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Desiring change and the changing of desire …

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“What is it you truly desire?” asks Mr. Morningstar on Lucifer, the very witty, well-written, and well-acted television show on Fox. The premise is that Satan decides to take a break from torturing souls in Hell and sets up residence in Los Angeles. While in the City of Angels, he operates a fabulously decadent nightclub and helps an LAPD detective solve crimes. He uses his extraordinary power of getting the complete and unadulterated truth from people (he casts his stare on humans and they spill their guts), ascertaining why someone did what they did and then determining what might come next. (Although sometimes I think he is just being nosey.) The answers people give reveal the complexity of humanity – a biker dude desires to start a clothing line, a paparazzi putz dreams of winning the Pulitzer, a priest wants to punch a benefactor in the face. These answers surprise the giver as much as they do Lucifer – it’s not what they expected. Desire is tricky – we do not always see it clearly and the devil is indeed in the details.

Lately, I have been reexamining some of my goals, particularly those that have been sitting on my to-do list for a while (some for years). I have come to realize that some projects/habits/changes never get finished/ingrained/instituted because, truth be told, I don’t truly desire whatever it is these endeavors will bring me. I may have cared at one time or perhaps I just felt I should care, but if a tall dark devil cast his eyes on me and asked, “What is it you truly desire?” my answer would have nothing to do with any of these plans or projects. It is time to wipe them off my to-do list.

And now onto my next project, which is finding out what it is that I truly desire. The search begins.

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When your soul wants to soar and will not wait …

A friend of mine was driving with a pal into big sky country to do some birdwatching. The conversation turned to my friend’s current mindset. In spite of having a great husband, interesting friends, and a fine home, she felt as if she was missing something. She was neither homeless nor hungry, her health was stable, and she knew there were folks who would sell their eye teeth to sleep in her bed and live her life. She was grateful for all she had, yet lately it all seemed to be a bit stale. Why, she asked, was she feeling this way?

Her friend – an astute observer of human nature (to almost witchlike magnitude) – responded, “You feel this way because life is short and you are restless.”

There is a crossroad where curiosity meets desire. You reach this junction not because you are desperate or in dire straits or even particularly dissatisfied, but because you want to see and taste and feel and experience what else is out there. You have an itch that needs to be scratched. An idea that needs action. An urge that makes your everyday comfort now seem confining. The status quo is no longer enough. You have a craving for uncharted territories.

But there is a roadblock. Or two. Perhaps several. Bills to pay, mouths to feed, projects to finish. You’ve got responsibilities at work and home and school and church, around the corner and with friends and family and even with enemies. You cannot pick up and do what you want to do – not just yet. Your time and money and energy and weekends and willpower have to go to those necessities that need to be met and met right now. So you plan and dream.

Face it, if something needs to be done, we do it. The house is flooding, we’re out the door. Someone is sick, we comfort them. No negotiation, no delegation, we handle our obligations. But our aspirations, our desires … they get pushed back, packed away, put in cold storage. Whereas we stop and meet our needs right away, we defer our dreams while we carry on with life.

But what happens to those submerged desires?

Some fade – time can change your cravings. Some have an expiration date; once you pass the point where you can no longer follow these desires, they become the stuff of daydreams. But a lot of our desires start to invade our thoughts, tap us on the shoulder, whisper in our ear, “Have you forgotten what you were going to do? Who you were going to be?”

Restlessness is often thought to be the exclusive enclave of youth. The young and the restless … of course. You want to get out and see and do it all and you can’t (cause no one gets to do it all) so you are restless. Pain is an element of desire and you sometimes want something so bad that it hurts. This is understood, expected, even applauded. But frankly, there is even more reason to feel restless in later years and to feel it more intensely. After you have lived a while, you become acutely aware of the fact that, yes, life is indeed short. When you feel the passage of years in your bones and see it in your skin, you realize that while your desires may not diminish, your strength will. If you are going to have some new adventures – whether it be visiting a foreign country or finally studying physics – you need to do it now. Those roadblocks need to be torn down or run over. You don’t have the luxury of saying, “Okay, this can wait.”

