Sunday, July 14, 2019

Reaching Routine

"Would you like an adventure now, or shall we have our tea first?" Peter Pan
Is routine something you struggle with? Are you trying to find a balance between having a schedule and doing spontaneous things? There's a fine line between keeping everything in line and drawing outside the lines. It's a constant challenge and probably something everyone finds difficult at different times of their lives. I don't think there's a secret for success in routine, but just putting in the daily effort to be both productive and spur-of-the-moment with our time.

Routine literally means "a sequence of actions regularly followed." The word "regularly" suggests "for the most part" or "usually." It doesn't say "always," leaving room for the unexpected. Having a routine simply means trying to organize the day. There might be a different way to organize it each day or each week, but it helps to have structure, something that is actually quite challenging to me working from home.

Yet anyone who knows me knows that I'm a list person. I make lists for the month, the week, the day, even the morning and afternoon, for to-dos, for groceries, for trips, for gatherings....and yet I still have trouble with routine. I bought a whiteboard, calendars, planners, and nice felt pens to write the routines on, and I still have trouble. I set small goals, large goals, and try to accomplish something by a certain time and I still have trouble. 

It made me realize that in trying to establish a routine, I was trying to predict/plan for how the day was going to go. We can't always do that. Something inevitably always comes up that is unexpected. There are longer lines in the grocery store. You forget to get gas and that's now on the list. A family member asks for help. A friend calls. Work deadlines creep up on you. You get sick. Etc, etc, etc. But it is in these unexpected moments that we find God and we find joy because we received opportunities to be patient, to be kind, to be helpful, to be responsible, to be the best version of ourselves in the moment.

For in those moments that didn't go according to your plan we discover God's will. There's a comfort in knowing that God knows how the day will be, and He will give you the graces to meet each challenge as it comes. Routine is good, even excellent for trying to make the most of time, but our time is in God's hands and having a break in schedule leaves room for Him to step in.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Lemons Can Make Orange Juice


"If life gives you lemons, make orange juice, and leave life wondering how you did it." I found this quote online and it made me smile. It makes me think of all the curveballs life throws at you and with that the challenge to hit them out of the park. Sometimes when we're dealt a hard hand, it feels like nothing good will come out of it. That's when we have to try something different and maybe unexpected.

The hard things don't always have to be turned into lemonade, sometimes they are just hard. And it's not in the changing or taking away of the hard things, but in the working through it that makes us heroic. I liked this quote because not everyone follows the same path. There are days we don't want to make the lemons into lemonade. We want them to be turned into orange juice. Not by laughing at reality, but proving to the world that God can overcome anything.

I think this quote says, it's ok to be sad sometimes, not to dwell in it, but if you're grieving or went through a traumatic experience, some people expect you to be happy anyway or pretend like you're doing ok. But it's ok to walk that hard road and some days just getting through with one smile will be the greatest triumph you could achieve.

I personally like orange juice more than lemonade anyway. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Trip Sense


There are as many ways of packing for a trip as there are personalities and people. Everyone has a different style and system of going on vacation and what needs to be packed. The items that come along reflect in a small sense what is most important to that person or on the other hand shows what they can live without. 

Whenever I leave home, it strikes me about how simple life really is. You can only fit as much as will fit in a suitcase and a couple other bags, especially if you are flying. To me that emphasizes the saying "you can't take it with you." A vacation is a journey like life is a journey. You realize how little "things" or "stuff" matters when you see how simple life can be without them.

I recently bought a beautiful drawing of a ship, and the quote above is by St Therese, "The world is thy ship and not thy home." It reminds us that we are pilgrims on this earth, on our way to our eternal home. We should make the most of life, not in the sense that we fill every moment with pleasures, but that each moment is lived to the fullest. Like my little red suitcase that has been to England and back, pack light so you have more room for souvenirs. Because even though "you can't take it with you," you want to be able to hold onto a piece of the memory, for that makes up a part of you.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Monastic Minimalism


"Live simply. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Love generously. Leave the rest to God." This is a great rule for life. It gets to the heart of the matter that if we are seeking to serve God, we should trust Him with all our needs, while doing our part to be vessels of charity. 

I like how it starts with "live simply." For if you try not to accumulate things, you are living for the next world. When I was in Carmel, our cell had simply a bed, bench, and a cross on the wall. It was a monastic minimalism so that our lives were fully concentrated on God. In the world, we do need a few more possessions than these, but it is a reminder of the importance of detachment. 

To be detached is not to be "cold" or cut yourself off from others. It means to own things without our hearts being ensnared by them, or to separate our affection from the thing itself. The less our hearts are caught up in the things of the world, the more free they are to attach to the things of heaven.

This is what attracts me to "monastic minimalism" or simply put poverty of heart. There is a freedom that comes with having nothing. For our hearts are filled with God, Who is Everything. Yes we need to have certain things to have a comfortable life, and this is good. It is easy to accumulate however and the religious life reminds us: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Lifestyle, Not a Diet

That moment you lost the weight you were lifting every day.
I hesitated writing this blog post because I didn't want to sound like I'm patting myself on the back, tooting my own horn, or achieved anything of importance. I felt inspired to share this little 30 day journey I had with you because I think it's encouraging to know that things are not as impossible as they may seem. I didn't think it was possible to overcome what I joked was my "sugar addiction." I have been a stress eater on and off, finding food to be an answer to problems. It was something I looked to in order to alleviate suffering...whether it was stress caused by studies, deadlines, family illnesses, loss, loneliness, or anxiety. 

