Thursday, June 1, 2017

JESUS, ADAPTATION, & HOT WATER WEIGHT LOSS


I ended my last post, Miracle Cats, Soul Mates, and Chocolate Brownies with the needing of a break from all the miracles and messages I was receiving. The Lord, on the other hand, indicated something more along the lines of, let’s finish this thing right now. You can do it! The subsequent miracles occurred so rapidly that I had neither time nor desire to blog about them.

It was easier for me to post descriptions of them on Facebook. Then THE MIRACLE, the one in which I finally recognized my Sweet Jesus, who had been standing right there next to me all along, happened on May 10. On May 24, I posted about miraculous doings related to Fatima, and on May 26, I managed to translate my feelings about having my soul forever entwined with Jesus’s into words.

Now here’s the part that some of you may not like. Sorry, not sorry. I’m not going to cut and paste all those posts together right here just for you. Nothing against any of you, please understand. It’s just that I simply need to be lazy about this one. I need to leave the posts on Facebook where they belong because that’s where the miracle happened. Also, because, apparently, there is such a thing as being overwhelmed by joy and some of this is simply too much for me.

What I'm happy to offer you instead is an invitation to friend me on Facebook at Maria Virginia Ross.

I know that a lot of people have disengaged with Facebook due to politics, but let me just say, you are the boss of your own Newsfeed. Learn how to use the “Unfollow” and the “See First,” buttons, and you’ll be amazed at how positive a social media experience you can create for yourself.

I’m also making you work for this information a little bit. In the past, I’ve made it too easy for y’all, my dearworthy readers, whom I love. Yes, Jesus is standing right there next to you, but if you can’t see Him, that means you have to take baby steps toward Him your own self. I offer friending me on Facebook and scanning for the above dates in May as your assignment for today. P.S. Friend me, read the posts, and unfriend me, if you want. I won’t take offense. Because really, it’s also all about allowing myself to be lazy.

Now, if the whole Facebook thing still doesn’t appeal, I offer this alternative as an enjoyable metaphor of what I experienced here. 

Okay, now I’m going to continue from the May 26 Facebook post:

If anyone would have ever told me at any time before Lent this year, that I would meet my Lord through Jerry Garcia, I would not have believed them. (I mean, maybe I would have, depending on their delivery and back up info. But, you get the idea.)

It was completely, totally, 100%, unexpected. And yet, completely, totally, 100% perfectly senseworthy. Mmmmmmm. I’m so stinking happy, I can’t stand it. Allow me to rephrase, I still need a lot more time to adapt.

So, this is a somewhat incoherent (I can’t help it, but yes, I’m well aware) transitional post or place holder. I need to take the summer off. I need to adjust to the recalibrations in my viewfinder and fine-tune the focus of my new lens. I have to practice reading books again without taking notes for a post or a book review. I need to remember how to read books for the sheer pleasure of it, just for me.

I will also travel with my family to visit family, and then a trip to the mountains. Travel helps you see your life clearer from the outside looking in, sort to speak. I need this. I need to shake up my snow globe and start over, metaphysically speaking.

My life is already different in so many ways. Here’s one delicious way I can share with you now -- Somehow, I ended up creating a career for myself in which I spend a lot of time alone. I prefer this. But, there are times when I long for a hug -- when my husband is off working or being a running fool; my kids are off living their grown-up lives; I have no plans with friends that day; and the nearest cat is roosting on the FA-ricking top of the refrigerator. Again. Really?!

This used to be a sad time for me. But now, when this happens, or when I’m having trouble balancing my inner joy with the world’s woes, I hear a voice inside my head telling me to listen -- the very same voice I always believe.

I turn on the Grateful Dead or the Jerry Garcia Band, and I hear it – a warm embrace.

Wait, how can you hear an embrace?

I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Wait. Whose voice is it -- Jesus’s, Jerry’s, or your own?

Yes.

Because we are all magically, mysteriously, and miraculously connected to and through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

(I know. I would be annoying myself if I wasn’t so happy.)


Wait. Isn’t a thirteen-day novena a thirteen-day nine-day prayer? And isn’t that, by its very definition, impossible?

Okay. Maybe if you stopped asking questions and just believed, you’d have more fun here.

Seriously, I highly recommend your checking out at least the first video to see if it appeals to you. I love Friar Mario Conte -- he’s theologically knowledgeable, deeply spiritual, and did I mention his Italian accent? Mmmmmmm.

The novena ends on June 13, the Feast Day of St. Anthony which is also the 100th anniversary of the second Our Lady of Fatima sighting. I predict miracles galore!
………………………………

And now for something completely different and mostly rational:

A friend recently noticed that I had dropped some weight, and along with her compliment, she asked me how I did it. I explained to her how I had recently lost the last two pounds. And later I realized that I should have told her how I lost the first of the pounds and worked my way forward and down through the years. Here’s my answer in chronological order:

Maria’s Recipe for Weight Loss

 1. Mandatory disclaimer – Get your regular physical exams. Check for diabetes and thyroid issues, and, you know, don’t start any weight loss program that might be dangerous or even makes you feel sick. You shouldn’t feel sick in this process, ever.

 2. Weight loss works better with exercise. And exercise works best if you enjoy it. Walking counts! Vacuuming counts (sorry). Hula hooping during your favorite movie counts! You get the idea.

 3. Stop drinking sugar. Cut out soda, sweet teas, lemonades, juices, etc. Replace these drinks with unsweetened tea with 1 packet of sugar or Stevia, if you must, or a glass of water with a splash of cranberry juice. Do not replace with diet versions, because most sugar substitutes make you crave sugar which totally defeats the purpose. (Stevia is safe.)

Don’t try to do too many other dietary changes during this process. It’s hard to break these habits. It took me three years to lose my taste for Diet Coke. So, cut yourself a break here. It’s hard, but you can do it. And you’ll get the weight loss payoff.

