Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

The Challenge of Aging Gracefully

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

“Mom, can I count your grey hairs?” my nine-year-old asked me the other day as he started to poke at my head. He eventually abandoned the task, deciding that there were too many.

Last week, I walked into my parents’ house and my mom declared, “Wow! I love your new haircut. It makes you look older!” Hmm . . . I know she meant well, but in my late thirties, is that really a compliment?

At Mass this morning, I found myself wistfully wishing that I could be the eighteen-year-old altar server. She is such an intelligent, kind young woman with many talents. Her whole future is ahead of her and she is heading to Harvard in a couple weeks. And, as if that foray into envy wasn’t bad enough (yes, I ALWAYS have to confess envy), I realized that not only am I not young with my future ahead of me, but also that I am old enough to be that young woman’s mother.

Needless to say, my quickly advancing age has been on my mind a lot lately.
Our chronological age is one of those things that we have no control over. Those of us blessed to live on this earth for a certain number of years eventually become middle-aged and then senior citizens. But while men seem to earn a certain respect and distinguished quality as they grey, we women are constantly told by the world that we only have value when we are, or at least look, young. Hence, the huge market for cosmetics, plastic surgery, and anything else that may promise to restore us to our youthful appearance.

One can either choose to embrace the changes and accept them as best as one can or one can choose to fight tooth and nail against the signs of age. I decided a long time ago that I would go grey naturally, and plastic surgery is most definitely not in my future. I do exercise and try to take care of myself, but the simple truth is that my body is aging, and will continue to do so. I need to make peace with the middle-aged woman in the mirror.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti tackled this topic in the July 2012 issue of Living magazine. She wrote,

Character. Age. Patina. Why do we value these qualities in our possessions but not in ourselves? . . . I am reluctant to accept the prevailing belief that beauty lies in subtraction, and that by erasing the passage of time from my face I will not only be smoother but happier. Wrinkles mean you’ve lived, and life is a privilege. . . Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could appreciate ourselves the way we do our furniture? If the beauty of a changing face was considered a shining testament to the added value of age.

I second that passage. I have no idea how to convince our youth-obsessed society that age is something to be embraced, rather than viewed as the enemy. But, maybe it starts with each one of us and how we view ourselves when we look at our reflection, and then continues with how we present ourselves to the world. We’ve had time to become comfortable in our skin and to be secure in the women we are. It’s time to radiate that character and confidence. It’s time to show that age is beautiful!

Do We Allow People to Change?

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

The other night, I had the pleasure of watching “You Again,” a fun, lighthearted comedy that will appeal to anyone who ever found herself at the bottom of the social ladder in high school. Featuring such stars as Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Bell, and Betty White, it explores what happens when women are forced to come face to face with the women who made their lives horrible in high school. They are compelled (after considerable conflict) to come to terms with the fact that these women are not who they once were. They had changed and grown.

Is the person we are at seventeen, or twenty-five, or forty the person we are destined to be forever? Is it possible to change in any fundamental way? Will people who knew us at a certain moment in our lives ever be able to see us in a different light? These are all questions worth pondering.

I know that I have changed over the years. Certainly, some aspects of my personality have stayed constant, but there are things that I have said and done in my past and beliefs that I have held that now make me cringe. Life experience, education, and the influence of others have altered my way of thinking. I also realize that I am still a work in progress. How I feel and think in twenty years (presuming I am still on this earth) will no doubt be different than how I feel and think today. I hope that other people will be able to accept me as who I am at any given moment in my life, and not judge me by who I was several years earlier.

By the same token, I hope that I am able to extend the same courtesy to others. I admit that it can be difficult. It can be easier to hold onto old hurts and old impressions. It takes courage and maturity to let go, forgive, and accept people as they are today.

One of my pet peeves in life is when people are running for public office and some member of the press pulls an article they wrote or a statement that they made when they were younger stating a given position that is contrary to a position that they now hold. Such evidence is usually used to show “flip-flopping” or a lack of strong conviction. I see it as evidence that a person grew and changed and is capable of changing his or her mind.

St. Paul was arguably the person who changed the most in Scriptural history. As Saul, he was the chief persecutor of Christians. After his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, he became one of Christianity’s greatest proponents. It would have been easy for Christians to regard him with suspicion. Indeed, some did. But, his life illustrates that people can change in dramatic ways. What would have happened if no one believed that such change was possible?

