The Pachyderm on my Bathroom Floor

I’ve been going to the gym for a few months, and as of now I’m one month in to an intensive training-and-nutrition program that has me there every day, Monday to Friday.  Every time I set foot inside the gym, I ask myself the same question:  When did I become a gym rat?

I have always struggled with my weight and my body image.  I’ve never been slender (just varying degrees of overweight) and I’ve never been willowy (because at five-foot-none that’s literally a tall order).  Although my university years were full of grabbing meals of convenience as I went from one class to another or between work and campus, as well as eating my feelings everywhere in between, I was surprisingly at a plateau with my weight during that time.

But when my life slowed down after I took my office job, though, the numbers on the scale began to fluctuate.  They’d go up for a couple of days, then they’d come back down.  I continued to walk everywhere, regardless of the weather, and ran whenever I could, and even though my weight didn’t fully stabilize again at least it never yo-yo’d more than a couple of pounds up and down.

In 2014 I took a two-week holiday at the tail end of an Alberta winter, during which my only walking was pretty much from the front door to my boyfriend’s Jeep.  I came back from it feeling rather proud of myself for having not fallen into bad eating habits that used to plague my holidays, but the moment I stepped on my scale I realised – pretty much for the first time – the connection between eating and exercising…because I ballooned.

I’ve ballooned before.  After my first break-up as a teenager, a few midnight snacks of Ben & Jerry’s over a couple of months very nearly ruined my prom plans.  (To this day, I refuse to have any Ben & Jerry’s anywhere in the house.)  Two years of working in a pizza shop while studying full-time had undone pretty much all of what I’d accomplished during one summer of basic training in the Canadian Forces (and that’s a story for another day).  But I hadn’t had a major ballooning for a few years, and when I saw the scale after that particular holiday I have to say that I cried.

The simple change to my routine – driving everywhere and hardly walking – had been enough to make me put on ten pounds.  Ten pounds that I’ve been struggling to shed ever since April 2014.  Ten pounds that discourage me beyond belief whenever I’ve gone clothes shopping in the last year.  Ten pounds that have made me extremely self-conscious in my best dress at more than one wedding between then and now.

I’ve always known my relationship with food resembles one of co-dependency, and my relationship with exercise has always been fair-weather.  I’ve tried a whole range of things to lose weight but nothing has ever really lasted.

Everyone who’s had a weight issue will tell you that it took a huge kick to spur them into action.  I was no different.  I was sitting in the examination room at the clinic, listening to my doctor tell me the results of the blood test she’d ordered two weeks before.  The original problem had been a long, worrying bout of amenorrhea, which had started two months after packing on those ten pounds.   Now, there were other problems – problems like the phrases “borderline pre-diabetic” and “at risk of high cholesterol.”  She wasn’t throwing these out as warnings.  She was telling me what my blood had just told her.  Then she pulled out a chart and showed me where I fell in terms of BMI.  I had never considered it before – had never classified myself as such before – but I was just over the “obesity” marker.

I’d heard those terms before, applied to various older relatives including my parents.  There were other things in the family history that she said could come about if I wasn’t careful:  hypertension, joint weakness and failure, blood clots, weak cardiovascular system.  “You’re too sedentary,” she told me as she wrote on her Rx pad.  “You have to change that right away.”

I walked out of there with two prescriptions:  one for a medication that would end the amenorrhea, and another for supervised exercise.   And that’s when I became a gym rat.

I’m not at the gym to train for mud marathons or colour runs.  I’m not at the gym to look good naked.  I’m not at the gym to fit into a single-digit size.

I’m at the gym because I have no desire to continue being a statistic for obesity and weight-related health issues.  I’m at the gym because paying for membership, a trainer, and a nutritionist is way cheaper than paying for medications and equipment for the rest of my life. I’m at the gym because I want to be healthy enough not only to have children, but to raise them and see them grow up to have families of their own.

I’m at the gym because I know the kind of life I deserve.  I owe it to myself to make sure I’m around to make it happen, and I won’t let my current weight weigh me down.

