Monday, 8 August 2016

The Tale of the Free Wedding Dress


Full disclosure: This is NOT the wedding dress or the bride the story is about, but I'm not allowed to post pictures of her until the actual wedding. Fair enough.

“Let’s go wedding dress shopping!” A normal statement for a maid of honour to make to a bride-to-be. But this wasn’t a normal situation. Kristi* and Annie* were Americans, working as full-time Catholic volunteers in Taiwan and India, respectively, and the conversation was happening in the Philippines. And the bride wanted a free wedding dress.

Let’s back up. Two years into her non-traditional life as an itinerant Catholic volunteer serving the poor in India, Annie met Ajay*, a young Catholic man from a traditional Maharashtrian family. Deeply impressed with each other’s faith, they soon started discerning marriage. Many were skeptical of their choice to trust God and put Him first in their decisions. “Can serving God fill your bellies?” they were asked. They prayed and steadfastly continued to prepare for a simple wedding.

Most brides expect to pay huge amounts for a wedding dress, but Annie wanted to spend as little as possible. She planned to borrow a friend’s dress because it would be free. But her maid of honour, Kristi, had other ideas. When they met in the Philippines for a visa run and retreat, she convinced Annie to look at wedding dresses. She skeptically agreed. Kristi made HER preparations for the shopping trip- by praying that God would guide them. They believed in a God who was involved with the little details of their lives.

The two girls walked through the shopping area of Cagayan de Oro, a busy city in Mindanao, in the south of the Philippines. There was a plethora of wedding dress shops, a big business in the Philippines. Some of the shops were a little seedy, with dressing rooms made up of a curtain drawn across a wire. There were so many ugly wedding dresses! And still so expensive! Annie was soon tired, and ready to give up.

Then Kristi saw one little boutique with just one wedding dress in the window. The store window next to it was bursting with wedding dresses, but Kristi ignored it, and purposefully walked into the little one. Something told her this was the one. As they entered, Annie was overawed by how posh it seemed- a big mirror, fluffy white couches.

“We should leave,” she thought uncomfortably. “This is going to be way too expensive.”

They sat down and talked to the proprietor, a little Filipino lady in a expensive-looking cocktail dress.
“I don’t make dresses, I design them,” the lady told them.

 “Oh, great!” said Kristi, brightly. She knew Annie's modesty standards were becoming difficult to find. But Annie just wondered how soon they could leave without being rude.

 “We’re Catholic volunteers,” they told her, and she seemed happy to hear that.

“I’m Catholic too! And I give discounts to Catholic volunteers. I’m grateful to God for the blessing of this store, so it’s my little way of giving back.”

Annie and Kristi shot looks at each other. This was beginning to sound more promising. But then she pulled out a piece of paper with the price ranges, and their hearts sank. The range was from 45,000 pesos to 300,000 pesos (about $950 to $6300).

“Can you manage 45,000 pesos?”she asked them kindly.

After looking at each other, they both answered, “No,” dismally.

“Never mind. Can you stand up?” Annie stood up, confused, and turned around, and the lady looked her up and down, as if she was calculating how much fabric she would need to dress her.

“What kind of dress do you want? Tell me.” She pulled out a paper and pen, and sketched as Annie described a modest, old fashioned, lacy wedding dress of her dreams. She commented several times, "You are really conservative." It's true, thought Annie. That was why none of the other dresses were what she wanted.

“Do you like this?” she showed her the finished sketch.

“Ye-ess… It’s really pretty.. But I can’t afford it. We’re volunteers.”

“Okay. What can you afford?”

“Less than 10000 pesos ($220).”

“That’s nothing! That wouldn’t even cover the cost of the material,” she responded.

“But.. I’ll do it for that.”

That was unexpectedly generous, but Annie, cautious as ever, was still worried. That was still $220 more than free. They looked at fabric, and then told the lady they needed to think about it. They left the shop, and sat together at an empty bar, eating french fries.

“I don’t think I should do it. I could still borrow a dress for free.” They stopped and prayed, and asked the Lord what she should do.

“I think the Lord wants you to have it,” said Kristi. “From 45,000 pesos to 10,000 pesos! I’ve been praying all day, and this is a gift from the Lord.”

So they went back in and said, “We want it!”