Food should be something to enjoy and a pleasant part of our lives, but I started to feel like it was taking over my life. Ever since I was in the monastery, I felt like I had to eat a lot at each meal because you had to wait till the next one to have something, and it might not be that much when you got there. Even though that was seven years ago, I don't think I ever shook that anxious feeling that came sometimes when I was hungry. 

Then I started to do some reading and learned that stress eating is a form of alleviating negative emotions. I have negative emotions? I found this very interesting and realized I needed to make some changes in my life. Changes not just in eating habits, but changes to bring in those positive emotions. So I called it my "feel better" program. I didn't follow a specific diet because I knew I would give up. I didn't cut out everything that was unhealthy because I'm too chicken to go cold turkey. (See what I did there?) When it came down to it, I knew I needed a lifestyle not a diet. 

My story included three simple things: exercise, food, and recreation. I set my own goal to lose 10 lbs in 30 days and was determined to achieve it. Not just because I wanted to lose a little weight, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could live a different way. I could change my lifestyle. I could be someone who found ways to overcome a problem I was struggling with. That I was the one who made the decisions rather than my anxiety.

Exercise: I exercised every day, mostly 30-45 minutes on a stationary bike and read books while doing so. This is my preferred exercise because it helps the arthritis in my knees (which seems crazy to be talking about at my age). Or I would supplement with walking my dog two miles for about half an hour to change up the scenery. I would also lift (pathetically) 5 lb weights 30 times and did some sit-ups. Starting my morning with these routines helped me both physically and mentally. Now I actually look forward to that time because it jumpstarts my day on a positive note. 

Food: I personally found a high protein/low carb plan to be fruitful and cooked at home. Note, high and low, meaning I still ate carbs but just not as much. Yes, I cut out processed foods and sugary desserts. But here's what I still ate. Breakfast: yogurt and a piece of fruit, or bacon (yes bacon) and an omelet. Lunch: homemade grass fed beef hamburger with pickles and ketchup (except on Fridays ;-). Dinner: pork and asparagus, eggplant parmesan, tacos, chicken and zucchini, or spaghetti and meatballs.  Snacks: fruit (sometimes with whipped cream) cheese, or yogurt. Drinks: sparkling water, black tea, chamomile tea, and water. I also tried intermittent fasting between 5pm and 9am, which is really helpful to reset your system. Wait...you lost weight eating your favorite foods? I believe it is more what I wasn't eating (like processed sugar) than what I did eat, which still could be healthier. I admit I found it important to cheat once a week with a hot fudge sundae to keep me going ;-) A shoutout to Urban Cookhouse for my sometimes getting healthy meals out!

Recreation: This was the most important to me. I started to create a regular sleep schedule of about 8-9 hours, as well as a routine for myself during the day--a harder challenge when working from home. I would do something relaxing in the evening (not on a screen) like reading or doing puzzles or socializing. I utilized coping skills that I found helpful at stressful moments (one of which was rearranging my whole house). I prayed a LOT. I planned meals ahead and tried to only buy what was on my grocery list. I spent time with supportive family and friends (one of whom was my accountability coach and inspired me in the first place!), and ultimately tried to keep things in perspective.

So what's the point of all this? That if you find yourself struggling with something similar and feel it is unachievable, I want to say you can do it. Goals are possible. That cliche saying of "you can do anything if you set your mind to it" is so true. You just have to want the goal more than what you are giving up.

So do I still go out to eat sometimes? Yes. Do I still eat that occasional hot fudge sundae? Yes. Was it hard to get through the 30 days? Yes. But! Does being hungry bother me like it used to? No. Is food still the answer to my stress? No. It was by filling my life with positive outlets that gave me the answer. Then food became a part of my life rather than my life. I hope I am the better for it.

May this journey of mine helps readers out there in some way! 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Come Holy Ghost


Most people know the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. I think what is often overlooked are the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. These are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continence, and chastity.

The great feast of Pentecost is an opportunity to ask for both the gifts and the fruits. One of the fruits that stands out the most to me is peace. God's presence, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls, brings the only true and lasting peace to our lives. Peace is the foil to anxiety. I have a feeling it is easier to worry than not to, but harder to be at peace and worry at the same time.

If peace is a "freedom from disturbance" as a literal definition, then the peace that God gives is true freedom indeed. He is the calm amidst the storm and there is not a single person on this earth who does not wish for that calm. What is unfortunate is people often look for it in ways it cannot be found. So if the source of peace is God's grace, then we carry that with us in all moments of our life when our will is united to His. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Rearrange as Change


I recently discovered a list of coping skills that are helpful for those moments when life is challenging (which in my case is dealing with grief from losing my uncle). One of these was to rearrange a room, which created a domino effect of rearranging the whole house for myself. It is an idea for adding a little change to the ordinary and making the space feel fresh. I found it really helpful, for one it felt like I had all new furniture, for another it felt like a new day, and still more made me appreciate that change can be a good thing.

It's hard when you lose someone to adjust to the life without that person physically in it. It's like finding a new normal and trying to fill a void that you don't want to have to fill. It's acceptance and denial, finding you trying to rationalize and remember. There's moments where you replay the past to preserve it into the future. There's days when you can almost hear their voice or see their smile, or days when you grasp at memories before they slip away.

So rearranging a room reminds me of having to rearrange my life, rearrange my schedule, rearrange my affection so that it is directed to a person who can see it all when he couldn't before. He can see the new arrangement of the room and I can hear him say he would like the swivel chairs, the family photos, the view of the backyard, and Teddy asleep in the corner. Yes change is good, change is growth, change reminds you that life is passing and we belong in a place above.