Watch One Hour – or Even One Minute   1 comment

I had a post “in the pipeline,” nearly ready to go. And then…I became anxious. The last number of days have been pretty good for me. But today, with projects and deadlines hanging over my head, cracks began to show, along with the attendant fear that the cracks would open up to a chasm of fear and panic. That’s how it is with anxiety so often: when there’s a small opening, anxiety will barge right in and try to muscle its way into your thoughts, taking up as much real estate there as it can. For the person who is super-sensitive (more on that in the post that was supposed to come first), often a little hint of anxiety will lead to worry that an uncomfortable feeling or bodily sensation will escalate into something much worse. For the optimist, the “glass half full” is a positive way to glass-300558_640fullemptyview our situation; to see abundance rather than lack. For the sensitive, anxiety-prone person (like me, and maybe you), at the slightest anxious thought, our glass is half full and keeps filling. It’s not blessings, however, with which our cup overflows, but the promise of greater and more intense anxiety. For the anxiety-prone person, optimism is in the glass half empty; learning to see just a little anxiety, accepting what’s there, while politely declining another pour. But that takes practice. Lots of practice….

So this morning, as my thoughts swirled and my “glass” sloshed, I said, “Stop.” I took a mental step back. Sure, I have a lot on my plate – er… in my glass – but that’s life. I’ve had more pressing deadlines and greater obstacles to overcome, and I always have. On those occasions when I couldn’t overcome – when the glass overflowed and I had a mess to clean up – I survived. Mistakes and missteps are part of life, and there’s no one who can escape them. Nor should we. No, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t bother to do our best, or to succeed. But accepting that mistakes happen helps us to learn from them and to do better next time. Sometimes mistakes even lead us to an insight that we wouldn’t have gained otherwise. However you want to look at it, the upshot is that mistakes aren’t the end of the world, and the things we anticipate with dread will be over one way or the other. And we’ll still be here. Regardless (or in spite of) how much is left on our glass.

This morning I went to a place where I could fill my glass with peace, contentment and hope. Feeling anxious about the tasks at hand, I went to the Source of peace, the Antidote to anxiety. I went to Eucharistic Adoration, and sat in silence with Jesus. I know that’s not everyone’s jam, but it’s mine. And it was what I needed. I needed to quiet my mind by surrendering the thoughts (the “What ifs?” that feed the anxiety and set my mind racing so fast I can’t think straight) to the One who knows me best, and Who loves me best. As I sat there, looking quietly at Jesus as He looked quietly at me, the peace came. Oh, the negative thoughts sat next to the peace, quietly poked at it, occasionally succeeded in bruising it. But that’s not the point. With anxiety the goal is not to banish it all in one fell swoop (much as we’d like to do just that). Instead, we chip away at it, to loosen its grip on us by not holding on so tightly to it. Yes, I said it: when we concentrate on anxiety, especially the desperation to get rid of it, we’re actually holding on not letting go. When anxiety, negative thoughts (“What if this or that happens?!”) and fixating on uncomfortable sensations takes all of your focus, you end up inviting anxiety to stay, rather than showing it the door.  Any time you can draw attention away from anxiety, or at least let it be without filling its glass (with more negative, desperate thoughts), you come closer to accepting it as part of life, and it loses its ability to frighten you, and to prevent you from doing what you want.

I’m not there just yet. Sometimes I do let anxiety steal my focus, and we fill each other’s glasses to the brim. But more and more, I am learning to quench my thirst on the peace I deserve – the peace Jesus wants to give. Today I sat looking at Jesus, jesus-62950_1280Cross (2)but I didn’t talk to Him about filling or emptying glasses. I put my glass aside and asked Him to pour the blood and water that gushed from His side as He hung on the Cross directly into me: to let it rush through me with the power and force of His love, to cleanse me of worry and fear, and to wash away my anxious thoughts and feelings. I asked Jesus to wash away the anxiety, and fill me up with Himself instead.  For awhile, the peace that ran through and washed over me remained. Later, anxiety came again, carrying its pitcher, eager to pour me another. But my glass is only half full. There is peace in little victories. and little though they be – they’re still victories.

