lunes, 20 de marzo de 2017

Mid-Lent Confession

Now that we´re smack in the middle of Lent, the Catholic Women Bloggers Network themed their monthly blog hop around "My Real Feelings About Confession".  Appropriate for the season.

Does anybody really like confession?  In theory, I do honestly like it.  But in reality, it seems I only drag myself into a confessional once every few years.  And the main reason for that is that whole "all Catholics in good standing should go to confession at least once a year."  Ugh.  As I´ve mentioned before, if anyone wants to drive me crazy, keep telling me how I "have to" do something.

But, like I said, I like the sacrament, at least in theory.  For starters, it is a sacrament, which means we draw close to God and He draws close to us--what´s not to love about that?  Furthermore, I completely believe it can be a much more enjoyable experience than the chore we´ve turned it into.

When I was barely beginning to explore Catholicism, I had my first, albeit very informal, experience with confession.  I was fresh out of college, spending a year volunteering full-time in New Mexico with the Border Servant Corps.  As part of the program, we set aside one evening a week to intentionally spend with our fellow volunteers.  At one point in the year, we got into a regular habit of going around the group and honestly letting the group know how we were doing--emotionally, physically, spiritually, professionally, etc.

Looking back as I´m writing this, that sounds terribly tedious.  Eight people talking in-depth about four different aspects of what makes them tick every week?  We were a tight group, and I look back on those times as some of the most edifying of my life.

We were close enough that we could be absolutely honest with each other.  Frequently, it was an excellent opportunity to open up with struggles we were having as to ask our friends to pray for us.  Together, we celebrated mundane accomplishments like celebrating that we could finally run for 20 minutes at a stretch.  On the other extreme, it gave us an opportunity to reflect or admit openly if we were struggling with our faith or depression.  As we got in a habit of "checking in" every week, it became routine to follow up on each other, asking questions or encouraging each other through the week, as we really knew what was truly going on in each others´ lives.
Maybe it would help to take down the wall.

As I was beginning to explore Catholicism at the time, this experience gave me ample food for thought to consider the sacrament of reconciliation.  Given my religious background, I had a knee-slap reaction to confession--"well, of course I don´t have to confess my sins to a priest--I can go straight to God!"

While that certainly may be true, this weekly examination with my volunteer group opened my eyes to how beneficial it is to admit some things out loud, particularly to someone with an understanding ear.  And--let´s face it--it´s great to hear that we´re forgiven in the end.

Ideally, I believe this is how confession should be--like this experience my group had, of closeness and frequent contact, so we know what´s going on with others on a weekly (or daily) basis, so we know each others´ struggles and successes, celebrating and praying together.  Unfortunately, if a priest has hundreds of people in his parish, it is rather difficult for him to get to know all parishioners on that kind of level.

However, I´m pretty confident that most Catholics are much like me, and it wouldn´t take much effort to get to know our priests a bit better.  If we were better able to count our priests as our friends, time in the confessional would be less or a chore and more of an opportunity to simply sit back and be completely honest with a trusted friend.

And that would make confession the liberating experience that it´s meant to be.
Come on in!

lunes, 13 de marzo de 2017

Standing in Solidarity (with a little luck)

I pass this two to four times a day.

Every day, I wonder how long my luck is going to hold out.  When is that pole going to slide under my car, flipping it over while spewing live electrical wires all over the street?

It´s been a month now.  So far, so good.

It´s March, which brings to mind St. Patrick´s Day and, consequently the luck of the Irish.  Now, to the best of my knowledge, none of my ancestors were Irish, but today I´m sure looking like I´m pretending I were.

Despite the red hair and ND outfit,
I´ve got NO Irish genes.  
But isn´t that more or less the point of a modern celebration of St. Patrick´s Day?  It´s a day where we all just pretend to be Irish.  I´m not sure how the Irish feel about that, but that´s how we do things in the US.  That, and it´s a good excuse to drink a Guinness.

Very similarly, Cinco de Mayo has turned into a popular celebration in the US.  In the US, people use the 5th of May to celebrate Mexican heritage--and that´s great.  Or, it´s just a good excuse to have some Coronas or a margarita.  But, like St. Patrick´s Day, it appears to be a day that we can all just pretend to be "Mexican" for a day.  Whatever that means.

