Love for Beginners: Recognizing the Dignity in Everyone

“For, by his incarnation, he, the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man.”

– Vatican II

I don’t know if you can remember the first time you struggled with or recognized sin in your own life, but I know I can. Even as a young child, I was often filled with undue pride and arrogance at my self-perceived properness and heightened dignity. Simply, I thought I was better than almost everyone else.

See, I was born into a life that so many would literally kill for. I was raised in home with married parents who were nurturing and supportive. My brother and I get along splendidly and have never one time had an argument or disagreement. By the time I was 18, I traveled to all 50 states with my parents and to the Holy Land with my mother. The little town I grew up in, though insulated, was perfect for raising up children who retained their innocence a little longer than most. In most ways, I lived a healthy, idyllic life.

The Dangers of Privilege 

Unfortunately, an idyllic childhood does come with drawbacks, though it’s few and far between. For me, that drawback was the failure to recognize the dignity in every person I came into contact with. For example, if I scored higher on a test than most of my classmates (which was often), I pondered my own outstanding intellect. If someone participated in hobbies that I found banal (watching and playing sports, not reading voraciously), I determined that person was uncouth and in need of culture. Oh, and people who went to the beach every year for vacation? Get up on my level and go somewhere educational and exotic.

For years, I harbored this belief that I was somehow better than everyone else by the virtue of my family, my behaviors, and my hobbies. I prided myself as someone who would have followed Jesus had I lived during His time on Earth. In reality, I probably would have turned up my nose at the sight of the Holy Family. 

Love One Another

One of the most commonly quoted bits of Holy Scripture is from Jesus when He says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. By this, everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). What is originally a profound and deeply influential command is often twisted by our society. It’s turned into a kitschy saying that we decorate our homes with and quip on social media.

But, have you thought to ponder what it means to truly love one another? Jesus does not instruct us to only love those whom it is easy to love. While we are to love those who are the closest to us, it’s also an imperative that we love those who cause our hearts to clamp up in dread. After all, Jesus said that even the pagans love those who are lovable (Matthew 5:47). The simple, yet sacrificial act, of loving those we struggle to see the dignity in is what can change the world.

Love for Beginners

I am convinced that none of us will ever become experts in loving our neighbors, at least on this side of eternity. We have all sorts of hangups: baggage, presumptions, and the scourge of original sin. All of these things distort how we view and love our neighbor. Sin causes us to discard the lowly and to place a preference on our own selves. We fail to see the inherent God-given dignity of those, especially those we don’t like, around us.

Since my conversion to Catholicism, I have grappled more with my own sin of arrogance and judging others. I think this is primarily because, once I converted, my faith became my own and was no longer something I doing just to avoid hell. Often, I thought about Church teachings on the dignity of the human person . Through my journey, I discovered little ways we can learn to value those around us.

Recognizing the Dignity in Others

A few ways to do this are:

  1. Realize that God created each and every person, and knows them intimately (Psalm 139).
  2. Know that Jesus wildly loves each person you encounter. According to Church teaching, every person is assigned a guardian angel. Just think: God loved you and everyone else enough to appoint a supernatural being to protect and watch over you. Knowing that each person has a guardian angel has greatly influenced how I view those around me.
  3. Pray for those you don’t like. This is tough: Easily said but not easily done. Whether you start out with a simple Our Father or Hail Mary for that person, it’s a start. As you progress, watch how God will slowly chip away the barriers in your heart.
  4. Give of yourself. Volunteer for those who are less-fortunate. It’s easy to pity the poor, but the real change is found in working to improve the conditions of those who are the most vulnerable. This very act takes you outside of yourself, and while humbling, it can help you recognize the dignity in others.

Seeing the dignity in others is hard and arduous. It often requires that we step down from our own high places and come face-to-face with the reality of our littleness. Let me know below if there are other ways you recognize the dignity of others. I always love to hear from my readers. May God bless you, always.