They left for the retreat, but Annie was still whispering to the Lord, “Please, Lord! Can I get it for free?” She told the other girls at the retreat the story, and they were amazed at the miracle of a wedding dress for $220, and yet she told them that she was begging the Lord to give it to her for free.

In preparation for paying for the dress, Annie emptied her bank account. She had only $6 left in her account. She had no money left for her remaining three days in the Philippines. A friend gave her money for her taxi to the airport, so she hid that away. But she had nothing else. She and Kristi lived off dry oats and chocolate bars, because that was the only thing they had with them. Annie’s stomach felt strange, and she was hungry all the time, and couldn’t stop thinking of food. Someone had even offered her food once, and she politely refused, because in India she had been trained to say no the first time, and yes when the offer was renewed, but to her disappointment, her refusal was accepted.

During the week, they returned for a few dress fittings. Each time they would talk with the owner, getting to know her better. They asked about her family members, and they found out she was a famous designer all over Mindanao. On their last visit, Annie asked her if she knew where they could get a taxi that would take them to the airport in the middle of the night.

“Oh, my personal driver can take you!” she said, nonchalantly.

“How much will that cost?” ventured Annie.

“Nothing!” she replied, laughing.

Annie was in awe at God’s providence. “This is the nicest person in the world.” As they chatted, Annie asked if they could write down the names of her family members so they could continue to pray for them. She wrote down the names, and then they prayed with her for her work, and her family. After they prayed, she asked for the paper with the names back, and made two copies of it. She began to roll the paper up, and they saw a glimpse of money being rolled in with the papers.

“That’s so generous, after everything else she has done for us” thought Annie. She thought she had seen a hundred pesos.

“This is for your volunteer work in India and Taiwan,” she told them, and they thanked her. Then she presented them with the bill for 10,000 pesos, and Annie in that moment turned to the Lord and said, “Okay, Lord. It’s fine. I prayed that you would give it for free, and even though I am paying now, I will trust you. I don’t have any money left. But it’s fine.” She pulled out the money, and handed it over.

The owner laughed as she received the money and said, “You’re giving me money and it’s like I’m giving it right back to you.” That’s true, thought Annie, since she’s given us a small donation.

They thanked her for doing it so fast- she made a wedding dress in a week! Then she handed them two boxes of Dunkin' Donuts which she had lying by her. Kristi and Annie walked out with the wedding dress, handing out doughnuts to the street children, and beggars that they saw, feeling like Santa Claus. They headed to Jollibee, the most popular fast food chain in the Philippines, and ordered fried chicken and french fries and ice cream with the taxi money.

As Annie returned to their table with the food, she saw Kristi’s face in shock.

“I think you just got a free wedding dress.”

“What?”

“There’s 5000 pesos in my envelope. Look in yours.”

Annie opened her folded piece of paper, and there was 5000 pesos. She started crying, and they both started shouting ‘Praise you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!’ aloud, oblivious of the other Jollibee customers.

Because through this miracle of the free wedding dress, God had confirmed in her heart that this man and this wedding WAS God’s plan for her, that He COULD fill the bellies of those who served him and trusted Him, and that He loved not just her, Annie, but Kristi, and the boutique owner enough to get them all involved in and blessed by His surprises and extravagant love.

*Names have been changed.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Best and the Worst of Goa Monsoons

Coming from Pune, I thought I knew all about the monsoons “You’ll see,” Goans prophesied darkly when I gaily remarked how much I was looking forward to the monsoons. The summer in Goa was so suffocatingly humid, that only the thought of the monsoon kept me going while the sweat rolled down my body at 7 am in May. And then the monsoons came! Now I know.

One of the few pictures I didn't steal from the Internet

The Best 

The weather is cool, even cold sometimes, and I remember thinking I had almost forgotten what cold felt like during the summer. I get to wear sweaters, huddle in my Mexican blanket, and drink endless cups of chai. Perfect for introverts who prefer to never leave the house, and now have an excuse not to.

