Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Finding God

Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.” ~ Bridget Willard





My soul felt empty and my spirit was restless. This is how I felt several years ago when I made the decision to switch religions and attend a non-Catholic church. Difficult times can do that to a person, make you question God and wonder where he is. For some people, God does not have to be in a church; people say they worship God in nature or by their occupation. I tried that. It didn’t work for me. That’s not to say it doesn’t work for other people, but I was looking for something different.




I had been raised in the Catholic church and had dutifully gone through all the rites associated with that including CCD classes, premarital classes, etc. I didn’t agree with many of the church’s teachings but it was all I had ever known. As a result, I found myself in a spiritual crisis of sorts several years ago. I belonged to a Catholic church but rarely attended. The times I did go, I left there feeling as empty and lost as when I went in. I know many people have strong negative feelings about the current status of the Catholic church, but my point is not to bash the Catholic church. It’s merely to point out that for me, it was not meeting my spiritual needs. I did not find God there, no matter how hard I searched.




I really needed to find God too. My marriage was crumbling. I vacillated between being depressed and being more depressed. I had managed to isolate myself from a lot of family and friends. I found every day to be a struggle. I thought that if I could just find a place that gave me comfort, restored my faith in the world, and helped me find God, I might be OK.




I was lucky enough to be given a book written by an evangelical minister named Joel Osteen. Although he has quite conservative views about many things which I did not agree with, his book inspired me. He presented the possibility that the concepts of religion, spirituality, and God could be found in everyday life. His presented faith and spirituality in a way that was understandable and meaningful to me. Through his book, I came to realize that there may be a way to worship that would hold meaning for me. It didn’t have to be all about rituals and rules that felt hypocritical. Coincidentally during this time, one of my best friends asked me to be a godmother to her daughter. They belonged to a United Church of Christ (UCC) and it was through that experience of her baptism, that I had the opportunity to see a way of worshipping that held significance for me. I decided at that point, it was time to start exploring other religions and churches.




I only made it through two churches in my quest. Belchertown UCC (BUCC) being the first. I only even checked out a second church because I felt like I owed it to myself to have another Protestant church to compare it to. I stopped looking because after I checked out the second church, I found myself really wanting to go back to BUCC.




It’s a strange thing to go from attending a Catholic mass to a UCC service. I remember the first time I had walked in the door for my first service, someone actually greeted me and said hello. I was shocked. Then after realizing that the ceiling was not going to cave in from me walking through the door of a non-Catholic church, I made another observation: people were talking to each other before the service even started and some were even laughing. Laughing in a church?? For me, that was like hitting the jackpot!




A lot of things were different. There were no kneelers (because we didn’t kneel…bonus.). Communion was once a month instead of every week. The minister was a minister and not a priest so this one was married, with kids even. The congregation was the most diverse group of people I had ever seen gathered together in a place of worship. I subsequently found out that the church is open and affirming which meant that everyone was welcome regardless of race, sexual orientation, disability, income level, etc. This church also seemed geared towards helping other people through mission work. At the end of my first service at BUCC, I was sold. I knew I wanted to be there. I wanted to have what they had.




As it ends up, that was one of the best decisions I have made in my life, ever. My church has become another family for me. I went from barely getting myself to Mass at my old church twice a year to feeling lost if I didn’t make it to BUCC for a Sunday or two. In the process of attending, I have begun to develop the relationship with God that I was looking for. It’s an ongoing process but one that I build on every time I volunteer with church members to work at the soup kitchen, help organize/work a walk against hunger, or attend a healing service. I actually read the Bible from time to time which for some reason, was a foreign concept to me before. I have made friends and established relationships that sustain and nurture me. I have learned to more effectively work through conflict. I have learned how to feel comfortable praying. I feel accepted and I have learned to be more accepting. I have learned the value of community.





I have had the opportunity over the past several days to talk about my church experiences with different people. It’s been good for me to look back and appreciate how much finding my church and subsequently finding God again has changed my life. I know it’s not for everyone, but if you are feeling lost and empty like I used to, take a chance. Step outside the box and maybe check out a church you have always wondered about. You just never know what you may find. You may even find God again.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

~Fear conquered~

"The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public. ~ George Jessel



Have you ever had something you are deathly afraid of doing? A thing that just thinking about it makes you sweat, shake and maybe even throw up because you are so nervous? That is how I feel (felt) about public speaking. Now I know that this is not a novelty. Many people I know (if not most), have some level of anxiety when it comes to speaking in public. However then there are others like myself who actually can get themselves worked up into such a panic, that it can interfere with the task itself.

