Mawwage.

It’s been a long minute since my last post.

In all honesty, even though it sounds like a cop-out the only explanation I have for my long absence from the blogosphere is life happened.

I was recently engaged when my last entry went live, and with a wedding date of 6 months from the day of our engagement things just started happening almost as soon as I hit “publish.”  Even for a small wedding (37 people, including the bride, groom, and priest) taking place in 6 months, there was a lot of work to get done.

And then once we walked down the middle of my church, had some cake, and took some photos, we were in full swing to prepare for my BigSis’ wedding later that same summer.

From there, life just became a blur.  A happy, blissful, stupidly cute blur.

Oh, and we got a dog.

On the 17th of this month, we’ll be celebrating 11 months of marriage — 11 months that I can only describe by quoting Pedro Casciaro:  “Dream, and your dreams will fall short.”  Because let me tell you, looking over previous blog entries where I was discussing my love life and my relationship with God (and sometimes both together), I realize now that everything I have experienced and endured while trying to follow Our Lord was His way of testing me in fire and refining me into the woman that would deserve the man I now call my husband.

I am a Catholic who had not one but two crises of faith (one in late adolescence and one in my early twenties) who grew up in the Catholicism of Opus Dei, and I ended up marrying an atheist who was raised in a Protestant home.

If anyone ever tries to tell you God doesn’t have a sense of humor, feel free to point them in my direction.  I’m well aware that describing the faith-dynamic of my marriage sounds like the beginning of a joke.

But it’s not a joke at all, and while I can see the humor in it and say that God really does have a way of making life turn out so weirdly and unexpectedly, I know in the deepest part of my heart that my vocation to married life (and eventually motherhood) means I am tasked with a serious lifelong mission.  And the fact that a man of science and reason, not of faith, was given to me by Our Lord and bound me in Holy Matrimony makes it all the more serious to me.

In First Comes Love, Scott Hahn states:

God knows it is not good for us to be alone .  He doesn’t want us to be alone.  It’s the oldest story in the world, and it’s written into our very human nature:  He wants us home.

As a wife, this is the point of my vocation:  to help my husband live as good and meaningful a life as possible so that we may eternally rejoice in God’s kingdom together. It doesn’t matter if he’s an atheist; not only is this one of my core beliefs, it is one that he has chosen to accept and, even without RCIA let alone the slightest iota of faith, one that he wants to support for my sake.

I promised my atheist husband that I would never beat him over the head with the Baltimore Catechism or the Compendium, that I would never make his conversion a requirement to be in a relationship with me, and that I would never force him to to Mass if he did not want to go.  In return, he listens respectfully to me when we debate about religion, he never ridicules or belittles my faith, and goes to Mass more often than other Catholics I know.  He has even held my hand while I’ve prayed out loud for guidance or for a special intention, and genuflects before stepping into our regular pew at my church.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine an “inter-faith” marriage working so well, even though I was open to the real possibility of it and readying myself for the challenge of being a practicing Catholic in a relationship with a non-religious person.  Our courtship and engagement together lasted 364 days (we chose to celebrate our first anniversary as a couple by getting married on the 365th day, and God saw that it was good), but in that short time I never once felt shortchanged on any level by our differences in beliefs.

When we discussed the direction in which we wanted to take our relationship and I stood my ground and said I wanted to get married and commit for life, and if he didn’t like that then we should part ways sooner rather than later, he respected me enough to tell me that he was also of the same mindset.

Later when we talked about getting married and I told him that marriage to me meant getting married in the Church in any way possible, he told me that as long as I was marrying him he was cool with it.

Because of his acceptance and willingness to support me in my faith — not only did he come, and still continues to go, to Sunday Mass with my family and me whenever possible, he also made no argument about doing the Archdiocese-mandated Marriage Preparation course and had a long one-on-one chat with our parish priest — we were blessed with a dispensation to get married in my parish chapel with the full Catholic Rite of Matrimony.

Yes, you read that right:  I married an atheist with the full matrimonial liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.

And he never complained about “doing it my way.”

I may not have married a Catholic, but I am truly blessed in my marriage.  My husband’s name is Pierre, the French form of Peter, and he truly is the rock upon which I continue to build my house for God.  It does not matter that he is an atheist:  what matters is that there is love in his heart, and enough of it for him to support me in any way he can while I go about my faith each day.