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Posted September 16, 2017 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

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Who I Am – Not “What I Have”   Leave a comment

I began writing this blog, well…what has become a long time ago now (where did the time go?), and I did it for a couple of reasons. I’d just lost my job, and I needed a creative outlet – and something to do other than scour the want ads or stew about my situation. I also wanted a place to talk about…whatever. To write about things happening in my life or to work through something I was experiencing; kind of like talking out loud, except using a keyboard instead of my voice. The blog became kind of personal journal, and if anyone read any of the posts, my hope was that they’d resonate with something I said, or be inspired to reflect more deeply on their own experience, and maybe even find some creative expression of their own. Or, just take the opportunity to talk with a trusted friend about whatever is on their heart, or troubling their spirit. Or, maybe turn to the Lord for comfort – or just vent.

My consistency in writing has been horrible; no two ways about it. But I guess that was because sometimes I had something to say, but not a lot of time to sit down and say it. Or, I didn’t think anyone particularly cared what I was thinking. But that doesn’t really matter. Whether this blog stays a “personal journal,” or I gain a following, I want it to be about me. Not in a “navel gazing,” self-centered way. I want to speak from my heart, open myself up, and I guess become somewhat vulnerable in sharing myself. Writing helps me better sort out my thoughts, and express them more fully (to better understand them) when they’re not shut up in the dark recesses of my mind. The light of day – and the objectivity that comes when you don’t live in your own head – brings clarity and healing. And who knows: someone might read a line or a paragraph and think, “Yes, that’s how I feel, too.” To that end, I’m going to share something that has been happening to me recently – and all of my life. It’s risky to open up this part of me, since even if nary another soul reads it, it’s out in cyber space for good. But it’s important – for me, and maybe for one other person. So, here goes.

For almost all of my life – at least as far back as I can remember – I have dealt with (suffered, been treated for, run away from, wondered “Why?”) anxiety. Even typing the word feels weird, and gives me a little flutter of discomfort. Maybe it’s the “x” right there in the middle of the word, like a map marking the precise spot where pain and fear and worry lie. Alas, the map is of the whole world, and the “x” marks the spot that is me. Or, at least that’s how it feels; like the whole world is turning in the same direction, except for where I’m standing. From where I stand, the world turns in the opposite direction, or stands still while everyone else around me spins and spins. The “x” on that spot is me, but not simply me. I am a ball of energy – and not the good kind. It’s not the energy that gives me the ability to accomplish great things. It’s an energy that burns so white hot and furiously that it feels as if it will burn me right out. What I’m describing may sound weird, or crazy, or perhaps like a serious neurological problem. The truth is, there’s no good way to describe anxiety to someone who’s never experienced it in this way. Of course, we’ve all been anxious at one time or another, so it’s not as if the experience is totally foreign. In fact, anxiety is necessary to our survival. If we didn’t get anxious (if our “alert system” wasn’t functioning properly) we’d never be afraid of anything. While we shouldn’t live our lives in constant fear, it does serve its purpose. Anxiety (that alert system) clues us in when danger is near so we can fight off an attacker, or we can get out of the way. Most everyone can relate to these feelings, or to that nervous, jittery feeling before giving a speech or doing some unpleasant task (or something we don’t feel qualified to do). That’s anxiety, and it’s a shot of adrenaline that we need to fight, flee, or turn in the performance of our lives. It gets us revved up and ready to tackle whatever comes our way. So it’s a good thing! Except for when it’s not. Except for when the “anxiety switch” gets stuck in the “On” position, and the energy flows even when it isn’t needed.

