Monthly Archives: March 2014

Colorism Crosses Racial Lines

Oscar winner, Lupita Nyong’o delivered a speech at the Essence “Black Women in Hollywood Awards” and thanks to the Internet, I saw and heard her inspiration and powerful message about beauty.  Her words spoke to me, an Asian Pacific Islander woman who is the mother to a biracial (Filipino and African American) daughter.  Ms. Nyong’o reminded me that I have an obligation and responsibility to shape my daughter’s self-esteem and her point of view on beauty.  But her speech also reminded me of the mixed messages I received growing up as a child of immigrants and a young person of color in the United States.  (You can watch the speech via YouTube link here or read the transcript at the end of this entry.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPCkfARH2eE

Just to reiterate this point, I am not African American.  I do not have black skin.  However, as a young girl, I often asked myself if my skin was light enough to be considered pretty.  I even asked myself if I was White enough to be beautiful.  Well, I realized at about age 12 that I wasn’t White, never would be, and somehow that meant that I could never be beautiful. 

There is a book entitled, “Is Lighter Better?  Skin-tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans” written by Joanne L. Rondilla and Paul R. Spickard.  Yes, you read that correctly.  “Skin-tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans.”  People may find it hard to believe that the color of one’s skin comes with value in the currency known as beauty, even amongst Asian Americans.  We also have to fight against the self-hate that leads us to want to have surgery to alter our eyelids, dye our hair auburn or blonde, or to never consider dating an Asian man.   Let’s look a little more closely at the concept of “colorism.”  

Wikipedia provides this definition for “colorism”:  “Discrimination based on skin color, or colorism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which human beings are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

The abundance of colorism is a result of the global prevalence of “pigmentocracy,” a term recently adopted by social scientists to describe societies in which wealth and social status are determined by skin color. Throughout the numerous pigmentocracies across the world, the lightest-skinned peoples have the highest social status, followed by the brown-skinned, and finally the black-skinned who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This form of prejudice often results in reduced opportunities for those who are discriminated against on the basis of skin color.”

According to Rondilla and Spickard, “Colorism is defined as discriminatory treatment of individuals falling within the same ‘racial’ group on the basis of skin color.  In other words, some people, particularly women, are treated better or worse on account of the color of their skin relative to other people who share their same racial category. Colorism affects Asian Americans from many different backgrounds and who live in different parts of the United States….Do they reflect a desire to look like White people, or is some other motive at work?  Including numerous stories about and by people who have faced discrimination in their own lives, this book is an invaluable resource for people interested in colorism among Asian Americans.”

I don’t have to read a book to understand discrimination based on the color of my skin.  I don’t need to read a book to know that women are treated differently based on the shade of their skin.  I heard these sorts of messages at the tender age of only three, which is as far back as I can remember.  One aunty would say that flat noses were not pretty and Filipinos are known to have flat noses or at least to have no bridges.  (For my Asian brothers and sisters, have you ever tried to buy stylist plastic framed glasses but you couldn’t because they kept sliding down your nose?  The cute frames never come with nose rests, right?)  Another aunty would point to a beautiful brown-skinned young woman, she may have even been a cousin of mine and say, “She is very pretty.  Too bad she’s so dark.”  Or, my most favorite and most confusing messages were around food.  Many Asian cultures, especially Filipinos, show their love through cooking food for their families and friends.  There is a certain pride in being a good cook and having parties where people enjoyed a dish that you made.  But sometimes an aunty would scold you for getting fat, which usually led the poor girl to eat more, out of stress.  She would spiral down into the never-ending cycle of eating for comfort and then hating yourself for not being rail thin.  Or, that same aunty might shove her index finger into your chest and say that you are getting too skinny.  What the hell are we supposed to do with that feedback?