Me to a T.. until i have to leave the house

Also I don’t have to change my clothes multiple times in the day because they’re soaked in sweat. The world is lush with greenery, bursting with fresh, rain drenched life! It’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful. We found a new church to go to Mass too, and riding down the little roads framed by green was like bursting into a storybook, or one of those gorgeous, larger than life, aesthetically fascinating movies like Avatar or Life of Pi or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Strange movie.. and yet feels like a vivid, vivid dream

The Worst 

Mold! Mold, I tell you, everywhere! On my shoes, on my clothes, on my bags, on some books, on the walls. I feel like I smell mold when I put on my helmet. Ugh. Clothes take forever to dry, but if anything stays wet, welcome to the world of mold! (Oh shoot, I just remembered that I had some wet money in my rain jacket pocket this morning. So I guess I have mold-covered money too.)

I'm not even joking

Riding a bike in the rain- well I thought I used to do that in Pune. I’d wear a rain poncho (kinda like wearing a plastic bag), and even if I forgot it and it started raining, I had at least five minutes before the rain got heavier.

This might work in Pune

It was more of a steady drizzle that would let up in 15 minutes. In Goa, now. How do I describe this? You feel a drop of water. Within the next five seconds, it is as if it is Holi and your upstairs neighbour is gleefully emptying buckets and buckets of water directly on to your defenceless head. Which leads to my next point…

Exactly like that

Exremely attractive rain gear. I used to avoid even the thought of rain pants in Pune because although I wouldn’t call myself particularly concerned with fashion (I’m sure my sisters would call that the understatement of the year), even I had some standards. Well, standards just got thrown out the window for the monsoons, as every time I leave the house, I don the ugliest baggiest most shapeless pair of rain pants I have ever seen (apart from all the other ones), and then my rain jacket, hood, helmet, backpack with personal rain cover, and rain poncho over everything. Quite the sight.

Riding in the rain: While a gorgeous adventure in theory, it’s more like a fraught-with-danger, almost foolhardy death wish in reality. Between the puddle covered potholes, the rain so heavy I can hardly see the road ahead of me, the likelihood of skidding on the steep gravel-covered wet roads while hitting the brakes, the other big vehicles that splash water over me, and the water seeping into my clothes in spite of my ugly rain gear, you might hear a lot of ‘Praise you, Jesus’s (our volunteers trained response to scary/difficult/challenging moments) and my team mate singing loudly ‘ LET IT RAIIIN DOWN, OPEN THE FLOODGATES OF HEEAVEN.. oh wait, just kidding, Lord, what I meant was ‘LET IT STOOP NOW, CLOSE THE FLOODGATES OF HEAVEN!’.


Who knows what might happen?

In conclusion, Goa monsoons are STILL better than the oppressive summer. Anyway, it’s going to be September soon, and the beginning of the coolest, driest, most beautiful time of the year in Goa. Woohoo!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Why 'Finding Dory' Made Me Cry


Spoiler alert: If you haven't watched Finding Dory, and plan to, don't read this!!

Dory has been my favourite animated movie character ever since Finding Nemo in 2003. Something about Dory's absent minded, talking to whales, sunny, random hilarity reminded me of me and my friends.


So of course when Finding Dory came out, I went to see it.  It was not very original, but pretty entertaining. when a movie actually gets me to laugh aloud, I count it a good movie.

But the best movies are the ones that give me a glimpse of something deeper, a truth that resonates with my soul. And that's what happened as I watched Finding Dory.

The movie is all about how Dory, a fish with short term memory loss loses her parents as a child, and as an adult remembers that she lost them, and crosses the ocean trying to find them again. (I'd think this was a slightly scary premise for a kid's movie- thinking you could just LOSE your parents was a real possibility must be a kid's worst fear). She keeps having flashbacks to her childhood, and remembers how her parents lovingly helped Baby Dory deal with her memory problem in different ways, including training her to follow a trail of shells to find her way back home. (Can I just say how adorable Baby Dory is?)



But after the expected set of obstacles and detours and appearance of new friends who help poor forgetful ENFP Dory, she finally finds her childhood home- and it's abandoned.

The moment when you see the abandoned home feels like what I imagine it would feel like to find there really was no God, no purpose, that life was devoid of meaning, and hopelessness was the only appropriate response. I've had nightmares like that.

It is a dark and lonely feeling. Again, I'm kinda surprised that a kid's movie would touch on such dark themes so realistically. When all is lost, Dory loses even the friends she does have, and finds herself wandering around alone in the ocean. Her mind seems to be disintegrating from the trauma.

