Sunday, 28 July 2019

Stop Bothering God!

It was the call I was both awaiting and dreading. My driving school called to say my driving test was finally scheduled (six months after actually doing the driving classes) for Monday, and practise was on Saturday afternoon. I was furious, even though I had been waiting to get it done. I had been down with the flu for the past week, it was pouring cats and dogs, and I couldn't remember how to drive.

I was filled with a sense of dread and gloom. Nothing about this call seemed propitious. Have you notice how physical sickness makes one even more prone to depression and anxiety? The Saturday practice began to seem like a mighty impassable mountain.

I knew what I had to do. I had to pray. I didn't feel like praying. What could God do about my stupid problems? Anyway the problem was probably all in my head, which didn't make it any smaller to me, but made it less likely that it was important enough to pray about. I once heard a priest say, "Stop bothering God with your problems." "God isn't someone who looks for parking space for you." "He's not some kind of genie who grants us wishes." "God isn't a vending machine." Any of these sound familiar?

And yet, and yet... Jesus is the one who said, "Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." (Lk 11:9 -10) Not to mention, crazy talk like, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you." (Jn 15:7)

He didn't have to say any of that. He didn't have to make extravagant promises. Why did He? St. John Marie Vianney said, "Our dear God loves to be bothered."

Over many years of trying to understand my God and my faith, I have come to believe (in spite of my changing moods) that God wants me to know of His personal love and concern for me, and THAT is why He wants me to come to Him with my seemingly small and silly problems. When I ask, my faith grows, and I come just a little closer to understanding the God of love, the God who enters into our world and problems to show us He is Emmanuel, 'God with us'.

I also realized that when I asked I needed to ask
a. with faith (even if just the size of a mustard seed)
b. with an openness to His will being different from my desires
c. with a detachment from the final outcome
d. with a greater love and focus on the Giver than on the gift

So I asked. I said, "Lord you know I'm scared of this driving practise and test. I ask that I will wake up feeling better and without fever on Saturday. I ask that the rain will stop on Saturday afternoon and the sun will come out so I can practise without a problem. I ask that the practise will be easy and driving will seem less scary."

The next morning I woke up without fever, feeling better. It was still a rainy day. My dad knew I was worried so he suddenly decided to take me for a half hour of driving practice. I had forgotten everything, but it was easier to remember with him than with a bunch of strangers from the driving school.

That afternoon I got ready to leave, but the rain was pouring down. Everything seemed cold, wet and dreary. I really, really did not want to leave the house. Everything within me rebelled against leaving. But I had to. Once again I prayed, this time aloud. "Lord, PLEASE let the rain slow down and stop for me. And let the sun come out!" I put on all my rain gear, got on to my two-wheeler, and started riding into the rain. I kept praying aloud as I rode (while noting that I've become one of those religious nuts constantly muttering prayers). And as I rode, the rain started slowing down. By the time I reached the ground for the practise, it was a slight drizzle.

The practise turned out to be super easy, and over in less than five minutes. My driver instructor told us that all we had to do was drive along the track in the shape of an eight, and they wouldn't ask any questions. I was able to do it very easily. As I left the ground to stop at the driving school office, the sun peeked out, and I realized all my fears and anxieties had dried up too.

I have seen my share of miracles, and yet I'm still hesitant to ask for them. But why not? Our dear Lord is waiting for us to give Him the precious gift of our expectant faith and trust.

Related Reading 

The Delicate Touches of Love 

Jesus Knows My Love Language

The Tale of the Free Wedding Dress

Monday, 15 July 2019

The Time I Confronted a Priest

I hate confrontations... Something I think I have in common with most other Indians. If you want to stress me out, just come up to me and say with a serious face: "Hi, can we talk?"

It is SO much easier to find a zillion excuses why I don't need to talk directly to someone about a stressful situation or a problem I am having with them.

But here's the thing. When I don't confront, typically one or more of these things happen-

1. I grow resentful of that person.
2. I write them off.
3. I don't give them a chance to change.
4. I spend a lot of time venting about them and the situation to others.
5. The situation doesn't change or gets worse.
6. I start actively avoiding the person.

