Faith Versus Religion

I’ve recently made a new friend who has, unintentionally, made me call up my eternal debate between faith versus religion. Growing up I was raised in a household that had faith. We were taught to believe in God. There were Bibles around. The ultimate commandment though in our home, was love. We did not subscribe to a Christian belief system to the extent that we ever said it was the only way to believe in God. I was raised to respect all religions equally. I am so very grateful to my parents and family for raising us the way they did.

My mother’s family was Catholic, as most good Italian families are. My great Aunt Theresa was even a nun. I remember visiting her at the convent as a child. Well, to be honest I remember Sister Peanuts more (that was her nickname), a beautiful African American nun that took a liking to me. She even made me a teddy bear that I have to this day. However, by the time my mother came along, the family’s church attendance had steeply fallen off. My mother made her first communion and that was it.

My father is Lutheran. He sought out the word of God and attended church with some relatives. He made his confirmation. It was his choice to do so. I think it is beautiful that he chose  to go to church, to make his conformation, to go through all of that. I feel like most people I know who have done the same did so because it was expected, because their parents or someone else in their life made them. Choice is truly a beautiful thing.

That brings me to, well, me. Like I said, I was raised in a loosely Christian household. We would often talk about other belief systems. I attended classes held by my Native American neighbors through the cultural program of our school, and we discussed that too. It seemed to me that all the different ways of believing in God were different roads to the same end place. I loved learning about God, in many different forms and ways.

Enter high school. At that point in my life things changed a bit. My parents didn’t like the local public school option so they found a Christian high school to send me to. It was such culture shock to me, going from public school my entire life, not being a church goer, and suddenly thrust into a church based school. I had mixed feelings about it (as I do most things in life). On the one hand, I was loving and embracing learning about God on a daily basis. I felt kind of on fire for the Lord. Then… there was the other part of it. I remember being around all these kids who had gone to Christian schools their whole lives who didn’t quite seem to fit the teachings of God. High school kids were still high school kids.  The judgement, the manipulation, the cliques, all of those charming traits were very much present. They could quote the Bible all over the place but they weren’t exactly living it.

As for me? Well, I was human. I was cruel at times. I was compassionate at times. I loved learning about God but I also felt like a black sheep too. My views were a tad too liberal. I was too accepting, too open to other view points. I was essentially told I was wrong. Lovely. Still, the school and the teachings got to me. I wanted to lead a Godly life. I even thought at some point I could join a church.

This lasted until about the age of 22 or 23. That is when I started to let go of what I call, “the Christian brainwashing.” I was realizing that I couldn’t fundamentally agree with everything in the Bible or any church. I spent years trying to figure out how a religion that is based on love and acceptance and NOT judging could condemn so many. If I were to believe something fully, how would I feel about x,y,z?

A major turning point for me came when I ran into someone from high school who was still a “good Christian girl,” though I am pretty certain that she was no longer chaste among other sins. She sat there talking about a classmate of ours that had come out as gay and was now married. She had been very close to this person in high school but now felt she couldn’t be because he was gay and that was wrong. God says so. Not her exact wording but that was the gist of it. I was shocked. How could she turn her back on someone because of that? I have an aunt that is a lesbian. Some of my closest friends are. I would never abandon a person because they are gay. How is that God’s teaching? How is that love?

Over time I pondered many arguments about God, religion, spirituality, faith, etc. Right or wrong, this is what I have come up with. During all of my questioning or soul searching, I’ve never doubted God or His existence. I feel closer to God witnessing compassion between two strangers, or the love of an animal, or a gorgeous blue sky, or a gentle breeze on a Summer’s day then I ever have in any church. It seems to me that most religions out there have the same basic ideas. It also seems to me that if you compare history to religious books, there have been times when some of the rules and regulations of said religions coincides with earthly profits. Meaning that some of the stuff in there seems to have benefitted the author’s family or friends to such a point that it seems hard to believe man didn’t distort the word of God here and there for their own gain. Heck, kind of like nowadays…