And then, and then... she sees the beginning of a trail of shells. Is it possible? Could she have stumbled upon a trail of shells her parents had laid for her? Was it possible?


She follows the trail, and sees a home in the ocean.... AND THEN you see a hundred trails of shells leading in all directions from the home... and her parents old, and still laying shells hoping that one day, one day, their daughter would come looking for them, and would find one of the trails of shells that would lead her back to home.. and I'm weeping because THAT, THAT EXACTLY IS HOW GOD LOVES US! The faithful Father, waiting, watching for the prodigal to return. The God who never gets tired of calling us back, of laying shell-trails- signs along our path, pointing us back to our true home with Him.

Dory innocently lost her way (this movie must be so meaningful to parents with special needs kids), and her parents didn't just give up and start a new life without her. But we CHOSE to turn away, and STILL God didn't give up on  loving us, and devising ways to bring us back.

A few days ago an acquaintance was telling us how his brother had strayed far from God, for years had made power and money and success his gods. Until one day when he went for a nominal Confession. He made a perfunctory Confession, but suddenly the priest started telling him all the sins he had not said- thing that the priest couldn't have known. (Padre Pio was known to have done the same.) This man suddenly heard God speaking loudly into his life... and then the priest told him, "God says to tell you- I am the eighth person He's sent." God had been sending people to call His son back. And even when he ignored them, he sent another one, and another one.


Finding Dory reminded me of the truth that no nightmare can take away from me- I am NOT alone. I am loved, forgiven and awaited. How sweet it is to be loved by You, Lord. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

A Glimpse into the World of Siblings


Thinking about siblings- the good, the bad, and the ugly, after revealing how annoying an older sister I was in my last post.

-----1-----

How to Take the Art of 'Annoying Siblinghood' to a Whole New Level

Mornings were the worst in my home. My dad was the parent who would try to make sure we were all awake at the time we were supposed to be awake. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. Some of my siblings were heavy sleepers, and had mastered the art of JUST. NOT. WAKING. UP.

Dada: Are you awake! It's past 7! Get moving!
Sibling (in deep sleep): I'm awake!

Half an hour later:
Dada: WHY AREN'T YOU UP YET??
Sibling: You woke me up? I didn't hear you!

Me: Aaargghh!

I hated that everyone was in a bad mood in the morning, and I decided that I would do my bit to solve the problem. You know what I did? I can't believe I'm admitting this in public... I got permission from my parents to throw water on my siblings if they didn't wake up when they were supposed to.

Yes.

I really did.

I would get a mug of water, and drip drip drip a few drops on the face of the offending sibling. That would certainly wake them up, but I can't say it helped with the average level of bad moods in the home.

-----2-----

What Siblings REALLY Fight Over

People who don't have siblings might assume that siblings fight over toys or possessions. But the reality is much stranger.

These are some of the things my siblings and I fought over:

  • Who got the chipped plate- the Chipped Plate was the Plate of Shame. No one wanted to land up with the Chipped Plate. So the sibling whose job it was to lay the table, would carefully place it at the seat of the sibling they were most mad at. But then! If there was enough time between the laying of the table and the eating of the meal, the Table-Layer would often be OUTRAGED to find that the chipped plate had made its way back to his or her place. Unfortunately this was not something he or she could officially complain about, because that would mean admitting the deliberate placing of the Chipped Plate in the first place. 
  • Who got the Roundy Poon. Now this spoon was the most desirable item on the dining table, and would also involve a lot of machinations to make sure one got it. Often the youngest sibling would be the lucky one.
  • Who got to sit next to Mama at movie nights. Once again, a privilege usually reserved for the youngest, but then again Mama has two sides, so that's up for grabs. Woe to you though if you get up while the movie is playing, because your privileged spot will most likely be usurped.
  • Whether or not or how fast to put the fan on in the night- there's always the permanently hot sibling who needs the fan on the frigidest of nights, and the permanently cold sibling who is huddled up under blankets on a suffocating summer night. Related: whether or not the bedroom windows and doors are left open.
  • Lights off at night: I remember a furiously angry night with a sibling and I switching on and off the light on opposite ends of the room because we were so privileged to have two switches to the same tube light.
  • Bath time: I once got into a strange fight in which my sister and I were lodged in the bathroom door, neither of us allowing the other to enter, because one of us had missed our bath time, and whoever got in first was not going to get in trouble with my parents, who were about to get home. 
  • Clothes: I would regularly borrow my sisters' cute clothes without asking, a source of much anger. I still sometimes have to fight the urge to be possessive about my clothes, feeling like someone is 'stealing my cuteness' if they wear my clothes.


