Thursday, January 3, 2019

New Year, Better Me

"Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching,
and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be.
I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into better shape."
- Charles Dickens, "Great Expectations"

      Almost every year I write a reflection on my goals for the new year. It seems year after year, people consistently make goals they cannot keep in an effort to be happier, be healthier and so on, only to be disappointed by themselves within a few weeks. Last year, newly married and happier than ever, I did not make any resolutions or goals and honestly, I think I've been happier this year than any other year. But that's not to say there were not challenges that we faced together. Looking back, however, I can say that 2018 was over all good to me. 
      For one, we celebrated a lot of firsts: first (married) Easter, first (married) 4th of July, first (married) Thanksgiving and so on. We had a number of adventures, but didn't go hiking nearly as much as we had before. Maybe that's because sometimes spending the day inside watching movies or reading is better. But we also hiked one of our toughest hikes at Glen Onoko ... in the SNOW! We laughed a lot, cried a lot and made a lot of memories. We revisited our favorite campsites like Nockamixon and Niagara Falls. We even took our dog to Canada for the first time. Needless to say, he didn't really know the difference. We renewed our lease on our apartment and explored our new neighborhood more finding some of our favorite places like Conshocken Brew Pub, the outlets, Zwahlen's ice cream and the Schuylkill River Trail (and learned how to spell it, too!). We never made it to the beach, but I was finally able to show my favorite person one of my favorite places: Pipestem, WV while we both chaperoned a school service trip. Deeper friendships were made and our relationship with God grew from lots of stretching. We had ups and downs. But looking back, we had a pretty good full year married. 

      So today, when one of my students asked me if I made any new year's resolutions, I had to admit that on New Year's Eve, we did not really make one. Instead, we barely made it to the ball drop as we tried to figure out how to play the card version of Oregon Trail. This is, indeed, no small feat for the exhausted. But I thought about it a little and after listening to the resolutions of my students, I came to the conclusion that I am not going to let anyone else inhibit my happiness. I vow to not let anyone else's bad mood inhibit my good mood. I vow to not let someone else's insecurities rob me of my own securities. I promise to not scroll through Facebook and Instragram and continuously compare my life story to the life stories of others; I am where I am supposed to be for a reason, regardless of the challenges and suffering I have endured. And I promise to let God remain in control, because it is when I fail to do this that I can frustrated, upset and angry. 
     I find that New Year's is a good time to reflect on where one has been through the year. I cannot ignore the ups and downs of this year. But what I have, perhaps, learned the most and overwhelmingly so is that God is continuously with me on the journey. And that while God cannot be physically with me, God can send people into my life to help be the face of God for me and journey with me. God has never left me in the bad times and has rejoiced with me in every good time. While there were times when I was unsure of God's presence, God very quickly showed Godself to me. God was always there. 
     In addition, New Year's is a time to allow reflection for how we can become better versions of ourselves. So I pray that God gives me the opportunities to be more loving, more caring, more gentle and to be a better listener. In all things, may I model the Blessed Mother, and may I become even more aware of God's presence in my life. I already know that 2019 will be another year of challenge, wonder and awe. I am excited. God is with me. And I know that Joe and I will have many, many more adventures. In this year of Grace, I am sure that grace will be experienced.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

An Anniversary of Feast Day

"Now, we will stand and profess our faith. 
Then, we will pray with our petitions.
And then, we will go to a wedding."
- Fr. McCabe
Photo Courtesy of : The Photo People 

