Thursday, March 21, 2013

I've written and rewritten this post about fourteen times.
As I do in all my writing,
try to answer the burning questions of my mind, 
not always to FIND answers, 
but a response I am good with.
Or to simply make peace with things I don't understand.
We continue to shirk our responsibilities as the "devoted" Catholics we once were,
the kind our mother's hoped we'd be. 
We're anything but.
Instead choosing pajamas and pancakes over church pews and pastors, come Sunday.
Fumbling around in a new world of raising children without religion, REAL faith or commitment to a particular church.
Unlike the way WE were brought up,
where church, was the center of our being.  Or at least appeared that way.
Can that be okay?  Fumbling?
I find myself returning to this topic.  Not just with myself but with my husband, a majority of my friends, questioning if we really NEED the church or not?
Guilt from our past faith, a lingering shadow following us into adulthood.
But not feeling called or even remotely excited to arrive to a steeple-topped establishment we can call "home."
Are we mostly just lazy in our disconnect from The Church?  Or is there more to it?
Years in to parenting, going as far as to enroll our children in Catholic school, 
performing the rituals of our Old Catholic Faith, Baptisms and now First Communion on the horizon, we continue to "pretend" that we are engaged.
Again, we are anything but.
Unlike the generation of our parents, who still hold a steadfast loyalty to their church,
we tiptoe around, questioning and making excuses for all of it.
I see the similarity to a regular workout routine.
You know you should do it.  You don't want to.
It's a huge pain in the ass to get out of bed early, look presentable and huddle our brood in to a stiff-backed church pew.
SO much easier to fall into sweatpants, the car, and go to breakfast instead. 
BUT.  You always feel a little better about having shown your face.  A feeling of ease and lightheartedness, peace and calm and. . .what is that. . .no shame?  Because you made an appearance?
The feeling can last the rest of the day, but come Monday, you're right back where you were.
Fumbling.
On behalf of our "team," I fully OWN our lack of motivation and call to a praying community that suits us.  I feel no shame about it.
But also wonder, if it's okay?  Is it wrong to NOT go to church?
Instead, screeching wooden chairs close to one another, 
congregating around a small table, plastic cups and plates, a family UNO game while we wait to be served. 
The antithesis of Church and giving and sacrifice.
We really love and have come to find the sacred, 
faith, connection, all the love we could ever hope for, 
huddled around the breakfast table.
We don't want to disappoint or come up short in the eyes of our parents, 
Heaven forbid.
What we REALLY don't want, is to fail our children.
I read a lovely quote in Katrina Kenison's new book, Magical Journey.
A beautiful way to describe becoming a parent. 
"The place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need," theologian Fredrick Buechner suggests.
Becoming a parent instantaneously opens you up to the WORLD, 
you learn of the existence of OTHERS, if you haven't already.
Learning to share and give without receiving,
listening with openness and patience and tolerance when there's none to be found.
This is forced upon you, your own baptism into parenting
the instant that miraculous being breaks through the thin veil that separates life and death.
Can that be enough?  Or do we need to be at church to find perspective, gratitude, to wholeheartedly FEEL our blessings?
Can we believe in God, have faith, sacrifice, WITHOUT going to mass?
Here's what I say.  Yes.
After writing, rewriting and writing again,
I feel okay, good, actually, about where my faith lies.
My daily conversations with God, although tucked neatly in the confines of my mind and not the church itself, 
is enough for me.
It is the fear for our childrens' future, THEIR faith in God and humanity,
that has me questioning whether this attitude is okay.  
If it's just pure laziness or a serious lack of discipline.
Maybe it is.
We cheat by sending them to a school FILLED with Faith and God.
We attend mass on Christmas morning and Easter.  Good, right?
I feel called to so many areas and places in my life. . .the church?  Isn't one.
Can that be okay?  Can THEY and WE still be enough?
I say YES.
As long as we continue to live with humility, gratitude and give back as much as possible.
Not our Sunday mornings to Jesus, $20 to our breakfast bill instead of the breadbasket,
but to the WORLD, as a whole.
Each month we receive a statement from St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital,
a charity I was sucked into on a (very) pregnant Tuesday.
Marlo Thomas inviting me into my worst nightmare as a soon-to-be parent,
the most sad and homely, bald headed little babies,
their sunken, dark eyes, reminding me, this could be us.
I've only heave-cried so hard a few times in adulthood that I can remember.
A cry so hard your eyelids swell and retina's burn, dried of all fluid.
(When Nemo's mom dies, in Finding Nemo, also pregnancy-related angst,
when my husband's younger brother died.  And when my friend found out her baby had Down Syndrome, just days before he was born.) 
As the floodgates unleashed in to my pint o' icecream on this particular, hormonal Tuesday,
I was signed up to donate monthly to the hospital before the commercial had even ended.
Believing we needed to do SOMETHING.  ANYTHING.
I just couldn't sit there and enjoy my Edy's and pretend I didn't just see those little babies and their families suffering without a cure.
We've donated ever since.
Each month, opening that envelope, a receipt for our payment, the image of a new child diagnosed with the unthinkable, I have to force myself not to toss it unopened, ignoring and denying completely, the reality of life and the horrible things that may befall our children.
Oprah sucked me in as well, on an episode she did for Women for Women International.
Since then, (no tears here. . .just a, "My God.  We need to do more," moment.)
I have been linked to a 'sister' of a war-torn country, 
helping to supply her with better health, education and ultimately an income to provide for herself and her family, by setting up a monthly withdrawal, a minimal amount.
I received a letter the other day from "Evelyn" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Who writes me occasionally, keeping me updated on her progress through the WFW program.
Her short sentences, which I'm sure took some time to write and then to be translated, was to tell me she is THANKFUL. 
Her husband is a shoemaker and the overall amount they use is $10 USD a week. 
Little food, little money, no medicine nor clean water, but THANKFUL.  
She said she is a childless woman but hopes that one day, God will provide it.
She writes, "Sister, are you married or not?  If you married, thanks be to God.  But if not, thanks be to God, because he knows everything.  He knows in and out of everybody in this earthly world.  He knows everything that will pass in our life before He even created us."
They are able to make a life for themselves, with faith and support.
I wonder if she attends mass?  Or has a ritual to honor her life and God? 
Or if she is simply, Thankful.
What I'd like to think, is that it doesn't matter how you "show up."
It's not JUST about showing up to mass every Sunday, writing checks, making monthly donations,
it's taking EVERY opportunity as parents, to teach our children
an entire WORLD exists outside of them.
That you can ALWAYS be doing more, that it is our obligation as human beings, to look out for one another, whenever we can.
In the meantime, I'm just a Minnesota mom.
Wanting to do more, but like everyone else, 
caught up in the chaos of my own, self-centered life.
I am typical.
I take my kids to skating lessons
gymnastics and McDonald's.
And like any good, winded woman, allow my children to migrate from ipod, to iphone to wii,
more often than not, to keep a little peace.
I am wasteful and arrogant, unmotivated at times. 
Innately selfish and downright lazy.
(You probably got that by now.)
But I'm a mom mesmerized by the precious skin of my children, 
the beauty of their imperfections,
the lanky and fragile little bodies that house their beating hearts.
The beauty and fragility and blessings of our life, not lost on me.
Not for a second. 
Yet TOTALLY and COMPLETELY AWARE of the struggles of others, big and small.
In the midst of the life we're living, however that may appear to you,
ALWAYS trying harder to do better.  BE MORE.  
GIVE MORE.
And for now?  Perfectly enough.
{Would really love to know how you feel about your faith, the church, mass on Sundays.  If you can't leave a comment here or it doesn't publish, send me a note at ewesterhaus@gmail.com.}




