Thursday, July 21, 2016

Delicate Beauty

"There is nothing more beautiful
than a person who goes out of her way
to make another life beautiful."
- Mandy Hale



    

      Look at this woman. She is beautiful. She has salt and pepper hair, a bright smile, and warm arms to hug you. She has laughter lines galore. But best of all, she has gentle eyes. Her gentle eyes look right into your soul and know, instantly, that which you are thinking. Her hands are soft and always willing to hold mine. Her arm is always ready to be linked with mine. Her soul is innocent and shines bright through her. She speaks only kind words. And she loves without judgement. Look at this woman. She is beautiful.

      I was blessed beyond compare to visit with my dear sister the other night. I hadn't seen her in a year, although it feels like it wasn't too long ago. She texts, calls and writes often making sure that I always know she is thinking of me. And as often as possible, I do the same. She had been visiting with her family but made sure to free a few hours for me, too. I picked her up, we stopped for some ice cream, sat for a while and then went for a walk in one of the places we used to frequent often when I was in high school. It was great simply being in her presence spending one on one time with her.
      When it was time to leave, she made sure to take my picture while I was sitting on the couch in the parlor of the convent. And after she took my picture, I took a selfie with her. She made me promise to send her a copy and soon it will be on its way in the mail. I couldn't help but pray, dear God, let this not be the last time I see her. I always pray that now. With so many people I love. I've learned to take each moment as if it might be the last. She hugged me tightly at the door, apologizing for forgetting her key which didn't allow her to walk me to the car. I told her to be safe on her flight home the next day, squeezed her tight and told her I loved her. She let go a bit of our embrace, looked me in the eye with her gentle ones, and said, "I love you very very much, you know that." Before I could cry, I turned for the door, got in my car and checked the rear-view mirror to see her waiting for me to drive away. I smiled. She was always watching out for me.
     When I got home, I wanted to find the right words to post with our picture. It really was a great picture - one I will cherish forever. I found the above quotation and thought that nothing described her more perfectly. I've always thought that she was one of the most beautiful people I know. I remember being in high school, accidentally finding her senior picture in the yearbook, giggling a little because I now was privy to her baptismal name, and realizing that she was one of the most beautiful girls in her class. I told her that a day or two after I found her picture and she just smiled.
     In high school, she was a mystery to me. I had known religious sisters before, but she was different. Maybe it was the fact that she was the first sister I had as a teacher. Maybe it was her gentleness. Maybe it was the fact that she sang to us in class all the time (Lord, you are more precious than silver, more precious than gold). Or maybe it was because she opened my heart and soul to a whole new religious community. Whatever it was, she was a mystery to me.
      She was the first sister I ever told about thinking about religious life. I told her in a letter and that has become something near and dear to us - letter writing. From then on, she took me under her wing. Sometimes, quite literally. I'm sure in the ten years that I have known her, things about me have changed. But she always tells me I've always been special to her. I'm glad that hasn't changed.
      I remember visiting Chapel after school as often as I could. Back when I went to Naz, the sisters still lived in the convent so they used the big Chapel for their own prayer. I had this thing where I would take my shoes off at the doors of chapel and walk in my socks to my pew. She knew where I kept my shoes and would always know if I was in Chapel simply by checking for my shoes. On Fridays, sometimes we cleaned Chapel together or watered the plants or prayed together. We would sometimes go for walks around the high school campus to pray the Rosary or faith share. In my high school eyes, she was amazing.
       Now, six years after I had graduated high school, I was looking at this picture of us, wondering want to say. In my young adult eyes, she is still amazing. But it's an amazingness that I can't quite define. All I know is that while she may be physically beautiful, she is even more beautiful in heart and soul. She makes my life beautiful by her presence. She makes my life beautiful by her ability to make me feel like the only person in the world that matters when we're sharing stories together. She makes my life beautiful when she holds my hand or wraps her arm around me in Chapel and we pray together. She makes my life beautiful with every card, note or text. And the best part is that she does it for so many people, not just me. I hope that I can make at least one person feel as special as she makes me feel.

      Look at this woman. She is beautiful. She lights up the room with her gentle compassion. She speaks only kind words of others. She loves with judgement. She holds so many dear to her heart. She prays so deeply and fervently. She believes the best in others. She makes each person she's with feel like the moon and all the stars. She holds on tightly when you hug her. She carries you in prayer. She listens to your heart. She wipes away your tears. She holds your heart in her gentle hands and protects it with all she can. Look at this woman. She is beautiful and I just want her to know that I think so. And I am so blessed to know her. Thank you, God.





Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Old Like You

"The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes."
- Frank Lloyd Wright


      Two weekends at church, a dear older friend of my family say behind us with her two grandsons. Right before Mass, she asked my sister what the numbers were for the songs. She mentioned she didn't have her glasses. Before my sister answered her, she said, "Gee, I hope I don't get old like you." She laughed and gently smacked her shoulder. 
      Later that week I was at my Poppop's when my Mommom's sister called. My Poppop was trying to tell her that I was over for dinner but she couldn't hear him. I yelled into the phone to say hi from across the kitchen and I was met with her yelling back, "Whattttt?" I laughed a little and said, "Gee, I hope I don't get old like you." 
      Over the course of the last few weeks, I am more than sure I have said that saying more than a few times in playful jest. I'm not sure how common it is for other people to say or hear, but my dad says it all the time. He especially says it to people who are younger than him. We always laugh. We always joke. We always think it's funny. Because, well, it is. 
      In the past two weeks, however, I've been thinking about the amount of older people I am friends with. I started this deep reflection about 9 months ago. I remember hugging Sister Cathy goodbye after she dropped my sister and I off. I hugged her awkwardly through the car window and started to cry. She was shocked and looked concerned when I pulled back. I just looked at her and said, "I've lost too many people in my life. I don't want to lose you, too. So, just, don't leave me, okay?" She squeezed my hand and told me she never would. This happened a few months after my dear friend Sister Sandi passed away and a few months before I lost my Mommom and great-uncle Richard and great-Uncle Gene and a number of sisters, leading us up to the most recent death in my life, Sister Trin. I didn't know then, how hard the next few months would be, each one holding the death of someone near or dear to me. 
     Today, as I walked into the familiar Camilla, I was greeted by some of the Sisters from school. They were talking about how this was the third funeral this week. I added that I have been to a funeral or viewing once a month since January. That's when Sister responded, "You're too young for that." I said, "I guess that's what happens when you have old friends." She smiled gently and quietly acknowledged the truth behind my words. 
       I have always had older friends. I got along better with adults growing up than I did my peers. I was a mini-adult. And as much death as I've experienced in my short 24 years, I didn't really have the first realization that I would lose most of my friends while I was still young until high school. In fact, Sister David was the first one I told about this realization. She had asked me if I was afraid of death and I said no. She was surprised at my confidence, especially because she couldn't match it. She was actually afraid of dying. But it was then that I told her how I was afraid of losing my friends and those I love so much, especially the sisters. That was my Junior year. Since then, I've lost a number of people in my life. Too many to count actually. 
      That being said, I've noticed that sometimes I do things that might mimic the mannerisms of my older friends, sisters or family members. I just laugh at myself when I realize I'm doing it, too. The truth is, the phrase, "gee, I hope I don't get old like you," is really, "I already am old like you." I've been focusing on spending time with the older people in my life, quietly and gently. I make more time to stop and give a hug and a kiss. I make more time to say I love you. I'm not afraid of it anymore. It doesn't matter if it isn't reciprocated. I say it anyway. And more than anything, I take more note of things my older friends, sisters and family members do. So that I can honestly say, "Gee, I hope I DO get old like you."
       When I was sitting with my Poppop eating dinner, he mentioned that my Mommom never liked to eat the carrots in the frozen mixed veggie bag. I laughed. I never knew that. He followed by saying, "I always had to eat them because she wouldn't." I thought, yeah, I want to be old like that. Where I notice the stupid little things about my spouse or community members. Where I notice them so that when they are gone, I can tell everyone that Sister so and so didn't like carrots and I always ate her carrots, or how my husband didn't like blueberries so I would eat his out of the fruit salad at family picnics. 
       I hope I get old like my aunt who calls my Poppop every night because she can't remember if she called yesterday. At least I get to hear his voice every night, even if I can't remember the night before. I hope I get old like Sister Trin who lost count of the sculptures and paintings she made for people. I hope I get old like Sister Thomasita who lived so simply that she collected smiles from those who walked the halls in the infirmary. I hope I get old like my great aunts who are bat crazy and dance like each day is the last day at every family reunion. I hope I get old like Sister Caritas who needs a helping hand to walk places - it would give me a new chance every day to meet someone new or take a walk with an old friend. I hope I get old like Sister Sandi and Sister Lucille who never forget a birthday, anniversary or holiday. I hope I get old like the old couple I saw at Graduation this weekend who walked side by side up the aisle to Communion just so they could hold hands the whole way. I hope I get old like the couple at Mass this morning - a woman who knew every person in the room and the husband who watched happily as the love of his life once again greeted all her friends. I hope I get old like them. And I hope that when I'm old, someone writes a litany of all the things I do that they want in her life. 
       When I'm old, I'll have curly gray hair. I'll probably braid it or wear it in a bun every day. I'll probably have poor short term memory but I could spend hours telling the kids stories - whether they are my own or my numerous nieces and nephews. I'll probably have time for a daily nap, daily Mass and a daily walk. I'll probably take up knitting or something. I'll probably still cook as long as I can. I'll probably still be just as sassy. I'll probably still be cold in the middle of the summer. I'll probably still want to hike the Appalachian Trail one more time. And I'll probably be or do a lot of things. But I know for sure, I'll remember who likes carrots and who doesn't, who likes blueberries and who doesn't, and how sister so and so styles her hair because even though she took a vow of poverty, she still likes to get a perm once a month. Because I know that I want to be old like you - all my old friends. 