       December 8, 2018 was much different than December 8, 2017. And yet, there were many similarities. We spent our morning in church, surrounded by friends and family and sisters, and according to the celebrant, we were attending a wedding. As I sat with my husband of now one year in our college chapel on our University Feast Day, Dec 8, 2018, I felt the same overwhelming bliss I had felt a year ago on that day. I remember being asked when I was an undergraduate student, what my favorite university tradition was. While for others it may have been Carol Night, 100 Nights celebration or Senior Ball, my answer was always Feast Day. In it's most simple way, classes were cancelled, a celebratory Mass was said, there was a huge lunch in the cafeteria, and it was always the day my friends and I began our Christmas shopping. But one of the best moments of that day, was for only a few moments after the homily in Mass, the IHM Sisters renewed their vows in front of the entire congregation. And that, my friends, was the most beautiful moment. 
       Every year when I witnessed this beautiful profession of love, I would be moved to tears. The beauty overwhelmed me. It was as if all was standing still, all the saints were watching, the chorus of angels paused for a brief moment, and silence fell upon Heaven and Earth. It is a moment second only to how I imagine the moments immediately after the birth of Christ were spent. Silent, peaceful, all was watching. And I remember always thinking. Will I feel this way when I say my vows? Will I be overwhelmed with beauty and joy and goodness? I can now say, yes. Yes, I was. And how beautiful it is to share this day with the Sisters every year. 
      We were blessed to be able to attend Feast Day, a day that is always celebrated by Mighty Macs everywhere, on campus this year. Surrounded, just as we had been one year before, by the Sisters. Mother Mary, a woman after whom I attempt day after day to model my life, was shining as the most beautiful example of love. And of course, there was my favorite hymn, the Immaculata Conceptio. We spent the first half of Mass listening to the same readings that were used at our wedding, remembering back to sitting next to each other on the altar. These readings are ones with which we are so familiar, they are written on our hearts. Ones that we share with the Sisters every year. How blessed are we. 
      I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge one of the greatest Feast Day homilies I have ever heard. Because it was father's homily about true love as emulated by the sisters that lead me on a path of reflection much deeper for the rest of Mass. Father spoke about true love in ways so beautiful and I could not help but think God picked those words for us. Yet the more father spoke of the truest type of love as emulated by the Sisters, I could not help but agree wholeheartedly. Often it's little girls, who after having gone to many weddings of aunts, uncles, cousins and more, that they begin to dream of their own wedding. But for me, I was always enamored by the Sisters' renewal of vows. Somehow, deep in my heart, I was aware of the fact that this is a love deeper than any love I had witnessed at the altar. And often, young engaged couples are encouraged to look toward couples in their lives who have married for a long time for support and guidance. They are asked who has shown them true love and often the result is their parents or grandparents. But after father's homily, I began reflecting on who had really taught Joe and I how to love deeply and truly. 
     Our parents, of course, have given us great examples of love - persevering in times of challenge and struggle and rejoicing in moments of success. Our grandparents, too, have given us examples of deep, true love. There are even more couples in our families we could easily look to for longevity of marriage, true love and devotion. These people filled my heart as I considered who has taught Joe and I true love. But for each of us, these examples of true love had been known only to one of us for a while. Then, as we dated, became engaged and prepared for marriage, they became known to each of us. But there is one group of people who both of us had known for the same amount of time who has also taught us true love and we were reminded of that on Saturday at Mass. 
     Our Sisters, who had consistently shown us love and mercy on tests, papers, in work study positions, in extracurricular activities, and just day to day life. Their witness was a consistent example in our lives ever since both of us began undergrad. For years, we had witnessed them show love in the most simple and yet, most beautiful ways; through prayer, lifestyle and devotion to God and Mary. They have been an example for us both and each year, on our anniversary, we are reminded of that example of love and how we must put that love into action for each other. Every year we were blessed to witness their renewal of vows. Last year, they witnessed our profession of vows to one another. And this year, we renewed our vows together; the sisters by their words and witness and us by our silent prayer in our hearts. 