Lent is meant to be a time of growth and change. Hopefully, Easter will find us different people than we are today. We want others to accept and love us for the person we are becoming. Do we allow other people to change as well or do we judge them by who they once were?

Book Review: “Where Do Sisters Come From?”

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Where Do Sisters Come From?
by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Illustrations by Shannon Wirrenga
Waterford, MI: Bezalel Books, 2010

“Where Do Sisters Come From?” by Elizabeth Ficocelli is the perfect introduction to women’s consecrated religious life for children. In an era where Catholic children may be exposed to relatively few sisters, their way of life may seem very mysterious indeed. Who are these sisters and what is their life like? “Where Do Sisters Come From?” answers these questions with honesty and beauty. While this book is written for girls to encourage them to consider the possibility that they might be called by God to this way of life, it is important to note that it is equally informative for boys.

Ficocelli begins by describing the process of discernment. What does it mean to hear God’s call and to respond to it? She discusses the importance of prayer and finding the right religious community. The three vows a sister takes are defined, as is the habit many sisters wear.

Ficocelli then explores the many ways sisters can live out their vocational call, working in many different professions, serving as a missionary, or living within their own religious community as a nun. She emphasizes that they have lives outside of their work as well. They have their families of origin that they are still a part of, as well as friends and hobbies. As she states, “Sisters come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. But one thing they all have in common is a love for their faith, and a desire to be like Jesus, leading people to God.”

“Where Do Sisters Come From?” is a wonderful book to share with your children or grandchildren. It would also make a great addition to a parish religious education program or library. It is a magnificent vocations tool.

Book Review: Our Jewish Roots

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Fulfillment Today by Connecting with her Past

by Cheryl Dickow
BezalelBooks, 2010

Many Catholic women are ignorant of the Jewish roots of our faith and the rich tradition that we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Cheryl Dickow seeks to correct that with “Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Fulfillment Today by Connecting with her Past.” The book is divided into two parts. The first focuses on “Traditions, Teachings, and Truths Rooted in the Jewish Faith.” This section makes for fascinating reading. Topics such as marriage vows, baptismal waters, the role of angels, the importance of good deeds, the power of prayerful intercession, mysticism, and holy feasts are explored from the perspective of their Jewish beginnings. These pages help one realize just how much we do share with our Jewish brethren and how much we Catholics owe to their traditions.

The second portion of the book centers on “Role Models for Today’s Catholic Women.” This is where Dickow truly shines. She begins by discussing a woman’s worth, not our worth as the world often chooses to measure it, but our worth in the eyes of God. “From Eve to Sarah to Deborah to Mary, Scripture assures every woman who has ever lived that her life is both special and valuable. Her life has a purpose and a meaning set by God and necessary to His plan for humankind. Each and every one of us came here with an extraordinary set of gifts and a particular set of circumstances. Our births were the intentional acts of an affectionate, devoted God whose love for us is truly immeasurable. We are as unique and varied as stars in the sky. Our gifts and talents are limitless – even if they sometimes feel non-existent or without value.” Dickow defines true feminism as support of a woman’s vocation, whatever God may have called that particular woman to be. She then goes on to explore the lives of several women from Scripture to illustrate that there is a role model for each one of us.

These women come to life through Dickow’s words and reflections. One will rediscover well-known women such as Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, and will perhaps become acquainted for the first time with less famous, but no less important, women such as Lot’s wife, Zipporah, Shiphrah and Puah. Each of these women that Dickow profiles has something to teach us, if we only take the time to reflect on their stories.

“Our Jewish Roots” has much to offer to modern Catholic women struggling with where they fit in God’s big plan. By knowing our history, we can better understand ourselves, our own faith, and the dignity which God has bestowed on women throughout the ages.

Unfulfilled Desires

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

At Bible Study this week, my friends and I were discussing “passions” – those things that we feel strongly about. According to Quentin Hakenewerth, S.M., “a passion is emotional energy which is attached to some goal or object. Passions help us become lively and resourceful persons.” However, we need to attach this energy to something that is worthwhile. “Saint John gives us three criteria for recognizing passions which are harmful and ego-centered: those which 1) pursue pleasure for its own sake; 2) crave possessions for their own sake; 3) covet status, titles, or rank to build up our image in the eyes of others (cf. 1 Jn 2:16).” On the other hand, one can never be too passionate about those things that come from God – “love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (cf. Gal 5:22-24).