I know, without a shadow of doubt in my heart that there is something greater than myself. Even science has its limitations. Miracles happen. I believe in an afterlife. I believe in God. I will not however, say that the way I believe is right or wrong over anyone else’s beliefs. I only know what is in my heart. I know that nearly every culture has always believed in something greater than themselves. We can’t all be wrong. So can’t we all be right? What if God shows Himself to people in the way they can understand? What if it isn’t about a book and living a certain set of rules but rather, following the golden rule. Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you.  I pray nightly, I do read the Bible on occasion but I can’t support the church. I may attend here and there. I think churches can offer something truly beautiful. I just don’t think they are the only way to be a believer, nor is any one religion the sole path to salvation. I support gay marriage and even plural marriage (assuming no child brides or other abuse is present). I believe in the tenant of love. I believe that God speaks to people in His own way so that they can understand. I believe that God is present and active in my life and He is leading me to where I belong.

Ghosts of Infatuations Past Part 1

Well it seems to me that any time a person wants to move forward in life they have to be willing to let go of the past. I am hoping to find the courage to let someone into my life this year. Which means, I must purge myself of the ghosts from my past. I figure I can do a series of entries based on the men that held my attention over the years. Perhaps if I analyze them one more time I can prevent history from repeating itself. Here goes…

CM was my first major crush/infatuation as an adult. I met him when I was 18 or 19 years old. He was the roommate of my boss. I remember the first time I ever saw him I thought he was one of the most attractive men I had ever seen. He had dimples, dark hair, dark brown eyes, a wicked smile. He was short but taller than me, broad shouldered. I never ever for a moment thought he would ever be interested in me. (Thank you low self esteem). The other women at work all thought he was hot too. We’d check him out together whenever he came in. 

My boss had invited me to hang out several times at his place. My boss was interested in dating me but the feeling was not mutual. However, after seeing CM I had new motivation to hang out at his house. I wanted to see CM again. Over time a flirtation developed and while CM was definitely showing an interest in me, I didn’t trust myself to believe it. I remember the one morning I came in to work and he had left a note. Another day he came through the drive thru and hit on me. I was still insecure but man could he brighten my day.

As time went on I finally trusted and believed in CM’s interest in me. I was elated. The thought of him put me on cloud nine. I was a grinning school girl when it came to him, totally smitten.  I was terrified. For one thing, CM was 8 years older than me. He was already divorced and a father to two small kids. He had had his heart trampled on by a woman he had loved. He was betrayed by his best friend and his spouse. I was scared that my family wouldn’t approve, even though my own parents were 8 years apart in age. It wasn’t just the age though, it was his divorce, his children, his emotional baggage. 

I remember one day growing enough balls to say I was going over to his house to see him. I didn’t call first though, I was too scared. I showed up at his doorstep and he answered but came out on the porch. He didn’t invite me in the house. He said he had to get to class and some story or other but he was really glad I had stopped by. The next day at work my boss made a point to tell me the reason CM didn’t invite me in was because he had a woman in the house. I was crestfallen to say the least.

Our little infatuation/flirtation, whatever one would like to call it when on until I was 22 years old. It was the same old dance, I’d keep him close enough to not lose him but never close enough to be worth it either. We never once during that time so much as kissed. We hung out several times, talked on the phone here and there but that was it. I was too scared to get involved with him. I knew that if I did things would get serious very quickly. I knew that I was far too young to be in that relationship. I was too young to take on his two kids (whom I adored by the way). But I couldn’t stay away from him either…

Finally when I was 22 he told me that he was done chasing me. He said a man’s ego could only take so much and if I wanted to be with him, it was up to me to chase him. He was done. I was 22, young, arrogant, cocky. It didn’t phase me what he said. I kind of shrugged it off and laughed. After all, we’d been doing this dance for four years. I felt confident that when I was ready, he would be there. I truly believed him and I would end up together one day, when I was ready. When I was sure that I had had enough life experience to be able to be with him, to settle down, to be what he would need. I knew I couldn’t get involved with him too soon or he’d end up hurt. I couldn’t risk hurting him, I cared about him far too much. I knew if I got together with him before I was ready, I’d wake up one day and feel the need to run. To claim my life for me. 

