I’m at Yaya‘s house this week. And luckily we have one of these here:
It is a device whose sole function is to play a loud, 30-second clip of The Chicken Dance. Some people might ask, “When would you ever use that?” To which Yaya would counter: “When wouldn’t you use it?” She finds this thing to be indispensable: backtalking kids, aggressive telemarketers, lulls in polite conversation — there are few problems that can’t be solved by having The Chicken Dance available at the push of a button.
I was all excited about participating in Dorian Speed’s Domestic Church photo contest this week (though I don’t know why, since I’d have to Photoshop in an arrow pointing to the San Damiano Cross hidden behind all the clutter on our fireplace mantle) but, again, I’m at Yaya’s. Don’t get me wrong: she is a very prayerful woman and does have a “domestic church” in a certain sense…I’m just not sure that the pictures I could take around here are what Dorian is looking for. Though CPS might find them quite interesting. Anyway, you should go enter her contest so that I can be inspired.
UPDATE: I just saw that she extended the deadline to Monday, August 9, so maybe I’ll make it after all.
I wish there were a homeschooling group for introverts. That part-time private school we were considering isn’t going to work out for this year, so it looks like we’re going to give traditional homeschooling a shot. I’m looking into a bunch of co-ops, and they all look great, but it seems like most of them are geared toward extroverts: i.e. for every hour of classes and socialization the kids get, I’d need to spend about an hour and a half of my own time volunteering, participating in committees, teaching, etc. I do love the idea of meeting other homeschooling families and getting together with them, and I would want to be involved in some way…but I’m just not sure I can keep up with the sheer amount of “extrovert” time required from a lot of these things. Although I could be totally wrong: I haven’t actually done any of this yet, so maybe I have a completely incorrect impression.
Maybe we need to start Introvert Awareness Week, where the introverted among us educate our extroverted friends about our quirks (e.g. that being introverted doesn’t mean you don’t like people; doing social things can be great fun for us, it’s just exhausting). Maybe we could include a You Might be an Introvert If campaign:
- You see a solitary confinement cell on a prison documentary and think that some people have all the luck.
- When bad weather hits your city and leaves you housebound, your routine doesn’t change that much.
- You wish there were a patron saint of getting voicemail when you call people.
- You have ever snuck into your house the back way because your neighbors were doing something festive in their front yard and you were afraid they’d invite you if they saw you.
- You get put on bedrest and it takes everyone a few days to notice that anything is different. (This actually happened to me. Although I guess that could be laziness more than introversion.)
Who’s with me?
Speaking of introvert quirks, my husband was reminiscing about one of his favorite “Jen moments” the other day: Before we got married we did a wedding shower up in Dallas to celebrate with my parents’ friends. When people first arrived a group gathered in the living room, and, mistaking myself for an extrovert (this NEVER WORKS OUT — see #4 here), I thought I’d introduce everyone.
I was immediately overwhelmed by the task. I struggled to come up with everyone’s names. The man next to my dad was an important colleague of my mom’s whose name I should have known, and I was panicking to try to think of it. I ended up getting a total brain overload when I got to my dad, stalling to think of that next man’s name. The result was that I pointed to my dad and said, “And this is…umm…” My dad waited for a moment, then finally had to say, “I’m her father.” Everyone laughed, in a we’re-worried-about-Jen’s-mental-health sort of way.
I heard about this Project Mom Casting thing over at Heather of the EO‘s place, where some group is inviting bloggers to compete to have their lives considered for a reality TV show. I have to admit, I sat back smugly as I looked at the entries. I mean, there were some great ones. I think that Heather, for example, would be a wonderful candidate. But. I couldn’t help but think that all these women should thank their lucky stars that I’m not interested. Because I’d have this one in the bag. I wouldn’t mess around with a video or a blog post. I’d just send them an email with Yaya’s phone number, and say, “Call this number. It’s my mother-in-law. She visits us often. I’ll be available for shooting around November. See you then.”
This is not an ad, but I just have to say: I love Panera Bread (which is where I am as I type this). I’m a regular fixture at one of their Houston locations when we’re visiting Yaya — she’s kind enough to let me get plenty of time to head over here with my laptop and write. They have delicious salads, yummy drinks, great atmosphere, and free wi-fi. What more could you ask for in a restaurant?