He has seen me at my worst and knows where I have been and what I experienced before I found him, and he has forgiven and accepted and loved with all his heart.  And because of this, while I will never force a conversion upon him out of respect for his free will, I will always pray for him and always trust that God holds him in His hands just as He has held me.  Continuing to live my faith and follow God so that I am a strong example of Catholicism for him and for our future children while being respectful of his beliefs and of his free will is what I must do to keep our union harmonious and to keep God in it.

When we were dating, Pierre walked me home in the night even when we lived on different ends of the city.  By the graces given to us through our marriage I know he will walk with me to my Father’s home in Heaven.

The female roots of my family tree

This morning, I woke up at my mom’s house. She and I spent an evening out together yesterday — dinner, coffee, a short lecture about the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and then the BNC’s ballet performance of Don Quixote at Place-des-Arts. It was our way of celebrating Mother’s Day (which is actually today here in Canada). With the memories of the previous evening’s performance running through my head, the first thing I experienced this morning as I reflected was a sense of pride.

We’re not Cuban or any other kind of Latin American by any means, but we share the same Iberian passion, heart, and exuberance that the dancers of the BNC displayed last night, and that honestly all Hispanic people display on a daily basis. But seeing it on stage in all the sumptuous finery of classical ballet was a pivotal moment for me, I think. From the music featuring tambourines and castanets and the distinct rhythms of Spanish dances right up to the sheer joy and love of life expressed in the movements of the dancers, Don Quixote put me in touch with a side of my heritage that I’ve never really felt connected to before.

My Spanish heritage is something I don’t often consider — I have always been first and foremost a Canadian, even before I became a citizen, and of course Filipino culture reigned supreme at home — but lately it’s been creeping to the foreground of my thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot more about my identity, which is probably why I’ve finally started poking into the Spanish and Spanish-influenced chapters of my family history. And, as it turns out, much of what links me to these roots comes from the women of my family.

Although the hot Iberian blood runs on both sides, I know more about my mother’s side of the family than my father’s. The primary factor playing into this imbalance of knowledge is that my mother’s family were all in Canada when I was growing up, including my maternal grandmother who was full to bursting of family history. By marriage she was a Gomez but by birth she was a Garcia, a direct descendant of the Mercado-Alonso union that would become known as the Rizal family, and so the family history is extremely well documented and archived. They were blessed with an abundance of daughters but only two sons, though they’re more well-known of course for the legacy of José Rizal than they are for anything their daughters did.

But that doesn’t mean any of them, or any of the ladies to follow, led boring and insignificant lives. Thanks to my maternal grandmother, whom we referred to as “Lola” in our family, my earliest recollections include stories of the great-grand-women of the family: women whose most formative and defining moments were in harrowing experiences such as world wars and civil uproar; women who, for their time, experienced the privileges of education, personal wealth, and careers — things that we today believe are normal components of the everyday life of a modern woman, but back then were considered to be firmly in the domain of menfolk; women who, in short, have created for my sisters and me an unbroken legacy of strength, grit, and resilience tempered by love, kindness, and faith.

Sometimes it’s hard to live up to that kind of family history. Here I am at twenty-six and I feel like I’m in a pretty good place in my life; at any rate, I’m more comfortable with myself and more loving and accepting of who I am now than I ever have been. But although I’ve been down the foundations of my adult life for the last few years when I compare myself to the women of my family tree when they were my age, I always feel like I’m found left for wanting in their presence. But then I remember that you can’t compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter twenty — and the fact of the matter is, my world is very different from the worlds of these ladies, so of course it makes sense that my story is being written at a markedly different pace.

I often wonder (and honestly, worry) if I’ll ever be able to be as strong, poised, gracious, confident, and beautiful as the women of my family before me. Even when I compare myself to my sisters I find myself in a brief panic over the thought that I’ll never be anything remotely like them.

There’s a quote that I’ve seen everywhere on social media today and I’ve been pondering on it while I’ve been preparing to write this, and by putting those thoughts alongside my insecurities in the face of my feminine legacy, I’ve realized something important: it doesn’t matter if my experiences at age twenty-six aren’t quite as earth-shattering and life-changing as those of the women before me, or that I’m nowhere near as well-established in my life and my career as they were at this age.