Thursday, May 26, 2016

An Open Letter to the Class of 2016

“Before you can live a part of you has to die. You have to let go of what could have been, how you should have acted and what you wish you would have said differently. You have to accept that you can’t change the past experiences, opinions of others at that moment in time or outcomes from their choices or yours. When you finally recognize that truth then you will understand the true meaning of forgiveness of yourself and others. From this point you will finally be free.”  - Shannon Adler 



My students once asked if I ever blog about them. Little do they know that so many of my reflections are inspired by their awesomeness, their amazing desire to dive deeper into a relationship with Jesus and their overall wonderful, beautiful, and contagious personalities. Class of 2016, this one is specifically for you. 

To the Amazing, Beautiful, and Wonderful Class of 2016, 

First let me start by saying, I am astounded every day by your intelligence, your compassion, and your willingness to do that which is asked of you. You take each challenge and not only succeed but rather you go above and beyond. I asked for a mile, you gave me a road trip - a road trip I'll never forget! Sometimes I think - wow, these kids are so much more smarter than I will ever be. And you know what, that's okay. In fact, I'm so proud you're smarter than me. Because when you get out to the real world, you'll pick up where I left off. Thank for being not only smart but crazy about learning and discovering new things. 

You are some of the funniest people I know. I could be having the worst day - no coffee, traffic on the turnpike, everything going wrong - and then I walk into the classroom where 18, 10 or even 2 of you are looking back at me ready to take on the day. One of you starts, then the rest join in. Soon we are laughing much longer than the break allows and we've already lost ten minutes of class. Suddenly my day is turned upside down and I've found my reason for living again. You are always willing to share a smile with me in the hallway as you shout my name. You sometimes think it's funny to shout my name from undisclosed locations and then watch me try to figure out who was calling me. Then from amidst the crowds of students, your smiling face emerges with your cohort of laughing friends. 

You are also some of the most dedicated human beings on this planet. You have shown me that 3am has nothing on you because you're going to get a good grade, make the best retreat number or plan the greatest charity event. You have also told me that the wee hours of the morning when no one else is awake (aside from your 136 classmates) is when you do your best thinking. Maybe that's why you're all smarter than me. The wee hours of the mornings are when you make the best friendships whether it's on the weekend during a heart to heart at a sleepover or you're face-timing your project partner, hoping she's still awake because you just had an eureka moment. I love that about you - you're dedication to your school work but also to each other. 

And speaking of your dedication to each other - you've renewed my sense of self, too. Having gone to a school like yours, I remember making friendships like you have now. Everyday I see you laughing with your friends, I remember my friends. I remember to call them and tell them I love them even though we're half a world away sometimes. You're confidence in yourself and in others in the classroom, on the field or court or on the stage reminds me of the unquenchable desires I had in high school. Knowing you this year has made me remember to go back to chasing my dreams, too. Not that teaching you isn't living the dream, but the other dreams I made for myself. You remind me to do that. 

You are some of the most talented students I know - whether you're running homeruns, singing opera, dancing solo, making baskets, making robots, creating unique images of art, cruising down the river, running or jumping or throwing, writing poems or stories that rip my heart out, singing songs that satisfy the soul, or simply being true to who you are in every which way - you never cease to amaze me by your talent. Sometimes I think, if I ever have my own kids - I hope they are at least half the people you are. You shine brighter than the stars in the Chapel sky. Actually, there are no sun glasses that can protect against your shine it's so bright. I'm so blessed to have been able to bask in those rays. 

And finally, you are some of the most uniturnt people I know. Wow. I never thought Jesus could reach so many hearts. Thank you for sharing the states of your hearts with me on our retreats. Thank you for making retreat the most fulfilling part of my job. Thank you for the laughs and tears we all shared. Thank you for always bringing my favorite snacks, too! Thank you for letting me sleep and allowing me to be a happy princess. Thank you for sharing your truest selves with me - your best selves are your retreat selves. 

A letter to the graduates wouldn't be complete without some advice and so, while it's only been 6 years since I graduated high school, here's what I have for you: 

Branch out - meet people who are so different from you. Have at least one or two non-catholic friends who deeply practice their faith. Share your talents and use them to teach others. Don't stick with just your teammates. Have friends much different from your life experiences. Don't let yourself simply be comfortable. 

Of course, while you're branching out, make sure you call your friends every so often. Send a quick Bitmoji in the grext. Get together on holiday breaks, visit each other at college, and send snail mail. A quick little card to say hi can go a long way. The girls you are friends with now will be your friends forever, not matter how your circumstances change. I can promise you that. 

Let's talk school cafeteria/dining hall/dining hell. It can be the most intimidating place on the planet/college campus. Make sure you find a big table in the caf - a table that can seat all your new friends and then anyone who might look lost. If you find someone who looks a little intimidated by the caf or all alone, invite them to sit with you. If you are that person, don't be too scared to ask if a seat is taken. You might find some of your best friends this way. I did. Don't be afraid of the food choices - they make mom or dad's home-cooking even better. Cafeteria food keeps you humble and makes you grateful. It will probably be terrible but if you have good friends and an inclusive table set-up, it'll be worth it. You'll learn to use your creativity in a whole new way. 

