Guarding Your Time

The last week of April 2016 was one of the worst weeks of my life. I was taking two difficult and intense graduate courses, and it was finals week-The Reckoning, if you will-for both those courses. I’d been a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding the Saturday prior, it was allergy season, and my mind and body were both struggling as the week began. By the time the week ended, I’d failed a large assignment and earned the first (and thus far only, knock on wood) B of my grad school career. I had massive chunks of time that I couldn’t remember, and while I’d done all of my work, I was a wreck both physically and emotionally.

In retrospect, I hadn’t done a good job of guarding my time. My time is one of the most valuable things that I have, and I hadn’t guarded mine. Heading into finals week, I’d allowed myself to be distracted by numerous things, and on top of that, I hadn’t taken good care of my health. It’s no wonder that I was run-down and became ill. I hadn’t practiced good self-care.

I’m heading into a seven week period during which I need to write my master’s thesis while working full-time and taking a three-week online professional development course. Looking at the requirements of my final project for my degree, I know that this is going to require an enormous amount of time and energy. So this time, I’m not taking any chances. I’m allowing myself to two “social” events in the entire seven week period. I’m going to a friend’s bridal shower, and I’ll celebrate Father’s Day with my dad. My own birthday can go fly a kite. Grad school ends the next day; birthdays are allowed to be celebrated belatedly if need be.

Speaking from years of wisdom, someone recently told me that if you don’t take care of yourself when you’re young, no one will take care of you when you’re old. This is a season in my life in which I need to take active action to take care of myself. It’s not that I don’t love my friends and family. It’s that I cannot allow my health or my mental well-being to fall by the wayside. I’m no good to my students or friends or family if I’m not practicing good self-care.

So I’m choosing to guard my time as a way of practicing self-care. I have ways of de-stressing. I can bake. I can watch Netflix. I can annoy my roommate. But I need to take care of myself. And I need to be able to put on my own oxygen mask before I worry about anyone else. I’ve read far too many articles about how women struggle with self-care and/or the results of poor self-care. I’m going to be proactive in this season of my life. I’m going to take good care of myself so that I can be a good friend/daughter/coworker/teacher/minion to others.

It’s all about balance.

A Lesson from Fasting

As I’ve discussed before, I “go vegan” during Lent and Advent. I eliminate all animal products from my diet. The biggest change is the absence of meat although for someone who loves to bake the eggs are noticeable too. Now, eliminating animal products is not intended as a penance but rather as a way of simplifying my life so that I can better focus on Christ.

Well, Lent has ended. It is the Paschal season. Meat is permitted again. And I’ll eat it if it’s an option. But I’m not as eager to dive back into eat it as one might have thought. Sure, it’s nice to know that I’m able to eat meat again, but it’s not always what I actually want. I’m starting to find that I like eating meatless meals. Yes, there are meals with meat that I like and that I want to prepare/eat. But with the passing of each meatless season, I find that I’m not as eager to dive back into eating meat as I was forty days earlier.

I’ve come to realize that simplifying my life does not have to be solely the provenance of fasting seasons. In general, my life ought to be lived in simplicity and with a focus on Christ. Now, you can eat meat and live simply. As a single woman who cooks only for myself, I tend to do “large batch cooks” and eat whatever I’ve prepared until I run out. I’m currently working through a Mediterranean chicken salad-lettuce, cucumber, tomato, chicken, avocado, olives, and dressing. It’s nothing fancy. But that’s kind of the point. Live simply. Yes, I’m eating chicken, but I’m doing in it in a simple fashion. The fanciest part of that salad is the olives. The idea is to think less about what I’m eating (while eating good and healthy food) and focus more on what life is really about.

Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy good food. I’ll be the first to tell you that I love sitting down with a well-cooked meal. I don’t object to eating good food or going out for dinner or drinks with friends. I enjoy going out to eat with friends to celebrate a special occasion or having a well-cooked meal with friends. But the most important part of those meals is not the quality of the food but the quality of the company. Case in point: Last summer, I went out for dinner with a few friends after seeing a play together. I can’t tell you exactly what I ate or drank (but I can guess based on the venue), but I can tell you about the experience of friendship. I may not remember exactly what I drank or ate when I grabbed cocktails with friends at one of my favorite bars, but I remember the experience.

For me, experiences and relationships are more important than food. Now, I’m Italian-American. I love to cook, and I love good food. But life isn’t just about the food. Life is about the people with whom we spend time and the relationships we build. Fasting has shown me that my meals don’t need to be extravagant to be good. Simple food can be good food. I don’t need to eat meat every day. Some of life’s best moments are found in simplicity.

Thursdays

It was the late, great Douglas Adams who wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “This must be Thursday,’ said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

Thursdays and I don’t get along. The other day, one of my close friends and I were trying to figure out when we could get together, and she innocently proposed a Thursday. My response was that I’m horrible to be around on Thursdays. And it’s true; I find Thursdays to be really difficult. They’re not as hard as Mondays, but they are hard for me. See…Thursday is not Friday, but it’s really close to Friday. At the end of the day, I’m really tired, but I still have to get up at 5:15 the next morning. And after a long, hard week, I often just want to curl up with a lovely beverage and binge-watch Parks and Rec or The Great British Bake-Off. I don’t want to think deep thoughts or have conversations about anything more serious than whether or not Tom Haverford would be a good friend.