Of course, when I was a little girl, I didn’t understand any of this. Nor did my parents, or my doctor, or the nurse who barked at me to “hold still, or this is going to take even longer!” as she observed me lying on a table, electrodes stuck to my head, my brainwaves likely doing some weird dance to the beat of my nervous stomach and pounding heart. As a child, feelings of nervousness, unreality, shortness of breath, and other symptoms are scary, but also deeply isolating. No one else around you seems to be acting this way, so it seems wise not to let on that something doesn’t feel right – especially since you don’t know exactly what that “something” is. So while I was a very happy, precocious child, I lived with these weird feelings that occasionally invaded my happiness (looking back I can identify some triggers, like being really tired, or in a place that was overwhelming with lots of people and fluorescent lights), and kept them pretty much to myself. This got harder as I got older, especially when the weird, scary feelings surfaced in church, or at a family gathering. When I eventually told my parents they took me to the doctor – who speculated that the candles in church were causing…I don’t even know what. A hypnotic effect? A trance? A seizure? He didn’t know, which is how I ended up having an EEG that made me feel more trapped and uncomfortable than anything before it. The nurse barking at me only heightened the experience. (I vividly remember swallowing, or moving my head or arm ever so slightly, causing the machine to ROAR like a lion, signaling that the process would, indeed, take longer, and the nurse wouldn’t let me forget it.) I learned most assuredly that being out of control was equivalent to torture and death, and that I must avoid that loss of control at all costs.

So, here I am, decades from those experiences, and yet still dealing with the same “weird feelings” as the little girl known for her bubbly personality and talent for impersonating almost any celebrity, relative or friend, hamming it up on anything she turned into a stage. I’m still those things…and still anxious. That’s what I have: anxiety. Worry about the future – or about my next breath, or what people are thinking or saying about me – or about my lousy writing. Anxiety has recently become my constant companion, but I’ve begun discovering why that is (why now?), and how to kindly show it the door. I know that anxiety is not something I can ever fully get rid of; nor should that be my aim. Remember, we need the little imp, or else we’ll get in a heap of trouble when we don’t respond to danger, or don’t whip up the energy we need to run a 5k or give an important presentation – or be the best dang swing dancers at the club on a night out with friends. But I don’t want that “x” to mark me any more; to be the beacon that draws every negative feeling or worrisome thought, pulsing through my body in waves that aren’t exhilarating, but frightening and uncomfortable.

Anxiety is something I have, for a variety of reasons that I know, and some that I’m trying to uncover. But it isn’t who I am. It isn’t who I am, for a variety of reasons I am in the process of uncovering – and which I intend to use as I instruct anxiety on just who the boss is in our longstanding, tumultuous relationship.

Anxiety is what I have, but not who I am. And who am I? I am a daughter of God, a wife, a daughter, sister, family member, Godmother, friend. I am someone who is putting it out there – my fear, my worry, my anxiety – because I’m not a mark on someone’s cosmic map, chosen arbitrarily to suffer. I have anxiety – but I’ve decided that anxiety doesn’t have me.

Posted September 7, 2017 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

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When the Good News is Bad   Leave a comment

I’ve been ruminating on a number of things these last few weeks. I’d like to say I’ve been “pondering them in my heart”; but unlike Mary I am not full of grace. In fact, I sometimes feel quite the contrary. Not because God hasn’t generously offered Himself to me, though. Certainly not that. Perhaps sometimes it seems easier – or perversely preferable – regardless of how much sorrow, anxiety,  despair and joylessness one feels, to simply wallow in the pain. Easier than embracing the sweet relief that comes with acceptance – even when what we’re accepting isn’t at all what we’d wanted or planned or asked for in our prayers.

A few weeks ago – Thanksgiving Day, to be exact – my close friend revealed her pregnancy to me. It was four months since they’d married, and the shock of the announcement provoked in me a stunned silence. And then…the tears came. A shaky, “I’m…so…happy for…you…” and then the floodgates opened. Much as I tried – much as I was embarrassed by my reaction – the tears wouldn’t stop, and no further words would come. To her credit, and her now motherly instincts, my friend soothed me, saying she knew that her words would bring pain, and it was the last thing she intended for me. She knew my struggle with infertility, had cried along with me through five years of disappointment. She was sensitive to my wounds, so old now, yet clearly still so raw. But, how could she do anything other than tell me her news? Why should she – how could she – keep it from me? She tried to change the subject but I couldn’t get out two words without the tears flowing again. So we wished each other a happy Thanksgiving, and hung up the phone. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

