Watering my mustard seeds

The other day, a very old and very dear friend of mine shared a humour post on Facebook – “30 Ways to Win a Catholic Girl’s Heart.”  It actually was pretty funny and I’m sure I’m not the only reader who can relate to several of the points on this list — though I really do think that you do have to have some working/practicing knowledge of the system to really understand why I had a giggle fit over “Become a Swiss Guard.”

Humour aside, though, the whole thing did get me thinking about this whole “being a single practicing Catholic” thing I’ve got going on.

I turned twenty-five a couple of months ago, passing that particular milestone with the experience of a few long-term relationships and various short-lived ventures into dating. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert because I so totally am not one, but I’ve loved enough and lost enough by now to have a pretty good idea of what it takes to win over this particular Catholic heart.

Some people I know think that the most fulfilling relationship I could possibly have would be one with a practicing Catholic guy. However after my last turn around the LTR block with one, I can tell you that being of the same religious background and having a reasonably comparable level of faith formation is no guarantee to everlasting marital-worthy happiness. Sure, it makes things easier sometimes, and I definitely have peers whose young marriages are working out rather nicely due to shared faith, but castles in the air of any kind are simply that until they’re grounded in your reality.

My reality contains within it a highly secularized demographic of peers who, while perhaps not being so ardent in their natal religions as I am, are still wonderful, decent, and amazing people. And I’m not about to whittle away all my options down to a small handful of churchgoing, God-fearing guys (who I know by appearance alone because the only time I see them is during Sunday Mass) simply because I’m Catholic.

I can stand on my own two feet in my faith.  My mustard tree, though small yet and still sometimes desperately thirsty for grace, is sturdy enough that there’s no danger of me uprooting it from that nourishing soil to please somebody else.  If I am meant to share my life with another person, then I know that I will be able to freely and happily share everything about myself with them – including my faith and all the experiences that I have had because of it. But I will never beat somebody over the head with my old Baltimore Catechism, make full conversion or RCIA a dealbreaker, or drag somebody by the scruff to Mass. That’s no way to win a non-Catholic heart, and that’s also kind of hypocritical (you know, that whole “Free Will” deal and all).

I’ve come to realize that what makes things easier for me is mutual respect, honesty, and openness. If a guy can respect that I have my faith and my beliefs, and doesn’t ridicule me, put me down, or insult me because I am a practicing Catholic, then I can return to him a sizeable measure of respect. If a guy can be honest with me about why he’s lapsed, doesn’t believe in God, or doesn’t understand the whole religion thing, then I am happy to share the little I know to help bring further clarity. And if a guy can be open with me about what’s in his own heart and what his intentions are, then I can find it in my heart to return the gesture.

I’d much rather be alone and happy than be trapped in a relationship of religious convenience.  I would rather be loved, cherished, and respected for everything that I am, not just wanted because of the religion into which I was baptized and which I practice willingly as an adult.  And that’s what would warm and win this particular Catholic heart, because the end of the day, being able to share my faith with my partner on any level would be a precious blessing and I would treasure it…and I honestly believe there are many ways to share faith – many ways to grow together in faith, hope, and love, even as a “mixed” couple. If that’s what’s in store for me, then I gladly welcome it and will eagerly walk that path alongside whatever upright, just, and decent man God sends along that same way.

Making myself whole again

I know I can be rather cynical and snarky sometimes, even though I know that neither looks good on anyone. It’s been something that I’ve been trying hard to change for the past few months – one of those resolutions I made when I moved out of my old apartment, along with moving forward instead of being rooted facing the past and leaving the past behind me where it belongs.

It seems to be the year of friends-in-couples moving in, becoming engaged, getting married, and having babies (many of whom I grew up with, including childhood friends and one of my own siblings). This weekend alone there were two weddings in my social circle, in addition to one happening last week and three more set for two weekends from now. There have been a fair number of first wedding anniversaries, too. My social network feeds are full of newborns in pink or blue hospital tuques and booties or of babies still in the “X months old” stage doing all their adorable drooly “firsts,” while the friends who aren’t quite there yet are posting photos of the new keys leading to cohabitational dwellings or of joined hands, one of which is now adorned by a dazzling ring.