I have always been like this but I have found throughout the years that certain situations are worse than others. For example, I taught classes to nursing assistants when I worked as a nurse at a hospital. I didn’t particularly like it, but felt that it was important for career development to do it. I did find that teaching the classes was not as difficult as giving a lecture because the environment was informal. I got to sit at a table with the students and I also had another nurse teaching the class with me. I felt like I was less in the spotlight this way.

I think I am a relatively social person, especially compared to when I was younger because I was unbelievably shy. I do pretty good one on one with people, even strangers. I can hold my own speaking in a group (strangers or not) because the focus is not on me. But put me all by myself in front of a crowd and I panic. If I know the people I am speaking in front of, it is a little easier but still causes me to freak out inside. I have figured out over the past few weeks what my big issue is. I feel self-conscious when all eyes are on me. Give me a podium with an audience and it is all over.

Today I am finishing up a six week writing workshop. Part of this workshop was an opportunity to read a piece of creative writing for a public reading. We were told that it wasn’t mandatory to do this reading so I easily had a way out of this potential disaster. However I had been working quite hard on a short story over the course of the workshop and it was really one of the first opportunities I would get to have objective people hear my writing. So I decided I was going to do it.

I wrote my story and revised it (with great input from my teacher) at least 7-8 times. I loved it. I know it was not the stuff they give Pulitzer Prizes for, but it was my creation and I was proud of it. I had been having some significant breathing difficulties because of my asthma and some new found vocal cord issues so I was even more concerned about how I was going to pull this off. I worked with my speech therapist around reading the story out loud, especially because it meant ten minutes of speech. I also hit those home speech exercises pretty hard.

I tackled the speaking anxiety issues by reading and rereading the story more times than I could count so that I knew the story well and actually felt like I was part of it. My minister had a great suggestion to practice reading it in our church where there is a large room with a podium. Even though there was not an audience there, I found it extremely helpful just getting comfortable standing in front of a room. My writing teacher also had some great suggestions about preparing for the reading in order to reduce anxiety. We reviewed how to present ourselves at the podium in front of the audience in order to reduce anxiety and also to be more effective as a speaker.

Last night I read my short story in a room of about 20-25 people. I had mentally prepared myself for hours before the event. I have personally found that for me, anxiety over public speaking (or anything really) tends to be a fueling the fire type of thing. I get nervous and then worry about how nervous I am. Then I imagine how many thing can go wrong and how uncomfortable I am going to be. Yesterday, I instead talked myself out of the anxiety. I told myself that it was a good story and I reminded myself how it important it was for me to take ownership of the story; to present it in a confident way so that other people might appreciate it. Then I made sure I wore something decent and put some effort into my hair and makeup to help in the self-confidence department!

So what was the end result? I was pretty calm right up until I had to go up to the podium (I was the first speaker which was a blessing really). I started to get a little panicky. Then I remembered all the breathing techniques I had learned from the therapist. I reminded myself to speak slowly and clearly, especially because I normally speak very fast. I reminded myself that people wanted to hear what I had to say. When I looked out at the people in the room, I took a deep breath and just read. I lost myself in my story and it was wonderful. I would even go as far as saying that it was fun! Most importantly though, I realized that after 39 years of having a public speaking phobia, I realized that last night, my fear was finally conquered.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

~Courage~


“Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


The soldier who is fighting for freedom. A fireman who rescues a woman from a burning building. The teenager who fights a long battle with cancer. What do all these people have in common? They have courage.


For some people, courage seems to come naturally. For most of us though, it is a huge feat in facing our deepest fears and insecurities. No matter how it is used, demonstrating courage is very risky. It can end up in us getting injured. We could make a fool of ourselves in the process of being brave. Having the courage to face our fears can result in us being disappointed. Sure none of these situations sound very pleasant, but what is the price we are going to pay for sitting by and not facing that which makes us afraid?