      One year has flown by. And yet, it has also seemed as if time has stood still. I have heard that time seemingly does not exist when you are with the one you love. You can blink and suddenly 50 years have flown by. Our year has held adventure, love, bliss, wonder, amazement, struggle, challenge and more. But above all, it has held depth of companionship. I have learned more about Joe and more about myself in this one year than I feel I have ever learned about us. We have learned about the truth of support for each other, more about selflessness, more about dedication to each other and  of course, how to plan meals around wacky schedules, how to make sure we are spending time living in the moment and taking time to just be with one another without any plans. This has been a year of learning, loving and so much more. But above all, despite the inevitable challenges, I have been consistently aware that we are blessed.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Psalm 139 and Creative Hope

"The jar of flour did not go empty, 
nor the jug of oil run dry."
- 1 Kings 17:16

      November 11, 2018 - a day sandwiched between IHM Founder's Day and Immaculata University Charter Day (as well as the 100th celebration of Armistice Day). I "forgot" this by which I mean, I was aware that Saturday and Monday were days of celebration for my IHM sisters, but did not use these days as motivation for my joining them for Mass at the IHM Motherhouse with my husband. No, quite honestly, I was there because I had a three hour Alumni Board meeting ahead of me and figured I could see some of my friends at Mass beforehand. Besides, nothing quite beats the feeling of being home in a beautiful prayerful space.

    As the presider mentioned in his homily, the readings of Sunday focused on the widows of Scripture.  The first reading from 1 Kings told the story of Elijah who requested bread and water from a widow who was in the process of giving her last food and drink to her son. The Gospel focused on the widow who gave her last coin - which, in turn, allows Jesus to say that she was the one who gave the most; not in quantity but rather in quality of sacrifice. During Mass and then later during Adoration, I began to reflect on how perfect these readings were to be on the day sandwiched between two days of importance. For me and my heart, these were readings that gave true definition to what it meant to have creative hope, an aspect of the charism of the IHMs.
     Creative Hope is a concept I have considered, reflected upon and even have written about numerous times. It is the part of the IHM Charism that I hold most dear. I cannot really narrow it down to a time or an experience that really made me believe in Creative Hope. But rather, it was a series of every day experiences, during which I watched many Sisters consider numerous challenges and how each one of them could use Creative Hope, that is, a hope that works creatively with God toward an accomplishment of God's Will. Creative Hope became for me, an opportunity to be real and honest with God, giving to God my greatest hopes but also allowing God to speak God's perspective and how I could be of use in the accomplishment of God's Will. Most particularly, this would happen during a time when there seems to be no other options - this is the end of the road for one thing or another.
     In the readings, these two women were at the end of the jars and jugs. They had no more to give than the last of it. Their defeat was obvious as they spoke to the others in the stories - I have nothing else to give, my well is dry, I am at the end of the road. I felt that many Sisters have felt this as well - moments of despair and defeat. I thought specifically of Mother Camilla as she asked not one, not two, but seven farmers for land on which she could build the University. Did she feel defeated? Did she experience deep despair in her prayer life? Did she say to the last farmer, "this is it, this is the last place I can go before I give up?" Or did Mother Theresa Maxis have many moments of desperation when she laid herself down at the foot of the cross after her experiences of pain, exclusion and perhaps lack of peace and affirmation in her vocation as a religious woman? I can imagine these women, just as the widows in Scripture, experiencing the same feelings and yet, because of their charism of Creative Hope, also finding peace in resting that God would lead them to God's Will in a way unthought of by themselves.
     As I continued my time in Adoration, I found myself a friend in these women. I had been neglecting feelings and emotions of despair in my life. I had ignored the fact that I have been feeling lost and lonely in my relationship with God; that somehow, during my person trials, God was not there with me. My experience of self was plummeting because I felt so incredibly unworthy of God's Love and the trying events in my life were happening because of something I did; I deserved them.