And here I am – single, when a year ago I had stars in my eyes and hopes in my heart for all of these things with the person I thought was going to be The One. I would by lying if I told you I no longer swallow the bitter pill of breaking up whenever something reminds me that I’m single in the midst of all these happy couples in various stages of their relationships. I would be lying if I told you I no longer stop dead in my tracks in the middle of any given day because it hits me like a ton of bricks – that the dead-certain journey and destination I thought I had in my last relationships was, alas, just another one of those runaway trains.

It’s not like I can’t get out of bed in the morning and make it through the day, or that I have to keep faking smiles and fighting back tears. Trust me, I’m okay with things. Really.

But any love that you lose that you felt with all your heart, believed in with all the faith in your soul, and hoped for in any prayer is going to leave deeper cuts than you’d like to admit, right?

However, admitting to this is part of the healing, and after a long winter, fleeting spring, and sweltering summer, here I am in autumn, single and finally admitting to the fact that maybe I’m not quite as healed up yet as I’d like to have everyone believe.  I’m working on it, though.  Really.

I have never doubted that I made the right decision and, when sitting in Mass today listening to Father’s homily, I was reminded of that fact. You see, I’ve spent the last few weeks in a pretty rough patch that stretched across all aspects of my life and I was, at one point a few days ago, so close to tipping over the edge of regret and self-pity. But today’s Gospel included that bit about cutting off or tearing out the appendages that cause you to stumble – and as much as I had loved and cared about the other half of my last relationship, by the time it ended there was too much stumbling on both sides of the equation for it to have been healthy, on any level, for either of us.

But none of it was wasted time for me, because I was able to grow and I was able to learn over its duration, and coming out of it with that growth and knowledge gave me the foundation I needed to rebuild myself.

“There are many loves in this world,” as the saying goes, “but never the same love twice.” Even if you end up with somebody from a past relationship, it’s still a new kind of love because you’ve both grown and changed in that time apart.  I know I will never have that love – or any past love, for that matter – again, and I’ve come to accept that. However, when love does find me again, I know that it will be the right one if I go into it as a whole person and hold on to it for good reasons – reasons that don’t involve the fear of being alone, the desire to be adequate enough for somebody to take notice, or any one of the other things that played into why any of my past relationships happened.

In the meantime, though, I’m choosing to see singlehood as a blessing…because really, it is. It suits me at this point in my life, and for once I am in the right frame of mind to be doing things for myself on my own terms. It’s not selfish of me to do things by myself or spend money on myself if that’s going to improve who I am and make me a better, stronger, and more whole individual. It’s not cynical of me to hide certain posts from my news feeds that make me feel inadequate, unworthy, or unsuccessful simply because I am not in the same position as many of my friends and acquaintances, for that’s removing unintentional negativity from my immediate vicinity.

And it’s not spiteful of me to say I would never go back to any of my past relationships to recapture what they were, because if a relationship doesn’t make two people grow closer together towards a common goal, it’s not the right relationship. I’m single right now because I have not yet found the right relationship, and part of the reason is because I’m still a little too rough around the edges to be the best partner I can be for the kind of man I know I want – and I think that I’ll know who he is when he forgives me for taking so long to make my way to him.

But I’m on the right track now, I think, with all the things I’m doing to make the most out of my current state of singledom, and I’m sure that for the right guy that counts for something.

A toast to a happy couple

It’s hard not to think about weddings right now. For the past year I’ve received invitations to a number of weddings, including my brother’s and, just recently, that of a very dear friend. Hers is the second I’ve been invited to since my brother’s nuptials in April and I’m fairly certain it won’t be the last I’ll get before the year is out. And although she is a fairly recent addition to my circle of friends she has – quite quickly – found a permanent place in the innermost circle of confidants.

Unfortunately, because of time and distance and logistics, I won’t be able to make it to this wedding. I know a lot of people would be aghast to hear I won’t be present at the wedding of a person I consider one of my dearest friends, but I think the fact that she understands my predicaments is a testament in and of itself to how amazing she really is.  And while I won’t be present to make a speech when they get married in October, I’m still able to share what this particular set of nuptials means to me as a friend of the happy couple.

The invitation arrived today in the mail, though I didn’t get it out of the box until this evening as I was coming back up from loading something into another best friend’s trunk. The “something” in question is the Ex-Box I wrote about some months ago – the Indiana Jones Crate of my last relationship. Although I didn’t open the Ex-Box before handing it off to said best friend, I still know exactly what’s inside it…and I was thinking about all of those things when I saw that I’d received my friend’s wedding invitation.

