Sunday, October 26, 2014 (Feast of Christ the King)

+J.M.J.+

I was thinking earlier that I hadn’t had anything exciting or traumatic happening this week, and so I might struggle with a topic to write about. And then I saw a post from one of my friends on Facebook talking about obsessions. The post was something along these lines: “Whatever we are obsessed with will consume us and blind us, leading us away from truth.” I got to thinking about that, wondering why that particular post felt like a knife thrust into my stomach, or someone ripping the blankets off me on a Saturday morning, exposing me to the cool air, to the truth, the truth that stabs at our conscience, demanding to be recognized. I thought about the past week, about how much writing I’ve been doing, about how much music I’ve been listening to, and about my recent Facebook confession of being ‘slightly’ obsessed with Josh Groban’s music. And then today, to top it all off, I heard a sermon of St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s on conquering our predominant passion. At this point, I realized—I’d been letting a bad passion creep up on me, slowly letting it take hold of my actions and thoughts, my desires and my words, and it was only going to get worse unless I did something about it.

So, I suppose, this post will be my ‘doing something about it.’ If I can get it out into the air, think about it, evaluate it, maybe I can take steps to stop it. The thing about passions is that they make their object look so darn inviting. I’ve realized, in looking back on my thoughts, my dispositions, throughout the past week or so, that writing and music were getting the best of me. I would wake up in the morning, wanting to do nothing but write, or at least to scrounge up as much time as I could throughout the day to write. I even posted a Facebook status about this desire. And with this desire, I would do my best to fulfill it, snatching moments of my lunch break at work, moments at naptime, moments in the morning, if possible, and moments after dinner and before the Rosary in the evening.

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with making the most of my spare time, and writing is indeed a gift I believe God has given me to be used and cultivated, for His glory. But I noticed, at work, during nap, if one of the children happened to wake and needed to be tended to, I was loathe to put down the pen and go to them—and in all truth, their welfare is my first priority and duty while I’m at work! At home, if I was eagerly typing away in my Scrivener program, and my grandmother called to me to help her with something, or even if she poked in her head to check on me and ask what I was doing, I would reply with short, curt language: “I’m writing.” She would, of course, in her gentleness, hear the impatience in my voice and quickly withdraw herself. She respects my duty to write, and this is a wonderful thing.

Except, my duty to write does not EVER trump my duty to obedience and charity toward my neighbor.

Moving onto the next point. Never mind that I’d used every moment of spare time to make progress. Never mind that that progress is astounding (15,000 words in 10 days!). The next passion quickly crept up on me as the last began to ebb. (Writers often go through creative spurts where putting the pen down is very hard, and then a few days later crash and produce next to nothing.) I had begun to write while listening to my ‘Writing’ playlist, which includes various things, such as soundtrack music from various favorite movies, choral pieces that I’d sung in my college choir, Gregorian chant, and…a few bits of Josh Groban’s music. As I write (I hope what I’m explaining will make sense to you), I emotionally connect the scene that I’m writing with the piece of music that I’m listening to. And if the piece of music happens to match the mood of the scene I’m writing, all the better. I noticed that many of these songs that I’d been connecting (whether to various characters, situations, relationships, or events) were…you guessed it…Josh Groban songs.

Well, that’s where it started. I began to search for other Josh Groban songs and threw entire albums onto the playlist, putting it on shuffle in the hopes that I could find out which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. Then I noticed I was skipping through the other songs on the playlist to get to the Josh Groban songs. I started looking up the lyrics to the songs and their translation (many are in Spanish/Italian) to see if the words meant anything to the scenes I was writing. Nothing wrong with any of this, I don’t suppose, in moderation. I would go to bed with his songs playing in my head and wake up with the same. (Sound familiar yet?) I would sing them even when I wasn’t listening to music. And when I began to realize that my enjoyment of his music was taking over, I tried to hold it back by abstaining from music on one day each week. My wake-up call came when I couldn’t even make it one day without listening to it, and I posted a Facebook status ‘confession’ about my new obsession. My co-workers (who are often the unfortunate victims of my music playing) liked my status as a sort of inside joke. Deep within, I knew something wasn’t quite right. Fortunately, the next week, I was able to make it my one day without music, and felt much better about everything.