Passive aggressive behaviour across cultures

Some years ago I was struggling with a priest I was working with. It wasn't just one stressful incident, but many encounters with me and others. So of course I did what anyone else would do in that situation. I complained about him to the people around me (who could do nothing but empathize), I got a sick feeling in my stomach every time I had to interact with him, and my opinion of him went lower and lower.

Okay, I did do one thing differently. I prayed regularly for him. And as I prayed, I eventually heard God speaking to me.

I guess I was hoping He would say something like, "Shake the dust off your feet."

Instead He said:

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one." Matt 18: 15

"Ha ha, Lord, I know You don't really mean that. For me. In this situation. But great concept for other people. In other situations."

But it came up again. And again. To the point where I felt that if I DIDN'T go, I would be directly disobeying Him. So with fear and trembling, and a lot of encouragement from my close Christian friends, I prepared. I prayed a lot. I wrote down clearly what I wanted to communicate. I revved myself up. And finally I went to meet him.

How did I do it? I tried to remember some basic guidelines I had learned earlier:

1. Go with the right attitude: Don't look at the other person as a bad person, but believe that they are your brother or sister, capable of good, just with sins, weaknesses, wounds and blind spots. Believe the best, hope for something good.
2. Affirm the relationship: Start the conversation sharing that you value the other person, the relationship that you have, and the good you have experienced in and from them.
3. Don't accuse, but share your experience: Don't say 'You were rude and mean', instead 'I was hurt when you said...'
4. Be charitable: 'I know you probably didn't mean it' or 'You probably didn't realize that your tone was so sharp.'
5. Give them a way forward: 'I hope that we can have a better relationship moving forward. Next time, could you -'
6. Listen: Allow them to share their perspective and feedback, in case there was something you were missing. Be quick to take responsibility for any way that you messed up. 'You're right, I probably should have come to you earlier with this. Please forgive me.'
7. Don't expect an apology: You can't control how other people respond. Ideally, they would take responsibility for their actions and ask for forgiveness, but we live in an imperfect world, and most people are not used to being directly confronted. You may experience defensiveness, anger, blame, or just indifference. That's okay. You did your part. Trust that God will do His. You can forgive them whether or not they are sorry.

That day I faced one of my worst fears, confronting a person in authority. But I was able to speak calmly and clearly and kindly. I bet that was the first time that priest had ever had a lay person have that kind of conversation with him. And to give him credit, he sat and heard me out. It didn't end perfectly. He didn't acknowledge that he was wrong, but told me that I had misunderstood him and that was just his way. But we ended on an amicable note. I'm sure the Lord planted some seeds in that conversation, even if it was just modelling how to have a respectful confrontation. I grew a little more confident, and the priest seemed to do better after the conversation.

There is so much good fruit that comes from holy confrontations:

1. Restored friendships and relationships
2. Honesty and clarity: Suspicion and mistrust thrive in the darkness. When we talk about things, they are brought into God's light.
3. Freedom from resentment and unforgiveness
4. A clear conscience: 'If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.' Romans 12:18
5. Unity and a good witness

I feel very strongly that Christians in India need to learn how to confront each other well. Relationships within families, and within parishes and communities and ministries are suffering because of our unhealthy culture of avoiding direct confrontation. We have not had good models of this, so it is a new and scary concept. But the only way to learn is to start somewhere and learn from our mistakes.

Is there anyone God is nudging you to confront?

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Seven Things I Have Learned about Wedding Planning

My sister got married last year, my brother and a bunch of cousins in the past four years, I've been a bridesmaid seven times, and I'm getting married in four months, so obviously I am an expert on wedding planning. Not. But I'm here to share some great tips, that will give you an insight into the wonderful world of wedding-planning.

1. It's not like Hollywood. Actually, that goes for everything about life, but especially romance, marriage, wedding planning and weddings. For some reason, my entire life I thought wedding planning was this dreamy, magical activity where a normal woman becomes a BRIDE-TO-BE, and is surrounded by a sparkly glamour as she shops and picks out colors and tastes cake. But.... There are no soundtracks. It's not magical. It's not everything you ever dreamed of. It's just life. Sorry for the false expectations. It's your own fault for watching too many cheesy rom-coms.

Pro tip: Stop comparing your life with the movies, and just enjoy the normalcy of everyday magic.

