Monday, September 25, 2017
"I am the first and the last;
I am the Lord who died that you might live.
I am the bridegroom, this is my wedding song.
You are my bride, come to the marriage feast."
- Take and Eat, Michael Joncas
One of my most favorite things about traveling is getting to visit and worship in different Catholic churches. What I love so much about this is knowing that I can go to any Catholic church, be welcomed like family, and the Mass will be familiar to me. I also love listening to the music they sing, the announcements they read (how rich their weekly spiritual life is!) and of course, a different perspective on the readings in the Homily. It is always familiar, even if it's in a different language, and church, specifically Mass, always make me feel at home.
This past weekend, I was blessed to the spend time with my bridesmaids in Hershey, PA. We went camping, rode roller coasters and ate a lot of chocolate. As much as I hate being the center of attention, it was beautiful to walk past so many people and have them wish me well wishes for my upcoming marriage. Recently, I've been so busy at school in my ministry job, that I haven't had much time to really focus on the fact that I am, indeed, getting married, in quite a few days. Every so often, in the middle of my chaos, a little alarm goes off in my brain that says, "Reminder. Reminder. You are getting married." And then there's the sub-sequential thoughts of, "I need to order flowers. I need to pay the dj. I need to call our priest. Do we have a place to live yet?" Yikes. Yet this weekend, I had time to enjoy the friendship and sisterhood of my bridesmaids and also focus on the fact that, yes, I am getting married. Judging from the movies, you'd never think that a Bachelorette weekend would be like a retreat. But I'm grateful to my girls for giving me that opportunity.
I loved that my girls knew me well enough to make celebrating Mass together a part of the weekend, making the weekend absolutely complete. As I stated above, I love visiting various different churches on my travels. Despite having gone to Hershey so many times, I can't remember ever going to Mass at St. Joan of Arc Parish. When we arrived a few minutes before Mass, I knelt to talk to Jesus. In this conversation, I was drawn to the stained glass windows on the right side of church. Contemporary images of spiritual life, education and so on. I am so used to seeing saints in the stained glass, that these contemporary images really made my Theology heart sing. But when I turned to the left side of the church out of curiosity, I was even more intrigued. I had never seen Catholicism linked so beautifully with Scripture and the present day. My inner Theology student/nerd burst. Each contemporary image on the right was paired with an image of Christ on the left; tied together with only one or two words.
Now while I feel I could write a paper on all the windows, I will only share the first two windows with you. You'll have to go see the others for yourself. On the left side was the Holy Family; Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. It simply read, "Spiritual Life." On the right side was a young married couple, with a newborn baby at the baptismal font and a priest baptizing their new baby. Again, below the image, it read, "Spiritual Life." I could only be reminded of what so many sisters have told me during this time of engagement, "We need Holy Families, too." How beautiful was Christ's confirmation to me in my heart through these images! I could not help but think of textbooks and textbooks worth of Theology behind the sacrament of marriage. Because while we will have a wedding day, the sacrament is the most important part of the day. And it's mostly because we get to begin our marriage, which will last a lifetime, with the Eucharist, surrounded by the physical Body of Christ in our family members.
Father's homily spoke about the first reading, in which Isaiah says, "my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts." He told us how he fought his vocation to the priesthood, wanting something completely different. I had to laugh as how much I felt connected to this, but in the opposite way. How I fought married life because I felt it wasn't good enough. And yet, I have learned so well these past few years how the vocation to marriage life is just as good and holy as religious life. I simply needed to find my holy, faithful, husband to be.
The icing on the cake, or should I say, the icing on the Hershey's bar, was the Communion hymn. I loved the traditional hymns that the congregation sung with the cantor, but my favorite was at Communion. I guess as a person with high empathy and as an auditory learner, I tend to connect with music, stories and people more quickly than the average human. Every so often, when singing in the congregation during Mass, I get to a certain line and suddenly, I'm overwhelmed with emotion. This happened on Sunday with the above quoted hymn. It was Jesus' invitation to me (and Joe), to come to His wedding feast. Yet another confirmation that this is truth. That in 75 days, we will join together in Matrimony at the wedding feast.