What truly matters is that the iron-clad strength of their souls that allowed them stand upright in their convictions and the passion that burned in their hearts to fuel their lives was passed on to me, along with many examples of what one may accomplish if one looks life straight in the the eye and never backs down. It doesn’t matter how I do it myself, just that I harness that strength and passion in my own bones and heart, and live life to the fullest as they did…in the best way I know how. That is how I might live up this legacy and embrace this heritage of mine.

And so:

“Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.” 

This, our hymn of grateful praise.

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, which entails most of what’s involved in American Thanksgiving, minus the crazed, murderous shopping spree that follows once the nation awakens from its food coma. There’s a long weekend during which we all flock to one nest or another to eat our way through mountains of food, raft down rapids of drink, and enjoy the bounty of our first-world lives.

Because my favourite first brother’s birthday is always around Canadian Thanksgiving, we never really celebrated the holiday proper until our family found itself scattered across the continent. (Alas, my favourite second sister and her family had to reprogram themselves to call this weekend “Columbus Day” and wait until late November to gorge upon the cornucopia.) We’ve never really been a family for turkey on this particular holiday, preferring to leave that magnificent fowl for Christmas and indulge upon other game instead in October. This year we’re roasting up two brace of Cornish game hens (we always take care to e-nun-ci-ate the name of this particular bird).

As for dessert during this autumn feast – well, we’ve never been a family for pumpkin pie, either; I myself am in adamant opposition to the craze of pumpkin spice. Just because it’s fall doesn’t mean the entire culinary world has to undergo a mass apocolocyntosis. But I digress – we are perfectly content with the other common fruit of fall, the humble apple.  Good thing we enjoy them immensely, too, for here in Quebec we’re blessed with a countryside bursting with a variety of the pomme, and we’re equally blessed to have the chance to pick them ourselves. Orchards in all directions off the Island open their weathered gates to eager harvesters every year – and this year, we walked among them.

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A beautiful view at Vergers et Cidrerie Denis Charbonneau (Mont-St-Gregoire, Quebec)

Having recently proven my own ability to host a “company meal” entirely on my own without setting anything on fire or making anyone sick, I was tasked with this year’s Thanksgiving dessert. This was probably also due to the fact that going apple picking was my idea, but in any case I spent my evening carefully prepping for a deep-dish apple pie for tomorrow’s lunch.  Yes, taste-testing was involved at several stages along the way.

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From peeling and coring these babies by hand to making the pastry from scratch, you can bet your bottom dollar that the apple pie will be freakin’ worth it!

Whilst preparing pie crust from scratch this evening, I was also watching a BBC documentary series wherein two British media personalities explore culinary history by eating historically-accurate dishes while living and dressing to period standards. It’s absolutely hilarious and brilliant, and it’s made me rather thankful to be living in this day and age.  But my gratitude goes beyond the fact that I’ve been spared from Baroque France’s aspic-and-vegetable recreations of architectural landmarks or Tudor England’s sheep and calves served a pedibus usque ad caput (warning: do not Google translate if you are weak of stomach, as this was literally how they consumed these animals).

I am much more grateful for more than just the fact that I live in a time when my diet can be balanced, varied, and wholesome.  More specifically —

“For the joy of human love:  
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above;
For all gentle thoughts and mild —
Lord of all, to You we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise.”

          — Pierpoint, “For the Beauty of the Earth”

— for indeed, of all the things for which I am grateful, my family and my friends top my list, followed closely by my health, gainful employment, four walls and a roof over my head, clothes and shoes in my closet, and (because Canada is a week away from a federal election) the fact that I am a citizen of a country that allows all its age-of-majority citizens to vote.

I am thankful for the gifts of faith, hope, and love, as well as the opportunities I am given every day to develop them in my own life. I am thankful for the talents I have been given as well as having many ways by which I might share them with others. In turn, I am equally thankful for the talents of others, and the ways they choose to share those talents with me.

I am thankful for everyone I have met who has taught me something and I am thankful for everyone who has stood by me through thick and thin, supporting me through the worst to celebrate with me during the best.

As the nights grow longer, as the temperature gets colder, and as the pumpkin spice craze continues to sweep the nation, I raise a freshly picked apple (Cortland? Liberty? Sparta? I can’t remember what’s what in my giant bag anymore) to you all and toast everyone around the table:  may your hands, working and toiling in the lives of your loved ones, be blessed by the Hands that put us all here in the first place.