And this is good. You see, restlessness is not a sign of dissatisfaction, but rather desire. You don’t hate your life and want to run away, you love it and want to expand it. Whether it is to travel all over or stay put but live very differently, you are ready for something new. Yes, the status quo is comfortable, but you want more than comfort.

So happy birthday, my sis in Chicago! Celebrate your restlessness. It may make you uncomfortable and out of sorts and even exhausted at times, but it is a sign that you are living and thinking and love the world and want to experience more of its delights. Go, get out there … and do it now. Because life is indeed short.

And please drop me a line from your space in time.

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When you cannot have it all, you will have just what you want …

A quick note regarding a phenomenon I have noticed since my budget got a bit smaller and my purse strings a bit tighter: there are certain things I do not buy anymore and don’t miss because I never really liked them anyway. These were goods or experiences or even donations I paid for because I thought I should like them or they would benefit me in some way and improve my day and, what the hell, I could afford them. They brought me no joy yet I kept giving them a second chance over and over again. This list included dairy-free ice cream, kombucha, a few veggies that I don’t like, expensive shampoos, a couple of movie channels, various herbal teas, and clothes I did not wear because I just never found the right occasion. I also continually made donations to certain organizations that called me at all hours on any day, bought filters for a bizarre coffee maker that took forever to make rather mediocre coffee, and sat through ridiculous performance art pieces because, well, let’s give the artist a chance.

Now that I have way less money, yes, I must be picky about how I spend it, but I also realize how important it is to have things in your life that you both use and enjoy. My eating habits are seriously better now that I buy and eat food I enjoy (and no, I am not buying cream puffs and Cheetos, I am actually eating quite healthy). I wear clothes that are comfortable, read books that interest me, and donate to charities when I damned well feel like it. Ironically, I feel a bit richer with less on the book shelf or in the closet, and I don’t miss impulse buying or shopping simply to pass the time. Being less of a consumer has made me a better consumer and a way happier camper!

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And the saint comes marching in …

So the call came and my great new dream gig fell through. The next day (the day it was to start), I was running an errand and decided to stop off and see someone who had invited me for coffee. This was not a meeting at a Starbucks or a Denny’s, but rather participation in a morning ritual at a homeless resource center.  The director had given me a tour of the facility recently and had, at that time, told me to stop by during their coffee hour and meet and mingle with others. I stopped by and drank coffee and conversed with others a bit (I am somewhat inept at mingling) and then chatted with the director. I mentioned that I had just had a job offer fall through, he had just had a staff member leave.

I now have a job (at least for the time being). Thanks to St. Jude for coming in right under the wire and giving me a helping hand.

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Faith when it all falls apart …

Perhaps I was not specific enough. I wanted to find a job and then actually start doing it.

If you have been reading this blog recently, you will know that I have been praying a lot (including novenas to St. Josemaria Escriva and St. Jude) for a job. I have been without steady employment for many moons now and want to get back to work on a regular basis.  During my recent St. Jude novena, I got interviews and finally a job offer. Yippee! If I could bottle the feeling I had when I heard I got that job and give it to others to spritz on themselves and feel the same way, I would be a gazillionaire. I felt relief, joy, hope, anticipation, confidence, and benevolence all at once. I had a spring in my step and I slept better. I was unstuck, moving forward. Thank you, St. Jude and God.

And then, the day before my start date, I learned that the position was put on hold. Budget concerns from the higher-ups. There was a chance that the job might start up in a month or so, but also a better chance it was nixed permanently. Suddenly, I was right back where I started nine months ago. No job and no prospects.

It goes without saying that I felt disappointment. And dismay (uhmm, did no one look at the budget before they started setting up my cubicle?) And a mixture of anger and annoyance. But oddly, I did not feel any hopelessness — a feeling that has wrapped itself around me like a cold fog in the last few months. Yes, this is a lousy break, but that’s all. It does not mean the whole world is out to get me, it does not mean I am unemployable, it does not mean God is punishing me. It does not mean I am cursed or forgotten or invisible. It means that an employer thinks that I have the skills to perform a certain job but said employer does not have the budget to offer such job right now. That’s it. Such is the way of business.

