Monthly Archives: March 2014

First Step

I did it!

Let me take you on a little journey:
October 2011 – Baby born.
January 2012 – Mumma suffers terrible postpartum depression/bipolar disorder breakdown.  Winds up in psych ward for 3 weeks.
February 2012 – Loses job.  Starts smoking.
March – April – May – June – July – August – September – October – November – December – January – February – March – April – May – June – July – August – September – October – November – December – January – February – Recovers.

March 29, 2014 – Takes a walk.

I have done no physical activity for 2 full years.  I have gained more than 40 pounds.  44.8 to be exact.  I hate the weight.  I have tried to love it.  I have tried to accept it.  I have tried to see beyond it.

I can’t.

Scene 1:   Wakes up.  Another morning of determination.  This time is different.  She puts it in her head that no matter what the circumstances, she has to exit the front door ASAP.  Scrambles to find a sweater, long johns , pants.  Grabs clothes and socks and tip-toes down the stairs to avoid waking up The Ultimate Distractions.  Sorts through shoes and digs out squashed tennis shoes from bottom of pile.  Dresses in kitchen near exit door.  Creeps out of house.  Breathes deeply.  Starts walking..

Scene 2:  Walking.  Feels warm and good and happy and proud and oh-so-thankful to be out there.  Finally made it happen, after two long years.

Yes, I ran out of breath.
Yes, I had to stop repeatedly.
Yes, I lit a smoke half-way through.
Yes, it was just one measly, short little walk.

But I did it.  And I’m proud.

 

Messes

Knock, knock, knock.
Me:  “What?”
Son:  “Mommy, come see.”

I know what this means.  It means there is a mess somewhere in the house.  I know it was the baby’s fault (it’s always the baby’s fault).  I know it means someone left the fridge unlocked.  I know it means someone left the bathroom unlocked.  I know it means someone left the door to the upstairs open.

It means there are a dozen eggs smashed into my carpet.
It means there is an entire jar of Parmesan cheese sprinkled throughout the kitchen.
It means my bathroom cabinet has been ransacked, and there are several layers of shaving cream and body lotion covering each square inch of floor and counter and rugs and shower curtain.

It means I will approach the disaster and feel deflated when it is discovered.  It means as much as I’d like to not be shocked, I am still shocked.  It means it will take me several seconds before I can come up with something to say.  It means the silence in between the initial shock and the subsequent yelling will be filled with smiling eyes and a look-at-this-face grin.

It means I will yell and enforce a time-out and get on my hands and knees with a towel or sponge or washcloth depending on the size of the disaster, and I will scrub and curse and scrub and curse.  And then I will stand up and be exasperated and wonder how long the stain will remain.

And now it is bedtime and the lights are finally out and the noise has stopped and I look again at the stain but I cannot find it because it doesn’t really matter when they are both in bed and I have the house to myself and I am already forgetting about the struggles of the day and feeling excited for the moment when I open my eyes to either the morning sun or my very own sons, their bright eyes shining, ready for a new day of messes.

Mommy – why are you crying?

Last night I just sat on the floor and cried.  In front of my kids.

I have a memory burned into my brain.  I was very young, and I came upon my mom sitting in the bathroom in the dark.  I wandered in and asked, “Are you crying?”  Of course, my mom being the mom that she was, denied that she was crying, quickly swept away her tears with the back of her hands, wiped her hands on her pants and stood up all in one swift movement.

I can remember each moment of that memory, and I can even slow it down to recall the sounds of her sobbing, the isolated feeling of being in the bathroom in the dark, and the curiosity I felt of why she was crying.

I didn’t feel disappointed or frightened or sad.  Just curious.

 

I try hard not to cry in front of my kids.  Because I am afraid it will disturb them or make them worry or feel pressure to “take care of” me, instead of just being themselves, carefree and oblivious.  But I’m not very good at turning off my tears once they start to fall.  In fact, it’s near impossible for me.

So when it hit me last night, I just crawled into the baby’s dark room and hid in the corner and cried.  Inevitably, the kids came in.  My oldest asked me why I was crying, and I couldn’t even stop sobbing long enough to tell him.  All I could say was “I’m sorry” over and over.  I was so afraid that this moment would become etched in his own memory just like mine had with my mother.

My son just kept telling me there was no reason to cry.  He gave me a hug and cuddled me till I was able to calm myself down.  After I stopped, I told him that sometimes it feels good to cry.  That it is a gift Allah has given us in order to help us release our emotions.

I didn’t want to hide the truth from him.  I wanted him to know I was crying and know that it was okay to cry, that it is not a sign of weakness and we should not be ashamed of it.