I have heard You calling in the night

Last Sunday’s readings at Mass included the one about Samuel waking up in the middle of the night because he heard somebody calling out his name. It took a while before Eli figured out it was God’s voice in the night and once he explained this, Samuel knew how to answer The Lord. The readings last week also included the passage from the Gospel of John where John not only recognises that Christ is passing by, but proclaims it with such certainty that disciples immediately follow in His wake.

This past week has been a time of deep introspection for me — a week of constant soul-searching, praying, and demanding to know what exactly is expected of me. I’ve come to realise a great many things about myself and my life so far, and have come to better understand the role of certain events in the grander scheme of things.

I am not like John and the disciples who immediately recognised Christ as he passed by on the road. I am more like Samuel who woke up in darkness and was unable to recognise the voice of God without help. It is true that I have found God in my darkest moments, but it was only through retrospect and guidance that I was able to see that it was Him calling through those long shadows.

Once I realised this and truly began to listen — this Friday at my desk job, of all places — some answers came to me in swift and resonating succession, not unlike the hammer blows a blacksmith rains down upon an anvil when forging a new tool.

A hammer has the dual ability to destroy and to create, depending on the conditions in which it is wielded. When I was not listening to The Lord, His words broke me open and His call was hollow in my ears. When I listen to Him now, those words — the very same words, for His message has not changed — took all those pieces and started banging them back together.

I am not entirely mended, and I will always be a little broken. But I trust in God’s wisdom and grace enough to trust that the chinks and dents will be straightened, the tears will be mended, and the holes will be patched over. In darkness and in light, The Lord is working on me so that I will be ready to be a part of something greater than my own self. Because, as somebody so very dear to me once wrote to me in a time of darkness,

“In one way or another we are all tools of God. Our talents determine how He comes through us into the world — the musician becomes His instrument; the artist becomes His paintbrush; the writer becomes His pen. But sometimes we are called to spread His Gospel and sanctify daily life in ways that require us to be like swords in His hands. And because we are swords that He draws at a moment’s notice, He hammers and bends and tempers us in His divine forge; makes sure we are always sharpened; and always keeps His hand upon us.”

Don’t stick up your heels, girls

((or, a young urban professional’s rant on the world’s oldest profession))

According to Reuters, the hottest headline from Wall Street is all about an intern who gave up her position in the world of finance to assume many new ones in that of porn.

Before you follow suit and trade your office pumps for stripper heels, you can read all about it.

Quite frankly, there’s nothing wrong with quitting a soul-sucking job to pursue something more fulfilling and meaningful — something that you love and can truly define you. I don’t have a problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is the fact that this young woman — who is described as being “promising” in her field, clearly has some kind of ambition, and comes from a background privileged enough to afford higher education — feels that pornography is where she will find that kind of life-changing gratification.

Why does this incite today’s post?

It means we live in a world world where a young woman who has social and professional advantages feels that her true calling is to give herself away to an industry fuelled by people who don’t care. They don’t care about who she is or where she’s coming from: they care about her body and the fact that in her search for her own gratification, it’s ended up available on the Internet for them to use for their own gratification.

It means we live in a world where women who have never had to fight for women’s civil rights believe that they’re in the moral and social right to act promiscuously, either on a personal level through recreational sex or on a more public level such as through pornography. They think this because society places the wrong kind of importance on sex, because popular culture has made women’s liberation all about morally and socially legitimising the exploitation of women.

It means that despite being able to share in all the advantages and privileges that were once exclusive to our male counterparts at all stages of life, some women today still feel that their sexuality and their bodies are the things that will make them truly successful. That’s because the adult entertainment industry is worth billions, and makes those billions by twisting the ambition of bright young women to perpetuate business.

It means we live in a world where a line exists between a hooker on the street and an adult entertainer on the screen. In other words, ours is a society that looks down its nose at some forms of prostitution while simultaneously praising others. Because in the end, trading one’s body and sexuality for money is prostitution, and therefore porn is probably the highest rung on the career ladder of the world’s oldest profession. Young women who work in pornography think it’s alright simply because the porn industry has taken sexual exploitation off the streets, prettied it up, and marketed it as entertainment.

