I had the privilege of serving as a Eucharistic minister at Holy Thursday Mass. Ministry has been a gift. I have difficulty forgiving myself for the sinful choices I make and I wonder if I will collapse on the altar someday. It is a blessing to be able to offer Eucharist to my fellow parishioners. Those intimate moments when we look at one another and sometimes share smiles are beautiful. I feel small and humble. I am reminded of my call to service.
All the Eucharistic ministers were asked to take part in a procession during the transfer of the Eucharist. It was a simple procession around the church. We walked in lines of two. I was so proud to show reverence. As we approached the Blessed Sacrament, I sensed my loved ones who have died: Brett, Don, Charlene, David, both of my grandfathers. They were there as all the candles were gathered around the Blessed Sacrament. As we knelt, I felt the love of everyone around me including those who have crossed over. It was a perfect way to end Lent.
I am truly grateful for these last 40 days. Despite my struggles, I gained so much. I recognize the blessing of being M’s mother and to model love the way God loves me. Listening to music that promotes spiritual reflection and speaking and speaking daily about my faith and experiences has been transformative. Writing for 40 days has changed me. I will soon be announcing a major change in my life. That would not have been possible if I hadn’t been in the middle of my Lenten journey. I’m more aware of who I am and of who God intends me to be. I am grateful to God. This is a very Good Friday.
For Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday), my parish priest gave a homily about Christ’s Passion in the Gospel of Matthew. It was one of the shortest homilies he has ever given, approximately two minutes. He explained that Holy Week is not made holy by Jesus’s suffering but by his love and by the love we have for one another. It was poignant and important.
This Lent for me has involved my struggle with forgiveness, loving my enemies, loving myself, and fully expressing love for my child in the way she deserves. So often, dealing with other people or my own demons or as a parent, I get focused on all the sacrifices I make. Given my self-righteous streak, I’m quick to say, “Look at all I’ve endured and done for myself, my child, and all these people.” I focus on the sacrifices. Sacrificing for self and others is hard work; it is much more giving to sacrifice rather than be apathetic and walk away or to be angry and attack. Yet I lose sight of what motivates me to give of myself.
My best friend recently had her second child. We were discussing how traumatic and horrific the birth experience can be. I know many women and families who were fortunate enough to have a positive birth; for the two of us, birth was painful, tiring, overwhelming, long, and difficult. Because as mothers we love our children, we somewhat block out those bad memories. Despite the 34 hours of labor and the two years she never slept through the night, M is my greatest love. The sacrifices involved in being her mother I would gladly do over again.
I have reflected often on the hard work it has taken to love and appreciate myself. It took years, effort, pain, and sacrifice. I want to love others in that same way. I’m praying for more love in my heart so I can forgive my enemies. It’s easy to forgive my loved ones. I have to forgive those who have injured me. During Holy Week, I’m praying on and for love.
On the 2nd Friday of Lent, the Dynamic Catholic reflection discussed spiritual health. We were encouraged to nurture our souls as we do our bodies. Matthew Kelly talked about the 10 minutes of prayer he has recommended for many years as part of his ministry. He also went over the Dynamic Catholic prayer process. That morning, I went through the process which then made me reflect on forgiveness. Forgiveness continues to be an area of growth for me.
I do hold grudges. It’s hard for me to get past wrongs that I feel folks have done to me or those I love. My anger may fade but doesn’t go away. I’ll be civil and polite a la Ben Linus.
Ben Linus knew better than to try to be up in the church
But this is actually deceitful, passive-aggressive, and petty. It’s duplicitous. So I prayed for those I have wronged through my words and judgments. Several individuals are people I work with daily. Some I avoid. Some I choose to make contact with more often. While that may sometimes be the Ben Linus effect, I am also pushing myself to be more open no matter what my personal opinion and feelings might be. These people have the right to dignity and respect. Why take the low road and not show kindness? I pray for the gift of forgiveness.
I also pray to be free of self-righteousness. I own my flaws. But usually this leads me to consider myself superior to those I do not love. I feel that I’ve done the work in becoming more aware of my weaknesses; why don’t these people get there? That sort of thinking is unfair and unkind. I stop thinking of these people as individuals with private lives and focus on my history with them. This person lied, created an unsafe situation, betrayed my trust, and disappointed me or any combination of these wrongs or all of the above. This person makes bad choices and I disapprove. This person needs to get right or get left. Yet I am unwilling to be a guide or a model. I disconnect and judge and don’t offer forgiveness.
I was part of a marathon meeting that week. Our organization discussed the ways we can alienate others in how we present who we are. It’s not that we shouldn’t be honest and air our grievances or share our opinions. It gave us an opportunity to own the behavior and to confirm that there is a time and place for certain conversations. I myself have struggled with this issue in my professional life. If I have personal problems with someone, it’s not fair to involve others. I strive to keep my personal grievances private and to make time for thoughtful analysis of my thoughts, words, and actions. It may be difficult but it is necessary. In asking for God’s forgiveness, I must first forgive others.