About a year later I was finally ready. I was 23 and felt confident with the direction my life was taking. I felt good about where I was and I finally felt like I could let him in and have a relationship. Unfortunately I was a year too late. In the time it took me to grow up, he had moved on and found someone new. They were in a serious relationship. The funny thing was, she was even younger than me. I remember I kept in touch with him sporadically after that, waiting and hoping that they would break up. CM and I were meant to be together. I was sure of it. 

Eventually they did break up and I thought we could have our shot. Instead, he was a mess. A total, complete mess over her. I realized then that I had missed my shot and it hurt more than I imagined it could. Sometime after that we lost touch. I heard through a mutual friend he had found someone new. He ended up married a second time despite swearing he’d never get married again. They even have a kid together. 

I ran into CM one evening with his wife and baby while out at the store. I was in scrubby clothes, my hair and make up not done, about fifteen pounds heavier since the last time I saw him. I figured out who it was, and I’m pretty sure he recognized me but I never went to talk to him. It was too painful, I had cared for him too deeply even if I never let him know how much. 

I still wonder how he is doing from time to time. I wonder what my life would be like had I let him in? Sometimes when I think of him it makes me a little sad but then I remind myself there were issues there that kept me from letting him in. Valid issues. Like his use of the “N-word.” (unacceptable in my book). Or how he’d let his young children watch rated R movies with him. His negative views on women thanks to the damage inflicted by his first wife. Most importantly was the fact I wasn’t ready at the time and I had the sense to not get into something I couldn’t handle. I may always wonder what if but I know in my heart, as much as I cared for him, we are both better off apart.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Grief. Loss. Sadness. Misery. Sorrow. Pain. Heartache. Torment. Mourning. I don’t care what you call it, it sucks. I don’t think anyone can truly, fully, love or appreciate a person until they are gone, which also sucks by the way. We all hear the sayings, “Life is short, live each day as if it were your last, if you love someone let them know, you’ll never know how long you’ll have them.” The list could go on forever. What doesn’t however is life, love, friendships, precious moments in time that end all too soon.

Yes, I am in a bit of a melancholy mood this evening. I’m missing my Grams. I miss my Papa. I miss my Aunt Marianne. I miss Aunt Mickey. I miss the relatives I’ve heard stories about and never had the pleasure of meeting thanks to cancer or drunk driving accidents, heart attacks, or old age. I am missing the friendships that have faded, the dreams we used to have. No matter what you want to call grief or loss it all hurts the same.

The other morning I woke up in my bed and had a moment of confusion. Where was I?  For a moment I almost felt like I was in my old twin bed at my parents’ home, in the room I shared with my sister. Then realization hit me that I was in my bed in Gram’s house. Then another realization hit. Gram is gone and this is now my house, although, it will always be theirs in a sense. This home was their love and their dream. I’m honored to be a part of it. Still, that one little moment kicked my mourning back into the present. I will grieve for the ones I’ve lost for the rest of my life. It never really ends. Some days will be better than others. Some days will be pretty grim. 

Loss is hard. When someone comes into your life and changes it, or helps to mold you into the person you are meant to be, they leave a mark. They become a part of you. My family will always be a part of me whether they are the ones who are still living and breathing or the ones who have passed on. The friendships I’ve cultivated and lost have formed me, for better or worse. The men I have chosen to give my affection to, while they may not always have known the extent of my feelings, they are a part of me, including the loss of them. Letting go is painful.

I remember when my ex and I broke up, as I was sobbing and a mess, my father asked me, “Does it hurt?” In that moment, I was shocked he would ask such a silly question. Obviously, it hurt. Were the tears on my cheeks, the swollen puffy face, the snotting, sobbing mess in front of him not enough proof? Luckily, I only answered with, “Yes.” His answer struck a chord in me and I am still so thankful I answered him simply and without sarcasm or attitude. He said, “Then it was real.” 

