but he kept falling flat on his face in my book. But then came the character that spoke so deeply to my heart... Major Duncan Heyward. He voluntarily is burned alive so the heroine can live. I just sat there as Hawkeye and Cora run away together as Major Heyward is hanging on a cross burning as a human sacrifice in place of Cora. I literally said outload..."Honey you picked the wrong guy." That was love. That was beyond this world kind of love. I had yet to know that deep love of Christ for me but it was imaged in a secular movie and my heart surged at this type of love. 

The Church in her long life as Christs bride was a love that I had yet to tap into but I could tell there was something mysterious and unfathomable about the Church. She was so open armed in love with her children and yet firm and unshakable in the convictions that Christ had laid down for her to follow. There was a romance there that was deep between Christ and His bride the Church. I felt like an outsider looking in. Everytime I went to confession, after becoming Catholic I felt like I was pretending. I wanted to dive in deeper into each sacrament but there was a wall inside myself that seemed to keep me captive. Other people couldnt really relate to me or they would say things like "you're so good" or "Ive never thought about it like that" when I would try to explain myself. I knew I wasnt good or that I was better than anyone but there was  a yearning that wouldnt leave me alone but that also wouldnt permit me to enter into this intimate place with Christ. I felt in some ways that I was having a relationship with Hawkeye, to go back to the Last of the Mohicans. It seemed exciting and fresh and somewhat adventurous but it didnt make the cut.I  was desiring the love that is defined in the Catechism:

1823 Jesus makes charity the new commandment.96 By loving his own "to the end,"97 he makes manifest the Father's love which he receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." And again: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."98

I wanted that kind of love, to give and to receive. All the people I met were kind and polite but I wanted  the love described above. I wanted to love with the love that the Father loved the Son with. I would try to be in company with others and love them with this deep love but it just got awkward like I was barring my soul and they were just trying to find out what city I was born in. I wanted to know who they were in their soul and they were ready to share with me the names of their siblings and general information. It was so difficult to have relationships with others without having to just put on a front and be charitable with BOUNDARIES all over the place. 

Now I have to say when you have a personality like I do and a desire like I do it is a complete necessity to know about Original sin, the fallen world and concupiscence. I was trying to experience the world like it was the one before Adam and Eve ate the apple and let me tell you I got myself into all kinds of trouble without even knowing it. I couldn't figure out what the other desire I had was. I had of course the desire I explained above to love deeply but I also had this other desire to be a DEEP mess of a person. I had a desire for the depression I was prone to. I would wallow in it and play Fiona Apple songs and cry for an hour straight and not understand what was wrong with me. A thought would come into my head that was just evil in nature(we know where or should I say who that thought came from) and I would wonder for hours why I thought that, what that meant about me and who I was. 

This is where the love of my mother the Church came into play. Like a good mother, she told me the Truth. I learned about the fallen nature of the world and about concupiscence. I remember the first time I learned about concupiscence; I was overjoyed!It was so great to finally have a name for this feeling or way about myself that I could never quite explain before. 

Me, with all my desires to love, be loved and to be a mess didnt make any sense until it all started pointing to the sense of Another out there, a Someone that could fulfill these things in me. Someone to love me intensely, someone that I could love without boundaries and someone to take all of my mess and sculpt a master piece.

But how you may ask could I know this or understand that there was Another. There has to be a way to know past Church teaching, Sacred Scripture and Tradition...there just has to be something that speaks to our nature. It all points to the incarnation, when God became man, and how the incarnation affected every single person in all the world over all time. I had glimpses of this incarnational experience with others but could never define it or put a name to it. I could sense this specifically with my spouse, when he would love me past my mess ups  and not the fluffy love but the real deep love that stays with you and continues to have a life with you even when you arent enough all the time. My heart longed for this, my whole being knew that love couldnt stop, it couldnt have an end. But I always seemed to have an end whether it was my struggle with my past or my deep struggle with depression.

There was a point in my life where I was really low and struggling with alot of depression and just confusion about so many things and I attended a meeting. It was called School of Community or Communion and Liberation. I started going when a new friend invited me and honestly everything everyone said went way over my head and I literally couldnt even follow anything they said. I thought it was because the material was too intellectual but I know now that it was such an intense and almost unrecognizable experience that I just didnt even know where to place it in my mind and heart. I came back though again and again. And funny enough I would get angry when I went. These people were so real, so honest, they talked to you past all the polite banter and normal conversation, something that I had been craving for so long and yet it was painful to experience because it was one word ...AUTHENTIC. All the walls that I built up, all the wrong things about God and people I had learned started to get chipped away at and that can hurt even though its a good thing. I would go every week and end up in tears trying to explain myself and everytime I thought I had some concept of Christianity down they would break it open and desire to hear the heart of the issue I was talking about and not just the cliche words I was putting on it. There was one time in particular that I went to CL and again I was crying and feeling angry and I just couldnt get out what I was trying to say and they wouldnt give up on me. It was like they saw me. They saw me even more than I could see myself. I was in a room with Christ. The incarnation was affecting me in that moment. I was having an experience with the living God through the flesh of another. I was expereincing the love that I had desired. And they let me love them. They let me love them, the way Christ would let me love him, with humility and honest affection. This...this was the experience that the first disciples must have experienced with Christ...a knowing that this Man knew them to their core and loved them. He delighted in them. He changed them by being with them. I was changed in that moment. 


