Friday, September 21, 2018

Blessed Joseph, Her Spouse

"Have mercy on us we pray, 
that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, 
with Blessed Joseph, Her Spouse...
we may praise and glorify you, through your son, Jesus Christ."
- Eucharistic Prayer II, Roman Missal

      Look at this man. Look how he looks at me. Look how he is trying to hard to make me laugh (that is, indeed a foam hat, he borrowed from a photo booth). But also, look how he is holding me gently, singing to me the words of a great song and never once taking his eyes off me. This is blessed Joseph. 

     I overheard some women talking about their husbands today. At first it was gentle stories, "my husband does husband does that." I tell stories like that. My husband makes me laugh. My husband moves stuff around in our kitchen to make it more organized forgetting I'm half a foot shorter than he is. My husband leaves his things in my car. My husband does a lot of things. But then the women started complaining about their husbands. Other women were supporting the flabbergasted and complaining woman in her complaints of her husband. Then the next woman complained about her husband. Then the next woman complained about her husband. Then the next woman complained about her husband. In the five minutes I was in the same room, I wanted nothing more to run out. I couldn't fill my water bottle quicker. 
     Here's the thing. Husbands can do annoying things, but they aren't annoying. Yes, there are times when I get flustered when the coffee grounds are higher than I can reach in their new locations; but more so it makes me laugh. I have to go get him to get it down for me; it makes me need him. I think he does it on purpose. He likes to be needed. So, I get it; husbands can do annoying things. But looking through a negative lens will not help us; it will not help our husbands and it certainly will not do good for our marriages. 

      When I was younger, I used to pray for Eucharistic Prayer II because it was the shortest. I was an altar server and yes, sometimes I tried to pre-set the Missal for EPII. Oops. But now I hope the priest uses EPII because of the above quotation. Not only is it an invocation for blessed Mary and Joseph as a reminder of the beauty of marriage, but it is also a direct reminder that my husband, Joseph, is indeed Blessed. No, not because he's married to me (although, he would say that). But rather, because he is full of goodness and kindness and care for me. He is blessed because God has made him so. And because he is blessed, he deserves only the most dignified treatment as my husband.  And when I hear the EPII being said, I look up at my husband, focused on the altar, and smile. He is Joseph, blessed Joseph, my spouse. Every Sunday, I am lucky enough to be reminded my husband is special in the context of the Mass.
     Often in these past 9 months, I have been asked: "How's married life?" And I usually answer, "It's a dream." People laugh, but that's the truth. It is a dream, with all the ups and downs and challenges no one could ever prepare me for. People have responded to me by telling me I am still in the honeymoon phase, that things will change, and things will be mundane and we will be bored of each other. But I hope not. And in my hoping not, I remind myself that we have control over that. No one ever said marriage was going to be easy; but marrying the right man makes the hardships easier to bear. And among all my blessings, I count blessed Joseph twice. 
    So ladies, in the most aggravating moments, remember why you fell in love with your husbands. Remember how blessed he is, to be married to you, and because he is a child of God. Try to find a reason to laugh at the situation i.e. he's taller than me and likes to help me reach! Try to ease the frustration by considering why your husband may have done something (was he tired? did he think he was helping?). And finally, if you really can't do any of that, at least don't complain about him with your girlfriends. It's not fair to him, it's not fair to the other absent husbands, and it's not going to do anything but tear your marriage down some piece by piece. And next time you hear EPII, instead of Blessed Joseph, put in your husband's name. One little prayer can do a lot of wonders! 

Look at this man. Look at how he looks at me. Listen to me when I tell you how he comes into the kitchen and picks me up as I am preparing dinner just to twirl me around and give me a kiss on the forehead. Listen to me when I tell you how before he leaves for work in the morning, he comes back into our bedroom and tucks me in for the extra fifteen minutes I get to lay there. Listen to me when I tell you how he carries more groceries than he can handle just so I won't. Listen to me as I tell you how he says the funniest stories or ideas or jokes. Listen to me when I tell you, I feel safest in his arms because of his blessed strength. This is blessed Joseph, my Spouse. 