     Flash forward to Sunday evening. I was sitting on the couch, having just finished dinner with my husband. Cooking, mind you, clears my head and allows me a moment of happiness. Cooking and baking, have become my newest outlet. At any rate, we decided to catch up on the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy, a guilty pleasure, for sure. The episode ends and I suddenly hear one of my favorite Christian artist playing in the background of the closing scenes. The day before, when I was driving alone to a Bridal Shower, I had the album on. Sometimes music catches me by surprise - I can be singing along and suddenly, the depth of lyrics hits me deep and I am embracing tears falling down my face. The same song in the episode was the song that the day before had me sobbing in the car alone. So naturally, I was moved again to tears and yes, the type of sobbing that makes even water proof mascara run. In one swift movement, my husband's arms were wrapped around me.
     As a Campus Minister, I am seemingly expected to have it together in terms of faith. I know faith, I live faith, and by all means, I should have a good relationship with God. But I have been going through a period of time where my experience of God is that I show up at Church, I go to Mass, I pray for the grace to keep going, but I'm still kind of upset with God. We aren't really on speaking terms right now. I guess that makes me real and authentic, but to be honest, I don't like it. I'd rather be talking with God consistently and maintaining a good relationship. But recently, I've been lost in despair, feeling quite lonely and often feeling defeated. I've felt this way because it didn't seem like God was actually with me in these moments of hardship or that God gave me these challenges that I just couldn't handle. I had given God my last and this was the end.
      But yesterday, I realized I had been failing to see God in my husband. As he wrapped his arms around me, I realized God had been with me, because who else had been going through these trials with me other than my husband? I realized, too, that there were others in my life who saw that I was experiencing hardship and have gone out of their way to make sure they were simply there for me. Of course, I realized, too, the importance of my students who never fail to make me laugh and give me hugs randomly on days that they don't even know I need it the most. Like the women of Scripture, Mother Camilla and Mother Theresa Maxis, I had experienced giving my last. There's no saying if I'm out of this feeling quite yet. But if it took the woman in Kings a whole year to finally get herself in a good place, God will be patient with me. I have been reminded again to hope creatively - to live in hope not despair and to allow myself to be creatively formed to do God's will. I have been rescued.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

What if God is on Social Media?

"Christ has no online presence but yours.
No blog, no Facebook post on earth but yours.
Yours are the tweets through which love touches the world.
Yours are the post through which the Gospel is spread.
Yours are the updates through which God blesses the world.
Christ has no online presence but yours."
- Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP

     Last week, I had the blessed opportunity to present a portfolio of all my best work from my graduate studies to a prestigious board of professors and doctors of Theology. As I was reviewing all of my best work, I was surprised at the common theme throughout my writing: women's role in the Catholic Church. Women, in general, have been the spotlight in almost every recent big news coverage. Feminism has been given plenty of new definitions and yet, there are still a plethora of women who are still struggling to find their place in it all. I am a millennial, I am part of the Social Media generation, and I am a firsthand witness to the brokenness of the world.
     In discussing this common theme, I was ask by the board to consider, given all that I have learned, discovered and researched, how faith informs culture and vice versa. In reflecting on this, I found myself writing away at how faith can heal and reconcile the brokenness of the world. I focused on my role as Campus Minister at an all girls' school and the conversations I often am privy, too. Students express brokenness of all kinds, sometimes without even recognizing themselves doing so. My students are stressed out by the world of academia, they feel extreme pressures to perform according to unwritten codes of Instagram and Visco, they are inundated with standards presented to them by the media, they are constantly told what they should be like, not appreciated for the truth of what they already are like. The truth is, their experience of culture is very broken. And so the experience of faith, which I can give to them via retreats, Liturgies, Sacramental opportunities and more, play a huge part in the beginning of repairing the effects of that brokenness in their lives. I know this because they express this to me.
     As I look back, I am critical of my response. I only chose to defend how faith can inform culture, specifically through the lens of reparation, reconciliation and healing. At the end of my presentation, one of my professors encouraged me to consider how culture might inform faith in the same way, especially given the fact that the entirety of my presentation focused on women's role in the Church. I have been thinking of this challenge to consider faith's brokenness and how culture might influence it. I have also been side by side considering what is happening in our secular world today, especially for women. Should these topics be compartmentalized or rather, can they even be separated from one another. As a human being who is both woman and Catholic, I feel torn. And yet, perhaps I should be uplifted.