I do get on my yearly soapbox, explaining that Cinco de Mayo isn´t widely celebrated in Mexico.  However the events of Cinco de Mayo had longer-lasting consequences for the US and, if we knew about them, it would then make perfect sense that we celebrate Cinco de Mayo more in the US than Mexico.  I´ve got more information on that topic here.

But I´m not exactly pushing that soapbox today.  This comparison between how St. Patrick´s Day and Cinco de Mayo are celebrated in the US is striking me pretty hard, particularly this year.  Around 150 years ago, when Irish people were immigrating to the US by the boatload, they were often discriminated against.  They had doors closed in their faces and were openly excluded from jobs, places to live, etc.

While anti-Mexican sentiment has been simmering under the surface of US culture for awhile now, it appears to be coming to a head with the current administration.  What am I proposing here?  I´m suggesting that yes, let´s celebrate Cinco de Mayo this year.  Let´s do it the same way we do St. Patrick´s Day, where everyone pretends to be Irish for a day.  This Cinco de Mayo, let´s all be Mexican for a day.

That doesn´t mean that we all go around wearing sombreros and drinking tequila.  What I´m proposing is that we stand in solidarity with those Mexicans (and other latinos) who live in the US.  We appreciate them for their contributions to our country.  (If you´re not sure what that would be, I´ve got a glaring example here, for those readers who skipped over that link earlier.)

Why do I claim that Mexicans (and other latinos) are being discriminated against?

Trump´s presidential campaign sounded pretty clear to me.  His remarks about Mexico have angered an entire nation.  It´s becoming routine, upon meeting new people here, one of the first questions we´re asked is, "do you like Trump?"  I shudder to think how they´d respond to someone who says they do.  And this new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office that trump wants to start sounds benign on the surface.  However, it hints at something larger.  My fear is that it will legitimize discrimination against latinos in the US.

But if that´s not evidence enough, consider:

  • We have a system of for-profit detention centers where people are held for months, sometimes years, waiting for their immigration case to be process, often to ultimately be deported. 
  • These for-profit detention centers require a MINIMUM number of people to be incarcerated in these centers.  Am I crazy, or should detention centers be run by the government (or at the very least, be non-profit).  Because who is making profits for these detention centers?  Right, the taxpayers.  And probably the people held in these detention centers.  
  • Those held in these detention centers, not being US citizens, have no legal rights.  They have no right to representation like citizens or legal residents do.  This in another reason why they can be held for years, because in many cases no one is pushing to get cases heard, and the government has no plans to give these people due process--they just plan on deportation.  After they´ve met the detention centers´ minimum quotas, of course.        
  • Entire families are locked up in these detention centers.  We´re incarcerating children.  This is not the kind of thing that makes me proud to be an American.  (Precisely the opposite.)

This Cinco de Mayo, let´s stand in solidarity with the Mexican and latino families down the street.  

That doesn´t mean eating a taco bowl.  Mexicans don´t actually eat those.  

That means contacting your representatives and senators, and speaking up for those neighbors who legally don´t have a voice in this country.  Whatever our stance on immigration, I think we can all agree that people should be treated humanely.  

Locking up non-violent offenders indefinitely is not humane.  Our country can do better.  

This Cinco de Mayo, let´s all be Mexican for a Day.


Need more reading about Detention Centers?

Check out:

  • the ACLU
  • Bring Pedro Home (through a facebook group, I became aware of this family.  At the time, the husband was detained (indefinitely, of course).  In the end, he was held for 19 months.  When his case finally went to trial, his US citizen wife was preparing to move to Guatemala, because it was very likely he was going to be deported anyway.  Fortunately, he was ultimately granted permanent residency, and (as he was before his detention) he has been contributing positively to his community ever since. 

sábado, 4 de marzo de 2017

Father Dan´s "New Friend for 2017" Idea

Flashback to Sunday, January 1st, 2017:

I headed off to mass, all ready to start the new year on a bright, sunny Sunday in northern Indiana.