Nowadays, I drink mostly water, either hot in a mug or cold with a splash of cranberry juice, unsweetened tea with no added sugar at restaurants, or unsweetened green or herbal teas if I have enough patience to wait for it to brew. I also drink coffee with ½ teaspoon of real sugar and a splash of whole milk which has its own sweetness. I add these extras because there’s really no point in drinking coffee without them.

 4. Oh, right. We have to have the alcohol discussion. Take the on-line test to see if you are addicted and take appropriate AA action or seek recovery counseling. If addiction is not a factor, understand that alcohol in small amounts is, in fact, heart healthy. Check on line to see how much is the healthiest amount for your weight and gender. Women get less. Of course.

 5. When you have numbers 1-4 sorted and handled, it’s time for learning about the nutritional value of foods. I joined Weight Watchers after weaning both of my babies. It’s a good program, either on-line or in person group meetings. From my experience, it’s one of the easiest to transition between dedicated program following and later applying what you learned to your food choices. In other words, the program ingrains good habits that you’ll take with you when you “finish” the program.

 6. About a decade after I did Weight Watchers, I got real with the carbohydrates in my diet, and realized I was eating way too much sugar and white flour for someone with borderline hypoglycemia. I had also learned that the female body stores extra carbohydrates as fat in the midsection. Empty carbohydrates also cause bloating.

Next, I had a food allergy/sensitivity test done, which I highly recommend at any point along your weight loss quest because food allergies and sensitivities can unknowingly sabotage your most diligent efforts, and I discovered that I have a sensitivity to yeast. It doesn’t just mess with my body, it messes with my brain functions, big time. So, I must limit the amount of baked goods I can consume. Which means I can’t eat too many of the sweet recipes sprinkled throughout this blog.

I even have to avoid the whole-wheat Communion bread I bake for my church twice a month. I can receive a pinch of it for Communion, but I can’t regularly eat slices of it for morning toast, or lunch-time sandwiches, or all buttery with dinner.

Oh, the cruel irony of it all!   

But, you know, not really. We learn to adapt to what life allows us and take greater pleasure in small portions and rare treats.

 7. At my annual physical last year, I had borderline high cholesterol numbers. And in a serious effort to OH, HELL NO the possibility of having to take prescription medication, I switched to a Heart Healthy diet. You’ll find ‘em online. The trick about heart healthy, is not so much what you can’t eat (although it’s important), but what heart healthy foods you should eat. For example, those Omega 3 supplements don’t do you any good sitting in the bottle in the refrigerator. Every day, you have to open the door, twist the bottle cap, pour a capsule in your hand, put it in your mouth, and swallow it. And if a cat lands on your head in the process, so be it.

 8. The other thing I do somewhat regularly is catch up on reading issues of Nutrition Action Healthletter by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. I learn a lot about nutrition and what we can do to avoid certain diseases. For example, I read an article a few months ago which discussed the scientific findings that foods that combine meat with nitrates such as cold cuts, hot dogs, and sausages, are carcinogenic. The more of this crap you eat, the higher your chances of getting cancer are, and the sooner you will die. Fact. They’ve worked out how many years you take off your life by eating different amounts of this stuff. Please do me a special favor and stop eating it.

Fair warning though, Nutrition Action is a bit boring. The articles about ailments you don’t have are boring. The recipes are boring. The covers usually display a photo of Brussels sprouts. Boring! Although, last month, the Brussels sprouts cover was replaced with a yummy photo of Benedict Cumberbatch, which is a miracle in and of itself.

 9. Okay, we are about to step into the emotional and metaphysical world of weight loss. But before I do, we have to talk about addiction. I honestly don’t know if there is a difference between stress eating and addictive eating. So, you’ll have to do your own research on that before proceeding because my experience is with stress eating.

If you feel you are addicted to sugar or other foods, or if you are addicted to not eating and are struggling with anorexia or bulimia, know that there really are quality specifically trained counselors in place waiting for you to call. Please call. I promise you that this is a baby step necessary to finding your Lord. In other words, I would have seen Jesus standing right there next to me a whole heck of a lot sooner if I didn’t have an addiction blocking my view.

Now because my weirdness is unique, I was unable to find a counselor who knew how to help me. I was too much to handle for three of them before I gave up and focused on helping myself through books. The book that jump started the sprint at the end of my spiritual journey was LOVE WARRIOR by Glennon Doyle Melton. I posted about it here.

My addiction is the people pleasing/approval seeking/shame avoiding that was conditioned into me as child of an alcoholic. Glennon’s addiction is anorexia/bulimia. Yet, addiction is addiction, and that’s why this book helped me so much.

What I’m trying to say is, some of us can get by with books and trusted friends who understand us and create a safe listening space, but some of this addiction shit is too heavy to sort through without professional help. There is no fault or shame in addiction. Instead there are proven methods of recovery and qualified people who are waiting to work stuff out with you, teach you important things about addiction, and hold you up. Please find yours and let them help you.

10. Stress eating. Okay, I’ll say it fast, don’t throw yogurt at me. I’m blessed to be afflicted with loss of appetite during stressful situations. I’ll tell you specifically why this is a blessing in a minute. But, I know I triggered some envy, so let me balance my brag with some of my other “blessings.”

Since I’m borderline hypoglycemic, I have to eat even if I’m not hungry. Otherwise, I can get lightheaded due to drops in my blood sugar levels. And if I habitually allow this to happen, I could end up with diabetes. AHHHHH! Where’s me bag of walnuts?! 

Also, I have this weird condition in which drinking cold water makes my tummy hurt by mimicking extreme hungry. So, I have to add some juice to my cold water. Or I drink water that’s been microwaved for one minute. You’d think I’d brew up some tea instead, but that takes two minutes in the microwave and another five to cool down enough to drink. I just don’t have time for that kind of nonsense.

Here’s why it’s a blessing for me to not eat a lot of food when I’m stressed -- whatever fat we add to our bodies during stressful times metaphysically includes the memory of the negative emotions we were dealing with at the time we consumed the fattening food. I know, it’s completely unfair and somewhat unbelievable. But, it’s true.