Thursday, September 6, 2018

See Me, Be With Me

"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak, 
knits up in the overwrought heart and bids it break."
- William Shakespeare, Macbeth

"See Me - Tahlequah" - Lori Christopher
     A few weeks ago, I saw this image surface on social media. I was encapsulated by it. I had heard the story of the Mother Orca carrying her deceased baby for over 10 days. This was an action that many Orcas have done, but never for this long. Science was explaining the hardship behind this event: Orcas were not surviving birth, Orcas are becoming fewer and fewer, but Orcas also grieve these things. Science was telling, but not nearly as telling as the follow-up stories that inspired this image. 

     Tahlequah, the mother Orca, had been carrying her baby to keep her baby afloat. Without doing this, the baby would sink to the ocean floor. She was not yet ready to let go of her baby or of her grief. Yet, this process was holding her back (she wasn't able to swim as fast), it was using up all her energy. Grief does this to us. It holds us down for a while. It exhausts us. In the grief I have experienced, I can look back and acknowledge that the tears and the sadness often lead me to sleep or the desperate need for a nap. I can acknowledge that my grief kept me from moving on. Grief. I can name it. I can see it. I can acknowledge how it has held me back. 
     In her process of mourning, Tahlequah was strong (she carried this baby for so long). Yet, she was also weakened. The female Orcas in her Pod began to take turns and carry her baby for her. Giving her a break from carrying her grief. Yet the important thing to note is that they never took her baby away from her; they never took away the grief. They simply carried her grief for a while. Tahlequah's grief was holding her back and draining of her energy, but her Pod did not act as if she needed to get over it. Instead they allowed her to grieve and in doing so, helped her grieve instead of helping her get over it. 
    Eventually, after many days of mourning, grieving and carrying the grief, Tahlequah laid her baby to rest. When she was ready, her pod helped her do so. When she was ready....her pod helped her do so. 

      Grief is no stranger to me. I think I can thank my Dad for that; he never hid grief from us as kids. I can remember going to many funerals as a children and teenager, wondering why, especially if I did not know the person well. That was before I understood the Catholic call to "Bury the Dead." My Dad didn't hide his tears when he buried a friend or a family member. He was not afraid to show grief. And in that, we learned how to grieve. We didn't hide it; from others or from ourselves. And so grief is no stranger to me. I have let grief come and sit for a while. I have embraced grief, just as I would a dear friend. I have allowed myself the beauty of tears and the gift of grief. However, this is not often a concept we can say we know or have seen. 
     During a particularly trying time in my life, I went back to Scripture and began reading the stories of women in the Bible who have experienced pain, heartache, and worse. I noticed two things: it is rare that this women are said to have cried and it is rare that these women were given the words to express their grief. Many women in Scripture have lost their children and yet, they are not given that option to grieve. Many women have suffered innumerable heartache and physical pain; they do not cry. I believe the writers left those parts out, because as a woman who knows many women, we certainly mourn and cry and grieve. Yet, even today it seems, women are not given the chance to do these things (and neither are men, for that matter). 
     This enraged me. I was looking for comfort among the women of Scripture. I found similar pain and heartache. Yet, I was overwhelmed with tears and sadness and wanting to curl up in a ball and not move from the safety of my fortress of blankets and pillows. I began to feel weak; these women did not do this, so why am I? But quickly, I stopped myself from swimming in those thoughts. I was not weak; these women were not overtly strong for not crying. They were not given the chance; so I must mourn now for them and with them. I must conjoin my heartache with theirs. And when I saw this image, I thought back to these reflections. This is TRUTH. 