----3----

Siblings Involvement in Each Other's Love Lives

From passing on fake or real love notes, telling each other who to have crushes on (why yes I do win the award for bossiest 12 year old big sister ever), peeking from the window as sisters get picked up for dates by guys with silver shirts, ear rings, and flowers, comforting sisters who get stood up, or disappointed in love, giving first date advice, giving advice on girls to extremely ungrateful brothers, eating chocolates given by siblings' admirers, making (not as subtle as they think) comments to or about love interests within their hearing, giving advice about not flirting, and dealing with unwanted suitors, or pushy girls, to letting cats out of bags at inopportune moments, siblings are very involved with each other's love lives... for better or for worse.

----4----

Siblings are the Worst... and the Best

Siblings can be the most frustrating people to exist, because they know exactly how to push your buttons. Old childhood hurts take a long time to heal, and sometimes can cloud our perspective of each other. But siblings are also the people who've seen the worst of you- the sarcastic you, the undisciplined you, the furiously angry you, so they know how hard won the new you, the gentle you, the kind you is. I think GRACE and MERCY are the most desperately needed among siblings and families, because it is only in those very close, nitty gritty relationships that we are really real, and see both the reality of REAL ugly sinfulness and REAL beautiful mercy.

----5----

Simcha Fisher wrote a cool article called: How to Help Young Siblings Grow Up to Become Lifelong Friends 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

I Used to Be Anti-Harry Potter


When Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone first came out, someone lent it to my family, and my mother read the first chapter aloud to us. That was all it took- my four siblings and I were hooked. There was something very charming and witty about her writing style, especially to a 12 or 13 year old. We were super excited about each new book coming out.

Somewhere around the fifth book, I became an avid Catholic forum reader, and came across a a lot of Christians who were vehemently against the Harry Potter series. I was fairly impressionable, and was convinced that because the books were about witchcraft and some kids who read them started experimenting with black magic, they were dangerous and should be shunned. At that time in my life, I was one of those bossy, judgy, lay down the law and make other people follow it kinda people (my siblings are nodding vigorously as they read this), so I managed to convince my parents that as good Christians they shouldn't be allowing Harry Potter into our house.


Can you even imagine how furious my siblings were with me? I'm still not sure if they've forgiven me for that. Of course, such a law (like most book-banning), invites law-breaking, and all of them managed to smuggle in and read the succeeding books without my parents finding out (including one who read the fifth one while sitting inside a cupboard), so really I was the only one who lost out.

Over the years, I began to read more balanced Catholic blogs, with more thoughtful and nuanced perspectives. As Catholics, we DO believe in black and white, but also that there are also a great deal of matters which are not so clear, which the Church has NOT clearly condemned or approved, and which need prudence, and wisdom, and healthy discussions in order to choose how to approach.

The tendency is either to be overly fearful (everything that is not explicitly Christian is evil!) or to be overly lax (no censorship at any cost, children have to learn to deal with anything that is out there), or even naive (how much will it really influence them?)

Anyway, after reflection and growth, and the passage of years, here are some thoughts on Harry Potter now:

As a Christian, I DO believe in the existence of evil spiritual powers, and that all forms of the occult are dangerous and to be taken seriously. That's why non-Christians are laughing in disbelief at anyone having a problem with Harry Potter. If witchcraft is merely a fun imaginative fictional invention, then there really is no problem. But I have heard and seen enough to know that the Church isn't kidding about this stuff.


Here is just one of many many stories: Resident Evil: How I Made Friends With the Devil. Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future.Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. 
2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.
But there is a difference between the magic of fairytales, or pure fiction, and the magic that the Church condemns. 'Sorcery in these books is not the sort of witchcraft forbidden in Holy Scripture. The wizards in Harry Potter do not invoke evil spirits or dark forces in order to change the physical world. Rather, they possess a genetic capability, like a superpower.'* Likewise, fictional magic is used in The Chronicles of Narnia (deep magic) and The Lord of the Rings, and many other childhood favourites that have nothing to do with the kind of magic the Church condemns. In HP in particular, it is more like a superpower, or like the X-men's genetic mutation- an inborn gift or ability given rather than a power or knowledge achieved by connecting with spiritual forces.