 

 

 

The Thing About Weight Loss

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In June 2017, I underwent bariatric surgery in Tijuana, Mexico. After over a decade of struggling with my weight, I knew I had to do something about it. In a previous post, I mentioned how I had “done it all.” Literally: Weight Watchers, ear stapling, low carb/high protein, personal training, supplements, visits with nutritionists, and more.

I jumped into something I never said I would do (bariatric surgery), in a place people believe you shouldn’t go for surgery (Mexico). But, when your insurance probably won’t pay for a $30,000+ surgery because your only condition is obesity, you have to take matters into your own hands. That’s what I did. The Saturday before my surgery, I went received the Sacrament of Confession and went to Vigil Mass. The next day, June 18th, I boarded a plane with my mother and flew to San Diego, crossing into Mexico later that evening.

I never looked back.

I was at the end of my rope, which apparently led me to a Tijuana hospital room while watching cars line up at the U.S./Mexico border. Finally, on the night of June 19th, as I was wheeled away for surgery, my heart was pounding out of my ears. I could see blood coming into my IV from my rapidly accelerating pulse. As the doors on the elevator closed, I repeated in my heart like a record, “All you saints and angels, pray for me.” As the surgical tech helped me onto the operating table, I begged Our Lord to get me out of the operating room alive. I knew it was too late to back out. Once the anesthesia hit, I don’t remember anything else.

Nearly $5,000 and six months later, choosing bariatric surgery (sleeve gastrectomy) for my health needs was one of the top five decisions I’ve ever made. I’m happier, healthier, and there’s a bounce in my step that wasn’t there before. As of the writing of this post, I am down 72 pounds from my pre-surgery weight. Am I now a paragon of perfection regarding nutrition and exercise? Absolutely not. When the surgeon took out 75% of my stomach, he didn’t bother take out the part of my brain that craves enchiladas.  It’s still a daily struggle, but not as much as a fight as it used to be.

In all of my success, I’ve particularly enjoyed buying new clothes. For someone who’s been the same size for most of their life, this phenomenon may be hard to imagine. But, for someone who has been a size 24 in pants and dresses, it’s a whole new world. In a matter of months, clothes that were always off limits to me were now within my realm. From June 2017 to November 2017, I had dropped 10 sizes, going from a 24W to a 14 regular. I could now wear “regular” women’s clothing. I walked in the nearest Macy’s and walked out with a haul that cost more than I care to think about. It was a wonderful, terrific, feeling. Who knew size 14 could be so fun?

In the midst of all of my positive transformations, I started to notice other changes as well. Not positive, not negative. Just changes.

For example, I had updated my social media photos to newer head shots. Nothing racy or revealing, just pictures at festivals or out in the sun. Within days, I received unsolicited messages on Facebook and Twitter from men inquiring about my marital and relationship status. Just today, my “other” inbox in Facebook lit up with another lonely heart looking for a connection. 72 pounds ago, this rarely (if ever) happened. Guys openly flirt with me now in public. It’s bizarre. Still, another change is the attitudes of the people around me. When I venture beyond my home, those who would rarely speak to me now go out of their way to make conversation. Formally cordial acquaintances now say little-to-nothing at all. It’s not everyone, though. In fact, it’s a handful of people. Maybe it’s in my imagination. But, it’s noticeable.

Also, I’ve noticed a change in myself. Now that I’m thinner and nine pounds away from my goal weight, I treat myself with more respect and dignity. I think more highly of myself. When I was nearly 300 pounds, thoughts about myself weren’t as respectful and dignified. While I didn’t hate myself, I hated my body. I hated my eating habits and I hated how I had let stress take my body to a place it shouldn’t be.

While I didn’t frequently read women’s magazines, I hated how I didn’t resemble those women in the pages (even the token plus-size models). Even though I wouldn’t admit it, I had been trapped by society’s expectations, if but in a small way. It took losing nearly 75 pounds for me to realize that I was in a cycle of distressing thoughts and practices. I was like a fish in water: I didn’t know how I had been hooked by secular standards. For me, it was normal.