I am following a Man that is alive. I am following a Man that died yet lives now. I am following a God that permeates my very self with His acknowledgment that I exist, that I am a someone, that I am someone to delight in. This is where I have become His disciple...in His Divinity of course, but its in His humanity that He reaches me, in His humanity that He reaches me through another person. He tells me the Truth, He loves me and He lets me really REALLY love Him. Everything makes sense in Him, who I choose to follow because He reached out and loved me anf told me the Truth. 

I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Being a parent


Parenting is HUGE! It is the most powerful, beautiful, difficult, crazy, loving, hurtful relationships you can participate in. For me, parenthood is a heavy responsibility that I constantly feel that Im failing at. 
    
Since my first born came into existence and I was made aware by the positive pregnancy test I became a fearful nut. I had to take progesterone shots to support the pregnancy. Our first pregnancy ended in a miscariage, a chemical pregnancy where the baby dies right around the time of conception but the body still shows signs of pregnancy for a while, for us it was 10 weeks, which is VERY long for chemical pregnancies. So when we became pregnant again I was a wreck of nerves. We told all of our friends in our church community as soon as we found out. My husband wanted to make sure that we had a great Christian support system to be there for us especially if anything was to happen (with our miscarriage he was on deployment and it just wasnt a good situation with local friendships...and I hit a horrible depression). We wanted to celebrate this new little life and have others around us that would celebrate life and support us to.

I remember sitting with my husband waiting for the doctor to come in to preform an ultrasound after we found out my progesterone levels were low. My husband held my hand and talked about us preparing ourselves for if the screen was empty like it was last time. He caressed my hand and said he was there for me. We were nervous. Then suddenly there it was...that teeny tiny heartbeat fluttering. So strong yet so small. I didnt have a magical moment like in the movies but it was more like Reality struck...this was real. There was a little person inside me and I couldnt just sit back and be pregnant, I had to be proactive and get my blood tested every 2 weeks and drive 45 minutes to get progesterone shots every 2 weeks at the hospital for 35 weeks of our pregnancy. From the beginning of my "open to life" moments I have been filled with the fear of the loss of the very life that I was saying yes to. Fertility became something so precious and so powerful, something to be in awe of, not something to be controlled and/or suppressed. 
    
After 9 months of worry and stress and excitement and anticipation came my 35 hour back labor all natural birth of our first born son. Even labor was harder than I anticipated. I remember being so exhausted I couldnt get really excited after he was born and didnt bond for a month. I struggled with feelings of pain and worry as to how I could be a good mother. I couldnt be a good wife. I had so much baggage and pain that I was carrying into motherhood that I knew for sure this sweet innocent baby wasnt given a fair advantage...here he was with a mess of a mother. I couldnt bond with him for a month. I kept listening to everyone who said "dont put him in bed with you, he'll never sleep in his own bed" or "dont let him pacify on you, only give him a pacifier" I was a wreck. Finally I called my NFP counselor and told her how I was feeling and she calmed all my fears and told me I was experiencing post partum depression which was very normal for women who had to take progesterone shots during pregnancy. She recommend I receive a progesterone shot. Between the progesterone shot, some sleep(my mom came) and me throwing out all that ridiculous information people told me(not to co-sleep or nurse on demand) I started to experience a change. I looked at my little baby boy and for the first time thought "Oh my goodness, you are so cute." Its like I could really see him for the first time. I fell in love. I still had a lot of personal stuff I had to work through but I began falling in love with him.
   My second pregnancy was the same but my progesterone levels were even lower and the shots were not absorbing so I began a round of trying different things, shedding lots of tears and worrying about our little baby in utero. But so many beautiful things happened during my pregnancy with her. We moved to an amazing Catholic university town and I learned SO MUCH  about myself. I learned that I was a person with a body and soul, I learned about femininity and masculinity away from the cultural confusion out there that I had learned in school and the media. I learned what marriage really meant and how I was really living out a vocation with this other person and trying to get him to heaven, not just a relationship based on mutual understanding, commonalities and pleasurable sex like all the Romance movies out there tell you its suppose to be like. My husband and I entered into a deeper place in our relationship filled with pulling off masks, opening up painful doors, pulling up old weeds that didnt want to budge.
  