In listening to the sermon today, I heard a couple of pieces of advice to help remedy these bad passions. One, the first and most important, is to kill them while they’re small. It is much easier to root out a sapling than it is a full grown oak tree with deep roots. The second interesting bit of advice is to turn the object of the passion into something virtuous. So, for instance, instead of being greedy about my time for writing, I could be ‘greedy’ about time for prayer, making time for it, putting it first, and going to it with readiness and joy. Instead of listening for hours on end to secular music, I could listen to more Gregorian chant, sermons, and other music that lifts the heart to God. And most of all, I think a good dose of resignation to the will of God will help with both. If God gives me the time to write, I should by all means use it, provided my spiritual duties have been accomplished, and provided I keep a meek and obedient disposition, to part from my work whenever the Will of God may call me elsewhere. Also, inserting more spiritual music into my playlist may help me turn my eyes to God more often during my writing. And…here’s another biggie…to write when I have the time to, even if I don’t feel like it. If God gives me the time to write, I should not waste it by procrastinating on the internet. Research is one thing, but procrastination looks and feels totally different from research. Research is for the purpose of fact-checking, mainly. Procrastination has no purpose, and therefore it is idleness, a vice so easily fallen into and, once fallen into, hard to escape.

I think the bottom line I truly need to learn and embrace is this: Our obsession should be with making it to heaven; our treasure should be found in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In nothing else can we find our true happiness, a happiness not quite experienced but hoped for in this life. This is why, I think, I often feel empty inside, hollow, even when I am doing something I’ve been looking forward to—something like, sitting down at my desk to write with a fresh cup of coffee and a crumpet and turning my playlist up to drown out the world. There is no joy in it, unless it is leading me closer to God, to my treasure, to my true home. If I am not writing to please Him, if I am not writing on His time, according to His will, it is meaningless, joyless, empty. The only contentment we can find in this life is in doing the Will of God. Period. And what is His will? Sanctity. That in all we do, say, think and desire, we reach higher, reach for Him and Him alone, and find our happiness nowhere else.

I have also learned this: It is a very difficult thing to deny your own will. It stings and scrapes at our pride like nothing else can. That is why it makes us saints. Because we suffer in so doing. Because we must fight. But in this fight, we will always be victorious so long as we do not give up, so long as we do not let go of the hand of God which sustains us in all things. And our bitterness will turn swiftly to sweetness when we look up to meet the eyes of God in our suffering and see Him gazing back in love and joy at us, see Him watching our efforts to please Him with infinite delight. We cannot hope to win the fight against our will if we do not love God.

All this to say, dear reader: Fix your ‘obsession’ on your heavenly home and Heavenly Father, for only this ‘obsession’ can bring us to everlasting felicity. All others will blind us and drag us away from God, our only Good.

And, a special ‘thank you’ to the friend who posted such a thought-provoking and soul-searching status.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

Sunday, October 19, 2014

+J.M.J.+

Well, I encountered a very difficult situation this Friday. Everything had been going wonderfully. Our classrooms were combined into one room, and I had worked with the teacher of the other classroom all morning. We get along well, and it is, of course, much easier to work with someone who knows the schedule of the classroom and who knows the children. We had eight children between our two rooms, and they’d been behaving well (for a crawler, this means they hadn’t fallen off of things, smacked or clawed at other children, or otherwise gotten themselves into trouble). My coworker left at 2:30 each day, and so someone had to come in and take her place, because the ratio of teachers to crawlers is 1 to 5, and we still had 8.