There's a part two to my day, however. I thought I was finished being blessed during the day but Joe called me on the way home and asked if I might make it home in time to go to Mass with him and his family. I told him I already went to Mass, but I did want to see him. So what better way to spend time together than during Mass (can you tell I love the Eucharist soooooooo much?)? I made it just in time for 5PM Mass at his parish. Again, hearing another perspective on the readings is always good for my heart. This time, the Deacon gave the homily. He correlated a story of what he encourages newly weds to be for each other with the Gospel. Deacon said, "I always encourage young newly weds to remember to be one thing for each other: saints." He reminded the whole congregation of this but I felt that he was speaking right to us. He continued to express that marriage is not just between two people, but a 100% dedication by three people: husband, wife and Christ. The wedding feast was coming back to me for the second day. Just when I thought my blessings were already too numerous for the day, this homily was just another added blessing. Yes, so many church experiences of marriage.
God's ways are not our ways and God's thoughts are not our thoughts. Yet somehow, God always manages to speak to our hearts in a way we can understand. I cannot wait to be Joe's wife, to begin a holy family with him, and I wait in the hopeful patience that God will continue to prepare our hearts to be saints.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
"It is with human certainty that no one can see her own beauty
or perceive her own worth until it has been reflected back to her
in the mirror of another loving, caring human being."
John Joseph Powell
It is my belief that almost every woman, at some point during her growing up, feels self-conscious. Whether it was because one's peers were growing quicker or slower than she, one felt so self conscious as the school nurse performed the yearly health screening or one simply felt compared to her older/younger siblings. The truth is, our media doesn't do much to help women either. Women are constantly being told how to wear their hair, what size they should wear and what they should look like. Women, despite there being so much advancement, still feel so pressured to look, appear and feel a certain way.
I am no stranger to this. There are often moments when I feel my body being attacked by the media. I should weigh a certain amount. I should look a certain way. I should dress to my body type but it has to be the right body type. From a young age, I basically gave up on trying to fit in with the way I dressed. Most of it was my dedication to not exposing every inch of my body, but it was also because I never felt quite like those clothes ever fit me properly. I began to hate trying on clothes in the store and even now, I'm more resolved to hold it up, buy it and then return it if it doesn't fit. Honestly, buying new clothes is the worst chore. And the scale is probably my worst enemy.
I often talk about my life as a teacher and campus minister in an all girl school, so it should be no surprise that I am surrounded by the heavy emphasis on body image on the daily. Whether it's casual conversation about prom dresses and spray tans or more serious conversations about how women and sexuality are portrayed in the media, I feel like every day we are talking about how we look. It's not only the students, it's the faculty members, too. We constantly judge each other for our food choices in the cafeteria or in our lunchboxes or how much we exercised each day. So I've made it a point to be a positive voice of reason in the hallways. It's been my mission to remind my students and my colleagues, that we each have different gifts, we all have great things to offer to the world, and I try to shower people with good, reinforcing compliments. Last year, the girls told me that I was one of the most supportive faculty members because of my pleasant disposition in and out of school. I took pride in that.
I believe it's a gift I've been given, to focus and see the best in each person. But along with that is the courage to tell people. I love giving out compliments and collecting smiles in return. That has been a part of me from a very young age. But it goes deeper than that. Whenever I am on retreat with the students, I have the opportunity to tell them specifically what I love about them. I often write them affirmations that sound like this, "You have a great ability to listen to your peers. You are a good person; believe it!" I always tell them to believe whatever good thing someone says about them, because I feel that what goes along with feeling so self-conscious about oneself, is the inability to believe anything good anyone says.
Over the years I have been thanked by my students for making them believe in themselves. They send me little emails during their school years in college or over the holidays thanking me for reminding them of their goodness. I cannot help but feel overwhelming joy because at least one person believed in her own goodness, even if for only a little while. It's probably one of the best parts of my job.