I wish I had something dramatic to share with you about my reaction to the invitation. After all, I’d just mentally spent several minutes going over the contents of the Ex-Box – and almost against my will, because memories like that have a strange way of making you helpless and hapless in their presence. And I probably would have had every excuse and reason to fly off the handle upon receiving this invitation tonight, for she is marrying the younger brother of the Ex whose Box I sent to my friend’s house this evening.

But the truth is, I didn’t react in a way that would be worthy of Greek Choruses, and I don’t think I ever will about this particular wedding. I don’t see it as the day my ex-boyfriend’s younger brother marries one of my closest friends. I see it as the day two wonderful people will be starting a life together – a life they have worked so hard on and for which they have built with strong, solid foundations through every shared experience.

When I, the single half of this friendship, look at my friend and her fiancé, I don’t feel that deep twinge of envy that other young women might feel when they look at their engaged friends. I look at them and I see two people who are complete on their own and bring two whole people into one love. I see a young modern woman who is intelligent, independent, and strong – yet still feminine and gentle enough to bring out the best qualities in her hardworking, devoted, and golden-hearted young man. I see a couple that is on the same page and in each other’s hearts right next to God. I see two people who can do anything on their own, but when they’re together are truly unstoppable.

This is a relationship that’s been years in the making, and they’ve come through so much together over those years. I have only been a part of their lives for a short while, but I am so privileged and blessed to know their story, and to know them on my own terms.

If anything, being included on their guest list has reminded me that I am my own person – that my presence in somebody’s life is not contingent on me still being with the person who brought me into that life in the first place. It’s reminded me that the opinions some people might have of me aren’t the opinions of others, and that the people I cherish the most in the world will always welcome me and relate to me on their own terms. It’s reminded me that I as an individual am more than any relationship I was in before or ever will be a part of in the future – that my individuality, not my relationships, is what makes me worthy of the friendship and love of remarkable people.

Concerning my own, and still-theoretical, wedding day there are three non-negotiable elements for me. The first: that I sincerely hope that at least one person making a speech will open with the words, “Mawage. Mawage is what bwings us together today.” The second: that I will be wearing a white pair of Chucks with satin bows as laces, but they won’t be bedazzled. The third: that I will be walking myself down the aisle, because in my adult life what makes me happiest is being entirely self-made – being my own darn self.

And that’s the most important part, I think: being my own damn self and bringing the very best of what that is into my Happily Ever After, if and when it finally happens.

Seeing through the rain

Walking home in the rain from the cinema last night, I was waiting to cross the boulevard and thinking about how much life has changed in the last year.

I realised I’ve found more of my adult self in this last year than I have in all of the years combined since my twenty-first birthday, and a lot of that is down to having learned how to love and live for another person.  I’m not talking about living for somebody else in the sense of depending on them for validation and worth and purpose, but rather in the sense of being able to unite your own dreams and plans and goals with those of another person…simply because you share a love with them that is genuine and runs deep.  You open yourself up to a whole world of good and bad when you love somebody that way, but if it’s all meant to work out with them all of the good makes up tenfold for everything bad you have to experience.    You love them enough to want them to be happy, and trust that they see the same thing when they look at you.

Seeing him smile and hearing him laugh made me feel happy because it meant he was happy.  But what made me even happier was waking up every day of our relationship and knowing that I was one day further along in human plans that finally seemed to line up with God’s plans…that I was making a choice of my own discernment and will to fulfill a call to a relationship heading towards marriage and family.

I told him more than once that I love God more than him – for no other reason other than because it’s the truth.  What made me happiest about the relationship we shared was the fact that it fit into what I knew God wants for me, which meant my personal happiness was finally firmly rooted in someone eternally constant and loving.  The human heart is fickle, as we see over and over again whenever we love and lose, but God is love.

The catalyst to the breakup was a decision made in his part that caused confidence and trust to fall out on mine, thus causing the worst kind of pain initially:  a selfish one that’s rooted in pride and a false sense of betrayal.  I say it’s the worst kind of pain because its root makes it hurt even more than it should, because it makes us blind to anything else but how it makes us feel.  This kind of pain demands angrily of the human love, “How could you do this to me, after all I have endured for you?”  and, equally angry, of God, “I was doing as You commanded then, so why must I suffer now?”