A lady came in that I’d spoken to very briefly. She was from an outside temporary agency that hired out nannies and childcare workers. She’d done my breaks a couple of times before, and so I knew her name and face. Other coworkers had expressed a distaste for working with this lady, but I did my best to put their judgments aside and form my own.

We got along well for a time, because naptime was still going on—the children were to remain in their cribs until 3:30, when we would get them up, change their diapers and give them their afternoon snack. The children had been a bit crazy during nap, partly because there were so many of them in the room, and partly because one of them had to have a breathing treatment at 2:00 that had been rather noisy. 6 out of 8 were awake, but for the most part they were fairly content. All that to say, when this lady came in, we did well for a while because all we had to do was sit there and wait for 3:30 to come, occasionally checking diapers to make sure none of the children got diaper rash while they were waiting to come out of their cribs. We made a bit of small talk, and I thought to myself, “This isn’t bad at all. I think perhaps we will get along great and everything will go smoothly.”

Fast forward to 3:20. A couple of the children had been screaming since 2:45, and one had just started fussing and was being particularly loud. This lady asked if we could get them up early. I told her no, that we had to keep them on the schedule so that they can get used to it. We began to set out the high chairs, and I went behind the counter to heat up their sippy cups, only to discover the little crockpot we normally heat them in had been unplugged. I announced we’d have to heat the cups in the microwave. The lady expressed sympathy with my agitation.

At this point, things were still relatively okay. I’d remembered one of my coworkers telling me that this lady was known for questioning the schedule and asking multiple times if she could stray from it. But that was only once.

Then the diaper changes began. At around 3:25 this lady decided she wanted to pick up one of the children and carry them around. I had a specific order I needed to change diapers in, based on what time I knew they would probably leave. I wanted to make sure that the ones that left first got their snack first so they’d be done by the time their parents arrived. She brought me the child she’d been carrying, and I asked her if she could please bring me a different child.

“Oh, I didn’t know you had a specific order,” she said, and went to place the child on the floor.

“Oh, don’t put her down on the floor, put her back in her crib,” I was quick to say.

“Why?” she asked, giving me a confused look.

“Because,” I tried to explain gently, “she can walk and she may try to climb on the high chairs. It’s a safety hazard.”

“Oh.” She picked the child back up, and turned and flipped on the light switch.

“Oh, we can’t turn the light on right now,” I said. “There are children still sleeping, so we have to keep the light off ‘til they wake up.”

Her eyes bugged out at me in exasperation.

“Oh, for goodness’ sakes.” She carried the child back to her crib and set her down while I turned the light back off and carried on with my diaper changes, too stunned for words.

Several tense diaper changes later, the children were eating their snack. As I cleaned off one of the children, the lady reached over and turned down the music I’d had on for nap. Now, in a room full of screaming children, music calms me, because I can focus on the beauty of the music rather than their screaming. To have someone else come in and mess with that only added to my irritation. Struggling to control my rage, I reached up and ripped the auxiliary cord out of the stereo, shutting off the music completely.

“Oh, good,” the lady said, breathing a sigh of relief.

I know, I know. Music is such a small thing to get upset about. And I would have been much more obliging had she asked me to turn it down. And I know, her turning down the music is a very slight thing. I’m the type of person, though, that is loathe to touch things or mess with things in another person’s classroom, and if I have the overwhelming urge to do so, I ask first. So I guess it’s one of those things that specially irritates me, when people mess with my belongings or my settings and don’t even bother to ask. A pet peeve, I suppose. A fault to be overcome. But needless to say, it didn’t make the situation any better.

Continuing on.

I did fairly well dealing with the anger. I couldn’t stop myself from feeling it, but I did my best not to show it. We made conversation, some about the childcare facility and our personal beliefs about it. That was a bit more calming. We have similar views.

