Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It Is Not the Healthy Who Need a Physician...

With Lent fast approaching (it starts tomorrow), I thought a blog about repentance and sin would be appropriate. I must admit that I’m new at this. I wasn’t raised to tell all my shortcomings to a priest, a friend or even God. In fact, I felt—and this is just what I felt, not what I was taught—that I was supposed to let the past be past. Forget about it and press on. However, this is not what I believe God wants for me. I also don’t believe that He wants extreme guilt followed by periods of penance—fasting, sleeping on the ground, making up for it by being good. These things can be done as a way of preparing my heart to receive from him, preparing the soil for the seeds, but I don’t see them as a way of paying for my sins.

My wife and I have been talking about sin as two things. Not primarily breaking a law, but more like missing the target in archery due to a sickness. Sin is offensive to God, but He does not demand reparations for these offenses. Rather, he sees the ways in which we are wounding ourselves and others and seeks to heal our wounds. I think this is part of why He is called the Great Physician. “He was bruised for our transgressions, pierced for our iniquities…by His stripes we are healed”, it says in Isaiah. “Lord, I have sinned against You, heal my soul”, says the Psalmist. It is healthy (no pun intended) to look at our sins as a sickness in need of healing.

That said, it is hard to see our own sin, to diagnose our illness.

My brother-in-law was sick just recently. He had an unidentifiable spot on his lungs. The doctors had no clue what it was. They gave him no treatment, no prescription. They only knew that something was wrong. Clinical tests were done, an MRI was conducted, but to no avail. They evened it down, I think, to either West Nile or Mono, but neither of these really fit the bill. My brother’s breathing and coughing got worse, the spot seemed to be growing. Then, without treatment or medicine, it slowly began to recede.

I’m using this story as analogy (I use too many of these) for sinful passions. Sometimes, we only see the symptoms. We may search our hearts and minds, the depths of our souls, for the cause of our depression, despair, anxiety, pride, lust, fear, or vanity, but we never find it. Like a breath on a cold morning, it’s there, then it dissipates into seeming nothingness until the next time we start to wallow in self-pity and despair, or worry frantically about the smallest things, or crave women (or men), food or drink to satisfy our bodily desires.

God sees this. He knows intimately how we are made. He made us. He, himself, became man and was “tempted in every way” just as we are, but He never sinned. And it is just that intimacy and freedom from sin that He uses to begin the healing process. We should make every effort to search out, target our sins and present them to God, but there’s no way any one of us could know them all. If you could, you would be overwhelmed.

That’s why God doesn’t expect us to overcome all our sins at once. Rather, at least this has been my experience, he gives us a little to work on each day. I’ve started the discipline of sitting down with a pencil and paper and searching my life for signs of sickness. This is not a time for me to get all guilty and bent out of shape. I ask God to show me my sin so that it can be purged and I can be made well. With this can come a lot of pain. I simply write it down and then move on. I’ve saved some of the pages (ahh!), but I hope to go over them with my Pastor someday soon and tear them all up. There is a time to let the past be past.

The goal in telling all the things I’m most ashamed of is communion with God, His real presence in me each and every moment. He challenges, He convicts, He punishes, but ultimately He does this so the He can heal me and bring me back to Him and to the people and things he has given me to love. This morning I prayed the prayer of Ephrem the Syrian as part of my morning prayer and confession. I’ll leave this blog with a quote of it.

O Lord and Master of my life, do not give to me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power or idle talk,
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, love and patience to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brethren. For blessed are You unto ages of ages. Amen.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I love Saturday mornings. Let me clarify... I LOVE Saturday mornings. Joe and I began a "pajama Saturday" tradition shortly after we got married. We would sleep in, get up whenever we wanted and stay in our pajamas as long as possible. Usually past noon. Once we woke up we would make pancakes and coffee and lounge around, lazily eating our brunch. This quickly became the highlight of my week.

Then one pajama Saturday while we were enjoying our coffee, I suddenly realized that the smell of coffee made me want to vomit. I had to get rid of the cup that I was holding and sit as far away from Joe's coffee as I could. I knew something was wrong. Soon after we discovered we were pregnant, and 9 wonderful months later we had our sweet baby girl.

We are continuing the pajama Saturday tradition with Azalia too. Though the pancakes usually aren't ready till she's done with her morning nap. Joe and I still eat our brunch lazily and enjoy each other's company while she's sleeping. It's such a nice time for us to relax and connect. We usually don't have many plans Saturday afternoons, so we take our morning slow. Very slow. Which is so good. And even though so much has changed since our very first pajama Saturdays, I can still remember what it felt like back then with hardly any responsibilities and the high of a brand new marriage. When we sit at our table eating our pancakes while our daughter sleeps (most of the time) I feel young again. And when we don't get a pajama Saturday (for whatever reason) my whole week gets thrown off. I feel rushed and not quite as ready to tackle the new week ahead.

Tradition is important. I think we all thrive on some sort of tradition. Every year at Christmas, families have different traditions to celebrate. Once a year, family and friends celebrate the day you were born. We like to look back, remember when special days happened. This is why I really respect the liturgical calendar of the early Church. It just makes sense. We thrive on tradition. As Christians, we should celebrate our history. To know that for thousands of years the Church celebrated certain days and that we too can celebrate with them is unifying.

But I was talking about pajama Saturday, wasn't I? We thrive on tradition. Pajama Saturday is one of the best parts of my week and I love it. What's your favorite tradition?