But if I actually had to spend time with Tom Haverford on a Thursday? Oh, God help us all; that’d be awful. I already have no energy on a Thursday. And in the course of one evening, I have to somehow muster all of my nonexistent energy to make it through Friday. But if I had to do all of that while spending time with Tom Haverford? Oh man…like I said, God help us all.

Thursdays are hard. Many people find Mondays hard, and I completely agree. Wednesday during the day can be hard because it is the hump of the weekly camel. But for me, Thursday nights are the worst. I’m just so tired by that point. I need to do my best to guard my Thursday nights so that I can be my best self on Friday.

Am I nuts?

Maybe, but that’s nothing new. What day(s)/time(s) of the week do you find to be the hardest?

It’s Okay to Mourn

Every year, I have certain expectations of Easter. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I do expect it to be A Certain Way. Usually, my Easter lives up to my expectations-at least in the spiritual sense.

But this year, real life intervened. Not only was Easter imperfect, it didn’t live up to my expectations. People were late for things. People were sick. Things weren’t where they ought to have been. There were miscommunications.

And Easter wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

Now, is Christ still risen from the dead? Yes! Absolutely, He is. Is Resurrection Matins still the Most Beautiful Thing in the Whole Entire World? Uh, duh. (I had a rough day; I didn’t become a different person.)

But I’m human, and in my humanity, I experienced disappointment. I had been looking forward to certain things, and I didn’t get to experience those things. I was sad.

But I felt bad about being sad because well…it’s still Easter and it’s still Resurrection Matins and even if it wasn’t perfect it still was the basic thing that I love.

(Also, I got to hold a cute baby for a few minutes of Liturgy; that was awesome. I love holding babies.)

Last night, I was sitting there beating myself up for being unhappy because things weren’t exactly as I’d wanted them to be. Resurrection Matins was lovely. Pascha is still the most beautiful feast of the year. Christ is still risen from the dead. Sure, I didn’t get to have the experience that I’d wanted, but that doesn’t change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

And that’s true. No matter how beautiful or ugly your Paschal celebration/experience is, that does not change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

But that does not mean that you’re not allowed to be unhappy or sad if your expectations aren’t met. That doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to set expectations for what I hope Pascha 2018 is. We are human beings who were created with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. God wants us to have hopes and dreams. But He does not want us to get so caught up in our hopes and expectations that we miss out on what is happening in front of us. It’s okay that I was sad about some of my experience yesterday. But I can’t allow that to keep me from experiencing and embracing the joy of the Resurrection.

That’s not just Easter. That’s life. My life may not look like what I might have hoped it would look like by the time I was almost 29. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.) I’m allowed to be sad about that. But I should not allow my sadness to keep me from experiencing and embracing the place in which God has put me. I’m allowed to have plans and hopes for my future. But I should not allow them to keep me from seeking God’s will and living the life to which He has called me.

It’s the second day of the Paschal season, and I think that at this point, the Lord is showing me that sadness is not a bad thing, but I cannot allow it to consume me. I need to share my sorrow with Him and ask Him to show me what He wants to do with my life. I need to continue to be patient and open in my walk with Him.

Finding Your Spot

A while back (I don’t exactly remember when), a friend of mine recommended that we meet up at a local bar she likes. I agreed, plugged the address into my GPS, and went on my merry way. I parked my car in the nearest parking lot and started walking towards where (my darling) Google Maps told me to go.

And there was a dark wall. It was your standard dark exterior wall, just another wall of another building in my city. In the middle of this wall was a doorway, but at first glance I thought it was a service entrance to another establishment. Then I realized that it wasn’t; this more or less unmarked  door was in fact the door that I was looking for. (There’s a small, unobtrusive sign near the door, but I didn’t notice that until at least my tenth visit.) This isn’t the kind of place that you stumble upon. This is like a speakeasy; you have to be looking for it to find it. And you go looking for it because someone (probably someone you really like and respect) told you about it.

I tentatively went through this door, and the bouncer directed me to my friend. The bar is dimly lit and pleasantly decorated. (The speakeasy vibe created by the door continues inside the bar.) The menus are designed to look like book covers. The drinks menu is divided into “chapters.” I loved it, and I’ve grown to love it more each subsequent time that I visit it. The service is excellent. The seats are comfortable. The food is delightful. (Please let me tell you about the lamb sliders.) And the drinks…oh man…the drinks, they are amazing.

This bar (The Last Word) is one of my favorite spots. The ambiance suits my personality. It can be loud on the weekend, but it can also be a quiet place to read a book or have a serious conversation on a weeknight. For me, that’s a delightful option. I like having a place where I can go and read with a cocktail. Yes, I can do that at home, but sometimes it’s nice to get a change of scenery and do that somewhere other than my house.