     The story of Tahlequah gives us many reflections but two that are particularly important to me. First: the Orcas knew the power of grieving. The never once, in their carrying of the calf, showed disregard for Tahlequah's grief; they did not toss it aside or get rid of it for her. She needed her grief in order to make sense of things; she needed to carry it for a while and be with it. She needed to cry and mourn and lament. Her sisters knew this and allowed her to do so. We must acknowledge grief; we must sit with it and allow it to change us. If we hold onto it and keep it in and never acknowledge it, it will break our hearts much later. When we are sad, cry. Be not afraid to embrace the pain and the tears. It is a part of us, especially for women, and we are stronger having expressed grief. When we embrace our pain, we are better as a result. Invite grief in. But do not let it stay too long. 
     And secondly, as women, we must be there for each other. And we must not dismiss the beauty of another's pain. Many people are afraid of grief and in moments of grief, theirs or another's, they tend to shush it, push it aside and say things like, "it's okay, you will get over it, you will move on." In the end, yes, we will move on but not as we had before; there will be something missing. In those moments of grief, if we choose to embrace it, we do not want to move on, we do not want to get over it. We want to sit with it; we want to be sad. And the best thing to do in those moments is to not speak at all. Instead, simply hold another's grief. Perhaps that means holding their hand, embracing them in a deep hug, or holding them in your arms. Connecting your hands or arms with them allows you to breathe together, one with pain and heartache, the other holding it. Just as the Orcas surrounding Tahlequah held her grief, we must hold each others. The Orcas did not, in any way, force Tahlequah to move on quicker than she was ready; they journeyed with her for 17 days. They did not speak to her of shared experience; they simply traveled with her until she was ready to let go of her grief. 

     There are women who have done this for me; who have been my pod. I know that I can go to them and I do not have to say a word for them to know that all they need to do for me is to hold me and sit with me while I grieve. So many instances have these women, upon meeting me, asked me how I was and I was unable to respond because tears had filled my eyes and choked my words. They simply open their arms for me. And there have been many times when I have been called upon to do this for others. Despite being a writer, I know that at times, the best thing to say is nothing. I am constantly telling my students, the women of courage who surround me daily, that when they are sad, or frustrated, or grieving, to let themselves feel it. And I sit with them; I let them cry or vent or whatever they need. We sit together, we carry each other. This is what being a woman is all about. Seeing each other and simply being with each other in times of need. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Blessed Gift of Spouse

"At home in bed a few weeks before he died, I asked him, 
'Can you breathe okay with my head on your chest like this?'
He answered, 'It's the only way I know how to breathe.'"
- "When Breath Becomes Air," Paul Kalanithi

    I've been debating whether or not to keep this blog, since it's original purpose seemingly doesn't exist. However, after obvious months of quiet and yes, contemplation, I was inspired yesterday to keep writing. It is, still, a road less traveled: two young people, married and Catholic who have lived their lives and continue to do so according to Catholic faith and practice. On September 8, Mary's birthday, we will be married for nine months. In those nine months, I've learned more than I ever thought possible. I've laughed more than I ever have, and yes, I've cried, too, but that's because tears are a good thing and I cry when I'm really happy. 