       In addition to these thoughts rattling around in my brain and my making sense of them, I attended the annual Edith Stein Lecture at my alma mater, Immaculata University. This lecture has been taking place over a number of years and each year, I feel my faith being stretched in beautiful ways. Last night's topic was "Faith and Social Media," and the speaker was a Daughter of Saint Paul, S. Rose Pacatte. She approached the topic, not as a non-millennial whose life is seemingly disrupted by the use of Social Media, as many who came before me are. But rather, she focused on how one could utilize Social Media to spread the Gospel. It was then that I started to connect the dots. Catholicism and those in the older generations have contributed the brokenness of culture to the constant use of Social Media. Students don't speak to one another, there's not place for Social Media during Mass and because of this, Social Media has contributed highly, if not wholly, to the complete disarray of our world. One could use many examples to back up this theory. And yet, while she did not say it, as S. Rose was speaking, I felt that she very easily could have said that faith is broken, just as much as culture.
     It may be controversial to say, but from my personal perspective, I can very easily see the brokenness of my faith. I have seen and am still seeing many of my peers leaving the church. They say there is no room for women in the Church. They question how one can continue to be a faithful Catholic in light of the sexual abuse scandal. They express concern for how millennials can practice a faith that seems to have nothing to support their experience of culture. I hear them. I see exactly what they say. And yet, if my faith hadn't saved me from the brokenness of our culture when it did, I would be in the same position. But I am not. When I say I am Catholic, others wonder how I can still be one. When I say I am a feminist, others have painted a picture of me that certainly does not line up with my Catholic faith. When I say I am a Catholic feminist, others roll their eyes in confusion - how can I be both?
     Faith, as I have said, was integral in my filtering of culture. It allowed me to heal the confusion within: when faith tells me one thing and culture says another, which do I choose? Faith gave me the hope that there is room for women theologians, for deeper women's spirituality, for women's involvement in the rearing of Mother Church. Faith gave me the understanding I would need to accept culture for the goodness it had but also to disregard its evil. So now, here I am on the flip-side. I am not blind to the brokenness I see inside my own faith structure; I am more privy to it because I am within. But I am also outside of the faith, when I view the untruths of secular culture. So is there a place for me? And is there a place for Social Media to heal our broken faith? Last night's lecture told me yes. More than ever before there is a place.
     S. Rose quoted her community's founder and said, "if the Church is not there, we do not exist" in reference to Social Media. I have never been bashful about posting my Catholic practices on Social Media, I mean honestly, I've had this blog for what seems like one hundred years. But most people my age are not reading blogs. They are viewing images on Instagram and content on Facebook. In my humble opinion, Twitter is basically dead and if not, will be by the end of this presidency (no one cares that much). I have often "checked in" at church (because, yes Dad, I am still attending weekly Mass). I have posted uplifting messages in support of peers who are going through a hard time. I have shared posts by my home parish, by religious communities or by technological religious figureheads. I have re-tweeted, re-grammed and shared a billion things. Yet, is it enough. Am I only scratching the surface of allowing culture and my use of Social Media to help mend the brokenness of my faith.
     In the end, I came to the conclusion that no, I am not doing enough. I can do so much better with my posts. I have such a unique position in the sense that I love my faith, despite the Church's faults, because my experiences are much different than those who have seemingly be marginalized for a plethora of reasons. I must share the goodness of the Church and I can do it via the venues my peers use on the daily. I can use Social Media as a forum for discussion and faith-formation. I fill my instagram story with more than images of my dog and my husband (and also my baking adventures....). And the thing I think I must be better at doing is not only expressing the fact that I am praying for others, but asking publicly for prayer. I am strong, but I am also weak. I need the support as much as I can give it.
     I have no one hundred percent come to the conclusion of the relationship between faith and culture, mostly because I am living in it as it grows and changes. But I do feel as if now, culture can and should inform faith, especially via the venues of social media. As broken as our culture is, our faith is also broken. But as beautiful as our faith can be, so also can our use of social media be. Be the positive driving force today. And please, if you have the chance, prayer for me, too.

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.
     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.