And finally, academics. Chances are, you will be smarter or more able to adapt to the college setting than most of your peers. Don't let that be an excuse to slack off. Stay on top of things and stay sharp. Your teachers will be rather impressed with you. They might even ask you to teach a lesson or two. Don't be embarrassed. Just do it. And if any professor asks you to take any risks like touch a sheep's lung, diagram the Our Father, or perform a monologue, be the first to volunteer. You're professors will fall in love with you and those professors will be the ones who will write you the best recommendation letters for jobs, internships and grad school. So basically be yourself and keep doing what you've been doing for the past four years. And don't forget the tradition of thanking your professor. Once, that's all a professor wrote about in my rec letter - that I thanked him. 

I once heard a priest start a homily by saying - I remember the first time I fell in love. And so I start my last words to you the same way: I remember when I fell in love (not for the first time, but in a whole new way, whole new place). My first memories of the class of 2016 was at the Junior retreat when you all hated me for making you flip a tarp with just your feet. I received a number of half-hearted threats that day from perhaps some of the sassiest people I know. That's when I knew - I was really going to love these girls. And it's true. I fell in love that day. 

I never expected a group of students to change my life the way you did. You challenged me to be a better teacher, a better Campus Minister and a better person. You made me laugh harder than I've ever laughed in front of a group of people. You made me sing. You made me dance. You made me fall more in love with life. I know, for sure, that I will miss you each so much. And I will be praying for you every day of your college career as I watch you all make the world a better place. I'm not sure who will be my rays of sunshine, my smiles and my reason for waking up in the morning - but I know when you come back to visit, I'll be reminded of how much you truly changed my life. 

The truth is, because I knew you, I have been changed for good. Not for the good, but for good - you know, for eternity. 

I love you. BWYFA always <3

Sincerely,

Me


Friday, April 29, 2016

Working for the Angels

"To the servant of God, every place is the right place, 
and every time is the right time."
- St. Catherine of Siena 





     WANTED: Servant of God

     SKILLS AND SPECIFICATIONS: flexible personality; cheerful disposition; ability to listen to others and speak with confidence; generous and humble attitude; faithfulness in all things; willingness to get hands dirty and work hard to get things done; ability to keep things in confidence; ability to discern; must be good at fishing; and most importantly the ability to be the face of Love, God, for anyone and everyone. 

     DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES: to hold fragile hearts and hands gently; to serve God and not man; to trust in the utmost power of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; to give gratitude for all things, good and bad; to give of oneself completely; to love greatly.

     HOURS: 24/7

     PAYMENT RATE: amount of grace equal to hours spent in serving, loving, praying, and giving. 
 

"I have called you by name, you are mine."
Isaiah 43:1

      Rebecca is the wife of Isaac, a name familiar to those who have heard the stories of the Old Testament. She is a dutiful wife and loving mother. Her name means two things: "captivating" and "Servant of God." Her beauty is captivating as in it entrances men and women alike. Her beauty takes a hold of one even if only momentarily. And she is a servant of God, according to the Hebrew definition. 
       I'm not so sure my parents were thinking of this when they named me "Rebecca," based upon the story I've been told. However, I do not believe in coincidence. I truly believe it was God's inspiration that encouraged my parents to settle on my name. Now, I go by many nicknames - Bec, Becca, Becky. But Rebecca - it's meaning is so rich. 
      I remember when I first found out the meaning of my name - it was Junior English class. I had to write a narrative on the meaning of my name OR why I was given my name. I chose both, because they needed to be written about together. Ever since I did my research for that paper, I have vowed to keep true to my name's high and rich meaning. Servant of God. Those three words have played a part in my life much larger than any one person can imagine. It has lead me to my current job, my beliefs on how I should life and of course, my core mission in life. 
     To be a servant of God means to answer God's every call. It does not simply mean to answer the one big question - to which vocation am I called? It means so much more. It means to wake up every morning and ask God to use one's life in the way God most desires - not how I desire. It means to be so attuned to God's voice that at any given moment, one can answer His call. It can be a call to love when it's difficult, to be a face of mercy, to listen, to hold, to be gentle, to be a calming force, to be a dynamic promoter of justice, to remain silent or to be a force to be reckoned with, to be there for a friend or stranger or to fight for social justice on a grander scale, to pray with or for someone, and so much more. It can be as simply as asking if another needs help. Or as difficult as making a decision. To be a servant of God means to be ready, to always be ready to do what God needs. 
     To be a servant of God means trusting a lot. I used to stress about things getting done a lot. But I developed a deep trust in God. I know that if God is asking me to take on a big project, I need to trust that the other things I have planned are going to get accomplished as well. I can only describe this by giving the example of retreat. I was asked to help out in a very large way for a friend's retreat. I looked at my calendar and wondered where the time would come from. But I know so deeply that retreat is God's work and I knew then in that moment that is was not my friend, but God asking me to take on this seemingly large project. I said yes, but wondered how God would allow everything else I needed to do in those weeks to get accomplished. I simply trusted He would get it done. And we did. To be a servant of God means that God has plans and He's going to have your best interest at heart. There is always a reason He asks big projects of His servants. And He will always listen to your needs. Being a servant of God means trusting that. 
      To be a servant of God means mostly that one must love and love greatly. I can not fathom God's love for me, but I know how much I love my students. I know that I am moved to tears when I see them accomplish something and I barely know them. But I love them that much. I know how much I love my family. I know that I would rather be with them. I know that I would do anything for them. I know how much I love my friends. I know that their happiness is what makes me the happiest even if it comes at a personal expense. Whatever I can sacrifice to help calm their fears, eliminate their anxieties, or make their lives a little easier, I would do it. I can do it because I know how to love. But we all know that we cannot give what we do not have. And so if I can give and love so greatly and deeply, I must be loved by my God even more so. To be a servant of God is believing that. 
      Rebecca means servant of God and I know that my life has lead me to work for the angels. I do the Lord's work and it is always good work. Whether I am leading retreat, speaking with students or co-workers, being with friends, praying for my family or anything, as long as I am doing the Lord's work, I am doing good work. And honestly, it's not easy work all the time. But I know that in the end, it is the most rewarding work and at the same the most humbling work. I work for the angels, I work for the big guy. Every aspect of my life means living and working for my God. Whether I am teacher, sister, friend, I am still doing God's work. Whether I am Sister or Mother or Wife, I am still doing God's work. And when one does the Lord's work, it makes one beautiful. Not physically captivating, but rather there is such beauty in the heart that God's light radiates and shines out from every orifice of one's body - or so I've been told. Being a servant of God is the biggest honor and the best part is that you don't have to be named "Rebecca" to be one. 