Margaret Cho, award-winning comedian, actress, musician, and LGBT advocate talked about her very specific experience being an Asian woman in Hollywood.  She found herself the star of her very own sit-com, “All American Girl,” which was the first primetime TV show centered around an Asian American family.  During her one-woman stand-up routine, Margaret recounted the experience of how the producers said she was “too Asian” and then they said that she wasn’t “Asian enough” and finally, the network felt compelled to provide the show and Margaret an “Asian consultant” to help her act more “Asian.”   Ironically, there was a great deal of backlash about the show from the Asian American community.  Asian Pacific Islander Americans are not one size fits all.  We do not fit into a neat little origami folded box.  “All American Girl” was touted as the example of what Asian Americans are like in the United States.  There is so much diversity within the Asian American community, a blanket statement as such feels extremely marginalizing. So, even the target market who should have been the biggest fans of the show weren’t rushing home to watch “All American Girl.” 

Asian Americans are often touted as the Model Minority.  The stereotypes that Asians are hard-workers, very good at math, very poor at driving, the subject of sexual fantasies, quiet IT professionals, eaters of stinky food, etc. cannot be changed overnight.  And we also do things to our own communities that sabotage our success.  For example, we drag down our young people when it comes to standards of beauty.  Beauty has a value in this country, particularly for women.  What are we doing to our young women when we tell them that they are too fat, too dark, too short, or too Asian-looking? My inner circle of friends from elementary school are all Asian American.  We are either first or second generation immigrants.  This circle has representation from the Philippines, China, Japan and Vietnam.  We definitely had friends who were Latino, African American and White, most of whom we played varsity sports with in high school.  However, these women are “my crew.”  We hold each other secrets, wrapped with love inside our hearts.  We saw each other through first crushes, first loves, first heartbreaks, and those big arguments with our parents over academic endeavors, extracurricular activities and Asian culture clashes with our American experience.

One of my closest friends was always the prettiest one of the group, in my opinion.  She was tall, about 5’6,” which may as well be 6’ for an Asian woman.  I always thought she was so lucky to be tall and elegant looking.  Clothes hung better on her and her limbs were graceful and long, unlike my short, muscular, and stocky legs.  We were talking one day in college, probably over a Bartles & Jaymes tropical wine cooler or some classy Andre Cold Duck, about how our parents get so mad that we don’t date Asian men.  I remember my friend saying that Asian guys are like her brothers, not like men to date.  She couldn’t imagine kissing an Asian guy.  Now that I think about it, I’ve never heard my White girlfriends say they couldn’t imagine dating a White guy.  It feels like a bit of self-loathing and self-hatred to not want to date men who are our own ethnicity and/or race.  But what struck me as a shock was when she said her mom wanted her to have eyelid surgery, or more specifically, surgery to create an upper eyelid with a crease, or a double eyelid.  It made me mad to hear that and I told her that she didn’t need to have surgery.  She agreed that surgery was an extreme and unnecessary choice to make for the sake of beauty but we both sort of yearned for bigger boobs.

Thankfully, my mom never suggested that I should have surgery.   But I do remember her stroking the bridge of my nose and saying that she used to do that to me as a baby so I wouldn’t have a flat one.  It makes me giggle now, a bit, but my impressionable young brain internalized that message.  Flat nose = unattractive.  Add that to dark skin = unattractive.  I used to spend my summers playing tennis and swimming so I had lovely dark brown sun-kissed skin throughout my youth.  But by the time I cared about boys, I had given up on thinking that I could ever be beautiful so I didn’t think anyone would ever like me.  That sure did f*ck me up for a while.

But this issue of colorism isn’t just because of my aunties and my mom making these comments.  I rarely saw Asian men or women on television in significant roles.  I never saw them in strong, leading roles.  Long Duck Dong was in “Sixteen Candles” and that overly stereotyped image of an Asian man did not help with my perspective that Asian men were sexy.  Margaret Cho joked that she aspired to be an extra on M*A*S*H* when she was young.  At one point in my life, I would go out on commercial and television auditions and the roles represented two different opportunities:  trashy hooker or Chinese restaurant waitress.  Or, to add to the mix, I might be called to pose with a beer bottle rocking a skimpy bikini for a beer commercial.  I had purchased the silicone chicken cutlets to lift my B-cups into full C-cups.  My agent sent me out fairly often, I had enough call-backs to know I had talent but I never felt beautiful.