But recently I've been realizing that I don't take my own advice. How can I tell them time and time again to believe the good things people say about them if I don't believe it myself? Perhaps this goes hand in hand with my struggle with body image and positive identity, or maybe I am just not used to having people say things about me since I'm always busy saying good things about others. Regardless of the reason why, I've noticed that receiving compliments makes me feel awkward. I brought this to prayer a few weeks ago and was reflecting on feeling down on myself. I asked God to remind me of my beauty as His handiwork. Then I became a victim to receiving and yes, believing the goodness people believe about me.
One of the greatest compliments I have ever received was from a student I had just met on a service trip. He wrote me a palanca (a service trip tradition!) that read simply and sweetly, "I admire your confidence and your outgoing personality." I always felt obnoxious with my loud voice and seemingly outgoing personality. But this young man considered it confidence. I've never considered myself confident before, at least not in this way. But his simple words really meant a lot to me.
A few days later, someone texted me a picture of some dainty stationary. Knowing my love for stationary, it made sense to me that she sent the picture saying, "this reminds me of you!" I smiled because it's not the first time someone told me stationary reminded me of them - I loved writing letters. But she followed up with another text. It's cute and pretty just like you. It came on a day when I was feeling particularly hard on myself. Cute and pretty. I've never considered myself that either. But apparently someone else did.
And most recently in the succession of compliments seemingly flowing from God as an answer to my prayer, was this final instance. While we do not have religious sisters at my parish, a number of the neighboring parishes do. This summer I've been blessed to share my pew with some of the local sisters who live at the school my youngest sister attends. I know these sisters well and am in touch with them often. Each day, the sisters and I park in the lot and enter the chapel together. We comfortably pray our own prayers and give each other our spaced. But during the sign of peace, we exchange warm hugs and well wishes. Usually one particular sister says, "Peace be with you, Becca. Have a great day." But on one morning, she said something different. Instead of her usual, she hugged me saying, "Peace be with you, Becca. You are loved."
I am not used to receiving compliments and while they still make me feel awkward, there's no question that these instances came from God. I had expressed my self-consciousness in prayer and He responded by sending me three very unique and irregular compliments. It was a reminder to again, believe that I am God's handiwork, I am beautiful and I am loved. It was a reminder to take my own advice: receive and believe.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
on your own intelligence rely not.
In all your ways, be mindful of Him,
and He will make straight your paths."
- Proverbs 3:5-6
I am on the first floor by the faculty lounge in school. I am walking to class with my laptop in my arm, the text books piled on top and my coffee mug in my right hand. A student calls my name from behind, "Miss G, Miss G!" I turn around and seemingly begin to solve the world's most recent crisis. As I speak with the student, I feel one of my upper right teeth begin to wiggle so with my tongue, I push it back into place. But before I can get it to stay, it falls out in the middle of my conversation. The student seems not phased by this personally mortifying experience and continues speaking at a rapid pace. I bend down to pick up the tooth off the floor and try to make my way to the faculty lounge to get a cup. The student finishes explaining her crisis and leaves.
The next thing I know, a few of my colleagues are talking to me, all from different places in the room about different things. All I am trying to do is get a cup with some milk in it - I need to put my tooth there so I can get it put back into my mouth after school. As I stand up after getting the milk, I realize that more of my teeth are loose and wiggly. I'm trying not to speak as much so I can keep my teeth in my mouth, but colleagues keep asking me questions. Each time I open my mouth, more teeth fall out. I'm getting good at catching them all in the cup of milk I've replaced my coffee mug with.
Finally, I get to class. Late, of course, since I was busy catching all my falling-out teeth. Then a student comments something about my dress, in front of the class. Trying not to be mortified that part of my dress has been stuck in my nylons all day, I put my things down on the desk and adjust my dress. When I open my mouth to say thank you, the rest of my teeth fall out and I no longer have a single tooth in my mouth. The worst part about this whole thing is that not a single person noticed my teeth falling out and I am mortified thinking about how terrifying I must look with my teeth in cup and not in my mouth. I start to sweat and get nervous and before I can say another thing, I wake up.