I jumped up and got right back into the job search. One employer found me a good choice, there must be another employer who feels the same way. Something will come up. I have faith.

This is a revelation to me. I was agnostic for many years and then, for an equal number of years, paid attention to God when he paid attention to me, i.e., the good times. Prayers were for worship, not worries, and I offered to God thanks for things I had, not thoughts of bankruptcy or becoming homeless. For a long time, I don’t know if I could truthfully call myself a person of faith. But these last few months of reduced circumstances have shown that, if I have little else, I do have faith. I can speak with God about my frustrations and fears and there is no divine retribution. I can curse and cry and then get up and carry on with dignity. I do indeed believe that God has my back. That does not change when my circumstances change.

You could say that I found value in my life when I found nothing in my wallet. That clarity is what faith offers.

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A note of thanks to a saintly friend …

I prayed a novena to St. Jude. I asked for help finding work. A week or so after the novena ended, I received word that I had landed a job. What’s more, it was not just any job, but one I truly wanted, one that got me intrigued and excited. I got it! So, as promised, I am publicly thanking St. Jude for help finding a job and leading me out of a mental wasteland that had me thinking I had become invisible.

If you have read my earlier posts, you know that there is another reason why I want to thank St. Jude. He helped me see that I am not actually hopeless or a lost cause. He helped me take a step back and assess my situation objectively. I wrote about these revelations.

But there is one other aspect of this novena that I realized this morning. This novena showed me the practical side of prayer. Yes, prayer is a loving way to relate to the Lord, which we should do on a regular basis, but it often gets shoved into that compartment we call our spiritual life. We pray because our religious upbringing taught us to do so, because we are in church or it’s a holiday, because this is what good Christians do. We don’t consider prayer in the same vein as brushing our teeth or eating lunch; we elevate it to a higher purpose. Unfortunately, like the good china we only use on special occasions, it often stays elevated and unused. Even people who do pray on a regular basis can fall into the habit of doing so with no more contemplation than their morning coffee order. Yet prayer, whether to ask for something, to give thanks for something, or to simply say something to God, is as important to our well-being as proper diet and getting enough sleep. It grounds us to our humble existence while simultaneously opening us to the greater universe. Praying to a saint (who was, at one, point, human) reminds us that we have the ability to undergo the hardships (and hilarity) of life yet still follow in the footsteps of Jesus. During prayer, God can help us sort out and make sense of our lives. He can bring about a sense of calm or renewal of strength or both. We have a spiritual life that needs nourishment as must as our physical being. Prayer should be given the same consideration as diet and exercise. It just makes practical sense.

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St. Jude raises his eyebrow and restores my faith …

St. Jude, popularly known as the patron saint of lost causes, is also known by the names Thaddeus, Jude of James, and Judas Thaddeus. He was one of the twelve apostles and is believed by many to be the son of Joseph and thus the brother of Jesus.

In spite of his many names, various accounts state that, due to his name being inadvertently confused with Judas Iscariot (who betrayed Jesus Christ to the authorities), many people would not pray to him for fear of invoking the spirit of the traitor. The Catholic Church encouraged the faithful to pray to St. Jude by denoting him as the saint who assisted people with seemingly lost causes. He is willing to help those facing incurable illness, prison sentences, homelessness, bankruptcy, divorce, and imminent death, showing his devotion to Jesus Christ in doing so.

I have no doubt that many of the prayers that go to St. Jude are from folks who are in dire circumstances. He hears the prayers of children living in cars, prisoners on death row, people holding their dying spouse. He helps the faithful — sometimes reversing situations, sometimes presenting alternative solutions, sometimes providing strength to endure the inevitable. But I cannot help but wonder if sometimes St. Jude stands with hand on hip and declares, “Really? You think that’s a lost cause?”

After several many months of unemployment and a job search that bore no fruit, I began a novena to St. Jude. As noted in earlier posts, searching for work and getting nowhere really tried my faith — along with my patience, good will, self-esteem, and finances. To further complicate matters, I had never before had such a problem finding work anywhere that I was living. I was doing everything that one does in a job search yet getting no results. Few noticed me and nobody wanted me. I felt as if I was cursed.

