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. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Reflection on Trust

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, 
on your own intelligence rely not.
In all your ways, be mindful of Him,
and He will make straight your paths."
- Proverbs 3:5-6

    I am on the first floor by the faculty lounge in school. I am walking to class with my laptop in my arm, the text books piled on top and my coffee mug in my right hand. A student calls my name from behind, "Miss G, Miss G!" I turn around and seemingly begin to solve the world's most recent crisis. As I speak with the student, I feel one of my upper right teeth begin to wiggle so with my tongue, I push it back into place. But before I can get it to stay, it falls out in the middle of my conversation. The student seems not phased by this personally mortifying experience and continues speaking at a rapid pace. I bend down to pick up the tooth off the floor and try to make my way to the faculty lounge to get a cup. The student finishes explaining her crisis and leaves.
    The next thing I know, a few of my colleagues are talking to me, all from different places in the room about different things. All I am trying to do is get a cup with some milk in it - I need to put my tooth there so I can get it put back into my mouth after school. As I stand up after getting the milk, I realize that more of my teeth are loose and wiggly. I'm trying not to speak as much so I can keep my teeth in my mouth, but colleagues keep asking me questions. Each time I open my mouth, more teeth fall out. I'm getting good at catching them all in the cup of milk I've replaced my coffee mug with.
   Finally, I get to class. Late, of course, since I was busy catching all my falling-out teeth. Then a student comments something about my dress, in front of the class. Trying not to be mortified that part of my dress has been stuck in my nylons all day, I put my things down on the desk and adjust my dress. When I open my mouth to say thank you, the rest of my teeth fall out and I no longer have a single tooth in my mouth. The worst part about this whole thing is that not a single person noticed my teeth falling out and I am mortified thinking about how terrifying I must look with my teeth in cup and not in my mouth. I start to sweat and get nervous and before I can say another thing, I wake up.

     It's about 4 am now and I'm worried about whether or not I closed the windows in my office before I left, knowing for well that even if I did, Sharon would have closed them after she took the trash from my room that day. At about 4:30 am, I'll roll over and start worrying about whether or not I emailed the priest a confirmation email about coming to say Mass five months into the school year. It's August. And around 5 am, I'll flip onto my stomach in hopes that a different position will help me sleep but instead I can only think about what people would say about me if I actually didn't have any teeth and what they already say about me for any type of reason. About 5:30 am I'll have exhausted myself from thinking too much and I'll start dreaming again. But if the tooth dream comes back, I'm up for good.

     The amount of times I have a dream about losing my teeth is astronomical. Would I say once a week? Depends on the time of year. But honestly, I've had the tooth dream more times than I can count. While it may sound strange, this tooth dream is one of the most commonly recorded dreams that people have. So I know I'm not the only one waking up feeling like a weirdo having dreamt about teeth. But there's two important factors of my reoccurring dream that I'd like to point out. First, no one in my dream ever notices my teeth falling out; only me. While I think that watching someone's teeth fall out might be extremely traumatizing, it never seems to be the case in my dream. I'm the only one worried about it. Second, I cannot control my teeth. As much as I try to keep them all in my mouth, I fail over and over again. And this is what it means to me: when I'm worried about something, usually I'm the only one worried about it. And what I'm worried about, I usually can't control. Yet, time and time again, I lose hours of sleep over worrying about things I really can't control.