2. Wedding planning is really just organizing and planning a very big event. I totally understand why rich people have wedding planners, because not everybody has the time or the skill or the inclination to actually plan a huge event. Yes, at the heart of a Catholic wedding is the sacrament which IS magical and awesome, but mostly everything else around it is a big event. This can be overwhelming if you've never planned a huge event before, and sometimes it means you don't even know where to start and how to answer every second person who asks you "How's wedding planning going?"

Pro tip: Start planning early enough so that there is room to make mistakes and fix them.

3. It's all about everybody else. I used to state very confidently to my sister that *I* was going to have an unconventional small wedding that was going to be tailored to be fun and it didn't matter what everyone else thought I should do. Well, she had the last laugh as it turns out that weddings ARE largely about what works for everyone else, and it's a big fat lie that 'it's all about the bride' or 'it's all about the couple', or 'it's YOUR day'. I have seen every single bride-to-be across cultures and countries having a version of this conversation with her mother:

Bride (in tears): But I want it this way! Isn't it supposed to be MY wedding day?
Mother: It's not all about you! You have to consider what the guests will want and like and expect.

It's easier to move forward when you accept that fact and that everything is not going to be exactly the way you would have preferred.

Pro tip: Tell yourself it's the marriage, not the wedding that is the goal you're moving towards

4. Weddings are not worth losing your peace over. Actually, nothing is worth losing your peace over. I'd like a pretty, aesthetically pleasing wedding, with a beautiful liturgy, and everything well organized and planned beforehand. I want everyone else to be relaxed and pleased with my choices. But I don't want any of that so much that I'm gong to lose my peace over not getting it. That doesn't mean I don't have temptations to lose my peace, but I have to make the deliberate choice every time something comes up to say a prayer and remind myself  to chill out because it's all going to work out one way or another in the end.

Pro tip: Don't forget to spend time in quiet prayer every day. Helps with perspective.
5. You can't invite everyone. When we were kids, we would eagerly check if wedding invitations has '& fly' on them. Sometimes they didn't and we indignantly wondered why anyone wouldn't want to invite my parents AND their five lovely children. NOW I know. We all have such big social circles in our lives, and so many people we have been friends with over the years. But you just can't invite them all. So now I don't worry about it if I'm not invited to a wedding, and I hope other people feel the same about mine. But I'm also aware there will always be some people who are offended, and I can't control that. #boundaries

Pro tip: Don't make your guest list decisions based on who expects to be there, because that's a losing battle.

6. Wedding planning is a great way to get to know your fiancé better. Is your fiancé a control freak? Do either of you struggle with anxiety and tend to micromanage things? Is he disorganized? Does she procrastinate? Do you both have very different taste in music and colors? Does one insist on their own way every time? Does she cry over stupid things? Does she like to consult her entire friends' network before any decision? Does he refuse to consult anyone before making a decision? How do you each feel about excel sheets and budgeting?

Wedding planning is when you find out those things. This is, by the way, a good thing, because you need to love and accept this person with their weaknesses and struggles and blind spots, and learn to communicate and compromise and call each other on to holiness, and you can't do that if you don't get to know each other well. But wedding planning can also be a great time to discover you LIKE working on projects with your sweetheart, and that you have fun doing things together - something kind of important if you're planning to spend your life together.

Pro tip: Make sure you're doing MARRIAGE prep during engagement, and working on communication, conflict resolution, etc. It actually helps with wedding prep too!

7. Relationships are the most important part of wedding planning. If you're happy about getting married to your fiance, then all of the trouble is worth it. It's about this person. [REMINDER: You should be DELIGHTED when you think about marrying your fiance. If you're not, you're cheating yourself and the other person.] Old and new friends show up to offer help, and that is a beautiful part of this time. Family steps up and takes on different responsibilities. Everyone in your life who bumps into you is SO HAPPY for you. Your parents reflect with you about God's goodness and faithfulness in answering prayers. You make sure you have shared your news with everyone who has been important in your life. The outfits and decor and food and theme are not as important as these relationships.

Pro tip: Take time to hang out with family and friends and fiancé and enjoy their company as you get ready to transition into a new stage of your life, even if it means less than perfect wedding details.

I still have a few months left, and a lot more to learn. Any wedding planning insights or tips you would add?