When our daughter was born at home(intended homebirth with the best midwife in the world) I hit rock bottom again the first week. Now I had a daughter and all I could think about was the horrific world I was bringing her into. All the pain and all the problems that young women face in our culture of death and lies(I know thats strong language. but its how I felt). My mother came and we had some heart to heart talks about some things that I was feelings and our relationship grew to a deeper level. My husband counseled me through some misconceptions I had about ideas of myself and the Church(he was receiving a degree in Theology at the time. He was like my personal speaking Catechism and Bible).
   
At that point I was holding everything all together with having long hair and wearing skirts and watching the Duggars on t.v. I really felt that my female Christian walk as a mother would only be acceptable to God and to the world if I looked like an ideal Christian woman, hiding some deep pain in my heart. My husband was patient with me. He knew I didnt need to do these things. I remember asking him once how he would like me to act and look. He told me to just be myself. I asked him "what if you dont like me for who I really am?" He looked at me and said " Rhianon it would be better for you to be yourself even if I didnt like your personality, than you pretending to be somebody else. You need to be you"  That sounds like love to me. At the time in all my hormonal thinking I dont know if I believed him but I sure do now :)
    
Going back to after I had our daughter. When she was 5 months I was struggling so bad with depression that I went to the doctor and told him he had to do something and figure out what was wrong because I knew something was very wrong. I explained everything to him and he said it sounded like a thyroid issue. He checked my thyroid TSH level and it came back in normal levels but he kept checking. He then checked my T4 which most doctors wont go back and check if your TSH come back in normal range but he was great and knew I was really struggling. And then he found it. My T4 was the problem. I got on thyroid medication and oh my goodness...it was like waking up to a world you never knew existed. I remember thinking "Is this how other people experience the world" I could do so much. I could feel emotions at a calm normal level and I could handle situations so much better. Life continued and I felt way better. I started working out, went back to school and took a class in Biblical Archaeology...very interesting! Then found out we were expecting again! Surprise! But this pregnancy was very different since I was taking Armour thyroid medication. I didnt cry all the time feeling like a failure. I only had to take progesterone for the first 3 months and I had a super easy labor! Our third baby second son was born at home and the kids ran in right after and were jumping up and down welcoming their little baby brother into our home!
   Life has gotten easier is some ways with the right thyroid levels but there is still a place where my life meets Christ and I find myself struggling against him. I parent my children like I am it, I am the one that will make or break them. I worry constantly that my fussing at them today for not picking up toys will result with them  not being able to tell someone no someday and getting into a horrible situation that they cant get out of. I worry that when I leave them with a trusted babysitter that I could be harming their future becasue they didnt have me at their side to explain something. All these thoughts are suffocating.
   
But tonight I was thinking about Gods will and how He grants us glimpses of His will and sometimes even lets us participate. Like with NFP, he gives us a glimpse at how He created the cycles in a womans body and how amazing and intricate the hormone levels fluctuate but in the end its just a glimpse because life is a gift not a right that is owed to me. His will is the deciding factor in whether or not my husband and I will conceive a baby. He gives a glimpse into pregnancies with progesterone support but in the end His will is perfect and ultimately He is the giver of life and He knows when or if the baby in utero is called to His mercy early. And in parenthood, He gives us a glimpse into the psychology of children and the parent-child dynamics etc. but in the end His Will is there tugging at the child's heart, alluring them to Him; their ultimate love and life.
    I am thankful to have the Church, the body of Christ and her wonderful teachings to guide and to protect my life and dignity and the life and dignity of my children and my marriage. Its a constant struggle and hard hard work being a wife and mother but staying close to Jesus in the Eucharist, knowing Him, learning about Him in Church Tradition and Scripture and experiencing Him in others like at a Communion and Liberation community I had the joy of being a part of in Steubenville, OH, is the way to peaceful inner life. Being with Him in these different ways leads me to be present for my husband and children and for myself so that I can be the true me and the woman that God is calling me to be.

I know this was an eternal post but if you made it this far, I want to say thank you for reading this and for sharing a little piece of my world. I pray and hope that this post will meet another mother who may be struggling with similar  issues. If thats the case, feel free to email me at Faithfulcatholic@yahoo.com! I love you all and am so happy that we get to be on this adventure of life together and I hope that we all get to experience the eternal peace of heaven forever together in Christ who will strengthen us in times of pain and struggle!! I can think of nothing sweeter but being in His arms for all eternity!