This is also why we need to be careful with our weight loss efforts. If you drop weight too fast, memories of past stress or trauma might surface unawares. Be prepared for this to happen and get counseling to help you deal with any unwanted memories that are too difficult to handle by yourself. Meanwhile, drink plenty of water to flush fat cells and their bad memories out and away.

I have two weight loss books I can recommend even though I have not read them because I can recommend the authors:

CONSTANT CRAVING: WHAT YOUR FOOD CRAVINGS MEAN AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM by Doreen Virtue

BODY CLUTTER: LOVE YOUR BODY, LOVE YOURSELF by Marla Cilley and Leanne Ely

Speaking of Marla Cilley, she’s the Fly Lady. Ever hear of her? She has a great website and lots of books and organizational tools. She published a book called SINK REFLECTIONS in 2002, which is when I read it. On the surface, it seemed like a house cleaning book, but it’s really a gateway out of the perfectionism/procrastination that cripples so many people just like me. Recognizing I wasn’t alone in this characteristic was invaluable. (Looking back on it now, I'm vaguely aware that this characteristic had to do with my addiction. Fascinating.) But the guidance and procedures on how to break out of this limitation was a gift beyond description. 

Step one: Shine your kitchen sink. Step two: Take baby steps. If I had to credit the one book that helped me the most with my writing, it would be this one. Because baby stepping my way to a clean house helped me to literally clear space in my life for the writing of words.

Anyhow, in answer to my friend’s question -- I recently lost two pounds while purging a traumatic experience via the writing process in a safe space with a trusted friend. I drank a lot of hot water.

Bonus Material:

Blooms galore in the St. Anthony of Padua and Lisbon Garden -- Spring, 2017

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

MIRACLE CATS, SOUL MATES, AND CHOCOLATE BROWNIES


Confession: I’m not a fan of dogs. There, I've said it. As a recovering people pleaser, I practiced authenticity by giving up pretending to like dogs on social media for Lent. As ridiculous as that sounds, it brought me to this level where I can share that I’m an empath and, you know, a decent human being. As such, I totally get that you love your dogs as much as I love my cats. So, if you’re my social media friend and I “like” your dog photo, what I’m really liking is the love I see between you and your pet. Just so you know, just so we’re clear.

So, Seven, our 17-year-old, hyperthyroid cat with Irritable Bowel Disease died in the middle of Holy Week. This is spiritual post about the miracles and grace I received through my beloved pet as she overcame three separate life-threatening medical emergencies over the course of 2 ½ years and then passed peacefully away. But first, I want to share some tidbits about her veterinary care and our family.

Because so many of our Facebook friends were praying for her, Seven was blessed with cutting-edge veterinary care. Her treatments were not invasive, nor uncomfortable. Most of her medicines were applied topically to the skin of her inner ears. An easy-to-digest prescription canned food appeared on the market only months before her diagnosis. All the techs and vets we spoke with recognized Seven’s strength of heart and understood our goal to keep her healthy and comfortably with us as long as possible. They were also practical and repeatedly clear about how we would know when it was time to, you know.

Except one. Once when I called to discuss a change in Seven’s prescription, the partner vet got on the phone, read up on Seven’s treatment plan, and explained some medical stuff to me. Then he said, “Bottom line, if you micro-manage a lifeform’s health to the level you are doing with this cat, you can keep anything alive forever.”

Okay. Well. Not true. And, I understand you currently have an overloaded “dime-a-dozen” kitten room, so you don’t quite get why we’re going through all this. However, was that really a necessary comment?

Seven’s meds and food did cost a lot of money. But, all members of our family were on the same page here -- she was worth it.

Which brings me to my daughter who was 9 months old when we adopted Seven and her brother, Nelix, after I read a scrawled sign posted on the hairstylist’s shop door, “Marmalade kitten and gray sibling need home.”

I said aloud, “Those are our cats.” I just knew.

We have so many photos of Seven and Nelix in the thick of play with children. And cuddles galore. Thirteen years’ worth with Nelix and Seventeen with Seven. Definitely, a fair share of trouble as with any pet, but oh so much love. My daughter loved these cats as her own siblings/teddy bears/best friends. And when they died, it was as unbearable as you can imagine it would be for her. Nevertheless, she got through it each time, and I thank you for your prayers.

So, you can see what I’m not saying here, right? You can see why we would invest so much into this sweetie, right? After Seven’s last miraculous recovery in February, when we brought her in so the vets and techs could verify for us that she was indeed better, everyone was as excited about her recovery as we were. And the partner vet? He started telling random clients about the miracle cat they had in their care. And after, he wrote in their group sympathy card, “. . . She was so loved.”



Just so you know, just so we're clear. 

. . . . . 

Are you as relieved as I am that I was authentic without dropping the F-bomb?!

Speaking of authenticity, I have another confession. I’m struggling with being an authentically spiritual person.

I’ve accepted that by following my own saintly recipes for spiritual living and climbing those boulders along my path, I’ve become progressively more spiritual. I’ve accepted this and am ever so grateful, but I’m not used to it. And so, I struggle.

Recently, I was called on to share about myself in a church group and I said, “I’m pretty sure I’m an Earth Angel (empath) gifted with claircognizance (clear thinking/intuition).”

*crickets*

Another time, I was in a church group and someone shared that after all their years of study, they’ve concluded that the whole crucifixion and resurrection thing is a metaphor and never actually happened. And someone responded, “You know, I believe that, too. Let’s have some more wine and discuss it further.”

This type of thing makes me “run screaming” back home to my cats and social media where I find a photo of someone’s trip to Jerusalem taken in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre showing people praying near Golgotha, the site of Jesus’s Crucifixion.

Or another’s photo on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where the Risen Christ cooked and shared breakfast, forgave Peter, and asked him to feed his sheep.

And I go, ahhhhhh. Much better.

And then there’s Doreen Virtue, angel guide and author with multiple psychology degrees and years of experience. With Doreen’s guidance, I have tuned in to the same divine wavelength she’s receiving along with millions of other people, world-wide. Her daily oracle card readings and weekly video usually speak directly, not metaphorically, directly to what I’m experiencing at the time.