I began my novena and within days was contacted by agents and employers. I had three great interviews in a row. I landed some freelance work. I spoke with someone about setting up a side business. While I have not seen a paycheck yet, I have seen an improvement in my outlook. Most importantly, I have learned a valuable lesson.

Sometimes, we just need to take a break. It is good to be focused and dedicated, but you may need to be refreshed and redirected. The continual grind of the job search wore me down. I simply could not see any aspect of my life other than the fact that I did not have a job. Throwing up my hands and saying, “I give up!” gave me permission to stop trying to look on the bright side. I then got the greatest gift of this novena — the ability to view the whole situation with blinding clarity. Yes, I have screwed up many times in many ways all through my days, but this stint of unemployment was not a punishment handed down from God. It was simply a rough patch in my life. I also became very grateful for stuff in the background — my apartment is in a safe neighborhood, my car runs well, I don’t need to take medication, I can read and write. The focus on my misfortune fogged over my ability to see what bit of fortune I actually had.

Suddenly, it was as if someone pulled up all the shades. My blinders were removed and I felt foolish. I was no more a lost cause than a shopper who cannot find a pair of shoes in their size. I was burnt out from applying to jobs every day and facing disinterested interviewers and agents, but I wasn’t handicapped or homeless. There was canned beans and coffee in the cupboard and books to read on the shelf. I had obtained an education and skills. I had accomplished things in the past. I could stand up and move forward when the chance to do so came along. It just had not come quite yet.

St. Jude listened to me and sensed my disproportionate sense of failure. He blew away the cloud of despair following me around and showed me that I am not helpless or hopeless, but just tired of the treadmill and need to step off for a moment. When I did, everything came into view. More than anything, this novena showed me that I am not desperate and a lost cause, just dizzy and in need of a break.

I thank St. Jude for his sympathetic ear — it was just what I needed at the moment.

 

 

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Reflections Upon the End of a Novena …

Today was the last (ninth) day of my novena to St. Jude. When you mention St. Jude, most folks will know him as the patron saint of lost causes. This is true, but it is equally important to note that he is the patron saint of hope, a fact that is often overlooked but of extreme importance. When you feel, as I had been feeling, that your situation is dire and demands desperate measures, you most often have little hope left. You may feel that you have no control over your life and everything you do is pointless. Hope — the belief that things may improve, that we will be happy again, that what we do makes a difference — gives us the strength to get out of bed in the morning. When you hope, you anticipate results and plan and design and work and work some more to make those results happen. Without hope, life is just a free fall and we can not grab onto a branch. Everything becomes pointless.

I was having absolutely no luck finding steady work that would support me. Frankly, I began to view myself as unemployable. I was not even getting responses or interviews anymore. I questioned where I went wrong. I kept plugging along, but I no longer anticipated any positive results — and I no longer got them.

I started the novena and within four days I was contacted by two recruiters (henceforth unknown) about jobs. One lead fizzled out but the other generated an interview (and it was a great interview!) I also got a call directly from an employer and scheduled another interview. I truly believe that St. Jude not only heard my prayer but went to work overtime — I have been contacted about jobs that don’t fit me but that would be perfect for other folks I know. I had been feeling so isolated and forgotten for so long but am now reminded that there is a whole community of folks looking for work. Being able to find work and to help others find work has made me feel productive and, yep, hopeful. I have got back that spark that helps me face the day and meet challenges and help others do the same. It is as if I have stepped back into the world again. I thank St. Jude for returning the fire and desire to my days.

As of now, I do not have a job, but I have hope and faith. I placed faith in St. Jude and he restored my faith in myself. What a difference nine days can make.

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Thanks St. Jude!