Twenty years later, I work in a corporate position with a mission to create culture change that respects all people and includes diverse insights and backgrounds to add value to the organization’s success.  I have had impact at the organizational, group and individual levels.  My work provides me validation and joy.  I feel like my spirit of feeling like the underdog and the unbeautiful has sparked a drive inside of me to leave the world in a better place.  It has taken a lifetime for me to truly feel beautiful.  Logically, I realize that the color of my skin may be extremely attractive to some people and it may turn others off completely.  The size of my okole may be labelled obscene by someone and been seen as kryptonite by another.  When all is said and done, beauty is all about how much we give to the world, not about how much we get.

Borrowed from another website, here is a transcript of Lupita Nyong’o’s speech from the Essence “Black Women in Hollywood Awards” with quotes that particularly struck me highlighted in bold type.

I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you:  “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”

My heart bled a little when I read those words. I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.

I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God: I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted; I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.

And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me. When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.

And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. That, there is no shade in that beauty.

 

Fight Like a Girl

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Fight Like a Girl

My guess is that every person who reads this has lost at least one loved one to cancer.  And there are so many types out there:  breast, colon, skin, bone, cervical, brain… name an organ or a body part and someone you know has probably died from that type of cancer.  This disease doesn’t discriminate based on socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, military status, or even age.  People with money die from cancer.  People without money die from cancer.  But it seems like the people with the brightest spirits and most positive attitudes find themselves fighting cancer.  And to that I say, “Fuck Cancer”.

My dear friend, Tina, had leukemia when we were in elementary school.  She was the youngest child of Chinese immigrants, I don’t even remember if her parents spoke English, and she was nothing but a tiny bundle of sweetness and smarts.  Tina wore a colorful hat in kindergarten and first grade.  She would run around on the playground with us, playing foursquare and tether ball, always a step or two behind because she was weak from her disease.  I never had to check to see if she was following our group because I could hear her giggle catch up to us about 10 seconds before she did.  Tina had a quiet spirit, a loud laugh, and her smile was so authentic and honest.  Despite her illness, she was just another kid at school.  I remember there was a very windy day on the blacktop, my hair was whipping around in my face and my favorite navy skirt was flapping in the wind.  I silently thanked my mom for making me wear shorts underneath it.  Unfortunately, Tina’s hat flew off on the playground that afternoon.  She grabbed her head with her hands, hung her head in shame, and stopped.  It was as if her feet froze in place and she was torn between running after her hat or hiding her bald head from all of us.  I don’t remember which little boy brought her the hat, I just remember Tina sobbing as the teacher on recess duty wrapped her up in a big embrace and helped her place her hat back on her head.  She wasn’t completely bald, it was as if she had long strands and random patches of hair.  Some of the crueler kids laughed and pointed.  I wanted to go kick all of their asses.  I was a total tomboy back then and felt a responsibility to protect all the other Asian immigrant kids.  I don’t know why but I definitely kicked a few boys in the nuts for making fun of my friends who didn’t speak English or had cancer.

A few years later, my mom sat me down in the family room to “talk” to me.  It felt scary, like a big cloud hung over our plush brown couch.  My family never held family meetings or sat in the family room other than to watch TV together.  I looked up at my mom and her eyes were puffy and she looked miserable.  She looked at her slippers, and the coffee table and finally she looked into my eyes and said, “Your Grandma Connie has cancer.  It is terminal.”  I didn’t know what that word meant, “terminal,” so I asked her and my mom snapped, “It means she is going to die!” and she stormed toward her bedroom.  As the eldest girl, my mom was very close to Grandma.  And one of the rules in our household was always, “family comes first.”  Whatever behaviors you exhibit reflect on your family, not just you as an individual.   So to say we were close as a family unit is an understatement.  My mom was truly devastated by the news that my Grandma was dying from cancer.  We all were.