And yet, since discovering her when I researched for St. Michael and All Angels in 2013, there was a big something that caused me unease. She believed and taught that Jesus was an ascended master along with Archangel Michael, St. Francis, and Gandhi among others.

And I’m like, uh no. So, I’ve held myself back.

Something shifted in January of this year. She posted several videos about a life-altering vision she had of Jesus, one of herself being Baptized, and a couple promoting the “Anglican/Episcopalian” Church to which she and her husband now belong!

Yay! She’s a newbie!

Last month, Doreen recorded a different type of video -- no wicker chair, no flowing dress, no deck of cards. Instead, she wore jeans, a tee-shirt, no makeup, and sat on the ground in a field. She carefully explained that she had been wrong about Jesus being an ascended master. She understands now that Jesus Christ is God, the one and only. And she will be pulling her ascended masters books and oracle cards from bookstore shelves so she can rewrite them.

I mean! Wow.

I’m now all-the-way tuned in to Doreen Virtue’s guidance, and I’ve learned how to do my own Archangel Michael oracle card readings which I’m finding exceedingly helpful in all areas of my life.

But back to being my authentic self with groups of people. My pragmatic son often advises me to make friends outside of church as there’s only trouble to be found in having all your friends in one church basket. He’s right, of course. But, something kept drawing me to Church.

(And when I say Church, I mean the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, which includes all of them because I have faith and hope for the future that we may all be one.)

You see, I was searching for my new Calling. The one I needed now that I’m soon to be retired from my career as Full-Time Mom when my youngest leaves for college. I believed I would find it at Church. I believed I would be called by a person at Church who’d say, “Hey, I think you’d make a good deacon.”

Or, “You’re perfectly suited for youth ministry and we could use you on our team.”

Or, “We really need you to write your book for us.”

Okay, not so much anymore with the deacon thing because when I imagine myself wearing a clerical collar, I feel like I’m being choked. And the idea that after 20 years of volunteering in churches, I would continue to formally provide my time and efforts for free makes me tired.

And the book thing. Really, ack, publishing. It’s the nature of the beast.

The youth ministry thing, though. That one hurt. I would have liked the opportunity to make mistakes I could learn from, practice, improve, and grow into the role. But after three years of  trying to serve on the cusp while not being included, accepted, nor supported by the center, I’m exhausted. And, I’m done.

But the youth were worth it. They saw through my social anxiety (approval seeking/people pleasing addictions) to my authentic core. They seemed to understand me on a deeper level than I understood myself, and they loved me. I mean, they still do and all, but we’re friends now, on social media and in real life. I was all overly apologetic, and they were all, “You’re good.” I mean, mmmmmmm.

Doreen recently did a talk about how we should stop trying to fit into groups that don’t accept us. We should stand back to let our soul mates be attracted to us and seek us out because they want to spend time with us. She used the word “mates” as the Australians do, to mean “friends.”

I really like this concept. I have some people I can call soul friends as they read my writing, share their own deep thoughts, and hang out with me either on social media because they live far away, or in real life. I love these people, and I so appreciate their presence in my life. Sometimes, these people deliver divine messages to me. Sometimes, these people are not so much people, but cats.

Seven served a divine purpose in my life. In other words, her extended miraculous life helped me receive a long list of angelic and saintly messages, and her death, well, we’ll get to that.

Seven’s first medical emergency happened right around the time I began my spiritual journey when I felt so rejected, lost, confused, and afraid. Taking care of her was something I could focus on, something physical and mental I could do while I was so frustrated about not being able to forget about what happened to me no matter how hard I tried via sheer will to “just let it go.”

Over the last two and a half years, as her health ebbed and flowed, she hung out with me and demanded my attention. Her needs forced me to suffer through withdrawal symptoms of not going out every day to volunteer or socialize with some group or another so I could please them and earn their approval.

Slowly, but surely, it worked! I discovered I much prefer spending time at home -- reading, writing, praying, contemplating, cooking, baking, and social mediaing with my soul friends. Or hanging out with one or two at a time in real life.

I describe Seven’s last miraculous recovery in my Our Lady and the Blesseds of Fatima post which occurred while I was researching for it in early February. My research, among other things, convinced me to commit to praying the Rosary every day during Lent.

Because I dramatically increased my devotion to her, Mother Mary sent me gifts -- memories from childhood seen from a different perspective, spiritual insights, and assignments. See LOVE WARRIOR and PILGRIMAGE, if you haven’t already.

This was not an easy passage for me to travel through. So, I spent a lot of time sitting around with Seven doing laying-on-of-hands healing prayer (Reiki) for her and contemplating. She was such a sweetie, still a demand for attention, as in I couldn’t be gone from the house for more than two hours, but I didn’t mind.

I see now that she had become a “transition child” I needed to occupy myself with as I began adapting to the soon-to-be empty nest and a life in recovery.

On Palm Sunday, Seven lost her appetite and despite our best at-home efforts, she let us know on Holy Wednesday she was ready for us to take care of her one last time.

I spent from Wednesday to Friday somewhat in shock and focused on work and caring for my daughter. Then on Holy Saturday, I felt okay. I felt hopeful. I devoted myself to baking two batches of Communion Bread. I truly believed I had grieved enough for this cat and that on Sunday morning I would be filled with Easter joy.

And then I woke up on Sunday morning filled instead with a deep sadness and disappointment in myself. I cried three times before church. Then I cried there when two soul friends sat with me and gave space to my sadness and spoke about how they too had Easter-time losses, so they got me.

It pleased me to see my plentiful loaves of bread being consecrated and shared among so many regulars and visitors. I received Holy Communion. And still, no joy.

I was so embarrassed by my tears for a cat on Easter Sunday, I went to the lady’s room to hide.

As I wept, I prayed, “I’m sorry, Lord. I know she was just a cat.”  

He answered me, “Yeah, but she was yours.”

My dejected tears turned joyful with relief because He understood me. He called me close to Him, encouraged me, and listened.