Sunday, February 15, 2009


This Saturday, as we all know, was valentine's day. I kind of think that V-day is sort of cheesy, but it's also kind of fun. Anyways, Joe and I decided not to do anything major for presents. I thought it was a great reason to bake some cupcakes.

I decided on this recipe: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/double-dark-chocolate-cupcakes-with-peanut-butter-filling because my husband is a lover all things peanut butter and chocolate. I am not the biggest PB/chocolate fan, so I though these were a nice compromise. I was right.

These were very time consuming cupcakes. By the time I made the batter, baked the cakes, made the filling, filled each cupcake, double dipped the tops with chocolate glaze, then made little rosettes with the extra filling on top I had spent over 2 hours in the kitchen. Now, I love baking, but these took much longer than I anticipated. However, the end result was fantastic.

The cupcakes are thick. Very thick. Like I need a gallon a milk to wash this down thick. But I think that's a good thing. The little peanut butter filling in the middle is perfect to offset the richness of the double chocolate taste. These would be too much without the PB. If I make these again I would fill the cupcakes a little more...I think I was so afraid of poking out the bottom of the cupcakes that I did not plunge the star tip in far enough. Also, the PB filling turned out runnier than I anticipated, so my "rosettes" on top of the cupcakes just looked like PB blobs. This might be because I used organic, natural PB, which is very oily. Next time maybe this whole PB scare will be over and I can try it with regular PB.

Overall, I was pleased with these cupcakes. Since the batch made 24, I brought a dozen to work tonight so that Joe and I wouldn't gain 50 pounds by consuming them for breakfast, lunch and dinner until they were gone. One of the comments I received was, "You know the cupcakes are good when you eat the crumbs off your scarf, which I just did." My husband praised them by telling me I had outdone myself. Which is pretty nice, because I've made him a few PB/chocolate goodies in the past. My brother praised me by pretending to choke on it. Which means he really liked it.

Look forward to more cupcake related posts since I'm kind of in a cupcake baking phase right now!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

So...what are you?

I have been asked this question numerous times growing up, and still receive it. No matter how delicately someone asks, the basic gist is, "What are you?". And even though I reply with, "I'm Latina" or "I'm half-Guatemalan" I still wonder sometimes what I really am.

Most Latinos will recognize a little of themselves in me. White people know I'm not completely white. A lot of the kids in New Orleans thought I was Native American. One man in Barnes and Noble was convinced I was Native American. My blood is half-Guatemalan, half-German. Though my father was from Guatemala, I was raised by my white mother. So much of my cultural identity has come from her. In college I took a Chicano literature class that really made me desire to find out more about my heritage. I desire to travel to Guatemala someday to see the city my father grew up in. I have memories from childhood when we lived in a Latino neighborhood in inner-city Chicago and really cherish those memories. They are mostly memories of food we ate, music we listened to...languages spoken.

To be completely honest, I have always felt growing up that something was missing. While I am so grateful to my mother for raising me in a loving home...I wish that she would not have let me lose the ability to speak Spanish. I wish that she would have kept some of the cultural traditions we had in Chicago. I understand why she didn't. When I went to Mexico for the first time to visit my then fiancee, many memories rushed back. I found that by the end of the week I was able to understand what people were saying...though I was nowhere near being able to respond in Spanish. That trip and our honeymoon in Mexico have given me the desire to live in a Spanish-speaking country someday. I have this hunch that if I was immersed in the language that I would be able to speak again. I have a feeling that this ability to speak Spanish would help relieve some of my "cultural homesickness". I know that I can do some things now to learn Spanish. I even took 4 years of Spanish in high school, but it didn't stick. It was extremely easy for me, though. I remember hardly ever having to study. So total immersion it is. I just hope we don't wait till we're 60 to move.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Run for Your Life!

When I was younger I ran everywhere: down to the barn for morning chores at 5 a.m., down our gravel road to the creek filled with rainbow fish and the child-sized culvert we used to crawl through and secretly onto our neighbor’s land, around the bases of our local baseball diamond. It wasn’t until high school that I learned to run measured distances. I ran the 100, 200 and 400 meter dashes. Mostly, I ran these races because they were short and required little exertion on my part. Towards the end of my sophomore year, however, due to slipping grades and an adolescent malaise, my parents asked me to hang up my track cleats. I obliged only slightly begrudgingly. Honestly, track had taken the fun and enjoyment out of running. A round track, even a long one, seems like a cage when compared to the open, muddy fields I used to tromp through with my winter boots in the early morning fog of spring. I used to wear myself out chasing chickens around the coop courtyard, chasing baby goats around the barn, or racing my brother to home plate for a too-close-to-call tag-out play.

This Sunday afternoon, I ran again. Ice and snow were foreboding, but their icy fingers lost their grip. I was elusive. I was the wind and the sunlight and the clouds.

Okay, so I only ran 4 miles, but still. Something inside me came back to life. Today, I read an article on Runner's World about how running can be a spiritual experience; how running can awaken and sharpen your desire to pray. I'm not sure if this is true. I can say that I'm struck with a simple, childlike awe when I spend any large chunk of time outside. That awe is closer to prayer than I sometimes come for a whole week. Delight, utter joy at being alive, thankfulness. These are what come back to life in me. I'm learning to delight in the simple things, the things I've always known: sunlight, snow, music, even work.

It is with this gusto that I begin my attempt at running this year's half-marathon. I haven't signed up yet. I'm the kind of person who wants to be very sure he can do something before really committing to it. Consider this post at least a slight commitment. It's on. Sort of.