Everyone has something that gets their inner fires burning, and thankfully, these things generally coincide with gifts that have been bestowed upon them from God. The combination of our talents and our passions is the fuel which keeps us going in life. It is the impetus for civilization and relationships and contributions to society. The women whom I am lucky to call friends are all passionate people, yet when we got to the question “Describe a passion you have, for example, a desire to achieve some goal or work on a particular project which gives you lots of energy. What can you do to develop this passion?” the room became eerily silent. We are all mothers, and homeschooling mothers at that. There are so many things we would like to do, some desires admittedly more noble than others, yet they are squashed by a lack of time. There is only so much “emotional energy” that one can muster after a full day of parenting. Even when the energy is there, the time and opportunity are not.

It is true – we mothers do have ample opportunity to practice things like love, patience, kindness, generosity, and self-control. Motherhood is a noble pursuit. I know some women who were truly made to be mothers. I, however, am not one of them. I love my children with all my heart and do all I can for them. They were given to me by God and I treasure the gift and acknowledge the responsibility. I was called to homeschool, despite my initial reluctance. It was definitely the right decision for our family. I’m trying to be the very best mom I can be. I know that I am lucky to have this opportunity. Yet, I am more than that. I am more than the person who takes care of the kids and cleans the house (and I admit, I don’t do that chore particularly well). God gave me other gifts. I was also blessed with the opportunity to obtain an advanced education.

Like my friends, I do try to make use of my passions and talents to contribute to the world at large. It is always in small doses, however. I’ve had older mothers assure me that the day will come when I will get the opportunity to make more use of my gifts. That may be true, or it may not. There is no guarantee that I will live to see that day. Even if I do, there may very well be other people who will need my time and attention – sick parents or caring for grandchildren, for example. The future is a great unknown. All I have is today and the circumstances I find myself in. The unfulfilled desires are frustrating. I sometimes wonder why God made me, what my purpose is in the big scheme of things. I have to trust that he knows better than I do my reason for being here. All I can do is keep going, praying and trying to do the best I can with the time I have. Another wise woman at Bible Study (I told you I was lucky to be among these women!) reminded us all of the importance of acceptance. I need to work on that. I need to be happy where I am and let God take care of the restlessness in my heart.

Book Review: “It’s a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life”

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

It’s A Wonderful Imperfect Life: Daily Encouragement for Women Who Strive Too Hard to Make It Just Right
By Joan C. Webb
Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009

If I had the money, I would buy a copy of “It’s a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life: Devotional Readings for Women Who Strive Too Hard to Make It Just Right” by Joan C. Webb for every woman that I know. We all try so hard to do it all and get so down on ourselves when we discover that simply isn’t possible. Webb offers reassuring words based on scripture and rooted in her own experience to tell us that it is all OK. It is alright to let go of some of the pressure that we put on ourselves.

The 163 one-page devotions are divided into sections focusing on relationships, emotions, bodies, life-work, service, churches, culture, dreams and spirituality. If one particular area is troubling you, you can focus on just that section, or you can read it cover to cover as I did. Each page has something worthwhile to offer. For example, Devotion #1, “Smiling Here,” Webb invites us to recall a time we made a blunder and to laugh about it! As she reminds us, “I goofed. No big deal! It doesn’t make me less valuable.” In Devotion #30, “You Mad at Me?” Webb challenges us to stop taking on other’s moods. Women tend to feel that we are the reason someone else is upset or to feel that we must cure it. “The next time a loved one is in a bad mood and you feel the urge to ‘take it on,’ step back emotionally and ask God for wisdom.” Devotion #151, “Management Contract with God,” reminds us to turn over control of our lives to God. “Working for our ultimate good, He counsels us how to heal past damage, overcome self-defeating habits and experience contentment as we trust him for the future.”

“It’s a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life” has much to offer for any Christian woman trying to do it all. I think it would take a lifetime to learn all these lessons, and even Webb admits she is still working on them, but the ability to pick up this book, take a deep breath, and stop and reflect and let go for a little bit is a great gift!