     A few weeks ago, one of the Sisters I am close with said to me, "You're so happy; I love talking to you and hearing about your life. I think that's what happens when you marry your best friend." Ten years ago, I had a different plan in my mind. I always say now, God had me on that path so I wouldn't end up with the wrong man. Joe and were friends for a while and I even knew his parents well before we started dating. I thought then, during our friendship, that his support was immense and wonderful. But I had no idea he would become all the more supportive when we got married. 
     The thing is, when I teach my Vocations and Human Sexuality class to my seniors, the girls always ask questions like, "Wouldn't you want to live together to know if you could live together before you were married?" "Don't you want to know everything you can about each other before you get married?" and "How will you know how each other functions before you get married?" We didn't live together until December 9 around 12:30AM after I drove there in a wedding dress. And we have survived nine months together. I didn't know some things about him and there are certainly things he didn't know about me. Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on this, truly counting my blessings. 
      This morning, I forgot to change the toilet paper roll and there wasn't anything left on the roll. I made a mental note to replace it after I finished making breakfast, hopefully before Joe woke up. I forgot and later, long after he had left for work, I realized he had replaced the empty roll with a new one. Every night when I make dinner, I am usually a disaster in keeping the area clean. I pile dishes in the sink, there's almost always onion skin on the floor and I most definitely am always splashing sauce or gravy or marinade somewhere. I like to think it's my creative side showing, but I know it's just because I'm messy. After dinner, without complaint, he washes the dishes and fills the dish washer. He's really good at folding laundry, not so good at sorting it, so we split it. And every night, before bed, he fills a glass with water for me just in case I get thirsty in the middle of the night. 
     It's all these things that make me grateful for him, because he doesn't complain about sharing the duties or taking care of me. But remembering these things leads me to deeper reflection: I need him. I could survive on my own, yes. But his companionship completes me. I have realized over the past few weeks (and I realize this may be an audacious thing for a newly wed to say) why God gives us spouses. There are trials and tribulations that happen throughout life that we cannot plow through alone. Yes, we have friends and family who can be there to help us through, but our spouse is obligated to be there through good times and bad. I didn't marry Joe with the intent of keeping him around to be my support, but he has been that for me. Some days are filled with ups and downs and at the end of the day, my favorite place to be is in his arms. His arms are the strong walls of my home and in them, I feel the safest and most secure. When I'm not with him, despite whether I am currently happy, I miss him; I wish he was with me experiencing my joys, too. 
     God gives us spouses as companions, as friends, as confidantes, as people to share in our joys or our sorrows. I think what is most important is that Joe is my spouse and he's only for me and vice versa; I am only for him. How special and unique and amazing it is to think about that: God designed someone else to be my perfectly fitting puzzle piece. While God was creating me with all my personality, my quirks and my nooks and crannies, He was also creating Joe to perfectly compliment that for me. (Or maybe it's the other way around, since Joe is a few months older). It's fascinating, mind-boggling and not easy to fully grasp. We are only for each other because we were made that way. And I am so grateful for that gift. 
      The gift of my spouse is one that I have truly considered deeply in these last few days before school starts up again, mostly because I have had the time but also the inspiration. I've had many questions for God and our conversations have reached great depth. His answer to me over and over his been, "Trust my time. You need this trial to become stronger together. Keep strengthening your marriage." And so we have. Simply by being together and even at times, doing nothing together, we have been made stronger. Through consistent prayer and going to Mass together, our relationship with God, both individually and as a couple, has made us stronger. By seeing each other vulnerable and emotional, as well as over joyed and ecstatic, we have been made stronger. And without the other, we certainly couldn't be where we are today. God has blessed us through every up and down and I'm grateful for my spouse, the one who loves me beyond understanding, in good times and in bad. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

My Magnificat

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my Spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.
For he has looked with mercy on my lowliness.
For the mighty God has done great things for me."
- Holy Is His Name, John Michael Talbot