As we were cleaning up from snack, I did my best to get ahold of someone at the front desk so I could go use the bathroom—and calm myself a bit. The rage built up within me needed an outlet, and I’m a cryer when I’m angry. She made remarks here and there about different things. Most weren’t irritating, but some really got under my skin and blew on my rage like a strong wind building up a fire. I don’t remember what they were and I’m not going to take pains to remember. But at one point I knew—if I didn’t leave the room soon, I might snap with the next remark that grated at me. I found one of my directors out in the cafeteria and called to her. As she approached the door I slipped outside and shut the door briefly.

“Is there any way you can get her out of here?” I pleaded. “I’m losing my mind.”

She told me I’d have to wait til we were at ratio because there was no one else available to take her place, and so I went to the bathroom and cried a bit to release the anger. It only added to my desperation that as I was crying and trying to splash water on my face, kids were banging on the door to the bathroom.

Still, eyes a bit puffy, I marched back to the classroom and geared up for a battle with myself. As I stepped inside, I noticed there were children crawling around on the carpet while the high chairs were still out and cookie crumbs all over the tile. Ignoring this, I went behind the counter for the broom.

“I talked to the director. She said they usually get the kids up at 3, not 3:30. I told her you wouldn’t let me.” At this point, her remark was just another log in the fire already roaring within me.

“Well, I’ve always been told they wake up at 3:30. That’s what we’ve done since I’ve been here,” I said, as calmly as I could manage.

“No,” she said. “The director said 3.”

I didn’t answer. There was no point. Instead I cleaned off the high chairs, stacked them against the wall, and began to sweep, tossing the dustpan onto the tile.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’m watching the kids on the carpet.” I continued to sweep, turning when I heard little palms slapping the tile. One of the children was already on the tile and headed straight for the dustpan.

“Will you get him off the tile?” I demanded.

“Yes, yes, I’ve got him.” She went and picked him up and chuckled. “That’s the second time he’s gone for that dustpan.” I snorted internally.

“Yes, well, that’s why we usually keep them in their cribs until the cleaning’s done,” I said testily.

“I know, I know,” she said, and stood there watching them while I finished up, shaking with rage.

Thankfully, the director remembered my request, and as soon as we were down to five children she called into the room and sent the lady somewhere else. I think the lady sensed the tension between us.

“Gladly I’ll go,” she said with a small laugh, and went to fetch her shoes. I bade her have a good weekend and breathed a sigh of relief when she’d gone.

This was my experience with my human emery board. It is probably the second or third most trying thing I’ve experienced since my conversion. It is amazing how some people are designed to rub you exactly the wrong way and push all of your buttons with stunning accuracy. But without these people, we wouldn’t be able to progress in the spiritual life. In order to practice patience, we have to have someone to be patient with. In order to practice meekness and peaceableness, someone we have to make sacrifices for in order to get along with. I only hope, that knowing what this experience was, I will be better prepared to face it in the future, as well as others like it.

I realize maybe I have strange buttons, strange pet peeves…some of you might read this and think, “Well, I don’t see how she did anything wrong.” And perhaps you’re right. It is difficult coming into a new place and having to mold yourself to their schedule and procedures, especially if you have trouble seeing the motives or reasons behind that schedule and those procedures. It is also hard being the person used to said schedule and procedures and having someone come in and willfully go against them. I’m used to the workers from the temp agency simply being obedient and going along with everything. I’m used to being the one to have to direct, to point out which child is which, where their diapers are, where their cribs are, where they are supposed to be at what time, and to lead the effort to keep everything running smoothly. And usually the staff that come in to help me simply obey. That is what I would do, were I the one in a new childcare facility, were I the one unfamiliar with procedure.

Then again, I thrive on routine and procedure.

And maybe this lady doesn’t.

My theory is that, deep down, she doesn’t agree with the schedule or procedures. And I can understand that, and even respect it. It’s fine if this isn’t the way you’d want your household run. I might not run mine the same way. And my theory is also that she wanted to do things the way she thought they should be done, as much as I would allow her to, or as much as she could get away with. Hence the children on the floor, hence getting them up early to stop their crying, hence turning the light on or turning the music down, as she saw fit.