Embracing the Need for Sleep

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

It is no secret that most Americans do not get enough sleep. We know that sleep is vital to our health, mood, and general ability to function, yet when life gets stressful, sleep is often the first thing to go. Sometimes this is for reasons beyond our control. Most people who have had a baby have had to cope with going through life in a sleep-deprived haze at least for a while. There are times when hormones make sleep a near impossibility, or when the huge amount of things weighing on one’s mind forces one to toss and turn despite one’s best efforts. There are many times, however, when there is no reason for us not getting enough sleep other than we simply choose not to.

We make other things more of a priority. I have heard very busy women say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I can sympathize. There does always seem to be more to get done in a given day than hours in that day! As Joan C. Webb writes in “It’s a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life” our inner voice tells us “If I go to sleep, I’ll be wasting time. I should make good use of each minute. . . Your value depends on how well you spend each second. Stay busy. Don’t waste any precious moments. Keep an account of every hour.” I’m sure many of you reading this are nodding in agreement. Especially for mothers who spend so much of their time caring for others, it can seem like those late-night or early-morning hours are the only opportunity to get the other tasks done or to get some much-needed time to care for oneself.

The irony is that getting enough sleep each night will allow us to take care of both ourselves and those we love better. If we can’t get enough sleep at night, it means that something is out of whack in our lives. We need to reduce how much we have on our plates or we need to get a little bit better at asking for help. Maybe we need to simply reduce our expectations of what it means to be a productive person. Webb offers a new mantra to replace the inner voice that keeps driving us to do more: “I’m valuable even when I’m not busy. I can go to sleep at a sensible hour and still be a productive person.” She refers to a quote by from “The Rest of God” by Mark Buchanon, “We give ourselves, regardless of our unfinished business, into God’s care. We sleep simply because we believe God will look after us.” That is so comforting. Yes, God does look after us even when we are sleeping. God wants us to rest in Him and to trust that whatever we do get accomplished in the hours we are awake is enough and is pleasing to Him.

If you are one of the many suffering from a lack of sleep, try going to bed just 15 minutes earlier each night. It is a small step, but it can make a huge difference. Once that becomes comfortable, add another 15 minutes. These simple adjustments can help improve one’s outlook tremendously and help one be more productive with the time one does have during the day.

Beautiful at Any Age

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Claudia Herriman of Longmeadow, Massachusetts wrote a very insightful article for the Springfield Republican on her plans to get some plastic surgery done. She had been told repeatedly that the lines on her upper lip were making her look old and resolved to do something about it. After consulting with her doctor, she was informed the healing process would take four weeks and she arranged her life to make time for this. And then she had an epiphany: “One morning while getting dressed, I look critically at myself in the mirror and have to laugh. I say, “You are such a jerk, Claude; it’s not only your upper lip that’s getting old, it’s your whole body.” And I call the plastic surgeon’s office and cancel the whole procedure.”

We women are awfully harsh in the self-evaluation of our bodies. There is always something to be improved, some flaw to be corrected. Even beautiful movie stars aren’t immune to this criticism – just look at how many get plastic surgery or criticize their own appearance in public. There is this obsession with youth, that if you don’t look twenty-one, you have ceased to have value to society.

I totally disagree that at the age of thirty, or forty, or eighty, for that matter, we stop being beautiful. I think that there is a self-assurance that comes with getting older. My friends and I are all in our thirties and early forties. I think that many of them are more attractive now than when they were younger. Yes, youth has a vitality and a beauty all its own, but a woman gains a special something as she becomes more comfortable in her skin. There is a glow that comes from the inside, a self-confidence that radiates. There is a joy that comes from leaving the awkwardness of adolescence and young adulthood behind and becoming a mature woman. There is a beauty in caring more about what you can bring to the world than in caring about what people think when they look at you.

God gave us these bodies and he made them so that they would age. I accept that aging is part of the process of living. Yes, I no longer look eighteen. I have laugh lines and a few grey hairs (getting more every day!). Motherhood changed my body. Time will continue to change it. When I look in the mirror, I certainly notice the changes, but they don’t define me. All women are beautiful, no matter what their age. True beauty comes from the inside and the wisdom and increased capacity to love that comes with age only enhances that.