While we can never truly know why people do what they end up doing, deep down inside my heart I know that what he chose to do was not fuelled by anger or spite or a desire to cause pain.  What made me feel his intentions as painful actions was the fact that loving him made me want to love God less so that I wouldn’t lose my relationship.  I was deeply unhappy and struggled in trying to reconcile the two – in trying to have both even though the more I tried, the more unsettled I felt.  But when I saw how this same conflict was beginning to manifest itself in our relationship, I felt a different pain.  It was the kind that comes not out of feeling betrayed, but rather out of knowing that what you’re asking of the person you love can’t be given to you without it being detrimental to their own pursuit of fulfilment, peace, and happiness.

To those two infuriated demands I mentioned above, I never really got an answer to the human question – though I did get an answer to the divine one through a long and difficult discernment.  I asked God why, and He replied, “Because I have commanded you to love others as I have loved you.  Because I am Love, and made you in that image.”

I am still fighting through both kinds of pain.  The first pain slows down the healing, which strangely enough motivates me to take the second kind of pain and offer it to God in the hope and trust that He can tend to all of my wounds.  I have that hope and trust in Him because through all the worst storms of my voyage so far, He offered me His hand to help steer my ship towards safe harbors.  Through every difficult and painful experience, I have come to see God’s hand in my life, and until last night I never knew how to explain that revelation in human terms.

But today I finally can, because the analogy came to me last night as I stood in the rain at the intersection of that windy boulevard.  In the same way that I can see the shape of the wind as it blows through the raindrops right before they hit the pavement, I can see the shape of God’s hand in how my life experiences sculpt me into the daughter He envisioned long before I began to take on human form.  I was made in His image, not He in mine, and if choosing to learn how to love sacrificially — as He did, on the wood of the Cross — is how I may better reflect that image, then may He heal me so that one day I may again try loving another person as He has loved me.

Snow Day

It’s Saturday, and even though it’s April there’s snow coming down and piling up. I’m pretty sick of winter, as is everyone else who lives on the East Coast, and I wish that I could just curl up on the couch under my duvet today, a book in hand or a documentary on the telly and copious amounts of hot coco on the coffee table. Add the cat on my feet or my stomach and you’ve got what’s pretty much my ideal snow day.

Alas, the cat had to go to the vet today for a dental procedure that’s going to fix an abscess in one of his back teeth, and I had to get up at 6:00 this morning to get him to the vet in time for his 7:30 appointment. Back home and fully awake now, I have until 11:00 to do what I want before heading off to my retail job. And right after that I’ll be heading to the Basilica to celebrate the Easter Vigil.

From my couch in the living room, through the big windows I can see the snow falling down. Only three days ago on my walk to and from work, I was able to see tentative green things – the crocuses and snowdrops that mark the end of winter – coming up in the postage-stamp gardens all along my street. Now they’re all buried under a cold blanket of snow again, and they’ll have to wait another week before they can continue growing.

I feel like those crocuses and snowdrops at the moment. I feel like I am constantly being reburied under snow as I struggle to grow, and I long to feel life inside me every day when I wake up. Most days that feeling takes a while to kick in, but I remember how it felt to wake up with it already there, its grip on me firm and strong the moment my eyes opened.

Healing is a tricky business. I do have my faith and I do trust and hope in God, but as the saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.” And as much as I keep stumbling on the hard path set before me, I know I have to keep pushing through every day.

I’m looking for things to look forward to. My upcoming move into a new apartment helps keep me busy when I’m at home for long stretches of time, and I know that when I really get deep into the whole business of it all I’ll have the opportunity to make as fresh a start as possible. I signed up for a pottery class that starts in May, and there’s always work and the cat to get me out of bed in the morning.

It’s hard, though. It’s hard waking up and facing a day without somebody you love. It’s hard to look outside the window and see the snow, and feel like change really is in the air or around the corner.

But life exists, even under the snow: deep in the ground, it waits for the opportune moment. I know that deep in my heart, there’s a little bundle of life waiting to grow…I just have to hold on through every sudden snowstorm until it’s sunny again.