I was so overwhelmed by His words, I cried most of the rest of the day.
..........

I told this story to a soul friend. When I got to the end and am crying as I relive it, she starts asking me questions:

“So that message you received in the Ladies Room at church, how did you receive it? Was it a coin on the floor, or something someone left near the sink, or a song playing over the loudspeaker? Did a butterfly land on a window? Did you see a cardinal outside?”

“No. I heard it in my head. The words just came to me.”

“Oh. Who’s “he?” Was it St. Francis, or St. Anthony, or St. Joseph?”

“No.”

“Was it Archangel Michael?”

“No.”

“Well, then . . .”

“It was Jesus.”

“Uh huh. And when did you hear His voice?”

“Shortly after receiving the Eucharist.”

“So, He had been made know to you . . .”

“In the breaking of the bread. Oh. My. God. It’s Jesus. He’s the Mate of my Soul.”

“This is what I’m saying.”

. . . . . . .

Confession: The above conversation happened between me and me (because I finally understand I’m a pretty cool person to hang out with) after two weeks’ worth of sitting around with my backup cat (whom, thankfully, has upped her game) and a pile of National Geographic magazines, upon reading a timely Gospel passage and homily.

Sometimes, I’m a bit slow on the uptake. But, you know, this is an unbelievably overwhelming new reality for me. I cannot describe my feelings literally or metaphorically. I’m not used to this intense level of Divine Love.

On top of all that, a soul friend told me he had reached a deeper connection to Jesus through my writing.

Wait. What? Who me? The slow on the uptake one? The one who knew Jesus was in her heart, but couldn’t hear Him speaking? The one who could only decipher messages sent by Him delivered via signs from Mother Mary, the Saints, and Angels because of all the boulders on the path between us? My writing?

In a word, yes.

Again, my mind is boggled.

I can’t . . . I don’t know how . . . It’s too much.

I need time.

Time to be with my Lord through His Word.

Time to retreat, travel, contemplate, and adapt.

Time to read books, mountain trails, social media, photographs, magazines, shorelines, expressions, horizons . . .

Time to reread my own writings from a new perspective and think, how did I come up with that? Oh right. I had help.

I remember this happened last year when I reread my St. Anthony from 2012. I was amazed at how well I wrote when I was still so spiritually clueless. I realize now the cluelessness was not lack of intelligence, it was addiction. That addiction had to get all up in my face and block my view of the road, until I finally had no choice but to deal with it. And so, I dealt with it.

In his SUNDAY SERMONS, St. Anthony preached about the sweetness of Jesus: 

The fruit of the bee is the Son of the Virgin. Blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Luke 1.42), it says; and Canticles 2: His fruit was sweet to my palate (Cant. 2.3). This fruit is sweet in its beginning, middle and end. It was sweet in the womb, sweet in the crib, sweet in the temple, sweet in Egypt, sweet in his Baptism, sweet in the desert, sweet in the word, sweet in miracles, sweet on the ass, sweet in the scourging, sweet on the Cross, sweet in the tomb, sweet in hell, and sweet in heaven. O sweet Jesus, what is more sweet than you are?

Maybe I enjoy baking sweets so much because when I share them, I’m mystically sharing the sweetness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s okay if you don’t see it that way. But for me, it’s a baby step in the right direction.

And so, let’s bake:

Chocolate Brownies

Use a metal, not glass, pan. Or, else!

Ingredients

¾ cup baking cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup butter, melted separately
½ boiling water
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions

 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place sheet of parchment paper into 13 x 9 metal baking pan. (Avoid glass pans as they cause uneven baking.)
 2. Combine cocoa and baking soda in a large bowl.
 3. Blend in first 1/3 cup butter.
 4. Add boiling water and stir until blended.
 5. Stir in sugars.
 6. Beat eggs, vanilla, and second cup of butter together. Stir into mixture.
 7. Combine flour and salt in a small bowl. Stir into mixture.
 8. Stir in chocolate chips.
 9. Pour batter into pan.
10. Bake 35-45 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick in the center. If it comes out with only a few crumbs on it, they’re done.
11. Cool in pan on wire rack for one hour.
12. Carefully lift out of pan by the edges of the parchment paper. Place onto cutting board and slice into 36 pieces.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

PILGRIMAGE: MY SEARCH FOR THE REAL POPE FRANCIS, MARK K. SHRIVER, AND PASTAFROLA (QUINCE JAM PIE) Spiritual Journey Book Review

With my grandmother Antoinetta Nolletti who dedicated me to Mary a long time ago.

PILGRIMAGE: MY SEARCH FOR THE REAL POPE FRANCIS, by Mark K. Shriver is a four-star, spiritual journey of the author’s attempt to figure out Pope Francis. Spoiler: He does it! Highly recommend!

Now, because this is my blog and I can stray from its made-up-by-me prescribed form, I’m going to share something that happened after posting my recent LOVE WARRIOR. I experienced a seismic shift in my being. It was as if I climbed over the biggest boulder on my spiritual path and the view was now completely different. But the climb -- writing and posting it was difficult. I experienced real fear. And then, I spent the first three days waiting for the fallout to happen, waiting for the negative judgement and disapproval. And when it didn’t happen, I took a deep breath, wrote a few letters, and did some long overdue chores.

I didn’t know what do with myself in light of my enlightenment about my addiction to shame avoidance/people pleasing/approval seeking. This addiction was nurtured in me, a born empath with an abusive, food-addicted mother who routinely threatened abandonment yet loved me with all her heart and an enabler father who regularly ordered, “Stop it! You’re right. But just do what Mom says.” Both had alcoholism in their families. The cycle is relentless.

Nevertheless, I broke it. I raised my children, not how I was raised, but how I should have been raised. They are gifted with empathic abilities and are excellent emotional caretakers of those in need. However, neither one truly gives a rat’s ass about what other people think of them. They are well acquainted with their authentic selves and so is everyone else. This is my greatest accomplishment.