Unsettling

Qur'an

So I’m really into this Dr. Jeffrey Lang book lately.  I think I am just mostly excited to be reading about Islam again, especially from a convert’s perspective.  Something happened recently at work that felt unsettling, and this book addressed that very issue.

This co-worker and I were talking about religion.  After discussing various topics, she stated that all religions at a base level depended on faith.  That because there is no scientific proof of any particular religion, it all comes down to an individual having faith, just believing it to be true.

But that just didn’t sit right with me.

When it comes to Islam, I feel so sure of its authenticity, so convinced of the Qur’an being the final message to humanity, that it’s hard to accept her concept of faith directed at my particular belief system.

The book pointed out that Muslims don’t particularly identify with this specific concept of faith, because Islam makes no division between the secular and the sacred.  In other words, “…when a Muslim is asked to relate his or her experience of belief, he or she is being asked to do something unfamiliar, to dissect and think about faith in a way that is outside of the Islamic perspective.”  Further still, the author points out that the Qur’an places a strong emphasis on “the extreme importance of reason and contemplative thought in the attainment of faith.”  The author goes on to point out all the ways in which the Qur’an presses us to use reason and rational thought when it comes to our beliefs.

Reading those passages helped me to identify the reasons why her comment left me feeling unsettled.

You see, my father raised all four of us girls to think for ourselves.  He pushed us to challenge the status quo and to question and to look for answers, to stick by those answers even if they didn’t quite fit within the social norms.  In this type of environment, I had an understanding of people’s differences and accepted those differences with an open mind.

I have and will always have respect for other people’s beliefs.  But I’ve also changed in that I now believe that my way is the right way.  If I didn’t believe that then I wouldn’t follow Islam.

I remember my sister pointing this out to me years ago.  She said she is amazed (and baffled) by my conviction of Islam.  She imagined that it must feel very reassuring to believe in something so strongly that you believe it to be true above anything and everything else, because she never found that to be the case in her religious experience.

See, it is hard for them (my sisters and family) to understand what makes me so committed to Islam.  Because in the past, my attitude was that religion was all just a matter of choice and none had more importance than another.  Even though I believed in Catholicism, I didn’t believe it was for everyone.  But when I came upon Islam, it was different.

I always tell people:  “Islam chose me.  I didn’t choose it.”  When I first read the Qur’an, I immediately knew there was something to it.  I believe I knew in my heart right then and there that I was a Muslim.  But I just wouldn’t acknowledge it.  I questioned the Qur’an from every angle I could come up with.  I tried to find fault in it.  I tried to deny it.  I struggled within myself for a long time.  But in the end, I knew I had to accept it.  I knew I believed that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the final messenger.

I felt that that book had been put down on paper some 1400 years ago and hadn’t been changed for that entire time, and it spoke to me like it knew me.  Like it had looked into my soul and saw all of the frustrations and anger and curiosity and concern and it provided me with definitive answers to the questions I had been asking for years.

In fact, it was so spot on that it scared me.  I was actually spooked the first time I read it.  Because it was so direct.  One passage in particular that really got to me was:

2:170  “When they are asked to follow that which Allah has revealed, they say, “no! We would rather follow the path that we found our forefathers pursuing.”

I was forced to ask myself why I followed Catholicism.  Was it because it made sense to me?  Was it because I believed in it with my whole heart?  Or was it because it had been passed down to me?

I learned from the Qur’an that Jesus was a prophet and was never meant to be worshipped.  It completely threw me off my rocker when I read the following passage :

O followers of the Book! do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Marium is only a messenger of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Marium and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His messengers, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one Allah; far be It from His glory that He should have a son, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, and Allah is sufficient for a Protector. (Surah 4:171 – Shakir)

Or this one:

Say, “He is Allah, [who is] One, Allah, the Eternal Refuge. He neither begets nor is born, Nor is there to Him any equivalent.” (Surah 112:1-4)

I felt like I had finally been told the truth, something I believed all along – that we are to worship God and God alone.

Well, I certainly hadn’t started this post with the intention of explaining my entire belief system and all the experiences I had as a result – I only wanted to emphasize that for me, defining my spiritual transformation solely on the basis of faith would be inaccurate.

I emphasized to this co-worker that I am a Muslim because I believe (and am positive) that Islam is the one and only religion that God has delivered to us over the entire course of human existence.  I believe that most other religions are deviations of the messengers’ original messages, and that Islam and the Qur’an is meant for every soul on earth to follow.

I also think that everyone with sound reasoning and logical thinking skills should read the Qur’an and insha’allah they will discover this truth for themselves.  As much as I tried to deny it, I could not turn away from it.