Still, a lot of the words used in real life Satanism and witchcraft (two different things) are used in Harry Potter: Like divination, spells, curses, etc. I think it is a legitimate concern that unsupervised and unguided reading of Harry Potter can lead to an unhealthy interest in dabbling with occult powers, especially because witchcraft and Satanism are becoming more and more popular and normalized in today's world. Think about the TV show Charmed for instance- three fashionable and attractive sisters are witches... who actually do practice real life witchcraft. Yeah, I used to watch it.. until the Lord gave me a kick and told me to stop.

Stephen D. Greydanus cautions: 'Is there equally no danger of any young Harry Potter fans-particularly children whose spiritual development is not being properly cultivated-developing an unhealthy infatuation with the idea of magic? Might they tend to indulge in fantasies about the idea of hidden or esoteric knowledge, about belonging to an elite, covert world of power beyond one's peers? Might these stories even be one factor, at some later date, influencing a child to respond more positively or with greater tolerance toward everyday occult phenomena? Might they be one factor influencing a child to respond one day with greater interest or tolerance to Wicca or the Kabbalah?' [Read the rest here: The Morals of Magic]

That doesn't make the books themselves dangerous: Instead, like a lot of literature and movies these days, I think the solution is not to ban them, but to read with your kids, encourage healthy discussions about what is real and what is not, what is dangerous and to be avoided, etc. Even some of the tricky moral questions could be easily talked about while reading the books- do the ends justify the means? Is turning the other cheek for wimps? Are people born good or evil, or do they choose?

Some people feel like just  reading the book or watching the movies puts one in spiritual danger: However, unlike other practices the Catholic Church has explicitly condemned, there has never been an official consensus or statement on HP. Why not, you may ask. As Michelle Arnold, a Catholic Answers apologist writes: 'Sometimes Catholics think that there can be only one permitted opinion on all issues of doctrine and morals. This is a misconception. In many areas of Christian life, the Church is silent and trusts Catholics to use their own prudential judgment. The Harry Potter novels is one such issue in which Catholics are free to sort through the various opinions on the matter, read the books for themselves, and come to their own carefully-considered decision.'  You would think if the books really did open a doorway to evil (like wearing charms or consulting horoscopes), the Church would officially warn us of it. But she does not, which makes me think that can't be true. If my heart and my mind belong to Christ, reading a fantasy book or watching a fantasy movie (in which characters neither invoke evil powers, nor glamorize evil) will not so easily pull me away from God. (Also, guess what? Most of the 'spells' are basically Latin words.)

Harry Potter has a lot of very Christian themes, which is not surprising when you find out that J.K. Rowling is a Christian. The whole life after death thing? The 'Chosen One' who had to sacrifice his own life in order to destroy the Enemy, and even the power of death? "The last enemy to be conquered is death." Why yes indeed, that IS from the bible, 1 Corinthians 15:26 in particular. Death not as an end, but as a doorway to a journey, taking a train to go further on- remind you of C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle? Remember when Harry's family walks with him at the end- such a powerful image of the angels and saints- 'Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us'. We believe it! And of course, the shocking and protective power of LOVE?


J.K. Rowling said, “To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious. But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”

When I started writing this blog post, I thought I would just write for an hour and be done. But then I started doing some research (partly spurred on by a friend who has strong concerns about the danger of Harry Potter), and boy, there are a LOT of Catholic opinions and articles about Harry Potter. Phew.
I think Regina Doman's article is my favourite though:

'I think that it’s natural for serious Catholics in these dark times to be suspicious of the books, and that people should be forgiven for assuming that wildly popular books like the Potter series must be successful only because they are about the occult. I never dreamed that the books might be so incredibly popular because they are so incredibly good. 

 But once I read them, I started to realize that this might indeed be the case. Perhaps the jaded and beauty-starved and morally-adrift children of the world are devouring Harry Potter because the books are full of truth, goodness, and beauty – although disguised with unfortunate terms like ‘wizard’, ‘witch,’ and ‘magic.’ If so, then Rowling has pulled the biggest literary coup in modern history, similar only to Tolkien’s success in becoming the greatest author of the twentieth century. 