Truth be told, there was nothing shocking in my friend’s announcement. I’d been preparing for it since she announced her engagement. After all, that’s what happens: you meet, you marry, you have children. For the woman – the couple – suffering infertility, the social media posts, texts and in-person delivery of the happy news is always somewhat jarring. After so many years of “trying,” just when it seems you’ve finally resigned yourself to the state of things, and begin to settle into the role of “spiritual parent” – an announcement comes and the bottom drops out. Some days – some weeks, some months – it’s fine. Then, all of a sudden, it’s back to square one.

After I hung up the phone I let gush another torrent of tears, this time drenching my husband’s sweater as he tried to console me. I didn’t even tell him why I was crying; he just…knew. I went to our room and sat on the bed, shaking my head, saying softly, “Why! Why…on Thanksgiving Day?”

+++++++

Now, months have passed, and a healthy baby boy is lighting up my friend’s life – and raising her own struggles with anxiety and worry to new levels. As time has passed and I’ve had my own difficulties related to stress and anxiety, then sadness has given way (mostly) to empathy for my friend. I know how worry and anxiety can be nearly crippling, how it saps energy and colors our relationships. My empty arms still ache for the sweet burden they’ll never carry. But I am less “me-focused,” I suppose. The longing will never fade – though it loses intensity with time and circumstance. What I appreciate more, I think (I hope) is motherhood isn’t prize to be won, but a task that is often quite difficult, and not without its pitfalls for the mother. Being a mother is great and glorious and blessed; but it is not the “Promised Land” I – and other infertile women – can sometimes make it. So I pray for my friend, and I offer my own anxiety to the Lord in service of hers. She has received a gift that I’ve always wanted. But it’s not without its sacrifices. Sacrifices I’d swear to undertake – but cost I can’t begin to imagine from here in my safe, infertile, self-pitying cocoon. God bless my friend and make her a good, healthy mom who enjoys more than she worries. And God help me to be a good friend.

Posted August 29, 2017 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

Still trying to hold Her hand   Leave a comment

I’m not sure exactly what is prompting my return to writing from a long “hiatus;” or why I stopped writing in the first place. Perhaps it was the ability to hold on only tenuously during the turbulent movements of a life in flux: unemployment, bad employment, death of loved ones, spiritual upheaval. Or perhaps just laziness. Whatever – I was prompted to open up again, because I needed to.

The road of infertility has stretched longer than I could ever have imagined. Every time a woman thinks she may finally be healed of the emotional pain, and the scars on her heart are no longer raw and tight, allowing the heart to stretch and open up with charity and generosity…BOOM. A trigger slaps her down again. Slaps me down. The surprise news of two pregnancies from women who’ve been down this same road – and even longer than I – comes as no less a shock and (truth be told) disappointment than it did four years ago. Four years ago I was a newlywed; albeit, not a young, idealistic, freshly-minted adult . Now, just shy of my 48th birthday, the realization that I will not be a mother permeates every part of my body. It reaches to my soul.

A strange feeling, a mix of emotions. I feel at once sad and unburdened; free…and yet still bound by the unshakable sorrow of what will. Never. Be.

“Blessed are the barren: for they shall be called to fruitfulness in other ways.” Yes. But not in the way we so desperately wish.

My consolation is the few women I still know who walk this road with me, who still feel guilty for selfish thoughts, and still cry at diaper commercials. My body is telling me, It’s time. It’s time to finally let go, because the end of the road is near. That, too, is freeing, even in its deathly finality.

Sweet Mother, hold my hand this night. May I have a share in your Motherhood? Will you open my eyes and wipe away the tears that blur my vision when the opportunities to love are right in front of me? Dear Mother, hold the hands of all the women who will never hold the hand of their own precious child.