In this particular bar, I’ve found a “spot” for myself. I’ve found a place that suits me, and I like to think that I suit it too. I think it’s important to find “spots” for oneself in life. It’s good to find places where you feel safe, comfortable, and wanted. There’s a bookstore in my city that I find to be utterly magical, and part of that is because it’s a place where I feel safe and wanted. I once had a great conversation with one of the owners of the store about books that we were supposed to read in high school but didn’t. Another visit found a salesperson telling me about the time she met Julia Child. These conversations have helped me to feel connected to the people in the store. They promote my feeling of comfort and ease in the store.

I recommend seeking out these sorts of places. Find places where you feel wanted and comfortable, places where you feel free to be yourself. Find places where you can curl up with a good book or a have a random brilliant conversation with a stranger. Find places where the barista or bartender or waiter can give you beverage recommendations that might take you out of your comfort zone-and you trust those recommendations.

Your spot might not look like mine. The speakeasy thing might not be your style. Maybe you don’t want to go curl up in a coffeeshop and read with a mug of tea. That’s fine. Maybe the places that you like will be places that I wouldn’t like. That’s great. You find your place, and I’ll find mine. The important thing is that you find your spot(s). We all need our little refuges from the craziness of life. Find yours and enjoy it.

Love.

I was unhappy when I awoke this morning. I probably would have been unhappy with either presidential candidate’s election, but the fact remains that I was unhappy. I went on Facebook prepared to post the following status: “Anybody know any good Byzantine Catholic men in Canada who’d like to marry a nice but stubborn American Byzantine Catholic lady? I like Canada.”

Then I looked at my “On This Day” feed. Apparently, on this day six years ago, I had posted one of my favorite quotes from St. John of the Cross. “In the evening of our lives, we will be judged on our love.”

I felt convicted by my twenty-two year old self. I’ll be judged on my love. I will be judged on how well I love others. In fact, realistically speaking, I’m always being judged by others (and by God) on how I treat other people. I need to treat others with love, with respect, and with kindness in all that I do. If I agree with them or disagree with them, I need to respect them. I need to love them.

There’s too much anger, too much fear in our world today. My nation is very divided, and that concerns me. But I insist on believing that people are worth loving. I may not always like them or understand them. But people are still inherently good even if they’re not always well-behaved. They deserve to be loved and to be respected. I don’t have to like everyone or agree with everyone. But I do need to love them.

Ultimately, my life isn’t judged by how other people treat me. God won’t say to me “Well, it’s okay that you were mean to those people because they were mean to your first.” He’s going to remind me that he called me to love others as he loved me, to treat others the way that I want to be treated. That’s true for all of us. We need to love always because ultimately that’s where the true measure of our lives is found.

Let’s live well. Let’s be respectful of others. Let’s love one another and show ourselves to be the best possible version of ourselves.

But if you know any good Byzantine Catholic men in Canada who are in search of a nice Byzantine Catholic woman, send them my way. You can tell them that I like Canada, but please just warn them that I’m really stubborn.

Would God give me something I can’t handle?

I recently heard a man I respect say, “People often say that God won’t give you anything that you can’t handle. I don’t think that is true. I think that God won’t give you anything that he can’t handle.”

I agree with that, and I’ve been thinking about it in respect to my own life. I’ve had a particularly difficult (from my own perspective) go of it the past two years. I’ve had things that I loved taken away from me. I have willingly walked away from things that I once thought that I wanted. My life has changed dramatically, and it hasn’t always been something that I’ve wanted or enjoyed. I’ve had to be brave and strong in times and in ways that I would have preferred to avoid. I’ve had a few people tell me that they admire how strong and brave and capable I’ve shown myself to be, but I struggle taking those compliments.

I struggle with them largely because I’m not getting through this on my own strength. On my own, I am not strong or brave or graceful or gracious. My own natural inclination is often to get angry or cry; I have cried many times in all of this. I’ve acted against my inclination too many times to believe that the reason that I’m getting through this on my own power. When people see me being brave or strong, that’s God working in me and through me. He’s getting me through this; he’s handling it. I don’t understand what he’s doing, but I know that he’s in control. I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t know what will happen on the way. But I do know who is driving.

My natural inclinations send me to some pretty dark places. And those dark places are part of the reason that I struggle with the idea that God wouldn’t bring me to something that I couldn’t handle. On my own, I struggle to believe that anything good could ever come from my current circumstances. I struggle to believe that I could ever have good things. I doubt that my job situation will ever improve, that I will ever have joy.

This situation is more than I can handle. In fact, it is far more than I can handle. But it is not more than God can handle. The goal is not for me to become stronger on my own. The goal isn’t for me to handle this on my own. The goal is for me to hand this over to the Lord each day and get through the day on his grace, on his strength, on his power. I’m not supposed to get me through the day. He is supposed to do it. He didn’t bring me to this season of my life to make me into Superwoman. He brought me to this season of my life to teach me to surrender to him and to teach me to allow him to be in control. He who walked on the stormy Sea of Galilee can handle this season of my life. He can handle all seasons of my life, and he won’t give me anything in any of those seasons that he cannot handle.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

-Philippians 4:13