     Last week, I went to Mass and then coffee with a dear Sister friend of mine who has been a part of my life for about ten years now. We always have beautiful conversation that is sometimes light-hearted and other times we try to tackle our understanding of the woes of the world. This time, while telling great stories, laughing loudly and catching up (though I feel, we always pick up where we left off despite the time!), we also began talking about a lot of the latest news stories and the empathetic sadness we feel. That conversation transitioned into a conversation about worrying and our inability to trust at times, despite great faith in God. Why do we worry? What makes us anxious? Why do we let so many things, out of our control, bother us so greatly? We didn't reach a conclusion. But it did lead me down a small road of reflection on trust. How do I actually surrender my anxieties to God and be free of worry?
     A few nights after I saw Sister, I had the darn tooth dream again. But instead of waking up and laying in my bed freaking out for hours, I start praying. I've been having the tooth dream for years and I learned that praying was the best way for me to relieve my worry (and also get back to sleep). I was worried about something huge, something I won't share here, but I remembered back to the conversation I had with Sister a few days prior. We reminded ourselves then that in our moments of weakness and worry, we need to discern what is truly from God. We agreed that sometimes God puts worry in our heart for a good reason, perhaps to keep us from doing something that might bring harm. But God would never wish us to worry ourselves into exhaustion and so this anxiety that wakes me up at night can't be from God. So I began to pray, "Jesus, Your will be done. Not mine. And please, show me Your will."
     Another Sister I know used to tell me to be specific when praying to Jesus. It's not testing God as in saying, "Jesus send me a blue butterfly at 12:15 today to show me your listening." But rather, "Jesus, I am doubting and I need you to be overwhelmingly obvious today. And let me know it's you." That's what I prayed when I woke up. I did not go out of my way to make anything different about my day. I simply woke up, got dressed and ready to go, drove to Joe's house and we went to Mass together.
     Whenever we can, we join each other for Mass at our parishes. That being said, our parish families have really gotten to know us as a couple. So when we walked in, one of the ushers asked Joe and I to bring up the gifts. We accepted this gift and went to find a pew after passing the pastor on our way. He simply nodded a hello as Mass was going to begin soon. We prayed together and when we sat down, I told Joe that I needed him to pray for my heart; I was anxious. I also told him, I was waiting for Jesus to make his will obvious to me to reassure me. Joe simply said, "I know you worry. It will be okay."
     As Mass began, I remember thinking about how Jesus has so clearly made himself and his plan known to me recently. I haven't experienced this worry until now. All of my prayers have pointed me in this direction. And I knew that this was the devil really abusing my worrisome heart. This worry was not of God. This I knew. But my humanity needed reassurance. I received that reassurance when Father began his homily talking about a couple who had just celebrated their 50th anniversary yesterday in the church. We applauded them and father spoke a bit about how a marriage stays successful. Prayer. I admit, I was letting my mind wander in prayer a bit when I felt Joe gently tapping my leg. He was getting up and I was confused. Father had invited a newly engaged parishioner to the altar with his future bride. That newly engaged parishioner was Joe and I was his future bride. Immediately, happy tears starting falling down my face as I thanked Jesus in my heart for truly outdoing himself this time.
      Father talked with us a bit on the altar and then invited the entire congregation to pray over us. He prayed through Mary's intercession, another God-wink for me, and I simply held Joe's hand feeling a wave of grace wash over me. When we went back to our pew, I quickly whispered to Joe, "Jesus answered my prayers." He squeezed my hand and responded, "I know."

      The truth is, human beings worry. We worry about a ton of things we can't control. We doubt despite the fact that everything in life has pointed us this way. We get anxious about little things like how people perceive us, what they think about our actions and more. But this is not of God. While I think it's safe to assume I'll most likely be woken up by the tooth dream again, I know that Jesus can calm my spirit. I know that no matter how big or little my worry, Jesus will make himself overwhelmingly known to me. He will constantly reassure me in my doubts. And to have a fiance that believes this, too, is beyond blessing.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

From Convent to Conte

"You made the best choice for yourself.
Your heart was torn about where to go
and he came into your life at the perfect moment."
- S. Jeanette

      Two blog posts in one week? It must be summertime. Yet, despite this, I've been busy. But the desire to write and open my heart is louder than ever. I can hardly wait to sit in the pool tomorrow, but tomorrow is not yet here. And since I can't write in the pool (water and technology just don't mix apparently...hah!), why not use the best of the time I'm waiting for my class to begin? 