      As a lover of music and a lover of words, there have been many occasions on which I simply get overwhelmed. Today's young people can't really say that their music contains rich vocabulary, but I can tell you that there is still music being produced with words of a little more depth than "yeah," "baby, baby, baby," and "oh, oh, oh." Thank God for these musical groups and artists, as their music is a gift. However, there are many genres of music which tap into my heart strings, whether it be because of the memories it brings me, the moment in which they are being played or the depth of words in them. Whether I am driving, dancing or discovering music, I sometimes, while listening deep, find myself choked up. I don't dismiss those tears, but rather, I embrace them. I know, with every tear shed, the song is growing in importance to my journey. Naturally, I am only writing of this, because this weekend, I had one of those moments. 
     I was blessed to be asked to guest cantor at my home parish this past weekend as we celebrated our feast day, St. Thomas Aquinas. While I had to drive a little longer and wake up a little earlier, it was still going home for Mass, for me. Singing has always been a special gift for me, a way for me to praise my God. Every time before Mass, I sit on the altar, patiently waiting and conversing with my Lord. I ask him to make my voice strong in his praise and I thank him for the gift he has given me. Whether I am in the pew, or cantoring, it is my way. And so, it becomes that each word in the song, is then my prayer; a prayer I have not written and yet, can pray. I will be honest and say, I hadn't given much thought to the list of songs on the schedule. And perhaps, that is why, when the piano intro began for "Holy Is His Name," I was taken aback more than I usually am. 
     This song has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. It is my favorite composition of Mary's prayer, the Magnificat, a prayer I have constantly re-written in my own words. In her moment of fear, Mary did nothing but praise her God; she found nothing but joy in her humility. The words of Mary have meant so much to me for so long, that when I cannot find the words to express my gratitude to God, I depend on these words. Singing her words only mean so much more. So when it came time to plan the Liturgy for our wedding, I knew right away that instead of the traditional "Ave Maria," a prayer to Mary, I wanted the Magnificat, the prayer of Mary. I remember Father Rudy telling our bridal party and our parents at our rehearsal, that this small part of the Mass would be my special chance to ask Mary to help me be a good woman, a good wife and a good mother. But, I knew it would be more than that. 
      Mary, in her magnificat, glorifies the goodness for the suddenness of womanhood, wife-hood and motherhood being thrust upon her. While she had a choice, her yes must have been one filled with all kind of emotion. Any "yes" to God's plan would be filled with emotion - fear, doubt, feeling unsure, joy, gratitude, love, and so much more. Because, let's be real, saying "yes" to God's plan, is saying "yes" to the unknown. In my prayer life, my "yes" to God's plan, not "God's plan that says this, that and the other thing will happen," just simply, "God's plan," was filled with emotion. It was a real, "Your will, God, not my own," every day and will be for the rest of my life. And because of that, the Magnificat becomes even more real for me. While it seems to elicit different thoughts now, it is still just as real for me as it had been before. Actually, it may be even more real. 
    So as the music began, I could only smile at the true depth of connection my heart was feeling with the Magnificat. It wasn't just a song; they weren't just words. It was a prayer and it was my prayer. As I sang, it was my soul glorifying the Lord, my life being humbled by his presence in my life. The lord has truly done so many great things for me. And then, I choked up. My eyes, my heart and my soul welled up. I thought back to December 8, the beautiful Marian feast day on which Joe and I will celebrate our marriage as an sign and symbol of the Church, and how blessed I've been since then in only a month and a half. I considered all the beautiful lives who witnessed our marriage, religious, married, single, young, old but all the same beautiful. The unlimited support we've been given and all thanks to our amazing God. 
     Mary and I haven't always had this beautiful relationship and I truly believe I needed her in ways I never imagined. She will be my source of strength for a continuous yes, for strength in marriage and as a wife, and eventually, for strength in motherhood. I can only thank her for being my friend, my confidante and role model. And because of that, last night I went to visit her in the IHM Motherhouse Chapel. I felt peaceful being there, praying with the Sisters, praying the words of the Magnificat of Evening Prayer. But the icing on the cake of my feelings of being blessed, was the intercession prayed for married couples. There weren't pools of tears in my eyes that time, but there was a smile stretched far across my face. My soul truly glorifies the Lord, for he has been so incredibly good to me. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Year, New Me

"Never hesitate to let the one you love
know how you feel. Align your minds, 
synchronize your hearts, and above all be 
fearless when dancing with their souls."
- Truth Devour, "Wantin"