TO APPLY: simply say "Yes, Lord."



    


     

Monday, April 25, 2016

When Nostalgia Hits Hard

"I know I would apologize if I could see your eyes, 
'cause when you showed me myself, I became someone else. 
May God's love be with you always."
- Aron Wright, "In the Sun"





     Last night, I was sitting at the picnic tables outside DC with my younger sister. We were eating Rita's water ice and enjoying the beautiful weather. We were with some other people but the conversation was really mine and my sister's. "I swear we are actually twins. You're the only one who understands my laughs and giggles," Mary said. It's true. My Mommom would also get frustrated whenever the two of us were together. We would laugh so hard, so loud and so ugly and Mommom could never understand why. Tears would fall down our faces, and they still do every time we tell the same stupid stories over and over again. As we laughed and cried last night, one of the Sisters who was with us, tried to understand as we rapid fire told story after story. I'm not sure what she got from our conversation, but I hope it was at least entertaining with her. 
      One of my favorite quotations from the Office is said by Andy: "I wish we knew we were in the good old times when we were in the good old times." When I left campus last night, so many nostalgic memories flooded my mind. I remembered the nickname we had for the people who used to sit at the picnic tables from my Freshmen year and laughed. Last night, we were those people. I remembered memories from campus, from friendships, from traveling and from my family. When nostalgia hits, it hits so hard but it hits so good. 
       My sister is currently experiencing the awesome memory-making campus I was blessed to have four years at. Sometimes, I admit, I live vicariously through her and her friends. I love watching her experiencing things for the first time like course registration, Cisco and the first day of good weather on back campus. I love watching her go through frustrating courses only to come out a stronger and better person. I like watching her make relationships with people I know NOT because she's Becca's sister, but because she is Mary. I love watching her fall in love with the same things I did and get frustrated with the things that frustrated me. But I also love watching her forge her own path. Actually, that's my favorite part. I love hearing the Sisters tell me: she's not much like you. Good for her. Let her be her own self. 
       The best part of my sister being her true self is that it makes our relationship so great. When people tell me they can't stand their brothers or sisters, I have no grounds of understanding that. Mary and I didn't always have the greatest relationship, but as we got older, the closer we became. We developed our own language, our own memories and our own arguments. We have our own trigger words - aka the words that trigger fits of laughter. Words like goose, Blake Shelton and *screech*. We are so close and we keep such good secrets. And every so often, like last night, we let a few people in on those stories and secrets. That's when those people become family.
      When my sister and I are together, we tag team. We make sarcastic comments for everything. We make up stories about strangers. We make up stories about really weird things we see. And we often entertain whoever is around us whether those people are strangers, friends or family. We are always making people laugh. My sister is my best friend and I love that I have her in my life. She is sometimes the only person who makes life worth living. And nights like last night are my favorite nights. Those are the nights that make me so nostalgic. 
      Like I said, as I was driving home, I was still laughing about the stories we didn't share. She was probably in her room laughing, too. These moments get me so nostalgic about the good old times. And yet, I know we are only 19 and 24 years old - we have plenty of good old times ahead of us. Sometimes I really miss the days when we would play kickball in the street, sing at the family parties, or skip school to go to the beach on a windy day. I miss the days when we would go downtown and get hotdogs from the hotdog truck (before Mary hated hotdogs). I miss the days of the long bike rides up and down the canal. And yet, some of the moments I miss the most get re-created every single time we are together. I miss moments that don't even exist yet like weddings, parties, and vacations in the future. 
      Being with my sister makes me so nostalgic for the moments we spent with people who are no longer with us, like my Mommom. Mary makes me nostalgic for memories that we could never have again, like going to Rome (what's up with the bells?!?). But Mary is also the person who gives me the wind in my hair, driving down the expressway with the windows down and belting the words to my favorite song feeling. Mary gives me the feeling of being complete. Mary gives me the feeling every sister should have, best friend, family and worst enemy all tied into one. She's made me who I really am and she's also allowed me to grow comfortable with who I am. Because I know even two years, there's no way I would have laughed my true laugh with Sister last night. 
     When nostalgia hits, it hits hard and it hits so good. Because usually it hits when I'm with my sister. And then I realize how blessed I truly am. 


