Archive | March, 2013

Being a believer

29 Mar

Today is Good Friday. I can Google to find out why it’s called “good,” but it doesn’t really matter to this post. It never made sense that we called the day “good” when I was growing up Catholic because we had to go to church for like the fifth time in a week and be so quiet and kiss the cross and kneel a lot and say prayers and repent for our sins and everything was all sad.

When I was older, Good Friday always made me think of Mary, poor Jesus’ mother. I mean, if there was a man named Jesus and he was mocked and made to carry a cross and betrayed by his friends and then hung on the cross, that’s really sad. I felt sorry for his mother.

The whole Holy Week/Good Friday/Easter thing is weird when you aren’t a believer anymore—when you don’t believe in God. It’s just a long, quiet weekend that culminates with egg hunts and pretty dresses and chocolate bunnies and a whole bunch of “E&C Christians” getting one of their two church services in for the year. Me? I’m running 22 miles this weekend and sewing a wedding gown.

I decided a few years ago that I couldn’t believe in God anymore. I still capitalize God though, which is weird I suppose. It’s a habit.

Anyway, I had been thinking about it for a long time. I had been praying a lot asking God to please help me know that God could hear me. One day, my little Melvin kitty got very sick and had to go to the emergency vet. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him, and I was afraid he was going to die. I was very upset because I didn’t have the money to pay his veterinary bill, and I didn’t know if he would live.

Sitting there in the waiting room, stressed out beyond belief, I thought:

Normally in a situation like this, I would pray. If I got what I asked for—if Melvin didn’t die and I could find a way to pay the thousands of dollars I would have to pay for him to get better—then I would believe that God had heard me. But if that didn’t happen, what would I say? That God hadn’t heard me? That God didn’t care about me and Melvin and thousands of dollars? That it was selfish to pray for such a thing?

It bothered me that I could believe in God and say “God is so great!” if God heard me, but if it seemed that God didn’t, I had to come up with some excuse or explanation. It bothered me that if I got what I prayed for, I would thank God, but if I didn’t, well…that was my fault.

You can say I got it all wrong. You probably will say that because that’s what people say when you explain why you don’t believe in God. Anyway, in that waiting room, that’s when I decided I couldn’t believe anymore.

I really, really wish I could believe, for two reasons, neither of which are very good reasons to become a believer again:

  1. When you say you don’t believe in God, people judge you. They aren’t nice to you. They treat you like you’re an idiot. I have been turned down for dates because I don’t believe in God. Even people who never go to church and don’t want to get married seem to have a problem with the fact that I don’t believe in God.
  2. I always hear people saying (in my imagination), “If you believed in God, your life would be great. You would be happy all the time. You would not feel suicidal and you would have the job of your dreams and a partner who loved you and enough money to pay all of your bills if you believed in God.” I know that isn’t true because it wasn’t true when I DID believe in God. But I still think that.

So I don’t believe anymore, and as much as I wish I could, I just can’t. At least not now.

This is what I can believe: if there is a God and I meet that God someday, presumably after I die, that God isn’t going to be mad at me for not believing. A friend’s friend wrote this on Facebook. “I think God would high-five people who don’t believe in him rather than send them to hell. Why? Because God would understand that if he was in their shoes, he wouldn’t believe in him either.”

It’s Good Friday, and I’m thinking about my mom and sister because I think they are probably a little bit sad today just like I used to be. I know their belief is really important to them, and I love them for that. And I’m glad they still love me even though I don’t believe. 

Being happy

21 Mar

This morning, someone posted on Facebook a link to a blog post titled “22 Things Happy People Do Differently.” Normally I wouldn’t click and read, but I’ve been perfectly miserable lately. I decided that even though I’d probably be more than a little resentful reading someone’s namby pamby suggestions, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

I know that the difference between being miserable and happy is just the mindset you choose. I’ve just been struggling with the mindset, and every time I think about what I could do to be happier, I just get grouchy. I guess you could say I’m stuck in a rut, and I know exactly how to get out. I just kind of want to stay in the rut and pout.

None of these suggestions were surprising, but it is good for me to be reminded that it really doesn’t take a lot to find happiness.