M and I didn’t take part in the January 21st Women’s March. She was nursing a cold that rainy morning and had cheer sometime that day. I had mixed feelings about it. I was a student activist at Cal. I fought for tenure of professors of color, the expansion of Ethnic Studies, protested anti-POC investments and connections the University had made, and rallied against Prop 187 and then-Governor Pete Wilson. I took part in walkouts, marches and expressed my views via my writing and through discussions, and also participated in positive events like Raza Day. I believe in taking it to the streets but the pink pussy hats didn’t speak for me. I grapple with the idea of a monolithic unity. We are divided along lines of ethnicity, class, and life experience. Though I don’t often speak on it, I feel like a distinct sense of difference and otherness, particularly in my professional life more so than in my personal life. Those circles do not co-exist; they are very separate. While I do cultivate positive relationships with the women in my immediate work circle, there is room for growth.
Tee says it all
As I strive to foster strong connections with other women, I am modeling that commitment for my daughter. As I wrote in my blog,”Mothering a warrior,” I want to empower my daughter to be a chingona, una mujer poderosa y fuerte in the face of challenges. She’s growing up in a different time. She’s not held back by the cultural ideas that held me back. I’m a lot more introverted and am less confident than my daughter. Many Latinas grapple with confidence issues which are rooted in cultural experiences. I was blessed I didn’t have a machista dad. I am blessed to have a badass for a mother. My daughter has the advantage of having a mujerista for her mom. Despite his quirks, Rambo loves that M is a powerful girl. Rambo and I have recently started watching Game of Thrones and we both have been impressed with the character Arya Stark. I’ve pointed out, “That’s your daughter” and he agrees. M is the daughter of a feminist and soldier. M is Wonder Woman. She is powerful. I love that she is growing up in a time when powerful women are celebrated. I am, however, conscious of the many ways sexism continues to pervade popular culture. I want my daughter to be aware of sexism and misogyny along with racism and white privilege. I want her to be active and not allow these realities to oppress her.
On International Women’s Day, I reflect on the importance and power of women. I honor my mother and my wonderful friends. I am surrounded by strength, beauty, grace, and integrity. I am a greater person because of the women I am related to and those I have chosen as my extended family. My daughter and I are blessed to have so many beautiful mujeres in our lives.
This season, my spiritual reading is Ronald Rolheiser’s Forgotten among the Lilies. In the chapter, “The Martyrdom of Obscurity,” Father Ron points out that so many of us don’t want to be anonymous. Many of us want to be known for being great writers, athletes, celebrities, or scientific achievers. Popular culture pushes us towards self-expression and its possible outcomes of fame and fortune. A previous chapter “Longing is our Spiritual Lot” discussed our constant state of restlessness. Our faith is calling us to be restless and anonymous. We are being called to be in an existential crisis at all times.
For many, existential crises can be daunting and could be possibly depressing and demoralizing. I am consistently in existential crisis. I go through periods of achievement, success and joy. Then I go through phases when I feel a great sense of disconnection, disappointment, malaise, lethargy. I don’t feel that restlessness in all areas of my life. I am fulfilled and happy when all is well with my child, when I help solve someone’s problem, and when I’m dancing. I have wonderful friends. Like all people, I face situations and periods in my life that challenge me.
I’ve always been called to write. I write because it’s my therapy and what I love to do and how I best express myself. Self-expression is important to me. I wrestle with anonymity. I do wish I could be one of the lucky ones who gets my book optioned for a movie or that I become a successful blogger turned bestseller like Luvvie Ajayi who I idolize(even though she’s younger than me!) It’s hard to be ordinary. The existential crises of being unknown and never feeling fulfilled are natural, human crises. These feelings have inspired great literature, scientific discoveries, and global travel. These yearnings have also resulted in horrible atrocities including manifest destiny and the global colorizations which cost so many lives and war. The need for recognition and satisfaction moves people.
There is humility and power in being unknown and forever longing. Growth happens in those moments of feeling small and unrecognized. My life sometimes feels small. Yet it is in those moments of smallness that are great. My daughter packs up the car because she knows I have an early morning. A colleague gives up their free time to help support the team. Those are great moments that the world will never know as TV ratings hits or cultural milestones written up in Rolling Stone or The Wall Street Journal. Our greatest moments are when we are there for each other with love and care. Being an ordinary person is enough.
As I move forward with my 4 challenges in 40 days, there is a goal I didn’t set for the 40 days. An ongoing goal is my fitness challenge.
I have struggled with my weight and my relationship with food for my entire life. As experienced by many people, food has been an emotional outlet. This continues to be an area with which I struggle but over the years, I’ve gotten control of it. I eat healthy and cook regularly despite my busy schedule. It’s easy to cook two or three meals on the weekend. Often I haven’t had time to go to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Sometimes I forget to get that one ingredient that’s going to make a meal hearty or tasty. In the past few years, my weight has yo-yoed. Since joining my new gym, I have maintained my weight loss and made gains in muscle tone and strength. I didn’t always have those specific fitness goals. I always wanted to lose weight and be fit. This is the first time I care about being stronger and being toned, not simply because of Carnaval or other performances but because it’s good for my body.