    In an effort to write something different than I wrote last year on New Year's Day, I read my post from last year. I ended the paragraph with saying how I didn't want to write about "New Year, New Me." Yet, before I read that old post, I had already titled this post. I had to chuckle at myself. Past me always surprises present me. So I decided to go back to my list of resolutions for 2017. I definitely ate more consciously, gained more muscle strength (and lost about 20 lbs in the process!), wrote more letters, deepened my prayer life and stressed a little less. But the one I keep coming back to is resolution #6, "Do something BIG and life changing." Hmmm...I think I did that, too. 
    I remember hiking on New Year's Day and while doing so, wondering what would be in store for me. I had desires, I had fears, I had dreams. But I knew that every day of 2017 would be a day given up to God, his will and his design. No matter what happened, I would be try to align myself with his will. In doing so, I was so pleasantly surprised at all the amazing things God granted me this year, especially a new me. From going to the March for Life again (finally after so many years), to camping with friends so many times, to leading an alum retreat with some of my new best friends, spending time being in love, being in nature and learning to be comfortable with being alone, too. I spent time remembering those who have gone before me in the this life, praying with them, and growing comfortable with the importance grief plays in life. I turned a quarter of a century old next to my bestie from High School, did my fair share of travels around the Eastern states and created so many memories. But on top of that, we got engaged, celebrated our relationship, grew closer to one another in prayer and heart and mind, GOT MARRIED on the best feast day, and closed out the year on our honeymoon. Looking back on all these memories, thinking about how I felt on January 1, 2017, I never expected any of this and yet, I am so grateful. 
     Of course, I don't want it to seem that I had no idea we were going to get engaged and married. That obviously wouldn't be healthy. But what I mean is that, in my heart I knew I wanted to marry Joe, I knew he wanted to marry me. We had been talking about it for a while. But we weren't sure if God was going to bless us with it happening this year. We prayed and hoped that the time would be right. And so many instances of answered prayers and moments of joy and happiness led us to knowing this would be the year. As I sit here watching the snow falling from our window, I can't help but think God is smiling down on us. 
     Now it's three days after the beginning of the new year. I went back to school yesterday only to be greeted with a snow day today. I can't say I'm complaining. I always say that on days like this, God is looking out for all the teachers who weren't ready to go back to school, yet. Considering we were on our honeymoon all of break, I'll be honest and say that I'm definitely that teacher today. In the middle of working on getting myself together for going back to school for real, I'm breaking to reflect on the beginning of this new year. I am sure that 2018 has big things in store for us our new family. I am thinking to the homily we heard on New Year's Eve when father suggested we consider how Mary and Joseph spent their New Year's Eve thinking of their past year. I felt like Mary in that moment, thinking back on all the amazing and yet simultaneously terrifying things that happened to me. As I looked at my Joseph, he smiled, thinking about all the the amazing adventures to come. We so whole-heartedly believe that if we continue to align our hearts with God's will, He will be sure to surprise us, perhaps even more so this year. 
    And so, we begin, a new year, a new me if only because of my new last name. I am sure that the love of my life and I will be adventuring alongside friends, family and God this year. There is no question in my mind that His surprises will be the best surprises. We may have no idea what they may turn out to be, but we are sure that prayer will be the center of our motivation this 2018. Blessings to you and yours this year. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Be Saints

"I am the first and the last;
I am the Lord who died that you might live. 
I am the bridegroom, this is my wedding song. 
You are my bride, come to the marriage feast."
- Take and Eat, Michael Joncas

     One of my most favorite things about traveling is getting to visit and worship in different Catholic churches. What I love so much about this is knowing that I can go to any Catholic church, be welcomed like family, and the Mass will be familiar to me. I also love listening to the music they sing, the announcements they read (how rich their weekly spiritual life is!) and of course, a different perspective on the readings in the Homily. It is always familiar, even if it's in a different language, and church, specifically Mass, always make me feel at home. 