During one of our hospital visits, Grandma said to me, “Hoy, Jen-nee-pear, (she had an adorable Filipina accent) I have black blood.”  That simple statement FREAKED ME OUT.  How was her blood black?  Why was it black?  Could they fix it?  Could I catch it?  Why wasn’t anyone doing anything about it?  My head was spinning and I felt scared and sick but Grandma sat there, smiling in her tissue-thin hospital gown, her eyes as bright as always.  She didn’t mean that her blood had become black in color, Grandma asked who had donated her most recent blood transfusion.  The nurse replied that the donation came from a nice African American woman.  See, my Grandma had black blood now.  That experience always sticks with me and I am sure that it why I try to donate blood to the Red Cross at least twice a year.  I am a universal donor, O Positive, and with all the recent disasters and emergencies happening around the world, the Red Cross is in desperate need of O Positive blood.  Trust me, they call me incessantly every eight weeks to get me down to the office.

My Grandma passed away peacefully at home.  She was sitting in her own bed, surrounded by relatives and friends.  A nurse was with us in the room, cooing soothing words that Connie was getting ready to pass on and that we should all prepare ourselves.  I remember staring wide-eyed at my aunties and cousins, trying to figure out what to do.  We were just waiting for Grandma to die and I felt tear welling in my eyes and my throat.  The nurse finally said that she was gone and when I looked at Grandma, her jaw was opening and closing so she couldn’t be dead.  Unfortunately, the nurse said that was an automatic muscular reaction and that Connie was indeed gone.

I’ve lost grandparents, uncles, friends, acquaintences and co-workers to cancer.  There is no clear cause as to why some people get cancer.  The American Cancer Website has very clear and easy to understand informaiton to learn more about this group of diseases lumped under the term, cancer.  They write the following:

“Cancer is such a common disease that it is no surprise that many families have at least a few members who have had cancer. Sometimes, certain types of cancer seem to run in some families. This can be caused by a number of factors. It can be because family members have certain risk factors in common, such as smoking, which can cause many types of cancer. It can also be due in part to some other factors, like obesity, that tend to run in families and influence cancer risk.

But in some cases the cancer is caused by an abnormal gene that is being passed along from generation to generation. Although this is often referred to as inherited cancer, what is inherited is the abnormal gene that can lead to cancer, not the cancer itself. Only about 5% to 10% of all cancers are inherited – resulting directly from gene defects (called mutations) inherited from a parent. “

And then there is that very specific, breast cancer, which has prompted me to write this week.  Two very strong women, who are both rays of sunshine to everyone they touch, are in various stages of chemotherapy in their fight against breast cancer.  They are both very open with their experience on Facebook so that friends and family can understand and support.  One woman, I will call her Smiley, hosted head-shaving party before she started chemo and her daughter joined her in shaving her own hair off.  The party became a celebration of life and way to show solidarity with Smiley.  She is documenting chemotherapy treatments in photos and I marvel at her brave attitude.  But Smiley is a service woman in the US military.  She is no stranger to hard work, discipline and fighting.

My other friend, Sunshine, has been a survivor for the last several years.  She was quite young when her diagnosis was discovered, in her 30s, and endured treatments like a champion.  Sunshine also knows how to fight, as a Muay Thai kickboxer.  Her fighting spirit has served her well as she battles this disease.  And recently, the doctors discovered a mass that needs to be treated with chemotherapy.  Before the treatment started, Sunshine cut off her long tresses and raised money to harvest eggs for her future baby.  Preserving a future for fertility and procreation is not something I had ever heard about before Sunshine.  Of course I donated money and tried to spread the word about her cause.  I know my sister also made a donation, for which I am grateful.  The harvest was successful, Sunshine has a half dozen eggs.

And then I received one more piece of shitty breast cancer news about yet another dear friend.  This time she is my hula sister.  Hula sisters have a unique bond.  To be a cohesive group, ready to perform or compete, hula sisters have to sweat, work, sing, laugh, cry and sweat some more together, following the kauna of a hula mele and choreography of a kumu hula.  If you’re lucky, you also get to drink and disco disco and enjoy the world together.   But hula sisters feel me on this one.  It isn’t enough to take a class together, there is a special connection that forms with hula sisters.  That connection is for life.