 The main problem with the books could simply be that they are new. When I was growing up, I was encouraged by serious Christians to avoid The Lord of the Rings because the book was thought to encourage interest in the occult. After all, it had spawned the occultic Dungeons and Dragons games. But now Tolkien’s book is hailed as a Christian classic, simply because it has passed the test of time.' [read the rest]

I realize this blog post has practically become a novel itself, and has not really added anything to the (extensive) online discussion of the Catholic perspective of Harry Potter. Not to mention consuming hours of my life researching it.

So really my conclusion is- read the books. But educate yourself and your kids about the very real spiritual harm of real life witchcraft and the occult. Or don't read the books or watch the movies. But don't judge the people who do. Many orthodox and wise Catholics have, and don't seem to have suffered any harm. The end. Good night. Good grief. It's 2 am.


*These two articles made me start thinking about Harry Potter again: Why Your Kids Need to Read Harry Potter and The Mystery of Harry Potter.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Not Just a Pretty Face


After my last post, I heard back from a pretty friend that she felt in some ways the post reinforced stereotypes and prejudices of pretty girls. A lot of people think that pretty girls live in this bubble of privilege and good fortune, untouched by the harsher realities less privileged mortals have to face.

But the truth is pretty girls have their own set of problems and burdens that they have to face.

Pretty girls are told at a young age that their looks are the most important aspect of their identity: It's the first and only thing everybody notices and comments on. People rarely notice or care about their intelligence or their talents or their sense of humour. Leave that to the people who you have to think harder about to compliment.

People often 'use' pretty girls: They can never be sure if people want to be with them for THEM, or for the added value they bring with their looks. It's hard to get rid off the nagging thought- 'Would you still want to be my friend if I didn't look like this?'


Guys often see pretty girls more as an accessory: They want to be the guy with the pretty girl on their arm, it helps with their image (consciously or subconsciously).The guy is looking for someone to fill this cut out of the perfect girlfriend/ trophy wife- an achievement, a possession. Often guys who think like that use expensive gifts to win this pretty girl, because they think that makes them worthy of her interest. They see it as a fair exchange- my money (or service) for your looks. I've seen guys get offended and angry when a girl doesn't respond in the way he thinks he deserves- "After all I've done for you!" You can't buy people!

Other girls can be standoffish with pretty girls: Just by virtue of being pretty, they are seen as a threat, as dangerous- especially when there are guys around. They have to prove that they mean no harm, that they are not proud or egotistic. The introverts who are pretty have the hardest time because their quietness is seen as pride.

It's hard for pretty girls to know when to trust people: Similar to someone who is wealthy, or rich or powerful, when you get used to people using you, it's hard to know when people are not. So when a guy comes a-courting, it's hard not to look at him with a little skepticism and suspicion, because they have been so many who came for the wrong reasons, and without an authentic interest based on seeing her as a real human being, not a goddess or a movie star, or a means to an end.

Pretty girls are likely to struggle with self worth and identity: The prettiness can often feel like a mask that obscures the real person. 'Do you see ME?' she wants to ask, but she often feels that people can't or won't. And then the lie that the Liar whispers, "Maybe the real you isn't worth knowing. Maybe once a guy gets used to the prettiness, and meets the real you, the love will fade." And if that lie is accepted, the temptation can be to keep the prettiness at any cost- make up, plastic surgery, beauty products, beauty salons. And to use the prettiness as a means to get what she wants.


So the next time you meet a pretty girl, try to see past the prettiness, to see a normal human being with insecurities and strengths, and all sorts of weird habits and quirks, and skills and talents, and a desire to be loved and treated as a human being first, and a pretty girl second. Don't treat her with deference, suspicion, adulation, or judgment. She is a PERSON, a daughter of God, an immortal soul, and that is what makes her valuable. And pretty girls, don't believe anyone who tells you differently.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Why I’m Glad I Wasn’t the Pretty Girl

Disclaimer: I promise I’m not fishing for compliments, or trying to get people to shout me down,“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE NOT PRETTY EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL IT’S THE SOUL THAT MATTERS.” I’m sharing my own perspective of my own story. 