But back to not knowing what to do with my own authentic self, maybe I was supposed to start a new post. Certainly, I wasn’t supposed to do what I really wanted to do which was laze around with a pile of magazines. And then I woke up on the fifth day with anxiety growing in the pit of my stomach. I believed this was “urgency from above” for me to read this Pope Francis book as fast as possible so I could write and share a post before Easter. That way, I’d have a “nice” post at the top of my blog list and not the f-bomb-filled-calling-out-of-folks that is my LOVE WARRIOR post.

At the same time, I was so tired. I really didn’t want to work so hard at the research and writing thing. But the anxiety increased and my immediately right now deadline loomed. So naturally, I distracted myself with too much social media, and there I saw a friend’s post in which he generally encouraged relaxation.

Normally, I reject any and all forms of anyone telling me to relax because when they are speaking to me, they usually mean “shut up.” As in, “That injustice you’re ranting about doesn’t really matter, so you should just relax about it.”

But this time it was different. I focused in and felt an angel put a hand on my heart and whisper, “Calm down. Breathe. Wait.”

And I did. I was able to do it! I put the book aside and relaxed with my family over the weekend. And I prayed. And I contemplated. And then my own words from my LOVE WARRIOR post smacked me in the face: “Let go of your ego and your fear of what people think about the real you. Quiet down and be still.”

I felt as if my friend had led me out of the bar and stood with me in the street until I recognized exactly where I had ended up. Again.

DAMMIT! You know, I gotta tell you, addiction sucks.

Wait. Let me do it authentically -- addiction fucking sucks.

Now, weeks later, I understand better that recovery takes practice. And help. And relapses. And practice, and help, and recognition, and baby steps of success. So, it is with great pride that I announce it took me a long time to finish reading the book and writing this post. It was, in fact, not a priority at all as I chose a deadline (because I make up my own deadlines because it’s my own blog) that was after Easter Sunday.

And, I’m learning to recognize the difference in the feeling of anxiety to produce an approval-seeking written work and the feeling of peaceful flow in divine written mission.


PILGRIMAGE: MY SEARCH FOR THE REAL POPE FRANCIS is more like an in-depth piece of journalistic research and less like a story which is why I highly recommend it but only give it four out of five stars. I’m a sucker for stories, especially stories that change my life such as LOVE WARRIOR by Glennon Doyle Melton.

As I transitioned my way between these two books, an expression I learned from a writer friend kept popping up, “Never ruin a good story with the truth.” Not that we should lie in our non-fiction works, but most of the truth should be skipped over because it’s boring.

And when I apply that rule to LOVE WARRIOR, I realized that Glennon glossed over the parts of her life story in which she studied, did the work, and earned a teaching degree in college. Colleges really don’t just hand these things out. Furthermore, she also held on to a teaching job and her students loved her. I get why she didn’t focus on these facts in her book, but it’s important for some of us to realize that we can have “hidden” addictions and still manage to do a pretty good job at the life thing. It seems like we’re fine, but we’re not.

Right, so. Pope Francis.

Pope Francis’s former name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He was born and raised by Italian immigrants in Buenos Aries, Argentina. His grandmother was devout and dedicated to celebrating the Saints and venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary among other “theology of the people” ways of worshiping, living her life, and teaching her grandchildren.

Jorge discerned his Call was coming via St. Ignatius and he was to become a Jesuit. In general, Jesuits are sophisticated and learned theologians striving to help as many people in as many societies as possible. The path to becoming a full Jesuit is well marked and takes about 12 years.

Jorge followed this path and found himself the head of a Jesuit school, Colegio Maximo, for many years where he had, let’s just say, some leadership issues. As in, he wasn’t good at it -- too stern, too authoritative.

So, he was transferred out of leadership and out of his beloved Buenos Aries.

I’m skipping a lot of the details, but what’s important is the marriage of the Jesuit theology and the everyday-person theology within Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Mark Shriver goes deep into his process of uncovering exactly what makes Pope Francis tick. This marriage within Jorge are the workings fueled by the Holy Spirit that made him repent his former leadership style and give up his Jesuit brotherhood to heed the call to become a bishop-at-large and follow a path that led to his current position.

That’s the gist, but I left out all the good parts about Jorge talking, helping, praying, and fighting for regular people. Especially the poor.

Mark interviewed many people who were connected to Jorge before he became pope and this is my favorite story. It’s told by Rabbi Alejandro Avruj of Comunidad Amijai, a congregation of Conservative Judaism in Buenos Aires who had many stories to tell Mark of working with Jorge Bergoglio, Bishop of Buenos Aires, before he became Francisco. Before, when his boots on the ground were shoes in the garbage of a shanty town where their joint efforts created a soup kitchen.

Later Rabbi Avruj and some social-activist fellows:

traveled together with about a hundred other people to visit the same places Francis was visiting in Jordan and Israel in May 2014, although they were not part of the official papal delegation. The rabbi told me that the trip itself sent “an unbelievable message. An unbelievable message! In two thousand years, the first time a pope went to Israel was John Paul II, twenty years after he became pope. For Francis, it was one of his first trips. Unbelievable!

We were in Jordan, it was the first place he went, and in Amman, they held this very impressive mass in the football stadium. There were about thirty or forty thousand people—people crying, people singing, flags—it was unbelievable. And I imagine that the forty thousand people in that stadium were the only forty thousand Catholics in all of Jordan!” He laughed. “Yes, ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim. It was unbelievable. And when Bergoglio left the stadium, he began to go out in the popemobile, and then he saw me and stopped the car, and the Jordanians and the guards of the Vatican, they were going crazy, and he called to me, ‘Hey, hello!’”

The rabbi’s voice got louder and he started to gesticulate wildly.
As he was talking, I remembered Pope Francis saying in an interview that he was not accustomed to speaking to so many people; “I manage to look at individual persons, one at a time, to enter into personal contact with whomever I have in front of me. I’m not used to the masses.” When I first read those words, I thought there was no way he could focus on an individual person, but listening to this unbelievable story, I thought maybe both were telling the truth, as hard as it is to believe.