Posted February 27, 2015 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

Praising God when it’s hard   Leave a comment

Recently a friend and I shared some prayer time. She invited me to consider Job chapter 29, although she didn’t know what significance it might have for me. (I invite you to read it as well, and ponder what God might be telling you.) In it the prophet recounts all the ways in which God blessed him “when the Almighty was still with me” (v. 5), and the renown he enjoyed among those around him. I knew almost immediately what this meant for me; but at first blush, like the prophet, I recalled the time of fervor and zeal with which I praised and proclaimed the Lord, in contrast to (what I sometimes perceive to be) His forgetfulness of me. Here’s what I mean:

About 15 years ago now I experienced a (re)conversion that changed me profoundly and set me on a new course of seeking God, and knowing His will. I learned that God was waiting for me (and He continues to wait even when I take my eyes from Him and try to walk on my own); that He loves me deeply regardless of my past or my sins or weakness; and that He longs to pour His mercy upon me. I learned that I must acknowledge all of this, and come to Him always seeking forgiveness, help in my walk, and find comfort in His love. I must rest in His love – and share that love with as many people as possible. God extends His hand – He always does – but He waits patiently for us. I wasted a lot of time ignoring His hand, or just not seeing that it was reaching for *me.*

Life goes on. We’re up and we’re down; sadness and joy wend their ways in and out of our lives. Somewhere along the way though, I, like Job, started to think of the days “when the Almighty was still with me” as reminiscences, as scenes from the past that I longed to relive. Soon there was no praise and thanksgiving (as there had been before), but only the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

It’s easy for any of us to fall into this slump, a place where we find the faithfulness we’ve taken for granted has been somehow betrayed. It may be something big in our lives, or something relatively small; but it’s easy to fall into a “fair weather” relationship with God if we only focus on what He does for us. That’s the ditch I’d landed in.

Pondering Job 29 made me angry at first. “Yeah, that’s right God, where are you? You used to love me!!” But a few moments of hearing Job’s words coming from my own lips were like a splash of cold water as I began to take stock of all of the blessings He has given me – and continues to give. Even the things that don’t work in my life, the disappointment and sadness, can be blessed. God doesn’t will them on me. There is no lottery in heaven that broadcasts the daily list of losers – those people whom God chose to “smite” that day.

No. No. No, sadness and disappointment – and sometimes tragedy – are the state of things this side of the Fall. But God is good!! He is faithful, and we have to believe that. The alternative is despair. I learned from my reading of Job that God is *still* with me and always has been. I learned that often I have turned down my “spiritual hearing aids” so I can’t hear Him, or jammed the signal on purpose because I don’t want to hear. I learned that I miss the good things and don’t experience the joy when I focus and fret only on the lack.

Please do read and ponder Job 29 for yourself, and see what God might be telling you. And then – praise God! Praise the Father Almighty who willed you from all eternity and loves you with a heart of mercy and compassion. Praise Jesus Christ who sacrificed every last drop of Himself for you, and would do it again for love of you. Praise the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who desires to breathe His peace and joy into you and preserve you in His love.

Praise God in good and bad, in disappointment and triumph. Praise you Lord God who saved me – and continues to save me every day!

Posted July 16, 2014 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

A Brief Reflection on Grief   Leave a comment

The loss of a beloved one – their death – brings with it the unpredictability of emotions, diminishes our facility with language (the words “death” and “died” don’t flow easily from our lips, may be caught in our throats), and so often challenges our faith in God, the Church, and prayer. After the death has happened, the arrangements have been made and accomplished, and what seems to everyone else a sufficient “mourning period” has been fulfilled, life goes on around us. The sun rises and sets. The mailman brings our bills, the grocery stores and malls are filled with shoppers acquiring their daily needs and fulfilling their material desires. People marry, divorce, have babies, get jobs and lose them. Seasons change, new buildings are raised and people move into and out of the neighborhood. The world turns, life happens, people move on. But we, who have lost a piece of our hearts, our spirits, and our being, still remember. The life-stopping, reality-changing event remains with us, and it is like a secret we carry with us into the world. We look like everyone else from the outside, whole and complete; but inside, the missing piece of us creates a hollow, open space that no one recognizes. And that can sometimes make us sad or even angry: that while the world turns, there is no longer recognition from others that a part of us is gone.