    This past weekend, I was blessed to the spend time with my bridesmaids in Hershey, PA. We went camping, rode roller coasters and ate a lot of chocolate. As much as I hate being the center of attention, it was beautiful to walk past so many people and have them wish me well wishes for my upcoming marriage. Recently, I've been so busy at school in my ministry job, that I haven't had much time to really focus on the fact that I am, indeed, getting married, in quite a few days. Every so often, in the middle of my chaos, a little alarm goes off in my brain that says, "Reminder. Reminder. You are getting married." And then there's the sub-sequential thoughts of, "I need to order flowers. I need to pay the dj. I need to call our priest. Do we have a place to live yet?" Yikes. Yet this weekend, I had time to enjoy the friendship and sisterhood of my bridesmaids and also focus on the fact that, yes, I am getting married. Judging from the movies, you'd never think that a Bachelorette weekend would be like a retreat. But I'm grateful to my girls for giving me that opportunity. 
   I loved that my girls knew me well enough to make celebrating Mass together a part of the weekend, making the weekend absolutely complete. As I stated above, I love visiting various different churches on my travels. Despite having gone to Hershey so many times, I can't remember ever going to Mass at St. Joan of Arc Parish. When we arrived a few minutes before Mass, I knelt to talk to Jesus. In this conversation, I was drawn to the stained glass windows on the right side of church. Contemporary images of spiritual life, education and so on. I am so used to seeing saints in the stained glass, that these contemporary images really made my Theology heart sing. But when I turned to the left side of the church out of curiosity, I was even more intrigued. I had never seen Catholicism linked so beautifully with Scripture and the present day. My inner Theology student/nerd burst. Each contemporary image on the right was paired with an image of Christ on the left; tied together with only one or two words. 
   Now while I feel I could write a paper on all the windows, I will only share the first two windows with you. You'll have to go see the others for yourself. On the left side was the Holy Family; Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. It simply read, "Spiritual Life." On the right side was a young married couple, with a newborn baby at the baptismal font and a priest baptizing their new baby. Again, below the image, it read, "Spiritual Life." I could only be reminded of what so many sisters have told me during this time of engagement, "We need Holy Families, too." How beautiful was Christ's confirmation to me in my heart through these images! I could not help but think of textbooks and textbooks worth of Theology behind the sacrament of marriage. Because while we will have a wedding day, the sacrament is the most important part of the day. And it's mostly because we get to begin our marriage, which will last a lifetime, with the Eucharist, surrounded by the physical Body of Christ in our family members. 
    Father's homily spoke about the first reading, in which Isaiah says, "my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts." He told us how he fought his vocation to the priesthood, wanting something completely different. I had to laugh as how much I felt connected to this, but in the opposite way. How I fought married life because I felt it wasn't good enough. And yet, I have learned so well these past few years how the vocation to marriage life is just as good and holy as religious life. I simply needed to find my holy, faithful, husband to be. 
   The icing on the cake, or should I say, the icing on the Hershey's bar, was the Communion hymn. I loved the traditional hymns that the congregation sung with the cantor, but my favorite was at Communion. I guess as a person with high empathy and as an auditory learner, I tend to connect with music, stories and people more quickly than the average human. Every so often, when singing in the congregation during Mass, I get to a certain line and suddenly, I'm overwhelmed with emotion. This happened on Sunday with the above quoted hymn. It was Jesus' invitation to me (and Joe), to come to His wedding feast. Yet another confirmation that this is truth. That in 75 days, we will join together in Matrimony at the wedding feast. 

    There's a part two to my day, however. I thought I was finished being blessed during the day but Joe called me on the way home and asked if I might make it home in time to go to Mass with him and his family. I told him I already went to Mass, but I did want to see him. So what better way to spend time together than during Mass (can you tell I love the Eucharist soooooooo much?)? I made it just in time for 5PM Mass at his parish. Again, hearing another perspective on the readings is always good for my heart. This time, the Deacon gave the homily. He correlated a story of what he encourages newly weds to be for each other with the Gospel. Deacon said, "I always encourage young newly weds to remember to be one thing for each other: saints." He reminded the whole congregation of this but I felt that he was speaking right to us. He continued to express that marriage is not just between two people, but a 100% dedication by three people: husband, wife and Christ. The wedding feast was coming back to me for the second day. Just when I thought my blessings were already too numerous for the day, this homily was just another added blessing. Yes, so many church experiences of marriage. 

      God's ways are not our ways and God's thoughts are not our thoughts. Yet somehow, God always manages to speak to our hearts in a way we can understand. I cannot wait to be Joe's wife, to begin a holy family with him, and I wait in the hopeful patience that God will continue to prepare our hearts to be saints. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Receiving and Believing

"It is with human certainty that no one can see her own beauty
or perceive her own worth until it has been reflected back to her
in the mirror of another loving, caring human being."
John Joseph Powell