I started praying a novena to St. Jude four days ago. For those of you who don’t know, a novena is the practice of praying for a specific reason for nine days. The prayers generally ask for a saint’s help. St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes — you go to him when you are down and out and desperate. I never thought I would pray to him for myself. (I have prayed to him to intercede on another’s behalf.) I pride myself on being strong and finding options when things don’t work out. Unfortunately, I am truly feeling like a lost cause these days. I have been looking for work for almost nine months and cannot seem to land a job that will support me. I currently have a part-time position with a good company and decent people, but it pays too little and, frankly, I am a poor fit for the job.  I have looked and applied and interviewed and called agents and followed leads and prayed and I just ain’t getting anywhere. My unemployment benefits have run out so I am living on savings — and yes, I realize how lucky I am to have savings — but that cannot continue for very long. (The part-time job prevents complete reliance on savings, but I am still dipping into reserves every month.) This cannot go on and at times I panic. I am looking at living in my car. I am investigating how to check into homeless shelters. I admit it. I am at the bottom of a pit and I feel myself with no energy or ability to climb out. I have not a clue as to how to help myself. So I have been praying to St. Jude and I promised him that if he helped me, I would spread the word about what a good dude he is and how he helped me.

The novena began on Wednesday. On Friday, I got two phone calls from agents with whom I’ve never had any prior contact. Both of them are submitting me for decent positions for which I have the required skills. I would have never known about these jobs had the agents not called me. I also got some feedback from a company that is out of state. It might just be the right time to make a move and start over. My novena is only half over and I am seeing some positive traction. Thus, I am keeping my word and getting out the message about the St. Jude Novena.

You see, even if none of these jobs pan out, I have still gotten something from praying to St. Jude. I have gotten the lesson (which I needed to learn) that I need to admit when I am broken. I have always prided myself on being independent and able to take care of myself. I now realize that it is no shame and certainly no sin to admit that I don’t know what to do now or next and hey! I could really use some help. I have learned that nothing bad happens when I admit that I am at the end of my rope — actually quite the opposite. The earth did not open up and swallow me, people did not shun me like a leper, no one carted me off to a padded cell. Rather, I realized that crashing and burning is a part of the process we call life. Sometimes we can handle it without a lot of help, other times we need all the help we can get, and a lot of times we ain’t sure where to turn. It is at times like these that St. Jude has your back.

So I will thank St. Jude for his help and acknowledge that he is helping me and the novena ain’t even halfway over!

If you’ve been dealing with a problem and you just ain’t finding a solution, St. Jude is your saint. Whatever the problem, hand it to him and he’ll help you get some traction and some satisfaction.

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Will Satisfaction Suffice?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the first words I learned in graduate school: satisficing. It’s a strategy in which a decision maker chooses an option that might not be the best choice but does satisfy the basic need for the decision. (The word satisficing is a combination of satisfying and sufficing.) For example, instead of finding the absolute lowest airfare possible, you search until you find an airfare that fits your budget and then you buy your ticket. Your decision satisfies your needs (airline tickets) and meets your standards (spend less that a certain amount) and so you take action.

When I first heard of satisficing, I thought it was just a fancy way to say lower your standards and settle for less. Yet Nobel Peace Prize winner Herbert Simon (who coined the phrase) felt differently. He argued, “Decision makers can satisfice either by finding optimum solutions for a simplified world or by finding satisfactory solutions for a more realistic world.” Simply put, satisficing is an efficient way of making decisions in the real world where time, money, and info are in limited supply. Satisficing helps managers, executives, soldiers, and regular citizens make decisions and implement a course of action.

I remember a point in my life when I was thinking about making a major change. I had various options, each one requiring time and commitment, and (of course) I felt I had to make the absolute best choice. (Hey, this is my life, you know!) I spent hours researching, organizing, reflecting, and agonizing over my choices and their possible impact. Rather than being excited about stepping onto a new path, I was paralyzed by anxiety and insecurity. I kept asking myself, “How do I know there isn’t something better out there?” In the end, I stayed where I was and never made any change at all.

And therein lies the dilemma of decision-making. If you want to make the best choice, you need to know what is the best choice. This can lead to a lot of second-guessing and, possibly, not making any decision at all. If you do make a decision, you may find that something better was indeed out there, causing you to lose interest in the choice you made. However, if you make a decision to simply satisfy a need (keeping in mind your standards), once you make such decision you can move on. And in the end, isn’t that the point of making a choice, to get on with our lives?