“Then I thought, in a country where ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim, with the only forty thousand Catholic people there, Bergoglio gets out of the popemobile to hug a rabbi. It’s crazy! It’s crazy! It’s impossible.”

The rabbi jumped up, smiling and laughing.

“Imagine—here’s a guard with a gun, and I say to the guy, ‘Uh, the pope is calling me.’ He’s a Jordanian guy, I don’t know what language he speaks, and there are the Vatican guards. Somebody took me inside the barricade. I was with this friend of mine, right? Imagine, I have the pope there”—he gestured with his right hand—“and my friend here”—he gestured with his left hand—“with all the guards pushing him to keep him from coming with me. What do you do? What do you do? He’s the pope, I mean--”

I interrupted. “So you were being pushed toward the pope, who has gotten out of the popemobile to see you, and you are worried about your pal getting crushed by the security guards. Why are you worried about your friend?”

“I went for my friend because he had the camera,” the rabbi replied.

He laughed, hard, and so did I. The timing of the punchline was perfect. A seasoned comedian couldn’t have delivered it any better.

“Afterward, my friend says, ‘All those guys that go to the Vatican, they go and they have a solemn picture taken with the pope, you know, but this picture, with this smile, it was like—we were in the middle of the 21 shantytown.’”

“So what happened then?” I asked.

“He got out. I hadn’t seen him for a year and a half, but a lot of things happened during that time with this guy, right?” He shrugged and smiled sheepishly, accentuating the absurdity of the statement. “You have like twenty seconds to say something to the most important person in the world. What do you say to him in those twenty seconds? What do you say?”

“What did you say?” I asked.

“Ah, good question.” He enjoyed stringing me along. “I was there and I was thinking I needed a theological phrase for the ages, right? The perfect phrase. And before I could say anything he said, “Hey, Alé, how’s the family?’ He moved me twice in one minute. Right? Because first he stopped everything to talk to me, and then he asked the last question I would think of: ‘Hey, your family, how are they?’”

The room became quiet. Avruj stared at me, dumbfounded by the pope’s surprising question. Then he broke the silence. “I thought, what are you talking about? I said, ‘Well, good, the children have been asking after you.’”

His voice trailed off. He wasn’t smiling or animated now. He just looked at me, again, for a few seconds in silence.

“Maybe this is the big question we have to ask, ‘How’s the family?’ Because we are all family. This is the question, right?”

I looked into the rabbi’s eyes and I could see that he was tearing up. He was silent again.

“How’s the family?” he said again softly.

I understood the rabbi’s desire to come up with the most important, memorable thing to say to one of the most influential people in the world. It was a chance to impress the man, to make himself seem intelligent and insightful—that’s what I would have wanted to do. But what came out of the pope’s mouth was a purely human question: How is your family? There they were, in the Middle East, The Holy Land to the three major religions of the world, and Pope Francis asks him the simplest, yet most important, of questions.

Avruj broke the silence, saying that he hoped that when the pope had a meeting with the head of Israel and the head of Palestine, “maybe he will ask the same question, ‘Hey, how is your family?’ And maybe if they answer that question—well, maybe peace will come. It depends on how they answer the question about their family.”

He went quiet again for a few seconds, then shook his head as though to snap himself back to the present.

“And as a result of this trip, with the hundred of people that went with us, we raised the money to open two new soup kitchens.”
                                                        Pilgrimage, Page 192-195

This passage explains everything I need to know about a spiritual leader who chose the name of my beloved birthday patron, St. Francis of Assisi whom Jesus instructed, “Rebuild my church for it is in disrepair."

Speaking of the Roman Catholic Church, there was a moment when I was reading the section about Vatican I and Vatican II in PILGRIMAGE, when I thought, This is it. I’m taking that Roman Catholic confirmation class I missed out on right now as I’m reading this book.

And then I looked out the window and instead of a backyard koi pond and bird feeders, I saw my childhood front yard and across the street my best friend getting in the car with her mom. I remembered thinking that I had asked my mom to sign me up for the class three times. I told her how easy it would be to carpool. But, she didn’t do it. I watched them back up and drive off to confirmation class without me. And I knew somehow that it was over for me and church.

At the time, I didn’t even cry. It’s easy to accept not having your needs met if you’re raised to believe your needs aren’t worthy of attention. This caused me to forgive so quickly there was no accountability, amends making, or changing of behavior. Also, my parents couldn’t handle being called out on anything. Ever.

Sometimes when I tell someone about another’s treatment of me, their immediate response is, “Why did they do that to you?” And in answering the question I find myself cutting slack and taking blame. So, why didn’t my parents summon up enough effort to make a phone call and carpool me to confirmation class? It doesn’t matter. That is not my part of the story. Furthermore, I don’t believe I will answer the “Why did they do that to you?” question ever again.   

What matters is missing out on that class as a young teenager caused a twenty-year separation between me and church. And, as I looked out at our koi pond garden from my spot on the couch with my miracle cat beside me and her tail on my belly, I wept.

In my early thirties, I became an Episcopalian through a simple compromise with my Congregational-raised husband and a promise to our future children to raise them in church. My roots are now firmly planted in the Episcopal Church, primarily because everyone is welcome at the Communion Table.

And yet. Something unexplainable continued to draw me to Roman Catholicism. I figured it out when I was reading Brené Brown’s book on shame early in my spiritual journey. It was a memory of the priest at my first Holy Communion when I was about seven years old.

Somehow, I didn’t understand I also had to make my first confession the same day. So, I climbed into that confessional completely unprepared and terrified.

The priest waited for me to recite the prayer, and all I could do was cry. So, he led me through it, and I repeated it after him. Then he asked me what my sins were. I cried harder because I couldn’t say out loud, I’m just bad, but I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

He asked me if I argued with my brothers. I said, “Yes.” So, he went on from there. And then, horror of horrors, he said he wanted to talk to me outside the church after mass.

I remember exiting the confessional and becoming even more distraught because I had to sit with my class and not with my family. I don’t remember receiving Holy Communion.