I look forward to reading your posts!
I’m getting ready to spend some time at Yaya‘s house, so here’s one from the archives. It was originally published on September 25, 2008.
One day this summer one of my special friends from the neighborhood stopped by during the kids’ naptime to talk with me about something that was on her mind, and caught me at a particularly busy time. As we sat there, drinking lemonade over ice at my kitchen table, me listening to her discuss the details of a problem she had with one of her friends (instead of doing what I had planned for that hour), it occurred to me that this is the sort of situation that would have led me to feel deeply conflicted in my old life.
Sure, helping these girls is nice, the thinking would have gone, but what about me? I’m trying to work on that article I’d like to get published, and that is an important goal for my personal fulfillment. I like to help the girls, but…do I really have the time if I’m going to be serious about developing a writing career? Is it worth it to spend so much time with them if it means stymieing important personal accomplishments?
Over and over again, the same scenario kept playing out: I’d follow my heart and get myself in situations that required selfless giving (say, getting married or having kids); but then logic would kick in and I’d realize that too much selfless giving was going to get in the way of meeting my personal goals, the pursuit of which I “knew” to be the meaning of life from the values I’d learned from our culture. I’d end up stressed out about how I was going to balance it all.
The main problem was that the prioritization was not clear at all. If I set aside some of my duties as wife and mother to focus on pursuing my own projects, that would be good, because the meaning of life is to do stuff that’s fulfilling to you personally…right? Yet my heart kept pulling me in the direction of focusing more on motherhood and family, which was odd since obviously I’d lose my whole identity and have nothing to show for my life if I wasn’t accumulating bullet points for my resume. I was confused. There was a constant tug-of-war between my brain and my heart, and I didn’t know how to get out of it.
This is one of the biggest areas where the Christian worldview changed my life.
A couple of years ago some Catholic readers responding to this post introduced me to the concept of “vocation,” that every single person is called to one of the vocations that God has given us — the most common being married life, the priesthood or consecrated religious life — and that each of us is to discern to which vocation we are called. What I found most interesting about this whole concept (and, frankly, shocking and slightly disconcerting at the time), is that your life’s vocation isn’t as much what you do as much as it is whom you serve. This worldview basically said that each of us is put on this earth to serve others, and your vocation is simply a matter of discerning whom you’ll serve and how you’ll serve them. In other words, there is no living for yourself. There’s no optimizing your entire life around what you feel like doing.
“WHAT?!” I thought. “But I like optimizing my life around what I feel like doing!” This was a major, cataclysmic change in thinking for me. And I wasn’t sure I was on board with it.
I thought that what was being pitched here was a life of drudgery that would quickly send spoiled, lazy people like me to the mental hospital. I took it to mean that you literally can’t have a moment to yourself, that you must turn all your hopes and dreams over to the dustbin and work yourself to exhaustion to do whatever other people want you to do.
What I realize now is that I completely misunderstood the concept. I came to see that this worldview is not an expression of absolutes, but of prioritization. To live a life of service does not mean that you never take time for yourself; it means that taking time for yourself isn’t the entire meaning of life. It does not mean that you turn your hopes and dreams over to the dustbin; it means you turn them over to God.
It was only very hesitantly that I put this concept into practice in my life. Slowly I began to embrace the fact that the defining purpose of my life is to be a wife and mother, that to serve my husband and my children and my parents and the world around me was what God wanted me to do…that it was even what he wanted me to do far more than write great articles or books or blog posts (even if those articles and books and blog posts were in an effort to bring glory to him). It was one of my first big exercises in trusting God to accept this premise that selfless service of others is objectively a higher life priority than seeking personal gain.
I tested the waters hesitantly. Ever so slowly, I deprioritized the activities that were all about me — not cutting them out entirely, just recognizing their proper place in my life. When I found myself in a situation where I had a choice between doing something for someone else and doing something for me, unless there was a good reason not to (e.g. if I were feeling run down and genuinely needed a break), I began to choose service. All the while I worried about was that this would be the end of my hopes and dreams, that all the little hobbies and projects I’d so enjoyed would fall by the wayside as I gave and gave and gave with nothing left for me. Once again, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
What I found was that God always, always gave me what I needed to feel personally fulfilled. Sometimes it was just barely enough, but it was enough. I found that when I was finally willing to admit that my personal goals like writing or getting published were a lower priority than my call to marriage and motherhood (not unimportant, just a lower priority), that’s actually when God really began to bless my efforts in those departments. Though I had less time for it, the time I did spend on it bore fruit like never before.