I say all that because one of my hula sisters, who is a cervical cancer survivor, was diagnosed with a breast cancer tumor this week.  She will need surgery and all the treatment that surrounds surgery.  It felt like a punch to the gut to hear the news and I wanted to burst into tears as I read the email on my iPhone last night.  We are all praying for everyone fighting the fight.  And I’ve discovered there is this Breast Cancer Culture.  More than raising awareness of the disease or funds for research, Breast Cancer Culture is about women being strong and feminine and brave.  The color pink is associated with breast cancer to ensure that women continue to feel like women through their treatment and therapy.  Treatment may mean a mastectomy and losing one’s hair.  Therapy may mean dropping weight but not being able to exercise.  There is a spirit and a flair to “fight like a girl” against this terrible disease, breast cancer.  I know my friends are fighting like the mother who is also a soldier, a Muay Thai martial artist and hula dancer that they are.  All of those identities are a part of being a woman.

 

Every morning at 9am PST, we are sending a prayer mob/ho’oponopono out to my hula sister!

Ash Wednesday 2014

Ash Wednesday

6:33am, I tip toed into the chapel and scanned the pews for an empty seat close to the exit. If Mass went longer than an hour, I would have had to sneak out to bring my daughter to school. I am not a devout Catholic who attended Mass every Sunday or made my daughter attend Sunday School. She has no emotional connection to attending church and I am fine with that. My own journey as a Catholic has had many more stops than starts. I identify with being Christian who went to a Catholic church but I also am a Catholic who wore a “Vote No on Proposition 8” button to mass at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Downtown LA. Little did I know that the priest was going to end Mass and tell his congregation to vote Yes on Proposition 8 to “restore marriage and protect children.” I left Mass that morning PISSED OFF and more frustrated than ever with the Catholic church.

Despite this, I consider myself to be more than a C&E (Christmas and Easter) Catholic because I believe in the fundamentals of what I learned from the church, my parents, and my grandparents:

• Love and protect your family.
• Always try to do the right thing.
• Be generous and help others in need.
• Respect your elders and care for all children.

And here is what I gleaned from those learnings:

• Everyone has a story to tell and something to teach me.
• Assume good intentions from others but watch your back.
• Do all things with Aloha and expect nothing in return.

My last memory of attending an Ash Wednesday service was while on a business trip in NYC. I always like to visit churches and cathedrals while in other cities. Architectural design interests and I appreciate how Catholic churches have a familiar look and smell (is that weird?) to me. When I walk into a church, regardless of where I am in the world, I get sense of who lives in the community. I scan for ethnic diversity, I listen for different languages/accents and honestly, I look at how people are dressed. It still shocks me to see people attending Mass in jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. It shouldn’t, as I am sure the priests are happy to have butts in seats.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NY is iconic and honestly, I wanted to compare it to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Northern Ireland, where my brother was married. The two buildings looked very similar but the church in Ireland had this heavy energy of time weighing over it. It has seen war and weather and many more moons rise over it. Our young country can’t compare to Europe in so many ways. This long-standing essence of maturity is yet another difference. When we drove to the rehearsal, we travelled up one of the seven large hills in the city of Armagh. The front of the church was illuminated with gorgeous spotlights hidden in the landscaping. Couple that with Aaron Neville’s rendition of “Ave Maria” spinning in the CD player and we all took in a collective breath of admiration and wonder. The church was stunningly beautiful and seeing it gave me a sense of how serious the commitment my brother and now sister in law were about to make. Scary, scary serious and oh so permanent. Sorry, I digress.

Back to my personal Catholic journey….
During my elementary school years, I attended CCD after school on Wednesdays. This was the only time I ate Twinkies or Ho Ho’s (those were the rolled up ones, right?) which we received as a reward for paying attention during CCD. After all these years, I realize that I don’t even know what CCD stands for so I looked it up. Thank You, Wikipedia.

“The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was an association established at Rome
in 1562 for the purpose of giving religious education. Its modern usage, often abbreviated CCD or C.C.D., is a religious education program of the Roman Catholic Church, normally designed for children.”