Finally, the thing about weight loss is that it’s not just your body that changes: it’s your life and your world. Some changes are wonderful: your health improves, your outlook is more positive, and your body is at ease. Some changes, not so wonderful: friends and family may treat you poorly because they think you’re a new person (and they don’t like it). Maybe others are threatened by your drastic transformation. You may realize that maybe you weren’t the best to yourself. It’s normal, and I’ve been there.

Yet, given my success in my journey, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Dear Lord,

When we believe that our bodies don’t fit the mold the world offers us, it’s easy to despair. We forget that we were thought of and created by You in Your infinite wisdom. Forgive us when we fail to recognize that our value comes from You, not the size of our dress or a number on a scale. Help us to take care of the bodies You have given us so that we may glorify You more and more. Thank You for creating me.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

 

Dwelling Together: Maturing in Faith

Hello! Thanks for reading today, I’m glad you’re here. Today is a long-winded post, but I think you may relate to it (especially if you’re anything like me). 

Each week, I attempt to publish one to two quality posts about faith, life, books, and anything else happening in my day-to-day life. If you enjoy what you read, please consider sharing on social media and subscribing through email or WordPress.

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How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together as one! // Psalm 133:1 (NAB)

I have this persistent and terrible habit where I believe I am the only one. Foolishly, I think that it’s just me who struggles with anxiety, or it’s just me whose mind wanders during work, Mass, or while on the phone with my mom. I’m the only one who sometimes pushes the Holy Spirit’s nudging out of my heart when the conviction is uncomfortable. For a very long time (and even still some today), I wrestled with these feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and a sense of floating. I knew I could turn to Our Lord in the times of need, but overall, everything felt like a one-woman show. I had to take care of my own issues, it wasn’t the job of anyone else. These problems were solely my problems and no one else could ever understand my thought process. Unfortunately, this is one of lies that the devil tells us: You must depend on yourself to fix anything, all the time, no one can help.

In high school and college, I suffered from a terrible case of superiority complex. When classes were canceled on campus due to snow, I was out in my boots walking to mid-week Bible study while everyone else was cozy in the dorms. In high school, I purposely did not attend social events because, frankly, I was better than everyone else. Only unintelligent, uncultured simpletons attended football games on Friday night instead of staying at home with a good book.

If you couldn’t tell, I was simply a joy to have around.  Insert eye roll.

Because I believed that I was inherently better than everyone around me, I failed to form healthy communal bonds with those around me. While I formed lovely friendships, especially in college, I believed that only I could deal with my issues. I believed that my issues with anxiety or nervousness were so unique that no one could possibly provide a reasonable solution. In many a silly decision, I bypassed what were probably valuable campus meetings, designed specifically for women undertaking the transitions of adult life. I was determined to help myself.

Thankfully, age is the wonderful, gracious teacher.

Obviously, I am older than I was in high school and college. My faith and life is more of my own, my understanding of my need for others has increased (though it’s not perfect). Since my conversion to Catholicism, I’ve absorbed any resource at my fingertips – especially those tailored towards the needs of women. Podcasts, articles, devotions have been my closest friends in my walk of faith. I’ve realized that yes, I do need support in my walk as not only as a Catholic, but also as a teacher, daughter, and community member.

This morning I read this morning’s devotional from Blessed Is She, an online community for Catholic women. Patty Breen, today’s writer, penned words that cut to my core:

“The most difficult prayers I have prayed in my life (and still do) are ones of abandonment and submission to the will of God. For a type-A planner like myself, it is so easy to tell Jesus what I think the best option or plan is. But that is neither how God nor prayer works. We call that manipulation, not worship.”

Like Patty, I am a type-A personality: high-strung, organized, meticulous. I also struggle with turning over every detail of my life over to God and His divine will. My past habits tell the story: Again, I thought I was the only one who struggled with this. I thought I was too stubborn, too selfish, not worthy enough to let God take control in every nook of my existence. But this morning, I was informed in plain English that I’m not the only woman on the planet who struggles with any given issue.