So as I would spend those days this summer listening to the girls talk to me about whatever was on their minds, for the first time I really felt the peaceful order the Christian worldview has brought to my life. The conflict was gone. I didn’t have to wonder if my time would be better spent trying to get something published as opposed to listening to a little ten-year-old tell me about her worries about the fifth grade. Though sometimes it was a painful exercise in trust, I knew that God would help me make up time “lost” talking to the girls if that’s what I needed. Finally, I had a clear prioritization that put an end to that tug-of-war between my head and my heart, and I realized that my heart had been right all along.
I don’t have much to say about this:
[Before I get started, let me apologize to any new readers who may have mistakenly thought this was a classy blog and were not prepared to see a close-up picture of a toilet and a scorpion when they checked for new posts at Conversion Diary today.]
So anyway, I was walking by the hallway bathroom yesterday morning and noticed some object in the bottom of the toilet. In this house it could have been any number of things, none of them good, so I was relatively prepared that my findings were not going to improve my day. I was not, however, prepared for it to be a scorpion.
My first thought was to reflect that Yaya, for whom potty training is a second religion, so effectively whipped everyone into shape around here that even our scorpions use the potty now.
The joking ended abruptly, though, when I realized: it got in there by itself. My husband was out with the kids, and it hadn’t been in there when they left. The most likely route would be that it crawled under the space between the bottom toilet seat and the bowl, i.e. WHERE NO ONE COULD SEE IT. Which means…well, lest I cause Feedburner’s servers to melt down from mass use of the “unsubscribe” button, let me just leave it at this: I was prepared that our family might have to deal with stings on our feet from scorpions hiding in shoes, or on our torsos, backs, arms, legs or faces from scorpions in the bed at night. But there was one thing I had not considered. And the possibility of it is now seared into my brain forever.
That night we went to dinner with my dad and grandfather, and I knew that this wasn’t going to be an impromptu support group. I’ve mentioned before my Texan relatives and I just cannot seem to get on the same page about scorpions. As I said in this post, when I would shriek about the very real possibility of being stung in bed while sleeping, my relatives would think that the problem was simply that I couldn’t figure out what to do in case of a nocturnal scorpion attack (“you just brush them off”) or that I was concerned only about the toxicity level of the sting (“it’s not like they’re rattlesnakes…though I did see one the other day…”) But they did try.
When I recounted the story to my dad, he nodded like I was telling him that I went to the store to get some milk. Then he remembered that I had that hang-up abut scorpions, and dutifully put a very kind and sympathetic look on his face. You could just see his mind in overdrive to think through all the angles to try to figure out what bothered me about this. You could tell he wanted to comfort me with some fatherly advice. So finally he offered: “They’re no worse than tarantula bites.”
I just kind of stared at him, wondering if there’s an official repository of Most Epic Encouragement Fails to which I could submit that statement.
He tried again: “Remember that time I woke up to that scorpion stinging me on the knee? “
“Yeah…” I said, eagerly waiting to hear the part about how it didn’t hurt or the sting ended up giving him superpowers or something.
“I didn’t die,” he said. Sensing that that might not have caused my quirky phobia to instantly dissipate once and for all, he tried another angle: “Plus, it’s not like that time Uncle Benton had one fall off the ceiling and sting him on the face while he was sleeping,” he added, pointing to the bedroom about five yards away from where I was sitting, where my uncle had been staying when he was stung. “His eye sure did swell up!”
And to think, if I had been in my dad’s situation of waking to a scorpion attacking my knee, I might have thought my glass was half empty! It was nice to have that little helping of Chicken Soup for the Texan Soul to inspire me for the rest of the evening, especially as I was falling asleep.