I can respect all of that. But in an institutional setting, with eight children to care for and only two teachers between them, the procedures and routines are there for a reason, and a simple reason at that: to keep both children and teachers sane. Hence keeping the children in their cribs while we clean up from mealtimes, hence keeping them in their cribs until naptime is officially over, so they learn to content themselves while other children are sleeping (because that’s what will happen in the toddler room), hence specific times and places for meals and specific tasks that must be done at each meal.

A routine for children so small may seem ridiculous or even cruel, but in all honestly, human beings thrive on routine, and especially children. Coming in from the infant room, where their schedules are much more flexible, sure, the routine may be hard at first, but after a week or two they get used to it. They sit in their cribs and play with the toy or the mirror without fussing. They fall asleep on their own and sleep at assigned nap times. They are hungry when it’s time to eat, and in between eating and sleeping, they are happy and content. And for us teachers, who may have to deal with a group of 8 or even 9 between 2 teachers, or 5 for one teacher, this routine is what makes taking care of so many children possible in the first place. And just because there is a routine doesn’t mean there isn’t any love. No, it’s certainly not how I would do things with my own household and my own children. But it makes sense in the context of having to care for so many children at the same time.

All that to say, I have another lesson under my belt and a long way to go still. God humbled me and gave me many graces that day—He kept me from boiling over and having an all-out crying and yelling fit, like I was tempted to, and He helped me to see her for what she is—a fellow soul, bought at the price of Our Lord’s most Precious Blood, and an invaluable help to my own soul by virtue of our conflicting personalities. We need our ‘enemies’ sometimes more than we need our friends, and affliction has much more to teach us than prosperity.

And the ironic twist to this story: Just that morning, I’d read in “Introduction to the Devout Life” a chapter entitled, “Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger.” Does God have a sense of humor? Did He give me a pop quiz? I think so. Most certainly.

May God grant me the grace to serve Him more faithfully in any other trials I might come across, and to be humble enough to see every trial and every soul for what they are.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

October 11, 2014

[+J.M.J.+]

So, it seems that the commitment to post at least once a week is harder than I thought. I apologize for the lapse in posts. I started drafting one at the end of September, but I don’t think I will post it. At least, not yet. This post, I think, will take a different route.

I’ve been hit with a bout of depression lately. Now, I’m not the type of person who can handle just shoving things aside that need to be dealt with, and when I noticed my melancholy over these past few days, I wanted to examine it. I am kept very busy with my full-time job working in the crawler room at a daycare. I am grateful I don’t have to take my work home with me like many do. I am not a morning person, however, and so my mornings are all about frantically getting ready and heading out the door (usually a few minutes late). I try to think in the car, which comes naturally to me since I spent several years in my middle and high school years riding the bus for 45 minutes in the morning and in the evening. It gave me lots of time to think, since I can’t read for very long without getting motion-sickness. I’m grateful for this habit. It gives me the time I need to sort things out. But here lately, I’ve been using the new stereo I put in my car, playing Disney music and classical and Gregorian chant. Not that any of that’s bad, just that…I started craving time in silence. I missed silence. Just listening to the noise of the road. Just listening to the sounds that a house makes as it settles. Last night, I sat in silence for a moment. I noticed it. It was deafening to me. I’m the kind of person who needs some sort of white noise…not radio, not voices, just noise, like water or a fan running. Pure silence does intimidate me. It makes me hyper-aware of everything around me, everything outside of me. Which, for inner reflection, does not bode well. So I turned on the fan in my bathroom (which adjoins my room) and when my boyfriend called, I reflected. I use him as a sounding board a lot. He listened patiently as I sorted out my thoughts, as I dug into the root of my depression and melancholy, brought it to the foreground, and put the puzzle pieces in place. Really, much of it was very easy to do, once I finally sat down and dug in. God gave me the grace in that moment to figure it out, I think.