Only if we love someone can we be hurt by their absence. Right now, I am taking stock of my losses, saying prayers of thanks for being in my life at all, and trying to move forward. I am attempting to focus on the good times and let the bad memories simply vanish into the sunset. After all, when it is all said and done, who wants to hold onto the negative?  So that is my evening as I drink some wine and reminisce, missing all the people I’ve loved and lost.

Changed

People change. I’ve changed. I’m no longer the same person I was in high school, or college, or the years following. I am still ME but as life throws us curveballs, different experiences, and friendships that lead us down different paths, we change. So… I’ve changed. 

When I was younger I had this fire in me and a desperate need to prove myself. To some degree, I still do, but its been tempered with age. I am a talker but I’ve been trying to hone my listening skills. Let’s be honest, I know me and what goes on in my head, what is of greater interest is what I don’t know, which is others, and that requires listening. I still have a fire and a drive but it’s not as reckless now. I try to consider the things I say and how it will affect others. I used to go for the shock factor and now, I am toning it down.

I have always looked younger than my age, and God willing, I always will. Good genes in my family. When  I was in my late teens and early twenties I hated it though. I felt like I was being treated with kid gloves because I looked young and sounded young. So I cursed. Profusely. The “f-word,” is still a standby. I tend to have a dirty sense of humor and a flirty personality so I used those to my advantage as well. 

I didn’t want to be treated as a kid so I tried very hard to prove I wasn’t. What did it get me? I was finally treated as an adult woman in the sense that the pervs in the restaurant industry wouldn’t hold back their lewd comments around me. I think being handled with kid gloves would have been better rather than hear their thoughts on fidelity and women as merely sexual objects.

In retrospect, while some of the guys were actually dogs, most of it was locker-room talk. The objectifying of women and the notion that if a wife doesn’t put out for her husband, then rest assured he was going to get it from some where. Or maybe they really did feel that way about relationships. I was never involved with any them so I couldn’t say for sure. All I know is that it damaged my opinion of men for years.

For a long time I’ve fancied myself a bit of a nomad at heart, deeming myself quirky and flighty, unreliable. Traits that I thought were charming and fit the lifestyle of a writer, an artist, a poet. I based it on the fact I could never seem to find my niche, I’m never satisfied. I’m always looking for the next job, next adventure, next infatuation. While I know that I will always look to what is next I’ve changed in the sense I’m making sure to enjoy the present. I’m still a nomad at heart and definitely quirky but I’m content. I like the life I’ve carved out. 

I’ve pondered countless career choices over the years. I have many varied interests but when it comes down to it, when I consider going to college to be a teacher or a lawyer or law enforcement or vet tech or dog trainer, I realize I don’t want to do any of those things. I am passionate about and intrigued by all  of those ideas but the reality is: none of those careers would hold my interest forever. I need to write. 

Writing is my calling even if I never get published. Perhaps the only thing I will write is this blog, my journal, and emails to friends. Short stories or poems that I save on my computer and rarely share with others. That’s ok. The act of writing is personal to the writer and it brings me joy. If I do go back to college it would be as an English major. I could see myself being a lawyer, or a teacher, or going into law enforcement, or dog training but with all those careers, I see myself burning out. With writing, I can be all of those things if I choose to. Knowing that my drive for all those scattered interests doesn’t mean I am meant to be any of those things leaves me calmer, more peaceful.

I’m more aware of what works for me and what doesn’t. I’m more vocal about my needs and my weaknesses. I think I’ve grown more caring over the years. I’ve tamed the inner bitch that seethed with rage, always looking for a victim. I’ve shared some of the deepest, darkest parts of my inner being and found that despite the ugliness inside of me, the people I love are still here. 

When I was younger I was so scared of losing the fire inside of me. I was even scared of losing the rage because I equated the rage with passion. I didn’t want to grow complacent. As I’ve matured I realized that that rage was passion but it was destructive. It built up walls around my heart and closed so many people out. I was ruthless, eviscerating others in my head for their flaws because I was unhappy with myself. While the diatribe lived mostly in my head, it seeped out sideways to wound the people around me. The nomadic urges and insane pressure I had put on myself to figure out what I was meant to be drove me insane. 