During the sermon, Father Dan mentioned that everybody in the parish was going to make a new friend for the year.  In the entryway to the church, there were baskets filled with strips of paper, listing a saint´s name and a few facts about that saint.  Whichever saint we picked would be our new friend for the year.

Or, as Father Dan put it, "I like to think that the saint picks us, instead of us picking the saint."

Admittedly, I was intrigued, and liked the idea of getting to research the life of some obscure, little-known saint.  A year or two ago, I had read a memoir, My Sisters, the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell.  Colleen paralleled trying times in her faith journey with the life stories of three saints whose examples had helped her in those moments.

All ready to meet my new "friend", someone who I expected to never have heard of before, I plunged my hand into one of those paper-filled baskets after mass.  Unfolding the paper, I read . . .

Our Lady of Guadalupe.

You´ve got to be kidding me.

Out of all the thousands and thousands of names I could have picked, I´m quite confident that I know Guadalupe better than any other.

However, thanks to growing up Protestant, I´ve got a rather strained relationship with Mary, regardless which other name may be applied to her (Guadalupe, Fatima, Lourdes, etc).  Yes, I get the whole "she´s your spiritual mother" deal.  But I´ve been happy to keep her at arm´s length.  And I was absolutely sure she was OK with that, too.

Up until now.

I´m not quite sure what to do with this.  I feel like I´ve got Guadalupe sitting in my lap, waiting for me to do something with her.  But what?

I´ve asked my husband, what the deal with Guadalupe is, and he just responds that he likes having a mother to talk with.  Unfortunately for me for that argument, I was raised in a fairly liberal church.  One day in fourth-grade Sunday school, the pastor was visiting our class, and we must have had something like "Pick Pastor Ron´s Brain" Day.  One of the girls asked him if we could refer to God as  a She.

This was one of the more fundamental moments of my faith formation.  Without betting an eye, Pastor Ron said, "sure."  So, for the rest of that year, I took great delight in shocking my more conservative friends by regularly referring to God as She.

I can´t explain how grateful I am for that answer.  But it also means that I have no need to pray to Mary, taking refuge in a mother-figure, as God Herself is that Mother figure for me.  Let´s face it--no matter one´s opinion of God, for those of us willing to admit that God exists, I´m sure we can all agree that (S)He is too big to get tripped up by gender labels.

I pray the rosary occasionally, and I enjoy it.  But it seems like a waste of time (if not downright idolatrous) to pray to Mary, instead of going directly to God.

I realize I sound rather defensive.  That´s really not my intention!  At this point for me, pulling that name out of that basket was like opening a door.  It feels like I´m opening an investigation into Mary and her manifestations in order to find out what impact she may have on my life.  This is where I need you, dear reader.  For those of you out there, who are more into Mary than I currently am, please explain this to me!  (If you don´t count yourself among that group, feel free to tune out here.)

I´m not asking this to criticize or judge anyone else´s faith.  I genuinely want to know.  How do you relate to Mary?  What does she mean to you?  Your story is your story and whatever your story is, it´s important.  I love learning from others.  So please, share your story with me!  For those not comfortable posting in the comment section, (or if you´ve got more to say than fits in a comment) write me at


jueves, 16 de febrero de 2017

I Need Help!

I love to help people.  I suppose, deep down inside, it makes me feel needed, and who doesn´t like to feel needed?

However, the reverse of this is a bit more difficult.  I don´t know if it´s our "I-can-do-it-all" culture, or the fact that we cherish our independence above all else.  But accepting help, or admitting that I need help, is often really hard.

When I moved to Saltillo eight years ago, I was in desperate need of friends.  We don´t have family near, so anyone I could carry on an adult conversation with was a shining ray of light for me.  Slowly, but surely, I met people.

Now that I know a number of people, I´ve noticed that it´s easy to fall into superficial relationships.  We can talk about living in Mexico, and our kids play together, and that´s all well and good.  But I want more.  I´ve got a number of very polite friendships.

Sometimes, though, we all need that friend that we know we can call at any time of day or night.  That friend who, when we need someone to do us a huge favor, they don´t bat an eye.