It's about 4 am now and I'm worried about whether or not I closed the windows in my office before I left, knowing for well that even if I did, Sharon would have closed them after she took the trash from my room that day. At about 4:30 am, I'll roll over and start worrying about whether or not I emailed the priest a confirmation email about coming to say Mass five months into the school year. It's August. And around 5 am, I'll flip onto my stomach in hopes that a different position will help me sleep but instead I can only think about what people would say about me if I actually didn't have any teeth and what they already say about me for any type of reason. About 5:30 am I'll have exhausted myself from thinking too much and I'll start dreaming again. But if the tooth dream comes back, I'm up for good.
The amount of times I have a dream about losing my teeth is astronomical. Would I say once a week? Depends on the time of year. But honestly, I've had the tooth dream more times than I can count. While it may sound strange, this tooth dream is one of the most commonly recorded dreams that people have. So I know I'm not the only one waking up feeling like a weirdo having dreamt about teeth. But there's two important factors of my reoccurring dream that I'd like to point out. First, no one in my dream ever notices my teeth falling out; only me. While I think that watching someone's teeth fall out might be extremely traumatizing, it never seems to be the case in my dream. I'm the only one worried about it. Second, I cannot control my teeth. As much as I try to keep them all in my mouth, I fail over and over again. And this is what it means to me: when I'm worried about something, usually I'm the only one worried about it. And what I'm worried about, I usually can't control. Yet, time and time again, I lose hours of sleep over worrying about things I really can't control.
Last week, I went to Mass and then coffee with a dear Sister friend of mine who has been a part of my life for about ten years now. We always have beautiful conversation that is sometimes light-hearted and other times we try to tackle our understanding of the woes of the world. This time, while telling great stories, laughing loudly and catching up (though I feel, we always pick up where we left off despite the time!), we also began talking about a lot of the latest news stories and the empathetic sadness we feel. That conversation transitioned into a conversation about worrying and our inability to trust at times, despite great faith in God. Why do we worry? What makes us anxious? Why do we let so many things, out of our control, bother us so greatly? We didn't reach a conclusion. But it did lead me down a small road of reflection on trust. How do I actually surrender my anxieties to God and be free of worry?
A few nights after I saw Sister, I had the darn tooth dream again. But instead of waking up and laying in my bed freaking out for hours, I start praying. I've been having the tooth dream for years and I learned that praying was the best way for me to relieve my worry (and also get back to sleep). I was worried about something huge, something I won't share here, but I remembered back to the conversation I had with Sister a few days prior. We reminded ourselves then that in our moments of weakness and worry, we need to discern what is truly from God. We agreed that sometimes God puts worry in our heart for a good reason, perhaps to keep us from doing something that might bring harm. But God would never wish us to worry ourselves into exhaustion and so this anxiety that wakes me up at night can't be from God. So I began to pray, "Jesus, Your will be done. Not mine. And please, show me Your will."
Another Sister I know used to tell me to be specific when praying to Jesus. It's not testing God as in saying, "Jesus send me a blue butterfly at 12:15 today to show me your listening." But rather, "Jesus, I am doubting and I need you to be overwhelmingly obvious today. And let me know it's you." That's what I prayed when I woke up. I did not go out of my way to make anything different about my day. I simply woke up, got dressed and ready to go, drove to Joe's house and we went to Mass together.
Whenever we can, we join each other for Mass at our parishes. That being said, our parish families have really gotten to know us as a couple. So when we walked in, one of the ushers asked Joe and I to bring up the gifts. We accepted this gift and went to find a pew after passing the pastor on our way. He simply nodded a hello as Mass was going to begin soon. We prayed together and when we sat down, I told Joe that I needed him to pray for my heart; I was anxious. I also told him, I was waiting for Jesus to make his will obvious to me to reassure me. Joe simply said, "I know you worry. It will be okay."