I am a calmer version of myself nowadays. When something strikes my fancy, I’m still all in. Totally obsessed with an idea or notion until I move onto the next. I don’t have the same need to shove it down everyone else’s throats though. I can share ideas without the need to get people to come along with me for the ride. I still have a million interests but I’m figuring out what those interests mean to me and how to integrate them into my life without attempting to become all of them. Lastly, if I start to notice flaws in others, I stop and ask myself why it bothers me. Usually it has to do with something in myself that I need to work on. Yes, I’ve changed and it’s been for the better. 

Dating Rant

Tonight I am pondering dating and relationships. Anyone that knows me in the realm we call, “Real Life,” knows I am HORRIBLE at dating. There is a reason that at the age of 32 I am still single. For that matter, the fact that I have only had one relationship and for most of it he was out of the country.

I have a few patterns that contribute to my eternal singledom (which is a state I tend to prefer anyway). To start with I tend to make bad choices. I am usually attracted to guys that are not as into me as I am into them. Significant unbalance when it comes to dating spells disaster from the start. Which is probably why I go that route. Besides the disappointment that will follow and the longing that will go unfulfilled: it’s safe. I won’t have to commit or let anyone in. I won’t have to change my life to accommodate someone else.

When I do meet someone that is genuinely interested in me, I find a way to wreck it or push them away. If a guy pays attention to me, makes an effort, and wants to spend time with me, I freak out. I find enough flaws in them to push them away and I happily return to singledom, proud of myself for trying. I mean, what do I want with a genuinely nice guy who likes me?

If all that wasn’t enough I over think things in the biggest way. I start trying to figure out what it would be like to be married to that person. Would I be happy with x, y, z behavior? If the answer is no, I cut and run. That is not entirely my fault though. My mother drilled it into me since I was a small child, “NEVER marry a man thinking that you can change him. You can’t. People only change if they want to change themselves. Unless you can live with him the way he is, do not marry him.” I just take it to an extreme. Rather than have open, honest, communication about differences or potential deal-breakers I assume a man to be unwilling to change or comprise and cut him loose. Healthy right?

These are some of the obstacles I have to overcome if I am going to ever have a relationship (healthy or not). Well, these, and the insane fear that dating someone exclusively is akin to surrendering my independence and losing myself. Will I ever overcome these issues? I guess I’ll find out…

A few more quotes…

Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.

~Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

 

The most important of life’s battles is the one we fight daily in the silent chambers of the soul.

~David O. McKay

 

… The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.

~Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

 

Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world.

~Jane Addams

 

Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition, there are still untapped possibilities within us and new bueaty waiting to be born.

~ Dr. Dale Turner

 

A man is not old until regrets start taking place of dreams.

~unknown

 

You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.

~Richard Bach

 

We pity in others only those evils which we have ourselves experienced.

~Jean Jacques Rousseau

 

The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who look on and do nothing.

~Albert Einstein

 

An honest answer is the sign of true friendship.

~Proverbs 24:26

 

The future ain’t what it used to be.

~Yogi Berra

Beauty In The Ordinary

Find beauty in the ordinary and you’ll have a happy soul. I know that many artists, poets, and philosophers, have said it better than I but no matter how you put it, it’s true. I am starting to suspect that one of the keys to happiness in this life is to appreciate what you have and see it for its worth. Not the way that we, as Americans, see it with our ‘first world problems’ mentality.

I’ve been trying very hard lately to not let the little things get to me the way that they used to. I am attempting more patience. I am working to keep things in focus. If something small isn’t going my way, or there is something annoying that I have to do, I remind myself how lucky I am to be doing it. Granted after telling myself I was blessed to be able bodied enough to shovel all that snow I did immediately come in and hire a snow removal company. Still, I didn’t let myself grumble while I was shoveling.

I don’t know how long I will be able to keep this up but I am hoping for forever. It has left me in a much more peaceful state.