Fortunately, I have two fairly recent examples:  three years ago we adopted a dog.  But we like to leave town on weekends, sometimes for full weeks at a time.  Nuts.  I should have thought about that before taking in the dog.  Before skipping town one time, I asked a friend who I had known for a few months if she minded watching my dog for a few days.  (I also knew she had a massive yard--very hard to find near cities in Mexico). Having four dogs of her own, she didn´t bat an eye--and even refused payment when I offered.

Man, it´s hard to be in someone´s debt.  But sometimes it´s necessary!

So a year or so later when she wanted to start working (only 4 hours a week), she told me how she really wanted to go back to work, but didn´t know what to do with her boys.  Since I was already at home every day with Sam, I didn´t think twice about it and offered to watch them.

After that, we were in and out of each other´s houses just about every other day.  While the two extra boys for a few hours kept me jumping, it was also so very satisfying.  Sharing the mundane details of daily life was a type of friendship that I hadn´t had in awhile.  And it would never have happened if either of us weren´t open to accepting help from the other.

Example Two:  Right after Sam was born, most of my neighbors told me, "let me know if you need anything!"  Since my mother-in-law came to help, and Mario´s cousin was still living with us, we really didn´t have a need to take them up on it--until the day that we went to file Sam´s birth certificate.

In Mexico, parents need to provide two witnesses for a child´s birth certificate.  Our plan, of course, was to bring Mario´s mom and cousin.  However, the day we went, Clara and Joey were both sick.  As Mario had taken the day off of work, he was ready to plow ahead.  If the kids were sick, he thought, "let´s just bring them with us!"  I made a few phone calls, and within twenty minutes, one of my beautiful neighbors had dropped everything and was ready to go with us, so Mario´s mom could stay and take care of the sick kids.

With both examples, I can´t explain how much I appreciate having these women in my life, knowing that if I need them, they´re available.  There are other people who are certainly on this list, too, but those examples have stuck out in my memory.

While I enjoy showing love to other people by helping them out, these examples are a great reminder that being open to accepting someone´s help is another way of accepting their love.  Sometimes it´s hard to love others, but in our culture that celebrates individualism, letting other people into our lives to love us is often harder.

When we let others in, we admit that we can´t do it all.
When we let others in, we admit that we need help.
When we let others in, we are vulnerable.

When we let others in, real relationships can form.

It´s hard, but it´s so worth it!

jueves, 19 de enero de 2017

Decisions, decisions . . .

I´ve got a number of ideas floating around my head.  However, I don´t have a ton of time.  And the idea that takes up the most space in my head would also take up . . . well, honestly more time than I have to give.

Or do I?

But beyond this BIG IDEA (in the likely event that I decide to postpone it or chuck it out the window), I´ve got a bazillion smaller projects that I´d like to try:

I´ve finally dominated this book.
It´s time to learn to use verbs!

Learn German--Mario had to learn German years ago, and really enjoyed it.  However, it´s been years since he´s used it.  No--I take that back.  He yells at the dog in German.  Since my kids have English and Spanish down, it´s time for them to take on another language.  And wouldn´t it be so simple to do if we could speak German at home?

That means that I need some German lessons.  And I´ve got a great contact for that.  Now I just need to get that ball rolling!

Take flute lessons--since joining the choir, it´s floored me how much I´ve missed making music.  Over the last year, I´ve been playing my flute more and more, and it´s increasingly clear that my flute abilities hit a plateau about twenty years ago and I´m not going to get any better without professional help.  It´s never too late to decide that I DO want to get better at it.

Oh, my--it really solidifies my commitment to put that statement out there like that.  Yikes!

Do a school survey for SaltilloExpats:  I´ve had this idea in my head for over a year.  In fact, I went to the American School to get information on it, with the intention of interviewing at least three other schools in town, so give potential relocators a better idea of their school options here in Saltillo.  But I never got past that first interview.  

So, this year, I´m going to visit more schools, and--more importantly--interview parents and students about their experiences in various schools around town.  In the end, I want this to be a huge project (and translated into Spanish for those moving here from other cities in Mexico), and eventually include every school in town.    