I mentioned it on Twitter, of course. This is one of those times that people who follow me on Twitter get a payoff for all the inane and boring tweets they put up with. It’ll be weeks of “I’m tired,” and “I stayed up too late,” and “Why do I stay up so late?”, and then, boom! “SCORPION IN MY TOILET!!!!!!”
Luckily the Twitterati had my back, and I got some advice for how to handle this all with prayer and grace. The guys at Creative Minority Report were able to offer me encouragement from a Catholic perspective:
And Scoutsigns weighed in with some practical suggestions:
Scoutsigns pointed out in another tweet that it was probably still alive — scorpions have been known to live for more than a day under water. OF COURSE IT WAS STILL ALIVE. I have no idea why I thought a mere few hours submerged under water would mean it was dead. Since I keep having to learn this lesson over and over again, I guess I need to make a flowchart to put on the living room wall to review in case of a scorpion sighting:
I was working on another post for today, but then decided to do a spontaneous trip to Yaya‘s so I didn’t have a chance to finish it. I went to a beautiful Pentecost Mass at the Holy Rosary Church in Houston today, and the priest’s bright red vestments and the altar banked with colorful flowers on this last day of the Easter season got me thinking about the liturgical year, so I thought I’d re-run this post I wrote a while back on that subject. It was originally published on December 1, 2008.
I walked into the church for vigil Mass this weekend and noticed the Advent wreath at the front of the sanctuary. Seeing the four thick glass cylinders with one pink and three purple candles, the priest in his penitential purple robes, the low light in the church from the early winter sunset outside, I had an immediate visceral reaction of knowing where I was in time. It was one of the first times I’ve really felt the rhythm of the liturgical year.
Growing up atheist, the concept of a liturgical year couldn’t have been more foreign to me. We did celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas as a secular holidays, and the changes of the winter weather provided a certain comforting familiarity, but there was always the underlying sense that it was mostly man-made, optional, and that the cheer of the season depended largely on a family’s circumstances that particular year.
Probably the closest thing I’d ever experienced to the liturgical year was simply the change in seasons, but even that was a surprisingly weak structure. After all, as blogger Darwin recently pointed out, celebrating feasts of bountiful harvests or the arrival of fair weather is nothing more than a symbolic gesture now that we have supermarkets that overflow with a surplus of every variety of food every day of the year. Thanks to air conditioners and heaters, winters and summers no longer impact life on anything other than a surface level. And the rhythm of the seasons can fluctuate drastically depending on where you live; the arrival of Fall when my family lived in Bismarck, North Dakota was a completely different experience than when we lived in Phoenix, Arizona.
It wasn’t until I began exploring Christianity that I realized how much I craved some sort of kind of anchor for my years, and for life in general.
Now that I’ve been going to church for over a couple of years, I’m starting to internalize the ebb and flow of the liturgical year. The sights and sounds and smells of the church Saturday night immediately brought me back to the dark vigil Mass services of this time last year, and my whole body knew what season it was, and what was coming next. I knew without even having to think about it that we were entering a time of penance, reflection, and preparation that would be followed by a season of celebration and feasting.
I used to be surprised at how natural this felt. You’d think that observing the customs of the liturgical year would be something so foreign to me that it would be difficult to get into. Yet as the long season of Ordinary Time draws to a close and the Advent season begins, I see why it feels so right.
First of all, it offers an age-old structure for life that was lost when modern technology allowed us to subvert seasonal changes in weather. But, most importantly, the liturgical seasons order our lives toward God, whom we all crave more deeply than anything else, whether we realize it or not.
Looking back, my life as an atheist seemed so adrift not only because there was no real rhythm to my years, but because it was anchored on something other than God. The liturgical year has felt so natural and has brought with it a deep comfort and peace because, in a way, following its practices is what I was created to do: I was created to know, love and serve God, and the rhythms of the Church seasons help me do that. The candles at Advent, the ashes and sparseness of Lent, the great spreads of food at Christmas, the church packed with blooming flowers at Easter — it all has meaning that goes deeper than anything in this world, pointing to the truths of who God is and who we are in relationship to him. The traditions of the liturgical year provide the most steady, solid anchor that our lives could possibly have, because they are anchored to the only real rock, the only immutable thing that is; they are all anchored on God.