It must have been during second and third grades that I went to Mrs. Lavarato’s house for CCD. Her son, Chris, had been a classmate since kindergarten. Chris had thick dark hair and huge brown eyes, he looked like an adorable model for an Italian garden statue and all the girls crushed on him. His best friend was the other hottie who had blond hair and blue eyes, Shawn Jackson (or “SJ”) and he lived right across the street. They were excellent athletes and the cool kids at school. Also in our class was the sweet and sort of soft spoken JoAnn DiMaggio, who I am still in contact with on Facebook. I really love that JoAnn is happily married and posts about her attending pole dancing fitness classes. That so rocks. The four of us memorized prayers and read bible passages, all under the watchful eye of Mrs. Lavarato. Mr. Lavarato was a successful attorney in town and I remember thinking that they lived in a mansion. Mrs. L was always dressed to the nines, I think she shopped exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Her hair was jet black and sprayed into place with care. But her make-up always bugged me. She wore extra creamy foundation from Hollywood and too long of eye lashes with blue eye shadow. I always felt like she looked like a nice version of Cruella DeVil. And should Cruella DeVil really be teaching CCD to our youth? I keep getting off track here, I meant to write about Ash Wednesday.

Every year, Ash Wednesday falls on a different day but it always marks the first day of Lent and is 46 days before Easter Sunday. I hadn’t done the math before but since we always say that Lent lasts for 40 days, I wanted to figure out what happened to the other six days. Of the 46 days until Easter, six are Sundays. Sunday is the Sabbath for Christians and are not included in the fasting period and are instead “feast” days during Lent. So, boom. That’s why there are 40 days for Lent but 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

I also looked for a reminder of the “rules” for Lent. In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are observed by fasting, not eating meat, and repentance – a day of contemplating one’s transgressions. Fasting in this case refers to eating just one full meal a day, we don’t have to starve ourselves to follow this rule.

My goal during Lent is to take an action that will benefit others and help me break a bad habit or stop doing something that is not productive. In my case, I find that I use too many curse words. A well placed “F” word is acceptable from time to time but gratuitous swearing is not ladylike or classy, and I am all class, right? This year, I vow to try to stop cursing so much. At one point in my college career, I was an English major so I know that removing swear words will not limit my vocabulary. In fact, it should grow because I won’t be relying on cursing. I also want to give up alcohol because that will feel like a supreme sacrifice. Red wine is divine and whiskey sipping has fast become a favorite pastime. (Did I really just make that rhyme? Sorry.) Some of my friends give up carbs because they love bread, sugar and pasta and that is an appropriate sacrifice. Another friend gave up Facebook and never went back to it. We, as Catholics, are also expected to spend more time reflecting and praying. Lent is considered by many to be an opportunity for spiritual transformation.

It seems appropriate to include a quote from Sister Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun, author, speaker, and HufPo blogger. She wrote, “Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.”
“Repent and believe in the Gospel” these are the strong words as I received my ashes this morning. My approach to Lent and to 2014 is to embrace the changes in my life, forgive myself for my short-lived marriage, and continue to fall in love with myself again. The last few years brought me down a path where I could have been content. I was in a marriage to very nice man who was a friend but not much more. There was no heat in the relationship. We might have had a baby together and lived as roommates for a lifetime. My passion for life was stifled. I could have been comfortable with complacency and just existed, living my life through my children. Instead, we walked away from the marriage early and I feel like the universe has sent me such much positive energy. As if some life force is hugging me tightly and protecting me from harm. I’ve been reminded of the passion I have for culture and movement. Martial arts brings me a sense of power, both physically and emotionally. I’ve begun to practice yoga and can already feel a difference in my running, hula, and karate. I feel happier than I have ever been, which makes me a better mother to my daughter. My heart is open to all that is coming my way. To my surprise, that includes having a very special man in my life who has only added to my happiness. Sister Joan Chittistqer wrote that “Lent is a summons to live anew.” I am all in to live life anew.