Here is the list with my commentary. You can read the author’s commentary here.

1. Don’t hold grudges.

Isn’t it funny, I thought, that this is the first item on the list? I am hanging on to about 10 grudges at this very minute, and of course, they are killing me—and doing nothing whatsoever to the people at whom they are directed. Holding a grudge is a waste of my emotional and spiritual energy. So I vowed, at least for today, to breathe deeply in and out every time I feel the grudginess and to let it go, go, go. Already I feel better.

2. Treat everyone with kindness.

For me, this sentence should end with “especially the people who piss you off.” When I’m in traffic and starting to rage against a bad driver, I try to pretend that the driver is my mother or grandmother and then respond accordingly. I’m not very kind to people who don’t do what I want or act in ways that I want them to act. I need to work on that.

3. See problems as challenges.

I see problems as challenges…that are insurmountable. And then I give up. If I viewed situations as puzzles I knew could be solved, by myself or with help from others, maybe I could make some progress here.

4. Express gratitude for what they already have.

I started a gratitude jar in December (before New Year’s Eve!). I wrote on a piece of paper what I was grateful for on any given day and stuck it in the jar, thinking it would be fun to go through it this coming December to see what a great year I’ve had. I did that for, um, a couple of weeks.

5. Dream big.

A month ago I made the decision to leave my job in a place where I’ve worked for 10 years. I realized that I have been happiest in my career when I am helping people and making a difference in their lives. I have two big dreams that could earn me an income and allow me to help others: become a personal trainer and open a dress shop called ZuZu’s Petals and make dresses “for girls of all ages.” Both of these dreams require money, which I don’t have, so every time I dream them I get discouraged pretty easily (see #3). I know there are ways to make both of these dreams come true. I just have to keep on working toward them and asking for assistance and advice from others.

6. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Years ago I directed a choir at a church, and this lovely man used to say this to me all the time. “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff.” He was right.

7. Speak well of others.

Because I don’t have any friends or a partner, I don’t really ever talk about anyone to anyone. But I sure say mean things about people in my head, and I believe that was goes unsaid can be just as damaging as what is said aloud. When I am tempted to speak badly about people, I need to remember that they deserve love and compassion and respect just as much as I do.

8. Never make excuses.

“But” is a word I use too much. “I want to become a personal trainer, but it’s too expensive.” Is that the same as making an excuse?

9. Get absorbed into the present.

Lately I am living almost entirely in the past or the future, angry about a relationship that ended last year and believing that I would be happier if only… That’s no way to live. How might my life change if I just became engrossed in whatever I was doing at any given time? I’d probably fall asleep.

10. Wake up at the same time every morning.

I do, but it’s 30 minutes before I’m supposed to be at work and 90 minutes after my alarm went off. Yeah. Now that the sun is out-ish in the morning, I should try to wake up and give myself more time to get ready without needing to rush.

11. Avoid social comparison.

I think about this when I am running. See, I’m not very fast, and I always feel bad about that. I think that because it takes me around five hours to finish a marathon, I’m a failure. You can’t do that and continue to run marathons because it takes all the joy out of the accomplishment. I try to remind myself that comparing my running to others’ is detrimental. Instead, I try to focus on the fact that I’m doing something I couldn’t have imagined doing a few short years ago, and I’m now stronger and fitter than I was 20 years ago. That’s kind of a big deal. The same sort of thinking can be applied to any situation where I’m compelled to compare myself to others.

12. Choose friends wisely.

As I said somewhat sarcastically in #7, I don’t have friends. It’s become painfully obvious to me recently that I don’t have a lot of quality relationships. I spend too much time alone. I have shut many people out of my life. I don’t have social circles. No one invites me to parties. When old friends come to town, they don’t contact me. I need to BE a friend if I want to have friends, and I have sucked at that in the last couple of years.

13. Never seek approval from others.

I think I’m pretty good at this…until I start trying to date again. Because dating is ALL ABOUT seeking approval! Maybe it’s not. I don’t know. Right now I’m not trying to go out on any dates, so it doesn’t matter.