For years, I´ve been attending a Bible study at a nondenominational church (in English) across town.  It´s still the highlight of my week.  But, as I´m making more friends on my side of town, and those friends attend my neighborhood parish, I´d really like to start a mom´s group at my neighborhood church--either on weekday mornings or on Saturdays while the kids are in catechism.  I would love to get to know better the women who I see on a daily basis.  If we were to pray together, study the Bible together, that would be really meaningful, and I would really like to have more meaningful relationships with these women.  I´ll be running the idea past a few of them this month!  

With paying for German classes and flute lessons, it would behoove me to write a few articles or stories for magazines that might actually pay me.  In the past, I´ve sent out 2 or 3 articles to one magazine each.  I knew then I should have given it a better shot.  This year might be the year to do it!

Both of my older children will be in elementary school this fall, so I´ll have an additional two hours every day . . . oh, the possibilities are endless!  Or, they seem that way at this point.    

Oh, and gee--I could clean my house more, excercize, and make healthy meals.  

Nah . . . 

For more of South of the Border resolutions and goals, be sure to visit the following blogs..." title="click to view in an external page.">An InLinkz Link-up

miércoles, 11 de enero de 2017

Photo Challenge Fail

I had the best of intentions.

And I loved doing the photo-scavenger-hunt-through-December-thing.

But the third week of Advent got the better of me.

However, I DID get one photo that week!  Never mind that it wasn´t on the list for the photo challenge.

My week got sidelined by the Nutcracker.  This year marked the 30th anniversary of the first time I saw the Nutcracker.  I´ve seen it just about every year since.  

But this was the first time I got to be in it.  

OK, maybe "be in it" is a bit of an overstatement.  This Nutcracker had live accompaniment from the state orchestra, and I sing with their choir, whenever they need a choir.  

In the Snowflake Scene, they needed a choir!  Yee-haw!

So this was my view: 

Photo courtesy of the Orquesta Filarmónica del Desierto

In a way, this was a bit of a dream come true for me, so these photos appropriately embody JOY, for the third week of Advent.

For the fourth week of Advent, I was so behind in making cookies, buying presents, and packing to go see my family, PLUS the last week of school and all those Christmas parties, that the photo challenge was officially dropped.  

So, until next year, Advent Photo Challenge!  (At least, until Nutcracker Week.)

Until then, bring it on, 2017!

sábado, 10 de diciembre de 2016

Advent Photo Challenge--Faith

Last week, I started CatholicSistas´ Advent Photo Challenge.

Here´s this week´s installment!

December 4--Candle

We light two candles on the advent wreath this week. Last week´s candle represented hope, this week´s candle represents faith.  I found it funny that I had the hardest time lighting the candles this week.  Then, once I finally got them lit, they both extinguished themselves all of a sudden.

Is that like real faith?  Jesus mentions all the time about how little faith people had.  The only times he ever seemed to get frustrated or angry were when the disciples showed their lack of faith.  However, when I read those stories, the disciples always show me an exemplary amount of faith.  Yet Jesus got frustrated with them?  Yikes.  I hate to think how frustrated he gets with me.

Which is why I liked this pictures that I shot of the candles this week.  One has a strong, bright flame--like some people in my life who have a faith that inspires me.  Then there was the other candle.  Once it was finally lit, it didn´t burn as bright as the other one.

But that´s the thing--even though that flame was small in comparison to the other one, it was still a lit candle!  So, if we´re using the candles as an analogy for faith, even though my faith may seem meager compared to others´, it´s still faith.  That counts for something.  (And let´s face it--the comparison game isn´t a healthy game to play in most instances.)

But, a few minutes after I took this photo, the wax melted away and this candle burned just as bright as the other.  So basically, I´ve just got to work through all that wax that holds me back!

December 5--Truth

No, Harry Potter is not the truth.  It´s a work of fiction.  But, like any good story, it points to the truth.  (Spoiler alert for the 5 people out there who haven´t read Harry Potter:  the climax of the entire series is an allegory of the passion of Christ.)

Furthermore, one of the larger themes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is truth--what is truth?  This is a very timely topic this season, as we´ve been bombarded through this past election season by part-truths, outright lies, and the usual campaign promises.  Where on earth can we find out what is truth and what´s a lie?