      Yesterday, I was so incredibly blessed to spend the day with some of the most beautiful people I know. For the past eight years, the service immersion week, CREW, has taken place. I participated in CREW as a awkward adolescent, helped out when I was in college (for the exception of when I spent time in SA) and was back last year (as an adult? yikes!). We had been planning for a great week this year, but as the odds have it, only a few signed up. So we decided to make the best of it: why not have a whole day dedicated to CREW. That's what I love about these women - they have creative hope. 
      And so, around 5:30 yesterday morning, I woke up, began to work on my annual duty assigned to me, and then headed to our CREW day for Mass and the day. Was I excited? Yes. See above mention of morning wake up time. Was I nervous? Also, yes. But why? Well, it was going to be the first time I had interaction with a lot of the sisters since before I was engaged. Now, it wasn't as if I was showing up, not having told anyone. They all knew. I figured telling them before I saw them all again, would break the ice a bit. So, why was I nervous? Well, to be honest, I can't really pinpoint an exact reason. But, I can tell you the exact second my nerves were eased. 
      Immediately after Mass, we had invited the girls for breakfast and as usual, I was lingering behind when S. Jeannette grabbed me by the hand gently. Sister has known me for what seems like eternity, but what is actually close to 11 years. Without actually spending large amounts of time together, she has watched me grow throughout my (really) award adolescent years into a young college woman and now, into a woman about to get married. How blessed am I to have so many women in my life willing to journey with me through those transitions! 
      So at any rate, she gave me a big hug and expressed a deep congratulations. Perhaps she could tell I was nervous. Perhaps she had been thinking this since I sent the house my announcement in the mail. I'm not quite sure, but she did always have a knack for telling me what I needed to hear. That's when she told me she felt that I made the right choice. She expressed knowing that I, for certain, had prayed about this. And then she told me that there was no question in her heart that I was struggling with choosing between some great communities. At the time when I was struggling the most, she believes that's when Joe entered my life. She truly believes he entered my life to ease the confusion of my heart. And when she said this, without ever having a conversation quite like it before, I felt instant peace wash over my heart. 
      My day was filled with adventure, as any day spent with the Sisters really is. I was able to welcome "home" a dear friend of mine, laugh with the Sisters I hadn't seen for a while, and yes, even rise to a rare occasion of dancing in the rain (by which I mean, chasing a Sister outside to help her with blow away chairs during a storm). Around suppertime, my nerves began to get at me again as slowly but surely more and more sisters began to join us for our picnic supper. That's when I took the chance to go run in the rain. We came back inside, soaked but laughing together. We squeezed puddles out of our hair/veil and laughed some more as we considered what any passersby may have thought. In that moment, I was set free again from my anxieties. I had strength to face the crowd of sisters who all knew about my engagement. 
     I guess I was expecting them to each express their disappointment that I wasn't entering religious life despite the fact that Joe and I have been dating for three years and most have met him. I guess I was also expecting some to express questions and I just wasn't ready to answer questions en masse. But my worrying was for naught. As I tried to stay away from any spotlight, sisters, quietly and seemingly, one by one, came to me, gave a hug and told me how proud they are or how happy they are for me and Joe. Some even asked me to retell each detail surrounding the night we were engaged. I was surrounded not only by a grand amount of support, but a huge, loving family. 
      In those moments of brief conversation with many of the sisters, I felt a peaceful transition. As my bridal party would say, "from convent to Conte." There is no doubt in my heart that I am meant to be with Joe; he is my best friend. But there was fear of disappointing others. Some would tell me, never let that fear inhabit me from living my life. But again, these women have surrounded me for a very long time. They were the teachers, mentors, tutors who helped raise me. They were companions on a journey of prayer and introspection. And again, I am so blessed they allowed me to stay a part of their lives despite life changes and transitions from teenager to college student to young woman out in the world. 
       After our picnic supper, we headed to the Chapel I had fallen in love with so many years ago. I was surrounded by the voices of beautiful women, each with their own story, singing loudly and proudly during Praise and Worship Adoration. At one moment, the sun came straight through the stained glass window and I felt, shined right on my face. My found my heart so lifted in prayer by those around me and indeed loved, so incredibly loved. If ever I doubted God's love for me, in that moment I was reassured that I am far from a disappointment, far from being disowned and far from a need to worry. These Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth reminded me the truth of their charism: family. 
       I was greatly assured last night by the love of others, the greatest of hugs, and the peace given. As we parted for the night, one sister reminded me: we need holy families. You felt called by the Holy Family once, you're being called again, just in a way you never expected. And there is so much truth in those words. Yes. This is a call to be a Holy Family, no matter where I am, from convent to Conte! 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Charism Connection

"Discernment has no beginning or ending; it lasts a lifetime.
It can change form, however, from a conversation and prayer
between you and God, to conversation and prayer
between you, God and your future spouse."

     Last weekend, I had the pleasure (truly, it is a pleasure) of traveling with five of my students and a colleague to Cleveland, Ohio, for our annual CSSJ Leadership Conference. It is during this conference that our students learn not only the importance of the charism, mission and history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, but also the importance of being an active participant in it and furthering it through their lives as lay people. It is also during this conference that I am reminded of the importance of lay people ministering in the church. And thus, my most recent reflection. 