14. Take the time to listen.

What? I didn’t hear you. I was too busy worrying about what you think of me.

15. Nurture social relationships.

See #12. I decided recently to start singing in a band again at my former church, and I think I’ll begin after Easter. I still don’t believe in God, but I miss the community. And I know the band members and my pastor will welcome me no matter what I believe or don’t believe.

16. Meditate.

I have never been able to do this. I feel like I can’t shut my brain off.

17. Eat well.

Yay! One thing I’m good at! I had a bad health experience last year, so I started researching foods that boost immunity and foods that harm our immune systems. The week of Thanksgiving, I stopped eating gluten (wheat) and refined sugars. Well, I mostly stopped refined sugars but I still had an occasional sugary coffee drink, which is pretty much water, milk, and lots and lots of sugar. Then in January, I started a cleanse with a friend and went totally off refined sugar, caffeine, and dairy and stayed off gluten. The changes were difficult at first, and I still fall victim to the Sugar Plum Fairy’s spells from time to time, but in general I have never felt better.

18. Exercise.

Yay! Another thing I’m good at! I am currently training for my fifth marathon, which I will complete in May. I am physically healthier now than I have ever been in my life. Yay me!

19. Live minimally.

A little more than a year ago, I moved from a 2-bedroom apartment into a studio. I got rid of a lot of junk, but I still managed to keep a lot! As soon as it’s warm enough for me to open the windows of my apartment, I’m going to do some spring cleaning and purging. Anyone want some fabric?

20. Tell the truth.

I used to lie about everything to everyone all the time. I am so much better about it now, but I am sometimes not honest and truthful—especially when I am talking to myself. I always, always say this kind of stuff to myself: You are stupid. You are ugly. No one likes you. Everyone hates you. You will never be in love. You will never be happy. You deserve to die.  None of that is true. Last night I realized that if only ONE person loved me, that would mean I mattered. And at least one person does. More than one person does.

21. Establish personal control.

Hmmm… The writer of this blog wrote: “Happy people have the ability to choose their own destinies. They don’t let others tell them how they should live their lives.” When I let others tell me how I should or shouldn’t live, I hold a grudge. I form a resentment. I get really mad, really fast. I’ll have to meditate on this a little bit.

22. Accept what cannot be changed.

I had to look up the Serenity Prayer because it’s been so long since I said it. Ahem!

God (or whomever), grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Being ready

7 Mar

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
― Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

The last year of my life has been filled with tests, many that I have not passed. I was told that I am not a good writer, and I have carried that judgment with me ever since it was given to me. For the first time, I had to pull out of a marathon and ended up in the emergency room. I met a man and fell in love, only to find out that he lied to me about almost everything. And I discovered I have a disease which makes me, in the eyes of most people, undesirable as a partner.

Certainly I have had blessings this year as well. Two new babies were born into our family. Though the relationship was based on lies, I was in love for a while and it was blissful and beautiful to love and to be loved. I ran and finished other races, and I’m currently training to complete my fourth marathon — the same race that kicked my ass last year. And I feel grateful for family, friends, and my (overall) health.

My life is good, but I am ready for a change. I think I need a change. And I know that nothing really changes unless you work for the change.

I’m leaving the job where I’ve been for almost 10 years. I realized that I am a “helping professional,” and I have been happiest and most fulfilled in my career and life when I am helping others in some way and (I hope) making a difference to them. I am open to many possibilities and have been working hard to find a job that fits me in a place where I can make a contribution. I’ve asked for and accepted help from others in this endeavor. I even considered and was incredibly excited about moving to New Zealand to be a live-in helper for a family with four children, but I have too many financial obligations to make that type of arrangement work. So, onward and upward I go.

There will be other changes. Maybe I will move. Maybe I’ll bleach my hair to platinum blonde. Maybe I’ll get a new kitten (but probably not). Maybe I’ll apply to a graduate program or start a cleaning business or get my eyebrow pierced.

Making changes requires willingness, perseverance, openness, and dedication. Some days, if I focus on all the less than awesome things that have happened in the last year I feel very hopeless. But I am not a quitter, and I believe I can make something good happen in my life.