      It is my belief that almost every woman, at some point during her growing up, feels self-conscious. Whether it was because one's peers were growing quicker or slower than she, one felt so self conscious as the school nurse performed the yearly health screening or one simply felt compared to her older/younger siblings. The truth is, our media doesn't do much to help women either. Women are constantly being told how to wear their hair, what size they should wear and what they should look like. Women, despite there being so much advancement, still feel so pressured to look, appear and feel a certain way. 
     I am no stranger to this. There are often moments when I feel my body being attacked by the media. I should weigh a certain amount. I should look a certain way. I should dress to my body type but it has to be the right body type. From a young age, I basically gave up on trying to fit in with the way I dressed. Most of it was my dedication to not exposing every inch of my body, but it was also because I never felt quite like those clothes ever fit me properly. I began to hate trying on clothes in the store and even now, I'm more resolved to hold it up, buy it and then return it if it doesn't fit. Honestly, buying new clothes is the worst chore. And the scale is probably my worst enemy. 
    I often talk about my life as a teacher and campus minister in an all girl school, so it should be no surprise that I am surrounded by the heavy emphasis on body image on the daily. Whether it's casual conversation about prom dresses and spray tans or more serious conversations about how women and sexuality are portrayed in the media, I feel like every day we are talking about how we look. It's not only the students, it's the faculty members, too. We constantly judge each other for our food choices in the cafeteria or in our lunchboxes or how much we exercised each day. So I've made it a point to be a positive voice of reason in the hallways. It's been my mission to remind my students and my colleagues, that we each have different gifts, we all have great things to offer to the world, and I try to shower people with good, reinforcing compliments. Last year, the girls told me that I was one of the most supportive faculty members because of my pleasant disposition in and out of school. I took pride in that. 
      I believe it's a gift I've been given, to focus and see the best in each person. But along with that is the courage to tell people. I love giving out compliments and collecting smiles in return. That has been a part of me from a very young age. But it goes deeper than that. Whenever I am on retreat with the students, I have the opportunity to tell them specifically what I love about them. I often write them affirmations that sound like this, "You have a great ability to listen to your peers. You are a good person; believe it!" I always tell them to believe whatever good thing someone says about them, because I feel that what goes along with feeling so self-conscious about oneself, is the inability to believe anything good anyone says. 
      Over the years I have been thanked by my students for making them believe in themselves. They send me little emails during their school years in college or over the holidays thanking me for reminding them of their goodness. I cannot help but feel overwhelming joy because at least one person believed in her own goodness, even if for only a little while. It's probably one of the best parts of my job. 
     But recently I've been realizing that I don't take my own advice. How can I tell them time and time again to believe the good things people say about them if I don't believe it myself? Perhaps this goes hand in hand with my struggle with body image and positive identity, or maybe I am just not used to having people say things about me since I'm always busy saying good things about others. Regardless of the reason why, I've noticed that receiving compliments makes me feel awkward. I brought this to prayer a few weeks ago and was reflecting on feeling down on myself. I asked God to remind me of my beauty as His handiwork. Then I became a victim to receiving and yes, believing the goodness people believe about me. 
     One of the greatest compliments I have ever received was from a student I had just met on a service trip. He wrote me a palanca (a service trip tradition!) that read simply and sweetly, "I admire your confidence and your outgoing personality." I always felt obnoxious with my loud voice and seemingly outgoing personality. But this young man considered it confidence. I've never considered myself confident before, at least not in this way. But his simple words really meant a lot to me. 
     A few days later, someone texted me a picture of some dainty stationary. Knowing my love for stationary, it made sense to me that she sent the picture saying, "this reminds me of you!" I smiled because it's not the first time someone told me stationary reminded me of them - I loved writing letters. But she followed up with another text. It's cute and pretty just like you. It came on a day when I was feeling particularly hard on myself. Cute and pretty. I've never considered myself that either. But apparently someone else did. 
     And most recently in the succession of compliments seemingly flowing from God as an answer to my prayer, was this final instance. While we do not have religious sisters at my parish, a number of the neighboring parishes do. This summer I've been blessed to share my pew with some of the local sisters who live at the school my youngest sister attends. I know these sisters well and am in touch with them often. Each day, the sisters and I park in the lot and enter the chapel together. We comfortably pray our own prayers and give each other our spaced. But during the sign of peace, we exchange warm hugs and well wishes. Usually one particular sister says, "Peace be with you, Becca. Have a great day." But on one morning, she said something different. Instead of her usual, she hugged me saying, "Peace be with you, Becca. You are loved." 
     I am not used to receiving compliments and while they still make me feel awkward, there's no question that these instances came from God. I had expressed my self-consciousness in prayer and He responded by sending me three very unique and irregular compliments. It was a reminder to again, believe that I am God's handiwork, I am beautiful and I am loved. It was a reminder to take my own advice: receive and believe.