Sunday, March 27, 2016

TBD - A Reflection on Who I Am

"What a life I would've missed, 
if you'd not took a chance.
I wasn't expecting that."
- Jamie Lawson "Wasn't Expecting That"


      I've been struggling to write this post for almost a month and a half. Today is Easter and last night, at the Easter Vigil, I decided I was finally going to write it. So far this year, I've been to a funeral a month. If I wasn't going to be on a service trip with my students this week, I'd be going to another one. At every funeral there is a remembrance for the deceased, whether it comes in the form of poem, eulogy or song. It is during this time that family members and friends, say all the great things about the deceased. What they were like, who they were, what they liked to do, etc. Having been to so many funerals recently, I've been lead on a introspective journey on who I am. Me. Gutherman.
      It's a question I ask every single retreat group: who are you? It's a question I seemingly expect 17 and 18 year olds to answer easily. But heck, as much as I think I know who I am, I do not know. Yet, every time I have my students reflect on the question, I want to know who they think they are. And I go through these periods when I am so confident who I am then others when I have no idea. The past few months, I've been searching and struggling with trying to find my true self again. I feel like I've been lost and it's partly because I lost a huge part of my heart in January. But last night, at the Easter Vigil, I started to feel a glimpse of who I am again. It's like I'm raising again from my own grave of sadness, grief and mourning. Even if I've put on a happy face for the past few months, it's been a struggle. But last night...last night, I felt the earth shake.
       From before I was born, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament have influenced my life. That is not an exaggeration. My nun obsession started young. At only a few weeks old, I was held dearly by those sisters. They prayed for me, they loved me and they were my earliest faith influences aside from my family. But at this rate, they basically are my family. I have vivid memories of going to the SBS Convent for Christmas Eve Mass, having milk and cookies after. I remember so many moments of visiting with the sisters for many occasions. From the beginning of my faith life, they were some of the biggest influences. I knew this, of course, but I didn't really understand their influence until last night.
      For the past two years, on Easter Vigil, I have had the privilege and honor of singing at the convent for Mass. Last year I was so nervous, but this year I was confident. More confident than I've felt in a long time. And man did it feel amazing to sing again. Not just singing along to the radio or with the choir in church, actually utilizing my vocal training, my breathing, and letting my voice rise to the Heavens in praise of my Jesus. I felt beautiful being able to use my gift for Jesus again. And then we sang some more, using bells and dancing and clapping. We sang the gloria so loud. We sang Alleluia. We sang Hosanna. We danced, we joined hands, and cried out our praise. We, young and old, sisters, lay people, children, parents, priests. I watched the Sisters in the Balcony dance and clap along. With a big smile, I let myself freely worship. And that's when I realized that part of who I am is SBS, African American and Native American spirituality.
      I've always felt a deep connection with the spirituality presented to me by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Of course, I've always felt a deep connection with the Blessed Sacrament, given to me by the Sisters' example. Even the sight of Him in the Blessed Sacrament at Mass brings me to tears. That love of the Eucharist was nourished in me, in High School, by the example of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. You see, it wasn't out of the ordinary for me to stop in the beautiful Chapel at Nazareth during lunch, study or before/after school and see a Sister there as well. Many times it was Sister David, my mentor, sister and now friend. At other times, I would see the sisters in prayers before supper (yes, I stayed at school that late...poor SMJ). Then I began spending more time with the Sisters, who then were my mentors, who are now some of my closest friends. Then and now we spend time together walking, talking, and praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. There's no thing like friends sending you a text that says, "I think we need to spend more time with Jesus...when are you free?" or a simple invitation to celebrate Mass together (even if it's a two hour long mass in a foreign language. Whether or not they're on the vocation team, they're constantly checking in on my relationship with Jesus. Of course my relationship with so many of the Sisters, makes it completely normal for them, while passing through my town on Easter Sunday, to follow me in the nun car while I'm out walking my dogs. And to, of course, roll down the windows and yell my name! It's because of them that I have a love for Church tradition and family. They are my family. And part of who I am is CSFN, family-loving, Polish wannabe.
       It's funny how my life, when I look back, seems to fall into place. It's because of a CSFN that I ended up at Immaculate with the IHMs. She encouraged me to branch, live my life and not be afraid to embrace a place that I felt was calling me home. She was the first one I told where I was going to college and was always supportive. Because of her I met the IHMs...and it was about time. Yet another group of faith-filled women who shaped me even more into the young woman that I am and made me a true educator. They showed me a truly sassy side to religious life, gave an even more reality to religious women and living in community. They became mentors during some of the hardest years of my life, became women I could cry with, and teachers who pushed me to be the best student (and teacher) I could be. They employed me, trusted me and gave me so many opportunities. They tested me many times: as I told one student, "You'll be a better person because she's reprimanding you right now." But most importantly, they were the faith family for four years of my life. They were the ones who opened their arms when I joined them for Mass every single day, prayed with them, sang with them, and developed a deeper relationship with Jesus because of them. Of course, I can't forget how they instilled a love in my heart for the immigrant, for the refugee and for Peru. I always wanted to be a teacher, but they showed me how - by example and by opportunity. Who I am is part IHM, educator, vocalist, and lover of creative hope.
       Just like how one CSFN led me to Immaculate, one IHM taught me everything I needed to know for my current job. Without every opportunity she gave me on my resume, there's no way I could have made it this far as a Campus Minister. Without her, I wouldn't know how to run a retreat, teacher girls to pray, when to love tough and when to give tough love, or how to stay organized in an office full of chaos. Without her, I never would have met the SSJs who share my love for Social Justice. Well, really it's a burning passion. I never knew that when I insisted on taking French for four years in High School that I would learn and teach with a community with French roots. They, too, have pushed me to be a better me, become friends and sisters, and given me the opportunity of a life time -to do what I have always really desired - bring young women to Jesus. It's because of them that I get to spend a week with my students serving the dear neighbor - doing what I spent most of my college time doing. And so truly, part of me is SSJ, servant to the dear neighbor, preacher of social justice.
        I could easily stop there but truly I'm a Heinz 57 of religious communities. I could say part of who I am is Franciscan: barefoot, one with the earth, lover of nature - creating life with Mother Earth. I could say part of me is Carmelite, the contemplative piece of me who would rather sit in silence with Jessica Powers, St. Teresa of Avila or St. Therese. And I could say part of me is even Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (Pink Sisters) because of my love for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, for I could spend hours in adoration of my Jesus.
       So who am I? It's a question I've been grappling with for a few months. I'm an Irish girl, with a German last name and Italian heritage. I love food, eating it, making it, giving it. I love making things with my hands, creating art and giving life to ideas and concepts. I love being in the garden, planting, having dirt in my hands and speaking to the plants. I love walking or sitting by the river, breathing in the fresh (?) air of the Delaware. I love driving in the car for long hours in silence or with music on. I love sitting by the fire, singing, roasting marshmallows or praying, yes, praying. I love laughing so hard my stomach hurts. I love hugs - long, cuddly, embraces that make me feel safe and loved. I love singing so loud and strong that by the end of my jam session or Mass, I've lost my voice. I love playing games, dancing for no reason or every reason at all and I love spending time in silence with people. I love reading - cheesy romance novels or the lives of the saints (which sometimes are cheesy romance novels). I love writing, going to diners, spending hours talking with people who were first mentors, then friends, and always sisters. I love telling stories, listening to stories and being part of stories. I love loving deep and strong and hard. I'm from Croydon so I'm tough, but I also know that the greatest thing we have in this world is each other. And most of all, I love being with my family, whether they share my last name, my bloodline, or my faith. Who I am is all of this and yet more to be discovered. Who I am is all I am and all I am not. But I am she who dances and claps in church, who loves too fiercely and lives for each moment and each memory. All this from one song and dance with my Sisters: Hosanna! Blessed be the rock, blessed be the rock of my Salvation!




Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Attitude of Gratitude

"Nothing comes easily, 
where do I begin?
Nothing can bring me peace, 
I've lost everything. 
I just want to feel your embrace. 
Turn my grief to grace."
"Grace" - Kate Havnevik


A few weekends ago, I had yet another retreat under my belt. Below is the reflection I shared with my students on being grateful constantly and for all the right reasons. Since I haven't blogged in a while, I thought I'd share this with you. 
 
“Dear Mommom, thank you for helping me with my Girl Scout Badge. Here are some cursive letters (i t u e). Love, Rebecca Gutherman.”

I think that hilarious, little note was written probably when I was in 1st or 2nd grade; just about the time I was learning cursive. My Mommom had the most beautiful cursive handwriting and I wanted to have handwriting just like hers. I was obviously showing off.

“Dear Mommom and Poppop, Thank you so very much for the wonderful Communion Gifts. I am so lucky to have you as my grandparents. You will always be special to me. Love, your granddaughter, Rebecca.”

This note has better handwriting, a little crooked, but better. Naturally it was written in gold gel pen because that was the 90’s. It would have been incredibly incomplete without it.

My favorite thank you note, by far, was not actually written by me. It was written by my mom, because, judging by the picasso art, I could not yet write letters. It simply says, “Thank you mommom and poppop. You make me smile. Love, Becca.”

Growing up, my parents encouraged me, no, forced me, to write a thank you note for everything under the sun. Whether it was for plenteous birthday gifts or Christmas presents, or for the gratitude I was oh so overcome with when someone babysat us, helped us out, or took us on a trip. I can guarantee that most of the thank you notes I ever wrote went to my grandparents. Even more so to my Mommom.