I’m not alone, I’m not isolated, my struggles are common. Thankfully.

This is why community, and dwelling together, is especially important for Christian living. Reflecting on my past, I know I probably would not have subscribed to a daily inbox devotional as a teenager or college student. I didn’t expect anyone to know my needs, especially someone who didn’t know me on a personal level. As I mature in both age and faith, I realize that I do need community and that I do need support. I’ve finally understood that support can come from the most unexpected places through little acts of faith. I find that I am not the brilliant one-woman operation I used to be.

And that is a wonderful, merciful, graceful thing.

O Fount of life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us. // The Chaplet of Divine Mercy

Our Lady of Grace, pray for us.

 

 

 

 

One Hour

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integratedcatholiclife.org

When I was a girl, my family regularly attended church three times a week. Here was the schedule: Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. For my childhood and into young adulthood, this was the rhythm of my life. My weeks were punctuated with prayer services and youth group.

Though it was worthy and notable to attend worship as much as possible, I didn’t always see it as such. Sunday night prayer service interrupted my peaceful Sunday afternoons. I’d have to wake up from a nap, put on my church clothes (again!), and return to church to sit for an hour. I didn’t have much regard for Wednesday nights, either. For years, my parents led our small youth group, and I enjoyed the time spent with my friends. Other than that, I could have cared less to go to church on a Wednesday night. Even though my mother explained Wednesday night prayer service as the mid-week fuel in our spiritual gas tanks, she hadn’t convinced me. For me, church on anything but Sunday morning was a nuisance.

I tell you that story to tell you this story: One Hour of Eucharistic Adoration.

Catholic teaching affirms that Jesus is “literally and wholly present- body, blood, soul, and divinity – under the appearance of bread and wine” (1 Cor. 10:16–17, 11:23–29; John 6:32–71, Catholic Answers). Catholics call this “The Real Presence.” When a Catholic attends Eucharist Adoration, she understands that she kneels and prays before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. As you can imagine, to spend time with the Lord is truly a gift.

I consider myself so very blessed to attend a parish that has one of the few perpetual adoration chapels in our rural diocese. At any time of the day or night, I can access the chapel, and sit before the Lord with my thoughts and prayers. In addition to chapel access, my parish also has formal adoration hours with a benediction on Wednesdays. The typical time that one spends in Eucharistic Adoration is one hour, though it can be more or less. However, I will argue below that an hour is an ideal amount of time to spend before the Sacrament.

In the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 26), Jesus is depicted suffering with agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before His betrayal and crucifixion. He asks his disciples to sit and watch while He prays alone. After praying, Jesus returns to His friends, only to find them sleeping.

He asks Peter:

“So you could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (26: 40-41, NAB)

Ouch.

How often are we like Peter? How often do we shirk our responsibilities to the Lord? It’s easy on Wednesdays, when I’ve had a terrible week, to go into my house and not leave again until work the next morning. But, ultimately, what would be better for me? Hiding and “sleeping,” or keeping watch for one hour with the Lord in the chapel? Our spirits are willing and excited about spiritual growth, but when the rubber hits the road, often it’s much easier to break down and remain stagnant. And believe me, those weeks I don’t attend Adoration, I see the effects of it.

If you’re a Catholic, and you haven’t been to adoration before, consider visiting your local parish or nearest adoration chapel. If you’re a Catholic who hasn’t been in a while, today is the perfect day to visit the Lord and to revamp your devotion. Finally, another beautiful gift of adoration is that you don’t even have to be Catholic to participate. The Lord may truly surprise you in ways you can’t imagine.

So, do you have one hour?