Related Reading

The Strange Effect Weddings Have on Me 

When Your Facebook Feed Explodes with Weddings 

The Tale of the Free Wedding Dress

Monday, 1 July 2019

Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear young, awkward, skinny Sue,

First of all, don't freak out, but you turn out to be 33 years old and not yet married. Yeah, you don't get married in your early twenties and have a bunch of kids. Didn't expect THAT, did you? But that is the least of all the unexpected things your life holds! I have some news, and some advice, and some lessons I want to share (because people in their thirties like to do that kind of thing).

1. Stop obsessing about romance, marriage and crushes. It's not just something people say to make themselves feel better about being single, but there REALLY REALLY is a LOT more to life than romance. There are SO many good and exciting and challenging things to do and learn and explore, and YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME READING ROMANCE NOVELS AND WATCHING CHICK FLICKS.  Did I say that loud enough? Did you hear me? Put that book down (or even better, throw it away), and jump into something more challenging and interesting.

2. Life gets better once you cross 25. There is nothing like the confidence of the late twenties and thirties. Man, you just won't care anymore! Remember when you were excruciatingly aware of your awkward gait, and self-conscious body language, and you used to practise walking confidently on your way home from college? That totally stops being a thing. You start fitting into your own skin. Also, bonus, you finally start having regular good hair days, and even know how to look pretty without too much effort. But sorry, you never really figure out make-up and how to switch on a photogenic smile, but that's okay. You're beautiful and you finally believe it.

Making weird faces at cameras for three decades

3. You need to start working on discipline. It's not something that magically appears when you cross a certain age. If you don't exercise those self-control muscles now, you will be struggling with it fifteen years later. You have GOT to learn to switch self-indulgence for self-denial. I promise you the fruits of self-denial are much much sweeter. If you don't know where to start, make a daily schedule, set goals for yourself, and make yourself accountable to someone. Start something, and keep at it. It will get easier.

4. Adventures are not as scary as you think they are. Guess what, you travel to the US three times, live in the Philippines for two years, leave your home and family to start afresh many times in MANY different homes, and with many different sets of people, and you actually enjoy a lot of that. You are sometimes homesick and you make mistakes, but you also make lifelong friends, and learn to survive on your own, you learn to travel (although home is still your favorite place), and to figure out how to get things done when you need to without paralyzing anxiety. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. If you cling to it too firmly, you will never grow or change or become the woman you were meant to be.

Adventures: Even boring introverts need them

5. Your faith means nothing if it is not transformed into LOVE. Yes, I know you are super into apologetics, and understanding and explaining the truth of the Catholic faith. And you may be happy to know that 33 year old Sue still loves the beauty and the truth revealed by Jesus through the Catholic Church. But reading blogs and hanging out on Catholic forums and arguing with people is never going to change the world. Look for ways to love people. Fill up your time with service to the poor. Spend more time sharing your faith than defending it. I promise it's worth it.

6. You don't land up marrying ANY of the many crushes you have now. Instead, you meet and fall in love with a doctor (I know, what?!!) from a very different culture than you. You're 32 when you meet him, but all the experiences and lessons of the previous decade have prepared you for this man, and the new life God is inviting you into with him. You can't skip steps. God works things out exactly when and how He wants to, so stop worrying or obsessing about it and live fully the present moment. There is no shame in being single. By the way, when romance finally happens, it is exactly as sweet and beautiful as you hoped it would be, and makes the years of waiting worth it.

Romance in your thirties is just as sweet

7. You never have everything totally figured out. Apparently, nobody does. There are many unanswered questions, self-doubt and struggles with impostor syndrome, problems to solve, decisions to make at EVERY stage of your life. It's not that you magically find your one true career or calling and then live it our perfectly. You're a teacher, a blogger, a full-time Catholic worker, but you will soon be a wife, hopefully a mother, and probably an author (yes, you're supposed to be working on a book). You may do other things and be other things too as life goes on. You don't have to have it all figured out. You just need to ask God what's next, and be faithful to that thing.

Life is good, young Sue! Be happy! Don't be afraid. Stay close to Jesus, and trust that He's going to help you figure things out. And like they say, survive, chuckle, show affection.

P.S. You're no longer young, awkward or skinny.

Related Reading

Breaking Out of the Bubble

Why I’m Glad I Wasn’t the Pretty Girl