My Father’s Month

February is a month that will always remind me of my father.  For my parents, Valentine’s Day was “their” day (no surprise, what with five children squawking in the nest) and my father, the great romantic, always had something special for my mother.  February was also the month of his birthday (which, in 2004, he came to share with my nephew).  And February was the month in which he passed away in 2012.

My father was 57 when he passed away, and many people have asked me if it was a sudden passing, such as an accident or heart attack – to which I must sadly reply, no.  He went peacefully in his sleep after a long and arduous battle with both Parkinson’s and Ankylosing Spondylitis.  It was so long, in fact, that I do not remember my father as the healthy, spry, and vivacious man that started our family in 1974.  To me, Poppie was always stooped, shuffling, and shaking.  However, to me he was no less a man or father than any other out there.  Poppie was a man of great faith and wisdom.  He had a strength of character than very few people in this day and age could hope to claim, and he was utterly selfless and entirely devoted to his family.  And for somebody suffering from debilitating diseases, Poppie never uttered a word of complaint out loud.  He never used his disabilities and illnesses as an excuse for anything, not even when most people would probably say that he had every right to do so.  Surprisingly, he remained rather self-sufficient until quite literally the day he died, working slowly through unimaginable pain each day to bathe, clothe, and feed himself just so that he would not overburden my mother.

And while his physical strength had never been enough to carry me as a child – and, towards the end, to even embrace me for longer than a few fleeting moments – my father carried within him an inner strength that was able to shoulder the weight of my world, and that of everyone else in his life.  My father had the courage and the faith to find something truly wonderful and good in the midst of his physical suffering.

At a euthanasia hearing here in Montréal in 2011, my father gave the following speech.  This is his legacy to me, and it is not one of despair and self-pity, but one of hope and great dignity.

I’ve had Parkinson’s Disease since 14 years ago at age 42; shortly thereafter I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a form of arthritis that among other things, fused most of the upper vertebrae of my spinal column. Last summer I had an MI—otherwise known as a heart attack.

I know the physical pain and the mental suffering that go with those medical conditions: the feeling of not being useful anymore, the humbling reality of not being able to do the activities of daily living, the prospect of getting worse (especially with chronic and degenerative diseases) and being a continued burden on the family.

That said, I empathize with those who are in terminal stages and in severe pain. They face hard choices and at times are alone in their plight or feel they have lost or are going to lose their dignity and have become intolerable burdens for their families. But perhaps, a different outlook is needed to find meaning behind all this pain and suffering, a more positive outlook that I believe has already helped others to look at death in a new light and discover that euthanasia is not the only alternative to preserve one’s dignity.

These medical conditions are blessings rather than punishment. The pain and suffering are opportunities we get for offering them up for the intentions of our loved ones and friends.

Let me explain: It is a basic human instinct to help anyone in need, more so if the one in trouble is a loved one. The help can be either material or non-material, sometimes both. A non-material help can be just simply good wishes and keeping in mind the one in need of help. Whatever form it takes, helping someone requires giving up or offering up something of value because we have empathy, the desire to be united with the one who is in need. Even if we are disabled, and perhaps because we are disabled, we can be of much help to those in need by offering up for them the things we have that are valuable: our pain and suffering, the sense of isolation and desperation—and the greater the pain and suffering, the more valuable and effective our offering up becomes.

We can become an inspiration for our family and friends. Remember John Paul II – who also had Parkinson’s – and was universally acknowledged by the world which witnessed the last minutes of his life still doing his work for which he had great passion. Perhaps having the courage and the strength to live to the end without resorting to euthanasia would be the best legacy we can bequeath to our family. This is genuine dignity.

To all my fellow disabled, we should not feel useless and unwanted, for we are the treasures of humanity: treasures that are valuable and irreplaceable. We should not allow ourselves to be discarded like objects that have no practical value at all, that have outlived their usefulness and have become instead an unacceptable burden for others. We are the treasures of humanity which remind the world that despite the fragility of human nature and its inevitable mortality, the dignity of every human being is based on his or her right to be of service to others precisely through their pains and suffering offered up for the needs and welfare of their family and friends.