Before I step off the soap box, I’ll leave you with this: would any of you who support this young woman’s decision be so keen to do the same if the person in question was your sister, daughter, girlfriend, or cousin? Because that’s who every girl in the pornography industry really is, once the clothes are put back on.

An Epiphany of My Own?

If I had a dollar for every time somebody exclaimed, “Wait — you’re Catholic?” I would probably have a tidy nest egg by now. When I, in turn, ask why it’s a surprise, I usually get a response along one (or any combination) of the following lines:

  • “Well, I guess because it’s weird? I don’t know anyone who still believes in God.”
  • “Because religion is ridiculous.”
  • “Oh…well, then, that actually explains a lot.”
  • “You don’t really seem very Catholic..”

While I could write a post for each one of those (and probably will one day), in light of the Feast of the Epiphany today I’ll just address the last one.

What is it to “act Catholic,” exactly? The modern secular world seems to have an archaic view of Catholicism that resembles a mish-mash of all of the human Church’s less-than-spectacular moments in history and the way popular media has misrepresented Catholics over the years. But even though we real-world Catholics are aware of how we are misrepresented — even though we know the truth of how our faith works in the real modern world — why is it that so many of us are afraid to show what we truly are and profess what we truly believe?

I grew up in a small town in the Fraser Valley that had no shortage of Christian followers: between the Roman Catholic parish to which my family belonged and the nomadic evangelicals who moved from family to family in my best friend’s congregation, there was a slew of trinitarian Baptists, Latter-Day Saints, Episcopalians, Anglicans, and numerous Protestant denominations. I certainly wasn’t the only practising Christian or even the only practising Catholic in my high school when I started out, and though there were fewer of us when I graduated I certainly did not stand alone on the religious front at the end.

But adolescence is rife with insecurities, and if left unattended those insecurities cross the threshold with us into adult life. As practising Catholic teenagers, my brothers and those few Mass-attending classmates were different from the other Christians because church on Sundays was never optional, and if we knew ahead of time that we couldn’t make it on Sunday we had to go on Saturday. We were different because our faith included rites and rituals and sacraments that were foreign to other versions of Christianity. We were different because practicing our faith outside of church didn’t involve youth mission trips to third-world countries over the summer, but rather spending time outside of Mass in prayer, reflection, and contemplation.

We knew what to do and what to say at Christmas and Easter Mass. We didn’t know lines of scripture by heart but could talk your ear off about catechism. Our summer camps were gender-specific, and involved daily Mass, faith formation, and prayer time. We wore Saint medals and scapulars; didn’t eat meat on certain days of the year; and said grace in the cafeteria.

After any amount of time of having these differences pointed out to us, in our own ways we stopped being so visibly Catholic among our peers. We found ways to keep our Catholic lives separate from our school and social ones, and gradually some us even abandoned it altogether. Some of us abandoned the Cross for some time before returning to stand at its foot.

Having experienced all of that, including a crisis of faith and a reaffirmation of my beliefs, I should be able to stand in front of you and be unmistakably, unsurprisingly Catholic. I am a daughter of God and have embraced that, so it should come out in how I express myself and conduct myself even when I’m not talking about beliefs.  It shouldn’t come out in a pushy or overbearing way — I don’t believe in throwing certain things in people’s faces — but it should still be evident that I profess faith and practice it, too.

Alas, it is not the case, and that needs to change.

The Feast of Epiphany recalls the journey of the Three Magi from the Far East to Bethlehem in the wake of the Star, and celebrates what they found there: the new-born Christ in his lowly manger bed. It is used in the New Testament and in the Liturgy of the Word as a precursor to the spreading of Christianity throughout the world, for the Wise Men did indeed travel from countries far from Israel to celebrate the birth of the Holy Child and pay homage.