In a nutshell, this book shows that only knowing part of the truth can be very misleading.  Then again, sometimes part of the truth is all we have to go on.  Part of the truth is still true.  But if one is making decisions based only on part truths, one might decide very differently what to do in a given situation if all the truth had been available.

These days, it seems that we have to search hard for the truth.  Dig deep.

It´s effort worthwhile.

December 6--Shoes

I´m sure this day was meant to commemorate St. Nicholas Day.

We don´t do that in our house.

Between Christmas, Santa Claus, and Three Kings´ Day, I´m a bit overwhelmed.  Gift giving is not one of my love languages.

But I have had quite a relationship with Joey´s shoes this last month.

At the beginning of the school year, the school district decided that all the preschools were going to enter a dance contest.  This was a big, fat, hairy deal.  The kids had costumes, makeup, and hours of rehearsals during school.  The school even hired a dance teacher.  Our class did a traditional dance from Veracruz, and the kids had to dress in white--including shoes.

Now, being public school, the teachers do try to keep extra costs to a reasonable amount.  The girls had to buy new shoes to dance in, but it was decided that the boys would just paint their shoes white.  I was a bit skeptical of the whole shoe-painting business, but if everyone else was going to do it, I´d go along with it.

The week before the contest, the teacher handed me a bottle of acrylic paint, especially made for painting leather.  I covered the shoes in a number of coats over the course of a few days, and they turned out to be fairly convincing.   After the performance, some of the white had flaked off.  That was fine--I was about to paint them back to the original black, anyway.

I was afraid I´d have a hard time finding this special shoe paint, but on one trip to the grocery store (one that´s not known for having a huge selection) I found shoe paint.  I bought it and some polish, and went off to turn those shoes back to black.  (I had been hiding these shoes from Mario, because I was afraid he´d go nuts about seeing Joey´s nice shoes all painted with acrylic paint.)

This paint was much thinner and easier to work with than the acrylic.  It dried super-fast, so I did a number of coats all in one evening.  The shoes were back to looking almost as good as new.  Then, just before Joey was to wear them to school the other day, I decided to use the shoe polish on them.  Some of the color rubbed off.  Now there are spots with a decidedly blue tinge.

And that´s where I stand with the shoe saga at the moment.  Tomorrow I´m off to paint them yet again, so maybe they´ll be black again in time for school on Monday.

December 7--Love

Self Explanatory.  I do love other people and things, but it´s hard to wrap that up in just one photo.

December 8--Mother

This is my mother.  She´s just marvelous.

Two of the more solid things she´s taught me as an adult that I´m trying to make stick:

     1)  Not swearing.

          I´m failing miserably.  I know there´s a number of good reasons not to swear. But she´s got the most convincing argument.  For those of us who swear, it makes us sound uneducated.  It´s like we don´t have a bit enough vocabulary to express ourselves, so we have to resort to swearing.
          Man, I really like sounding educated.  So I´ve got to stop!  (I just wish I knew how!)

     2)  Doing the right thing.

          Ten or fifteen years ago, I remember talking with her about a hypothetical situation that I could have used with questionable ethics to my advantage.  (Unfortunately, I can´t remember the exact situation.)  Nothing shocking, of course.  A lot of people probably would have done it without batting an eye.  After all, I was about to do whatever it was.  But my mom responded to this potential situation with, "Yeah--but is that the right thing to do?"

          Just because something is considered OK, doesn´t make it the right thing to do.

          Thanks, Mom.  I´ll do the right thing.

December 9--San Juan Diego

          Today must be Juan Diego´s Day.  I first moved to Mexico in January 2003, about a month after Juan Diego was canonized.  On Teacher´s Day, one of my students (and his mother) game me a necklace with Juan Diego on it.  I wasn´t Catholic at the time, I had no overwhelming affection for Juan Diego (other than just liking him for the role he played in Mexican history).  But that necklace was one of my favorite Teacher´s Day presents.


December 10--book

 This is what is on my bedside table now.  Lately, whenever I´m at a loss of what I should read next, or I just want to get lost in a book and be uncivil to everyone until I finish it, Philippa Gregory always delivers!