On the way outside, I told my family that the priest wanted to talk to me, “I think I’m in trouble.”

He called to me from across the parking lot. Mind you, I didn’t even know his name. He was not my Sunday school teacher. He was The Priest. So, I went over and looked up at him. He got down to my level and said, “Maria, God doesn’t get mad at us if we forget the words to prayers. He knows you are a good girl.” And in that moment, he became Jesus.

Because I was so young I imprinted this subconscious expectation onto all priests. This was the core of my problem with my former rector. He couldn’t be Jesus for me if, at the same time, he was being my disapproving, addictive “parent.”

Damn, this shit is heavy. Everyone break for a cup of tea!    

Quick, come back! It gets better, I promise. Thank God, it gets better.

Look, Jesus shows up for us in people all the time. Whether they’re helping us, or we’re helping them. But because of my First Holy Communion memory, Jesus resonates deeper for me when I recognize Him in a priest:

It happened almost three years ago, a few months after the church group rejection trauma that sparked my spiritual journey, when a seminarian at Winterlight did laying-on-of-hands healing prayers for me. He calmed me down enough to step out of confusion and panic and head towards self-discovery and awakening.

It happened the following summer when I lamented to the chaplain at Youth Week that I was too broken for the Church and he said, “We’re all broken! Jesus is broken! A perfect loaf of bread is useless until it’s broken and shared.”

It happened the next spring when I sent my priest friend a random email about southern sunshine at the exact moment he sent me a FB message about positive reactions to some of my writing. The exact same moment. I mean, what are the odds?!

It happened a couple of months ago, when my rector said to me, “I can tell that you are sometimes still sad and I wonder if you want to talk about it.”

It happened when my retired rector invited me to stay at her house in the mountains because she enjoys my company.

It happened when a priest let me forgive him. And vice versa. Then it happened again when we connected via our mutual devotion to the BVM.

Here’s a thought -- Maybe I’m not seeing these interactions through an over-active-imagination-fueled veil of addiction. Maybe I’m seeing these interactions at their core level where the divinity is. Maybe God IS love. And that’s all there is to it.


Speaking of miracles created from hope, when Jorge Bergoglio was the Rector at Colegio Maximo, he created a parish from a group of people and a shed where he set up an altar and held mass. Mark interviewed Maria del Carmen: 

who was involved from the outset in the creation of San José Patriarch Parish. “The streets at that time were full of potholes. When it rained, there was mud to walk through. Bergoglio could just as well be wearing a boot on one foot and a sneaker on the other because he was not concerned about his shoes. What concerned him were the people, above all, the children, the elderly, the poor. He was a pastor. One could say that it was the golden era because at the time there were many seminarians, many novices, and they would go out on Saturdays and Sundays to work in the neighborhoods, visiting home, ministering to needs."

She teared up at the memory, then wiped her eyes and continued: “We would make empanadas and sell them. Father Bergoglio would knead and bake pastafrola [a typical quince jam pie]. Because the parish progressed, other chapels were built. Father Bergoglio had such a broad and loving vision."

Maria showed me some notes that Bergoglio had signed. She proudly displayed them on a small kitchen table. Some were thank yous to merchants who had donated food or goods to San José Patriarch in the “golden years.” Maria said, “We didn’t have chairs in the parish, we had one little old broken chair, someone must have left it. Bergoglio would say, ‘Don’t worry. The day will come when we will get some chairs. The day will come.’

Well, one day going to work, I ran into a man that owns an important furniture shop in the city, and he said, ‘I can donate some benches, I can donate everything.’ And I returned happy to tell Father Bergoglio that we had benches. Then the floor donations appeared, and all the ceramic tiles, so little by little, the church was completed without any money, because people there were poor and all they could leave were a few coins.

Bergoglio always had a smile when he was given something. He was only concerned with moving forward, and he would always say that I should remember that the best weapon, the best cannon, to which nobody can put up a resistance, are fifty Hail Marys! Yes, the bullets against which there is no protection, right, are fifty Hail Marys. He would say, ‘Remember, fifty Hail Marys, fifty Hail Marys, remember the cannon!’” – Pilgrimage, Page 133-136

Remember also that devoting yourself to an activity in the name of God is prayer in action. So, in honor of Pope Francis who shows us with every beat of his living heart how to be hope for the future in action, let's bake:

Pastafrola (Quince Jam Pie)

(More photos below.)

Note: In Argentina, the easily-available, traditional jam of choice is quince, a fruit similar to apples and pears. I went with pear, which is somewhat exotic yet available in U.S. grocery stores. You can either purchase quince jam in a specialty store or use any fruit jam that appeals.

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), chilled
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup fruit jam

Instructions

 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch pie or tart pan.

 2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

 3. Blend cold butter into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two knives.

 4. Combine eggs, milk, and vanilla together in a cup. Mix with fork. Pour into bowl with dry ingredients.

 5. Mix with clean hands until mixture becomes a uniform ball, not too dry or sticky. (Add a little milk or flour, as needed.)

 6. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until about ½ inch thick. Slide dough into pan. Cut away extra dough so sides of pan are partially exposed.

 7. Spread jam evenly over the dough.

 8. Reform dough scrapes into ball. Roll out to ¼ inch thick or so. Cut into strips and place onto jam in a crisscross pattern.

 9. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 30 minutes, until golden brown.

10. Cool on rack until warm or room temperature. Slice to serve.





Sad News:

Dearworthy readers, you may know our miracle cat, Seven, from my recent Blesseds of Fatima or my earlier Tempting Fate posts. She died in the middle of Holy Week, twelve days after we celebrated her reaching her 17th birthday in great spirits and activity.

There is so much I want to share about God’s grace in Seven’s extended miraculous life and her peaceful passing, but first I need time to do its thing on me.

Meanwhile, I know you understand how sad I am about the loss of this cat we adopted when our baby was 9 months old. I wonder if, in your understanding, you could pray for the baby who grew into a beautiful young woman and misses her “sister” terribly. We’d appreciate it.