From the age of 12 to 20, I was pretty awkward. I had crazy hair that couldn’t decide if it was straight or wavy or curly or angry (also known as 80s hair). I had never heard of hair product. No fashion sense whatsoever. The only times I looked cute were when I stole my older sister’s clothes. I also identified strongly with Jo from Little Women, in that I was gruff, hated most social situations, and couldn’t be bothered with social graces. My mum would remonstrate with me for refusing to wear makeup or earrings, or make much of an effort at looking presentable.

(This is not the worst of the pictures, but you didn't really think I was going to pull those out for the Whole World Wide Web to see, did you?)

I was not only awkward, I was aware that I was awkward. I remember at sixteen being excruciatingly aware of how awkward my gait was, as my arms hung lifelessly at my side as I walked. My body posture seemed to scream SELF CONSCIOUS (the more you think of your arms the less you know what to do with them.. try this when posing for a photo). So I started practising my confident, graceful walk, as I walked home from college. I’d swing my arms, try to place my feet one in front of the other (like on a beam balance), and hoped that the external would somehow help with the internal. I'd even try a kind of swagger sometimes. (I wonder what the passersby thought.)

To make matters worse, I had two very pretty sisters, who always effortlessly seemed to collect droves of admirers, guys who would take them out to dances, give them gifts, and flowers, and chocolates, and swear undying devotion. It was too easy to compare myself with them unfavourably. Other people did it too. "You're very... different."

I finally and gradually began to grow into my skin, learnt the secrets of side partings, and hair clips, and coconut oil, and hair product, and eye liner, and wearing clothes that worked together.

Beauty tips I still haven't got the hang of

I began to enjoy who I was, and not be so scared or disdainful of the world. It was around the same time that I went on a retreat where I felt that the Lord helped bring healing to some wounds. Each year of my 20s was better than the last. Now I'm 30, and I am SO much happier here than I was at 18.

Now on the other side of the awkward non-pretty phase, I think about it, and I realize that although there were many things I would have liked to have changed about my teenage years, I also am very grateful for how I became who I am through those years.

Pretty girls often get too much attention too soon: I have seen so often the bad effect of young, or insecure, or needy girls becoming the center of attention. Attention is heady! It’s intoxicating. It makes you feel like you’re the center of the world, and spoiler alert: you’re not. It’s too much power put into the hands of unsteady hands. Actually, what the heck, even mature adults such as myself can lose perspective with too much attention. But when you're older you're more likely to recover it and laugh at yourself a lot sooner. I think not being the center of attention helps one have a more down to earth perspective of oneself. And I wish that all young people could have the same.


Non-pretty girls are usually funnier: Not that being non-funny makes anyone of any less value… but sometimes not being at the center of things means, the non-beautiful (or short, or overweight) often get their share of the attention by developing a sharp wit. Not that I ever consciously did it because I was trying to get attention, but I found that I enjoyed social situations so much more when I was making witty comments under my breath to an appreciative audience.

I observed a lot more: When I wasn't at the center of everything, I had space and energy to observe and analyze the workings of the world, of human behaviour, of social situations. Again, a little perspective.

I am much more aware of what it feels like to be the outsider: And hopefully more empathetic. Only a few people have grown up in a graced circle of acceptance and special-ness. But when you’re in the center, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is. If you walk into a party and always have someone who wants to talk to you, you forget that lonely, awkward, unsettled feeling of not having that. But it’s when you’re on the inside that you have the special privilege of being able to pull the outsider in. But how few of us do that. It’s so much easier to gravitate to the people we know well, and are comfortable with.

I wrote about this before- but I still remember a young man (a friend of my older sister) asking me to dance at a wedding when I was awkward, young, and uncool, sitting with my parents. He told me it was because my older sister had once asked him to dance when he had no one to dance with. I had never felt more special- he was older, handsome (to me), and picked ME! I KNOW what it’s like! You can't know till you've been there. But then you need to remember.

I delight in feeling beautiful and graceful: Probably far more so than if it had always come easily. It’s like a gift that is ever new. It’s what makes all makeover movies so relatable (think Princess Diaries).


But I realize awkward bodies can hide beautiful, interesting souls: And maybe judge people a little less based on their terrible dress sense, their sticking out hair, their acne, their self consciousness. Outward beauty and grace is nice. It's pleasing to the eye. But it surely isn't all that is to be known of a person.