 

A Very Good Body: Romans 12 and Weight Loss

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

Since this summer, I have dropped a significant amount of weight with the assistance of bariatric surgery. The decision to undergo a major, body-altering operation came after years of frustration: multiple stints at Weight Watchers, a round with inner ear staple acupuncture, visiting nutritionists, flip-flopping between gyms, and simply abstaining from food for a set period of time.  I was tired, and I knew something had to be done. I couldn’t climb the steps at my office without losing my breath. My body and my mind couldn’t take it anymore.

From my surgery date, I’ve dropped nearly 60 pounds. I’m at my lowest weight in nearly 15 years. In 40 more pounds, I’ll be at my ideal weight for my height. This is very, very good news for my mental and physical health.

In today’s second reading in the Mass, we read a small part of Paul’s letter to the Romans. As seen in the quote above, Paul exhorts the Romans to offer their bodies as “living sacrifices” to God. This also ties into today’s Gospel reading where Jesus tells his disciples that in order to follow Him, they must die to themselves first. However, in our culture, sacrifices and giving up anything is a foreign concept. Our culture promotes self-preservation and the promise of unlimited happiness if you buy enough of the right products.

Sacrifice is not a cultural value. Yet, over and over again we hear Jesus, and later Paul, admonish readers to die to self and to transform their minds and physical bodies for the sake of holy living. Upon hearing these parts of Holy Scripture, I ponder how the Physiotherapy, Weight Training, Dumbbellalteration of my body has led me to become more dependent on God for my daily nourishment.

Before the surgery, food was my primary coping mechanism. Not in times of doubt and negativity, but also in times of happiness and celebration. Food is everywhere, and unlike drugs and alcohol, is not illegal and can be found almost anywhere. Therefore, I relied heavily on food for my emotional and mental support. I would, of course, pray and read my Bible, but food was a much more pleasant and sensory experience.

Immediately after surgery, this all changed. I now have a stomach that can hold anywhere between two and five ounces of food when I eat a meal. As I am still in the recovery mode for the next week or so, my intake is still restricted. I eat soft foods in portions that would better suit a toddler. I can no longer binge eat because one, my stomach can’t hold it and two, my stomach can’t handle it.

Yet, I still struggle with the infamous “head hunger” that haunts many patients of weight loss surgery. You may know the feeling: You’re full, but due to some external force, your brain still says you’re hungry. So, more often-than-not, you eat to satisfy the mental urge. This was me for many, many years. Now, with my surgery, while I could still cave in to the head hunger, I know it will provide physical side-effects that can be unpleasant or even painful. Ultimately, this has forced me to rely on God rather than food.

This switch, while beneficial, has sometimes wreaked a small amount of havoc in my life. For years, I knew food would be there for me. All I had to do was go through the drive-thru at a local fast food restaurant or stop by a gas station for my emotional fix. Now, I have to deliberately tell myself that I am not hungry and my body doesn’t need what I want to put in it. I also have to say “You’ve just eaten, you don’t want another thing. You’re at capacity. What you want is bad for you.”

Instead, I will find my first instinct after avoiding the urge to eat is to simply pray. Or, if I’m at home, I will read my Bible or other inspirational readings. Sometimes I will close my eyes and just think. Anything to reorient my body towards Christ, to live as a living sacrifice. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, this is hard. It’s hard to be a living sacrifice in an imperfect body that’s trying to shed old, detrimental eating habits. Sometimes, I fail. And I remember, that there’s always tomorrow. And unlike the days of old when the tomorrow of new eating habits never came, I have many new tomorrows to reset my dietary routine.

Dying to self, living as a sacrifice is against our own nature. Refusing temptations such as abusing food, alcohol, and drugs (or illicit sex, lying, theft, and poor treatment of our neighbors, to name a few) is a difficult to overcome due to our original sin. Yet, in Christ, there is mercy, grace, and forgiveness. When we drop the ball as living sacrifices, when we abuse ourselves and others: Christ is there, time after time. Sometimes, we may have to rearrange our bodies physically (as I did) to understand this grace. And in our darkest instances, when we believe there is no other way to rearrange our lives and bodies, Christ shows up to teach us again how to walk and live in His blessed way.