     There is no question that this blog began as a blog documenting the serious discernment of a young woman trying to find her vocation. There is no question that this blog remains the documentation of a young woman seriously discerning her vocation in life. Do I sound redundant? I have gone back and forth with deciding to blog about my recent engagement. We went back and forth about posting it on social media. But like all things, we took it to prayer and made a decision best for our hearts. So, I write this not because I feel I need to explain myself. But rather, because in the depths of my heart, I feel the need to express my blessings. 
      Joe and I decided to not post our engagement until about two weeks after the fact. He proposed to me on my 25th birthday and for about two weeks, we visited with friends and family, made phone calls and enjoyed sharing our joy as a newly engaged couple. We decided on a date, we decided on a venue, but we were still discerning how to spread the news to those we might not be able to visit or call; it would simply take our entire engagement to let people know. We decided that the easiest way was the make a subtle post on Facebook.
      I'll be honest, I was unsure about it. I didn't want to answer questions I felt people shouldn't ask. But God works in ways I will never understand. We were only met with complete support. You see, despite having been in a dating relationship with Joe for three years, I had previously very seriously discerned religious life. Many people who knew me in different ways, knew that I was always open about that discernment. But, I was also very open about dating Joe, too. Believe me when I say that dating him took a year of intense prayer and saying yes to him asking me to be his wife took three long years of prayer, getting to know him and myself better, and building an atmosphere of trust and love. It was far from a rash decision. 
     In the middle of our dating relationship, I came home from a trip with some of my friends who also happen to be religious sisters. I remember asking Joe to walk with me and talk with me about my experience. I was trying to break up with him. He held my hand as I told him how I felt and he simply said, "I will be there for you in the church when you make your vows, whether to the church or to me. I'll always be there for you." Needless to say, that set my confused heart free. Knowing that he would support me in either vocation was enough to make me love him even more, as cliche, perhaps, as it is to say. He's simply been one of my biggest supports for seven years. 
     And so, our relationship developed even more. We prayed together and on our own. My discernment, my conversation between me and God, changed forms. It wasn't just me and God anymore; it was me, God and Joe. And I have no doubt that God's hand has been in our relationship the entire time. Before we started our exclusive dating relationship, we both went to different countries. I went for mission work and he went for a pilgrimage. We took those two weeks apart to pray for each other and about our relationship. Simply put, I missed him. God has blessed me with Joe as my best friend in so many circumstances. He's the one who goes to every school function with me and seemingly loves my students more than I could love them. He cheers their teams on, gives them standing ovations and supports their charity events. He spends late nights with me shopping for retreat and sacrifices so much for me. He works long days and still makes it a priority to spend as much time as he can with me. 
     I think the most important thing about Joe is that he makes me laugh. Whether we are singing at the top of our lungs to Broadway music, kicking each other under the table as we play cards or making up stories just to pass the time, he makes me smile. He makes friends with every person he meets and constantly tries to cheer up the cashiers at Target. He tells funny stories and always tries to get people to smile. And when I'm having a really bad day, he just reminds me of all the funny moments we've shared together. He brings out the best in me. 

      So how does this connect with my CSSJ Leadership Conference? Well there's one small link. Sister Phyllis told the students that learning charism, mission and history is important because it's as if the founding sisters have found these students and said, "tag, you're it." On the last night in Cleveland, Sister Phyllis and I drove together in the car and I got to fill her in on the last year of my life. We had met three years previously and stay in touch as much as time allows. After filling her in, I thanked her. Not only for listening, but for teaching me, hands-on, how important lay people are in the ministry of the church. 
      While I had always believed that all vocations are equal in value, I didn't realize how important the lay ministry is in furthering the charism, mission and history of the sisters for whom one might work or by whom one was taught. In my own life, I have known well four communities of religious sisters. When I was discerning religious life, I was always unsure which community fit me best. I knew that was going to be the hardest decision and in truth, I felt connected to each so deeply. But in my conversation with Sister Phyllis she told me how special it makes me to have had all these experiences with so many communities. 
       Indeed, there are many aspects of each community that I hold deep in my heart. I've always felt so deeply connect to the Eucharist, family has remained an important staple in my life, I have a deep Marian devotion and I often invoke creative hope in many moments of life, but I also have a sincere passion for social justice. Besides, in each community there is some connection to Saint Joseph. So now, I have my own Joseph and within me burns these charisms, these missions, and yes, these histories. As a lay-woman, not only do I get to share these with my future spouse, but also with our children and with the people who I encounter day in and day out. I can further the charisms, missions and histories in simple conversation but also in the way I live. And this, perhaps, is why God sent me on this journey. 
      I know that I will never be able to figure out why God gave me this journey and I know that I still have so much to learn. But I know that God has never left my side, has never stopped answering my prayers, and will never stop being present in my life. I know that the outside world may be confused about my journey, but it's my journey and that journey includes Joe, and I am at peace with this beautiful journey. There is a story, there is trust, there is peace. And no, discernment is not over, I have not "made my decision" as if I was the cliffhanger everyone was waiting for. There are many decisions to be made, discernment will not end, it simply includes one more person. And with all this talk of charism, mission and history, well let me just say. My charism is this: Luke 2:19, my mission is furthering the church and my history is a herstory, but I'll save that for another time.