My Mommom loved to write, so often we would end up in the endless cycle of notecards and letters. She would send a Valentine card with 2 dollars in it, I’d write a thank you note, signed by either me or both of my sisters. Of course, she’d later respond and hence, the endless cycle. While at the time it always seemed so nettlesome to write thank you note after thank you note, I learned to really appreciate writing and later, receiving thank you notes. It’s always such a joy to find one on my desk, in my mailbox at school or better yet, one in the real mailbox at home with a stamp attached. Yes, actual snail mail, people. I love the joy that comes with writing them as well.

My Mommom used to tell me I got my gift of writing from her. She would also tell me, I got my gift of people skills from her, my perfect penmanship from her and my love for lasagna, wine, traveling, taking pictures and documenting memories all from her. I’m my Grandmother’s granddaughter for sure. I should also mention that I get my bad habit of keeping EVERYTHING from her as well. I keep every note, letter, card ever given to me. I have drawers filled with them. I keep concert tickets, movie ticket stubs, sticky notes on the fridge, everything. That’s how I got a hold of the thank you notes.

When I graduated high school, my Mommom gave me two gifts: a ring that I’ve worn since that day that is inscribed with Mark 10:27 - with God all things are possible; and two very large scrapbooks. The scrapbooks weigh at least ten pounds each and have documented in them every picture I drew, every TY note I wrote, every picture I took, every trip I took, every concert I performed in or went to, everything. Two scrapbooks filled with momentos from my 18 years of life.

When I got them, I laughed, I cried and I ran my hand over every page that had her handiwork on it. She spent months working on this project and she put herself into every page wholeheartedly. I kept them in my bedroom and would open them up every time I did a “deep clean” of my bedroom - at least every few months. Each time I would sit on the floor and go carefully through each one, catching something new I never saw before. Each time, I felt so incredibly blessed not only that my grandmother put all my favorite memories in one place, but also that I had so many memories - happy memories of people, places and events. Truly, that’s what I treasure the most and each time I opened those books, I would thank my God for blessing me so much.

Just recently, I found myself on the bedroom floor browsing through these scrapbooks. This time, it wasn’t a result of a deep clean, although I should probably do that soon. Rather, it’s because I wanted to run my hands over the pages where my Mommom’s fingers delicately placed each picture perfectly. I wanted to touch the pages on which she had left so many traces of love. I wanted to touch her. The words of the song you just heard said it perfectly - it’s what I’ve been feeling so deeply since January 10, 2016 when my Mommom suddenly passed away.

None of us were expecting it - my sister and my dad had seen her the night before, laughed with her, told jokes, ate cookies, drank tea and she was only suffering from what seemed like a small bout of a cold. But the next morning, after I had routinely gone to Mass, gone to the gym and was headed to spend the day with my boyfriend, I got a very confused phone call from my younger sister. Without giving me any details, she told me to re-route and head the Abington Hospital right away - Mommom was in bad shape. Little did I know, even upon arriving at the hospital, that my Mommom had already gone home to God. I couldn’t believe it then and most days, I still can’t believe it. Yes, most days, I’m still waiting for her to come home from her 2 month vacation in Florida she took every Winter.

As I browsed through pictures to make memory boards and listened to numerous songs to help numb the pain, there was only one thing I really wanted. I wanted to hug her, I wanted to walk into her house, wake her up from “resting her eyes on the easy chair” and hear her voice again. As much as I always felt suffocated when she hugged me, I wanted her to grab my face, kiss me a million times and smother me with her arms. I would do anything to be suffocated by her love again. I just want to feel her embrace.

As hard as it’s been mourning my Mommom, my grief has been turned to grace. There have been ups and downs: Laughing at memories or spending hours sobbing because I lost my best friend; hiding my tears or sharing them with friends; feeling the sun shine warm upon my face and feeling empty. But mostly I’ve been reminiscing on how lucky I am to have had my Mommom for almost 24 years. As Justin Beiber would say, “I’m more than grateful for the time we spent, my spirit’s at ease.” I have so much for which to be thankful - the memories, the trips, the selfies, the adventures, the late-night prayers, the phone calls, the dinner dates, the laughter, the jokes, the joys. I’m so thankful that God gave me such a beautiful woman to nourish me, to hold me, to be my advocate when no one else would, to be the lone supporter in the crowd at a concert, to be my biggest cheerleader. I’m so thankful she was always there for me. And if I had the chance to write her one last thank you note, I would say:

“Dear Mommom,

Thank you for the time we spent together. Thank you for all the hugs and kisses. Thank you for all your love. Thank you for every note card. Thank you for passing down your love of music, writing and loving all people. Thank you for always having orange juice in the fridge for when I visit and knowing it’s my favorite. Thank you for always hiding the good candy and saving it for me. Thank you for your gift of humor and still bringing smiles to my face. Thank you for every FB message that may or may not have made sense. Thank you for giving me so many memories to keep you alive with me here and now. Thank you for every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every year I got to spend with you - the most beautiful woman in the world. I am so lucky to have you as my Mommom and you will always be special to me.

Love,
Becca

P.S. I love you. Shine on.”