As Mass began, I remember thinking about how Jesus has so clearly made himself and his plan known to me recently. I haven't experienced this worry until now. All of my prayers have pointed me in this direction. And I knew that this was the devil really abusing my worrisome heart. This worry was not of God. This I knew. But my humanity needed reassurance. I received that reassurance when Father began his homily talking about a couple who had just celebrated their 50th anniversary yesterday in the church. We applauded them and father spoke a bit about how a marriage stays successful. Prayer. I admit, I was letting my mind wander in prayer a bit when I felt Joe gently tapping my leg. He was getting up and I was confused. Father had invited a newly engaged parishioner to the altar with his future bride. That newly engaged parishioner was Joe and I was his future bride. Immediately, happy tears starting falling down my face as I thanked Jesus in my heart for truly outdoing himself this time.
Father talked with us a bit on the altar and then invited the entire congregation to pray over us. He prayed through Mary's intercession, another God-wink for me, and I simply held Joe's hand feeling a wave of grace wash over me. When we went back to our pew, I quickly whispered to Joe, "Jesus answered my prayers." He squeezed my hand and responded, "I know."
The truth is, human beings worry. We worry about a ton of things we can't control. We doubt despite the fact that everything in life has pointed us this way. We get anxious about little things like how people perceive us, what they think about our actions and more. But this is not of God. While I think it's safe to assume I'll most likely be woken up by the tooth dream again, I know that Jesus can calm my spirit. I know that no matter how big or little my worry, Jesus will make himself overwhelmingly known to me. He will constantly reassure me in my doubts. And to have a fiance that believes this, too, is beyond blessing.
Thursday, June 22, 2017
"You made the best choice for yourself.
Your heart was torn about where to go
and he came into your life at the perfect moment."
- S. Jeanette
Two blog posts in one week? It must be summertime. Yet, despite this, I've been busy. But the desire to write and open my heart is louder than ever. I can hardly wait to sit in the pool tomorrow, but tomorrow is not yet here. And since I can't write in the pool (water and technology just don't mix apparently...hah!), why not use the best of the time I'm waiting for my class to begin?
Yesterday, I was so incredibly blessed to spend the day with some of the most beautiful people I know. For the past eight years, the service immersion week, CREW, has taken place. I participated in CREW as a awkward adolescent, helped out when I was in college (for the exception of when I spent time in SA) and was back last year (as an adult? yikes!). We had been planning for a great week this year, but as the odds have it, only a few signed up. So we decided to make the best of it: why not have a whole day dedicated to CREW. That's what I love about these women - they have creative hope.
And so, around 5:30 yesterday morning, I woke up, began to work on my annual duty assigned to me, and then headed to our CREW day for Mass and the day. Was I excited? Yes. See above mention of morning wake up time. Was I nervous? Also, yes. But why? Well, it was going to be the first time I had interaction with a lot of the sisters since before I was engaged. Now, it wasn't as if I was showing up, not having told anyone. They all knew. I figured telling them before I saw them all again, would break the ice a bit. So, why was I nervous? Well, to be honest, I can't really pinpoint an exact reason. But, I can tell you the exact second my nerves were eased.
Immediately after Mass, we had invited the girls for breakfast and as usual, I was lingering behind when S. Jeannette grabbed me by the hand gently. Sister has known me for what seems like eternity, but what is actually close to 11 years. Without actually spending large amounts of time together, she has watched me grow throughout my (really) award adolescent years into a young college woman and now, into a woman about to get married. How blessed am I to have so many women in my life willing to journey with me through those transitions!
So at any rate, she gave me a big hug and expressed a deep congratulations. Perhaps she could tell I was nervous. Perhaps she had been thinking this since I sent the house my announcement in the mail. I'm not quite sure, but she did always have a knack for telling me what I needed to hear. That's when she told me she felt that I made the right choice. She expressed knowing that I, for certain, had prayed about this. And then she told me that there was no question in her heart that I was struggling with choosing between some great communities. At the time when I was struggling the most, she believes that's when Joe entered my life. She truly believes he entered my life to ease the confusion of my heart. And when she said this, without ever having a conversation quite like it before, I felt instant peace wash over my heart.