 “Verily, Allah sends astray whom He wills, and guides whom He wills.” [Faatir, 35:8]

Too Quick To Jump To Conclusions

A long time ago, I was having a discussion about Islam with my non-Muslim sister.  I never approach Islam in our conversations, it is always she who introduces it through her questions and curiosity.  She had been speaking with a Christian person regarding Islam, and she asked me what I thought of something the Christian had said to her.

This Christian told her that part of the initial draw to the Qur’an from the Arabs was based on the fact that the Qur’an appeased to the Arabs with many verses referring to water, or carrying themes in relation to water, and that because the Arabs were from the desert, they greatly responded to these passages.

At the time, I felt angry.  I told her as much.  I said that I found it disheartening and slightly offended for someone to believe that Arabs simply believed in the Qur’an because it made some references to water.  How simplistic!  How insulting!  How diminishing!  As a Muslim who is aware of the greatness and power of the Qur’an, it bothered me that someone could be so unappreciative of it, minimizing its importance by suggesting that its followers were simply easily influenced, water-hungry beings.

I am reading a book by Dr. Jeffrey Lang called Struggling to Surrender:  The Impressions of an American Convert to Islam.  In it, I read this passage:

“The Arab of that era did not have to struggle to translate the images he was hearing into categories of thought to which he could relate, for he already had an intimate and direct association with them.  When the Qur’an teaches us to ask God to “show us the straight path” (1:6), the Western reader may understand this to refer to the delicate and subtle distinction between truly serving God and someone or something else….The desert traveler of the seventh century may have had a similar understanding, but it also must have provoked something of a psychological reflex, because, in his travels, knowledge of the sometimes elusive “straight path” was also a matter of life and death.  The Qur’an’s references to books, balances, debts, and rewards on the Day of Judgement, the making of a loan to God that will be repaid with manifold increase, and to the bargain that God has struck with the believers have obvious links to the commercial lifestyle of Makkah, the center for trade in Arabia during the lifetime of Muhammad.  When the Qur’an compares the state of disbelief with that of dying of thirst in the desert, or when it draws a parallel between resurrection and the restoring of life to dead earth after rain, or when it describes Paradise in vivid sensual terms, we can imagine how immediate and alive these images must have been for those who first heard them from the lips of the Prophet.”

After contemplating this paragraph, I started to think that perhaps this Christian woman’s suggestion to my sister was not rooted in sinister goals to create doubt about the Qur’an, but maybe she was only hinting at what Dr. Lang talks about above.

Without knowing more about this person and the conversation she had with my sister, I shouldn’t have become so defensive, because, in some sense, she was exactly right.  And it doesn’t need to be an offensive observation, it can simply just be an observation.

I must try harder to control my emotions when discussing Islam, as I know this incidence set a permanent impression in the mind of my sister, and not a good one at that.

Blessings and Loss

Several random thoughts this morning:

1.  I am blessed.  Since listening to the Muslim speaker the other day, I have listened to a few other Muslim lecturers from SoundCloud and have been feeling inspired.  While I still feel mixed up in my practice of Islam (which I will go into further detail later on in this post or in future posts), I feel very positive about the direction my life is taking.

One of the lectures discussed the way in which human nature leads us to always desire more than what we have.  The speaker said, “If you give man a valley of gold, he will ask for another.  And if you then give him two valleys of gold, he will ask for three.”  We are never just simply content, unless we are grateful for the blessings and grateful for the mercy of Allah.

There was a mention of a sahaba who had to have his leg amputated.  He said to others that Allah had given him two arms and two legs, and he had taken away one leg, so still, Allah has “given me more than he has taken.”  Subhan’allah.  If only we could all think that way when faced with calamity or loss.

Allah has given me so much in this life.  I’ve been blessed with my boys, my husband, my parents, my sisters.  I’ve been given the gift of Islam.  I have my health.  I have a wonderful home to live in.  We have two cars, two jobs, and food to fill our stomachs.  I had a wonderful education.  Really, what else could I possibly ask for?  Allah has given me such a prosperous and comfortable life.

2.  I have been thinking about a childhood friend I had.  I used to help her in school, because she was dyslexic.  While the teachers didn’t have time for her, I would always give her my time.  We were very close.  We wrote letters to each other every day.

One of our childhood friends had died.  I couldn’t attend his funeral.  I’ve considered visiting his grave many times since his death.  I want to reach out to her because we haven’t connected for years, and certainly not since he died.

I wonder often what his soul is experiencing.  I also wonder about how he spent his life after we lost touch, what kind of experiences he had during his lifetime after we last saw each other.  I have fond memories of our friendship, and for those, I am grateful.

 

Although I haven’t wrapped up this post in a nice and neat way, I feel it was important to write, and also important to leave this open-ended.