4 comments:

Marie said...

It's more than okay...it's fantastic! I am definitely with you on this. Our experiences are SO similar. And our (former) guilt over the topic is also SO similar. My husband and I have just recently stopped making excuses for why we are not church goers. Now we own it as a conscious choice we're making for our family. It's a very freeing feeling. What a fabulous post!

B. Holmes said...

Beautiful post Liz. Church does not do it for us, but being present, loving parents is the priority at this point. I do what I can do, volunteer where I can, try not to over extend and be a good person. Just trying to enjoy my kids youth and make sure they do too. When they are older time will free up and who knows. To me a Sunday with my family IS church. Thanx for the words & photos.

gabbygrace said...

The never ending church debate- I'm not sure where I stand- I know right- I'm actually grey on this- it's tough- there's something to a ritual and routine that is so valuable in illustrating sacrifice and devotion that I'm not sure our kids will learn without it- as I didn't and my parents were both brought up extremely religious and raised us with none and well...we have none. I cried when I read your tears fell so hard- I can see us on our porch like it was yesterday - we have come a long way :)

Liz said...

Love your comments. Thank you. Grace. . .illustrating sacrifice and devotion. . .i'm holding on to that one. that's what i feel like we're missing, but maybe there are other ways to teach that. thank you marie and barbara.

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