My day was filled with adventure, as any day spent with the Sisters really is. I was able to welcome "home" a dear friend of mine, laugh with the Sisters I hadn't seen for a while, and yes, even rise to a rare occasion of dancing in the rain (by which I mean, chasing a Sister outside to help her with blow away chairs during a storm). Around suppertime, my nerves began to get at me again as slowly but surely more and more sisters began to join us for our picnic supper. That's when I took the chance to go run in the rain. We came back inside, soaked but laughing together. We squeezed puddles out of our hair/veil and laughed some more as we considered what any passersby may have thought. In that moment, I was set free again from my anxieties. I had strength to face the crowd of sisters who all knew about my engagement.
I guess I was expecting them to each express their disappointment that I wasn't entering religious life despite the fact that Joe and I have been dating for three years and most have met him. I guess I was also expecting some to express questions and I just wasn't ready to answer questions en masse. But my worrying was for naught. As I tried to stay away from any spotlight, sisters, quietly and seemingly, one by one, came to me, gave a hug and told me how proud they are or how happy they are for me and Joe. Some even asked me to retell each detail surrounding the night we were engaged. I was surrounded not only by a grand amount of support, but a huge, loving family.
In those moments of brief conversation with many of the sisters, I felt a peaceful transition. As my bridal party would say, "from convent to Conte." There is no doubt in my heart that I am meant to be with Joe; he is my best friend. But there was fear of disappointing others. Some would tell me, never let that fear inhabit me from living my life. But again, these women have surrounded me for a very long time. They were the teachers, mentors, tutors who helped raise me. They were companions on a journey of prayer and introspection. And again, I am so blessed they allowed me to stay a part of their lives despite life changes and transitions from teenager to college student to young woman out in the world.
After our picnic supper, we headed to the Chapel I had fallen in love with so many years ago. I was surrounded by the voices of beautiful women, each with their own story, singing loudly and proudly during Praise and Worship Adoration. At one moment, the sun came straight through the stained glass window and I felt, shined right on my face. My found my heart so lifted in prayer by those around me and indeed loved, so incredibly loved. If ever I doubted God's love for me, in that moment I was reassured that I am far from a disappointment, far from being disowned and far from a need to worry. These Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth reminded me the truth of their charism: family.
I was greatly assured last night by the love of others, the greatest of hugs, and the peace given. As we parted for the night, one sister reminded me: we need holy families. You felt called by the Holy Family once, you're being called again, just in a way you never expected. And there is so much truth in those words. Yes. This is a call to be a Holy Family, no matter where I am, from convent to Conte!
Saturday, June 17, 2017
"Discernment has no beginning or ending; it lasts a lifetime.
It can change form, however, from a conversation and prayer
between you and God, to conversation and prayer
between you, God and your future spouse."
Last weekend, I had the pleasure (truly, it is a pleasure) of traveling with five of my students and a colleague to Cleveland, Ohio, for our annual CSSJ Leadership Conference. It is during this conference that our students learn not only the importance of the charism, mission and history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, but also the importance of being an active participant in it and furthering it through their lives as lay people. It is also during this conference that I am reminded of the importance of lay people ministering in the church. And thus, my most recent reflection.
There is no question that this blog began as a blog documenting the serious discernment of a young woman trying to find her vocation. There is no question that this blog remains the documentation of a young woman seriously discerning her vocation in life. Do I sound redundant? I have gone back and forth with deciding to blog about my recent engagement. We went back and forth about posting it on social media. But like all things, we took it to prayer and made a decision best for our hearts. So, I write this not because I feel I need to explain myself. But rather, because in the depths of my heart, I feel the need to express my blessings.
Joe and I decided to not post our engagement until about two weeks after the fact. He proposed to me on my 25th birthday and for about two weeks, we visited with friends and family, made phone calls and enjoyed sharing our joy as a newly engaged couple. We decided on a date, we decided on a venue, but we were still discerning how to spread the news to those we might not be able to visit or call; it would simply take our entire engagement to let people know. We decided that the easiest way was the make a subtle post on Facebook.