I have struggled with health issues. Last year was the first year in three that I didn’t have major surgery. The summer before that, I was diagnosed with gallstones and had my gall bladder removed. Before that I had a rare inflammatory condition that affected my breast tissue and required invasive surgery. I medicate for IGM daily. It was frightening. I continue to be very scared. I’ve lost a lot of family members to cancer and heart disease. Health fears are constantly in the back of my mind. My daughter is the reason I wouldn’t want anything to compromise my health. Being a mom inspired me to become more healthy in my 40s than I was when I was younger.
Walking lunges with Bulgarian bag. Photo by M.
In December, I joined a new gym. My samba sisters, specifically those who’ve attended this gym, inspired me. I had often flirted with the idea of taking on a fitness challenge there but I was intimidated. I am not a weight lifter. During my first two years in college, you could find me at the gym lifting weights. When I first started teaching during my 20s, I did weight training with a personal trainer. So it had been decades. It’s not been something I’ve been drawn to do. I like to run. I like to dance. I like cardio. My new workouts have required me to change my way of thinking and to push myself hard. It’s not easy. I struggle. I am smaller and slower and weaker than a lot of people. I gauge myself against myself so that if I can do something I was never able to do before then that is meeting my goal. This week at samba, we did abs and pushups and other muscle work. In the past, I would cringe and groan, “I can’t do this.” It came much more easily. My teacher passed me and said, “Well you train all the time.” One of my samba sisters who inspired me in my fitness journey told me I looked great. She is committed to fitness so her compliment meant so much to me. It felt good to receive reassurance and validation from those I respect and love.
Fitness is not a 40 day challenge. It is a fun mental and emotional outlet which will extend my life. While I like that my clothes fit more loosely, I love that I am modeling health and wellness for my daughter. She comes to the gym with me at least once a week and watches me sweat it out. Getting a thumbs-up from her is great motivation. Fitness will continue to be an everyday challenge and a lifelong goal.
The Gospel on the first Sunday of Lent describes Jesus’s temptation in the desert. Jesus is tempted by the devil. The devil is an instigator. He is manipulative especially as he constantly seeks to gain power. Going after Jesus is evidence of the arrogance, narcissism, egoism that comes with being evil. Jesus is able to resist. He is all powerful. Jesus demonstrates the strength and authority needed to resist temptations that we all experience. We all want to attend to our immediate needs. I’m starving so let’s turn these rocks into bread. We want youth, physical strength, and immortality. I’m going to drink my liver into disease because it feels good. Because I’m young, I’ma be all right. We want wealth and power. Life owes me these things. Jesus rises above those desires. He sees the ultimate goal. The 40 days have been a test. They’ve been physically hard but he has stayed faithful and strong. He is preparing for what is going to be more difficult. He is finding the discipline before he begins his ministry. Jesus does not fear the devil and sends him away like the nuisance he is.
I grew up very fearful of the devil (What I learned watching The Exorcist). I was much too young(six!) to learn about possession, that the devil was a real entity that could take over a person. It made me much more fearful than my daughter is at that age. On the other hand, I grew up as a spiritual child. I was drawn to the Bible. I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Gospel of Luke at age 7 because I wanted to do so. One reason I haven’t exposed to her more horror movies or pop culture interpretations of the devil is I find them scary. About 15 years ago, I made a survey and asked my friends when they first saw The Exorcist and what were its long-term effects. I continued to do other readings about exorcism. Those fears stuck with me.
Now I’m older and I have had life experiences with different facets of evil. I’m not fearful because I know good prevails. I’ve done a lot of writing about my thoughts as I “exorcised “a “devil.” (My second career as an exorcist) I gained a lot of strength from those experiences. I may laugh when I say “the devil is a lie” and “not today, Satan” but those are true statements. I have been able to look at that evil, at that enemy, to look it in the face and say I’m not afraid of you. That’s powerful.
Father Tomas is played by Rebelde cutie Alfonso Herrera
On a related note, while dealing with real-life drama, the TV show, The Exorcist, premiered on Fox. While it wasn’t a ratings hit, it was a critical hit and a hit in my household. We watched it every week and analyzed it. I connected it back to what I was living. I found parts of it hilarious. I would argue it is better than the original novel and original film. Those were good but the TV show’s acting and writing took it to another level. Geena Davis was brilliant. The show explored what is happening in the church regarding the role of lay people, the role of women, and the behind the scenes politics which you may not know about if you haven’t been involved in ministry. I like that the show spoke to the power of family and faith. As I wait along with other fans to learn if the show will get renewed, I would recommend binge-watching on Hulu or Fox. Don’t be too scared. Y’all know who wins and who always will.