Our parish’s head pastor, a wise and down-to-earth Irish-Canadian Monsignor, told his congregation today that the Three Magi had great faith indeed, for only great faith in prophecy and scripture could account for how closely they watched the night sky and then followed the Star from so far away. They had no idea where exactly they would find the infant Messiah and they had no idea how long it would take — they did not even know when the signs of His birth would appear. But they kept faith that they would not only see the signs, but also that they would eventually lay their eyes on the Holy Child.

A little over two thousand years later, there is no need for Catholics to wait for signs and to wonder if Our Lord will come — for we know that He already has, and that He has already died for us. There is even no need for followers of Jesus Christ to follow Him in secret. We acknowledge His birth, we greet him at the manger, and we trust in His second coming. We are secure in this, so does it not also stand that we should be secure in living our lives in ways — at all times — that bear witness to this?

It is easier said than done, and it is a lifetime struggle at that, to live in the real world in ways that makes us unmistakably children of God and followers of His Word. But that is where the strength of one’s faith is truly tested: in the real world, in the mundane and repetitious tasks of every day life. I spend most of my human life outside of the comfort of my own home, but my entire life and all aspects of it should be spent in the presence of God. And if I truly am secure in my faith, I should not let the adolescent fear of being different keep me from being unsurprisingly Catholic.

Neither Here nor There: Being a Woman in the Middle Ground

You hear a lot of things about the whole “women who don’t want families” debate.  You also hear a lot of things from the “women who are rather young when they settle down and start families” debate.  But what about those of us ladies who fall in between those two extremes – the women who are in their mid- to late-twenties, have career-path jobs, and want to have children?

I am a twenty-something young woman who is gainfully employed, highly educated, and quite independent on several counts, but who also wants to get married and start a family.  Speaking from experience, then, I can tell you that those of us who fall into this middle category tend to have somewhat of a hard time.  We’re on neither one side nor the other of the “modern women and marriage” divide, which means we get flak from both sides of it.

Just because a woman is able to serve a husband and a family doesn’t mean she is unable to be her own person and live her own life.  And just because a woman is able to be herself and make her own life choices doesn’t make her ability to love and nurture a disadvantage or weakness in the real world.

A woman is not demeaning or belittling herself if she gets married and starts a family, but neither is she selfish and cold if she chooses to remain single and works to support herself.

There is more to a woman than her biological capacity to become a mother and raise a family – but there is also more to a woman than her social capacity to be independent and successful.

Those of us females in the mid-ground see these things and understand these things – so why do members of our own sex on both sides of the chasm call us out for being in the middle?  Why are we made to feel like we’re letting down our gender by wanting to compromise and have the best of both worlds that are offered to modern women?

Yes, I want to get married – but I want to have a set of memories and life experiences as an adult that are entirely my own.  Yes, when I start a family I would like to be stay-at-home mother – but that doesn’t mean I can’t contribute to that family’s finances now.  Yes, I am aware of that so-called biological clock ticking away inside me – but just because my body is able to bear children doesn’t mean I have to before the rest of me is ready to have and raise them.  Yes, I want to be the kind of wife my husband is proud to have on his arm and show off – but I want him to be proud because I have made something of myself in this world before deciding to be his wife.

There are many women who choose to be on one side, and one side only, of twenty-first century womanhood and as long as they find fulfilment and happiness in their choices I can respect and admire them for it.  They are doing what they want and what they think is right for them, and taking action for their happiness is what’s commendable.  What isn’t commendable is expecting every woman to fall neatly onto one side or another, because most of us don’t entirely fit the bill for just one side.

I myself would not be entirely fulfilled or happy if I was to choose one side without having been on the other.  I am neither any less feminine nor any less of a feminist for wanting what I think is the best pieces of both worlds.  I think that occupying the middle ground of modern womanhood allows me to be strong, independent, and assertive in feminine ways, while simultaneously being a feminist in ways that are non-abrasive, non-aggressive, and non-misandrist.  I don’t think I would be living my life well if I rushed into marriage without first having been able to become the best individual I can be – because my future family deserves to be given the best of me.  And living in the middle is where I can find that best possible version of myself.