What I know from my experience is that the process of grief is truly unique to each of us. It seems to me, at least at this point in my own grieving, that grief has its seasons. Right now I am still in its spring, where my grief is in almost full bloom, but its scents are subtle and its breezes mostly gentle. But some days my grief turns to summer, and the loss of my mother is searing hot on me, the heat of it is stifling, and I struggle to find shade. In time, I would suppose, my grief will transition to autumn, and its colors will change to reveal beautiful memories. And then again, the autumn might make way for the pain of loss to go dormant in its winter, with just enough of an icy reminder to make the memory of loss present, but mostly wrapped in quiet and peace.

This is just what I’m supposing, and how I’ve come to visualize my grief and to try and cope with it. Maybe it will be just like this, or nothing like it; I don’t know. Grief – its stages, seasons, the face it assumes, or however one chooses to characterize it – is one’s own; but not only ours. It is also the season, the Face, the sorrow, the loss, and the Redemption through, and Life in, Jesus Christ. It is all His, if we allow Him to be with us in it. I had thought to say, “If we allow Him to take it from us.” But that’s not at all how it works – or, only very rarely. The loss is real; the pain is real; the empty space is really, really empty. It will remain so, even as we experience it in its shapes and colors; its ebbs  and flows. The loss is ours, and always will be. But Jesus Christ – God and Man – is there to experience it with us, to comfort us, strengthen us, to weep with us, and simply be with us. And so coping with the loss of a loved one is really all about Him. Because in being about Him, it becomes about us and our beloved one, and the new way we must travel without him or her physically present to us, but now fully alive in Christ. Jesus Christ, the One who stared Death in the face, submitted Himself to it, and then overcame Death, is the Bridge between our life here and the New Life experienced by the one we love and miss. Through Him our love survives and thrives.

Posted March 28, 2014 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

Making my heart a manger   Leave a comment

Today is Christmas, the birthday of the Lord. How amazing that is! God Himself – the Creator of you, and me, and the universe and EVERYTHING – has become a little baby. He entrusts Himself to Mary and Joseph. And, to me. As I consider that reality, I am excited, bewildered, afraid and comforted, all at once. 

Today in his homily, our pastor said that our hearts are to be mangers for Jesus. I really pondered that, and will have to continue thinking about what it means. From a mystical/spiritual perspective, the fact that the Baby Jesus was laid in a manger is highly significant, and has a deep theological meaning. The manger is literally the “feed box” for the animals, the place from which they receive their sustenance. Being tucked “Away in a Manger” is not only, or even primarily, about the humility of God – made – man (although it certainly is that). This little Child will become our sustenance, the Bread of Life. Not only does God (the Creator of you and me and the universe and everything) humble Himself and enter into His creation in a most intimate and tangible way; but He then gives Himself to us in a way that makes us acutely aware that He sustains us, that our life is dependent on Him, and that we are because He Is. St. Paul tells us that “In Him we live, and move, and have our being…” (Acts 17:28). But nothing makes these words more clear, more perceivable to us than Christ within us in the Eucharist. We come to the manger at each Liturgy and we are fed by Him. 

The manger is also the place of rest – the place where the Child cooed, cried, and slept “in heavenly peace.” And so my heart must be a manger, a place for Jesus to rest with me, but also a place for Him to cry with me, be content with me, and love in me. That’s a more difficult task, I think, because of all of the noise that surrounds me, and that lives in my head. Bad influences, gossip, anger, jealousy, boredom, temptation –  concupiscence in general, I suppose. And then the noise in my head: grief, self-doubt, wondering, questioning. but above all of that noise, from within and without, there is seeking. I seek Him and long to have Him resting in the manger of my heart.

Amid all of the chaos and nonsense in the world, in my own life, I still possess hope. Why and how, I don’t know. It can only be His grace, His gift, and I am so very grateful.

Make your heart a manger for the Lord, and let Him live there.

Let Him cry and coo and rest with you.

Posted December 26, 2013 by palsa99 in Uncategorized