Merriam-Webster defines courage as: the moral or mental strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. The key words that stick out to me in this definition are “persevere” and “difficulty”. Many times, courage presents itself as people doing extreme things in extreme circumstances. That is not to say that isn’t true because of course it is. However I think that oftentimes we do not appreciate courage in the context of everyday occurrences and the incredible people who perform them.



Take the words “persevere” and “difficulty”. Don’t we all persevere through difficult times on a daily (even hourly) basis? Yes, we do. I have been struck lately by how many of these seemingly unnoticed displays of courage I have seen. You have maybe encountered them as well. It is demonstrated by someone who faces their fear of speaking in front of other people. You can see it in the person who is battling an illness but still gets up and faces each day. The father who accepts the fact that his son is gay. The woman who gets her heart shattered, yet opens it up to love again. The person who verbalizes an unpopular opinion. The man who wakes up every day to battle the demons that accompany his post traumatic stress disorder. These are just some of the unsung heroes in our midsts.



This all may not seem to be the kind of stuff that great novels are written about. However like Mr. Emerson was saying in the above quote, every man has his OWN ability to step forward, face his fears, and conquer them. So…how do you define YOUR courage?

Monday, August 2, 2010

~One Year Later~

“Whenever you see darkness, there is extraordinary opportunity for the light to burn brighter.” ~ Bono


Oftentimes, people mark certain changes in their lives by particular dates. There are the usual suspects such as wedding dates, birthdays, and such. Then there are the not so usual ones. I realized while I was driving today that it is August 2nd therefore making yesterday August 1st. I know, my ability for basic math is astounding. I tend to remember dates in which something significant has happened to me, and yesterday it was one year since I moved out of my house and into my apartment. That may not be significant to you, but for me it was the beginning of what I hoped to be a new start, a fresh beginning you could say.

I find this ironic because I am thinking that the significant date should be the day I went to court for my divorce (yes, I am in the 50% failure rate), the date it was final, or even the date when I decided to actually file for divorce. But no, August 1st sticks out in my head. My ex- husband and I had been living together (but separated…it was a large house) for 11, count them 11, months. There were financial reasons why we did this and even though it was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever done, I am grateful today that I did it. To our credit, we got through it, we sold our house for a profit in one of the worst housing markets in the history of the United States, and we both lived to tell the tale. Barely.

This is not supposed to be a story though about divorce. It is a story about new beginnings and the tremendous amount of personal growth that can come from them. For me, the new beginning was the move. It gave me a chance (especially with being out of work) to spend a lot of time by myself and to learn who I am all over again. I had always been relatively independent, but now I had the space to breathe and to discover myself again. Some of what I learned was great and some well, not so pretty you could say. The good part though was that at least I learned something. Come to think of it, I learned more than something. Seriously, I think I should get the personal growth award for the past year.

So what have I learned? Well, I guess the most important thing that I have learned is that I can survive. Yes that means physically and financially, but mostly it means emotionally. I can survive major life crises (several happened last year) and actually survive them with dignity and a sense of humor. I have learned how to be selfish when I need to be and more giving when I don’t want to be. I have learned to not apologize for who I am and instead embrace my uniqueness. I have learned the difference between being alone versus being lonely. Trust me, there is a huge difference. I spend a lot of time alone and very little time feeling lonely. I have learned to define myself by who I am and not the relationship that I am in. Probably one of the most disturbing things to me that I have learned is that I am attracted to/get involved with the wrong kind of man (meaning in a relationship- I have great male friends)…you know, the emotionally unavailable one. That is not good, really not good. And to think, I figured that one out all on my own. Hopefully that little nugget of discovery will keep me from repeating the same mistakes for the rest of my life!

On a lighter side, I have learned about ladybug infestations, dealing with household mice, coping without water the day before Thanksgiving dinner, removing a tick (MAJOR phobia), landscaping, car maintenance/repair, and the best way to get dog vomit out of a rug. It is amazing what you can convince yourself to do when there is no one else around to help you do it!

So I guess you could say all in all, it was quite a productive year since the big move. My original goal was to get through the year post move/divorce without complete financial ruin or a complete breakdown (mostly kidding!) and I can now sit back and say I have done that and so much more.