This habit, of digging in, needs to be done more often. I’m preaching to myself just as much as I am preaching to you, dear reader. What I found surprised me, in good ways and in bad. My depression was not deep-rooted, which rang true with my intuition. Sometimes, the melancholy would seize me and I would be brought close to tears—but I could never cry. If I were truly and honestly, soul-deep, unhappy, I would have cried every night. I would have cried any time my thoughts got close to depression. But I never could cry. Something in me kept telling me, “It’s a nuisance…like a thorn in your foot. Nothing major. It does need to be dealt with so you can keep moving forward. It’s slowing you down.” So my mind justified shoving that to the back burner because, hey, it wasn’t a big deal. But things like that can become a big deal…or rather, you make them out to be a big deal and end up upset for no good reason.

No, the reason behind my depression is something I’m quite familiar with. It’s been plaguing me for the past few years, sticking thorns in my foot when I’m not paying attention, and being a nuisance, though not a danger. It’s a fear, a doubt, about the future, about the path God has placed me on, about marriage and about my past. This doubt can be paralyzing, but only if I let it. It’s something that won’t see reason; it’s something that tempts me to despair; it’s something I can’t argue with. I simply have to banish it with an act of faith in God. It sneers at me, “God is deceiving you. You are not safe on this path. You are on the wrong path. It doesn’t matter what your confessors have told you. What if they’re wrong? What if you are wrong about your past? What if there’s an impediment to marriage that no one knows about, or that you forgot about?”

I have tried battling it out. It’s too strong for me to fight on my own. I become overwhelmed, frustrated, angry and despairing. And that’s exactly where it wants me. Whatever ‘it’ is. I say back, “God would not lead me to a vocation which would be sinful or wrong under my circumstances. I have done my part. I have told the truth, and I’ve told it with all honesty and intention of wanting the truth about my circumstances in return. God would not deceive someone who honestly begged and prayed for the truth, no matter what it cost. He knows all. He is omniscient, not me. It is not my place to look for all the answers. God knows, and He will see to it that whatever needs to be known, will be made known, in the right time and place.”

Of course, it dismisses my argument with a simple retort. “But what if He doesn’t?”

See, this is where the act of faith needs to come in full force. Argument does not prevail against temptations like this. Only a simple and childlike faith and trust in God will serve to overcome it. And I think, last night, I finally grasped this truth. I see now that perhaps God wants me to learn this childlike faith. And He is allowing this temptation to buffet me for that purpose. Thank God that He has seen fit to preserve me from total despair thus far. I have fallen under the weight of this cross many times, but God has not taken it away. He keeps giving me grace to see better, to walk more strongly, and to keep going towards Him. I have to put off my silly intellectual pride in order to keep going, and this is perhaps why He is humbling me with this cross. “Be childlike. Trust in Me. It is I Who knows all, Who sees all, not you. See yourself for the stumbling child of dust you are, and see how much love and grace I pour out on you every moment. If only you will humble yourself, I will exalt you.”

Little children do not ask ‘why’. I am not talking about 4 or 5 year olds who ask every question under the sun. I am speaking of 2 and 3 year olds, who I see running to their mothers and fathers each day, who expect their mothers and fathers to be infallible, unfailing, in picking them up each day, in lifting them up into their arms, in making them better when they are sick, in caring for their wounds, in giving them meals each day. If little children have such trust in their parents, who are as human as we are, why can we not trust God the same way, Who truly is infallible, perfect, and unfailing in all of His promises?

Let us not allow distrust and doubt to hinder our running to God. Let us run to Him, arms wide in trust, marvelling at His greatness and our littleness, and at His condescension to love us more than we could ever love ourselves. He is faithful and unfailing, and He will not despise a contrite and humble heart that cries to Him in trust.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+