I'll be honest, I was unsure about it. I didn't want to answer questions I felt people shouldn't ask. But God works in ways I will never understand. We were only met with complete support. You see, despite having been in a dating relationship with Joe for three years, I had previously very seriously discerned religious life. Many people who knew me in different ways, knew that I was always open about that discernment. But, I was also very open about dating Joe, too. Believe me when I say that dating him took a year of intense prayer and saying yes to him asking me to be his wife took three long years of prayer, getting to know him and myself better, and building an atmosphere of trust and love. It was far from a rash decision.
In the middle of our dating relationship, I came home from a trip with some of my friends who also happen to be religious sisters. I remember asking Joe to walk with me and talk with me about my experience. I was trying to break up with him. He held my hand as I told him how I felt and he simply said, "I will be there for you in the church when you make your vows, whether to the church or to me. I'll always be there for you." Needless to say, that set my confused heart free. Knowing that he would support me in either vocation was enough to make me love him even more, as cliche, perhaps, as it is to say. He's simply been one of my biggest supports for seven years.
And so, our relationship developed even more. We prayed together and on our own. My discernment, my conversation between me and God, changed forms. It wasn't just me and God anymore; it was me, God and Joe. And I have no doubt that God's hand has been in our relationship the entire time. Before we started our exclusive dating relationship, we both went to different countries. I went for mission work and he went for a pilgrimage. We took those two weeks apart to pray for each other and about our relationship. Simply put, I missed him. God has blessed me with Joe as my best friend in so many circumstances. He's the one who goes to every school function with me and seemingly loves my students more than I could love them. He cheers their teams on, gives them standing ovations and supports their charity events. He spends late nights with me shopping for retreat and sacrifices so much for me. He works long days and still makes it a priority to spend as much time as he can with me.
I think the most important thing about Joe is that he makes me laugh. Whether we are singing at the top of our lungs to Broadway music, kicking each other under the table as we play cards or making up stories just to pass the time, he makes me smile. He makes friends with every person he meets and constantly tries to cheer up the cashiers at Target. He tells funny stories and always tries to get people to smile. And when I'm having a really bad day, he just reminds me of all the funny moments we've shared together. He brings out the best in me.
So how does this connect with my CSSJ Leadership Conference? Well there's one small link. Sister Phyllis told the students that learning charism, mission and history is important because it's as if the founding sisters have found these students and said, "tag, you're it." On the last night in Cleveland, Sister Phyllis and I drove together in the car and I got to fill her in on the last year of my life. We had met three years previously and stay in touch as much as time allows. After filling her in, I thanked her. Not only for listening, but for teaching me, hands-on, how important lay people are in the ministry of the church.
While I had always believed that all vocations are equal in value, I didn't realize how important the lay ministry is in furthering the charism, mission and history of the sisters for whom one might work or by whom one was taught. In my own life, I have known well four communities of religious sisters. When I was discerning religious life, I was always unsure which community fit me best. I knew that was going to be the hardest decision and in truth, I felt connected to each so deeply. But in my conversation with Sister Phyllis she told me how special it makes me to have had all these experiences with so many communities.
Indeed, there are many aspects of each community that I hold deep in my heart. I've always felt so deeply connect to the Eucharist, family has remained an important staple in my life, I have a deep Marian devotion and I often invoke creative hope in many moments of life, but I also have a sincere passion for social justice. Besides, in each community there is some connection to Saint Joseph. So now, I have my own Joseph and within me burns these charisms, these missions, and yes, these histories. As a lay-woman, not only do I get to share these with my future spouse, but also with our children and with the people who I encounter day in and day out. I can further the charisms, missions and histories in simple conversation but also in the way I live. And this, perhaps, is why God sent me on this journey.
I know that I will never be able to figure out why God gave me this journey and I know that I still have so much to learn. But I know that God has never left my side, has never stopped answering my prayers, and will never stop being present in my life. I know that the outside world may be confused about my journey, but it's my journey and that journey includes Joe, and I am at peace with this beautiful journey. There is a story, there is trust, there is peace. And no, discernment is not over, I have not "made my decision" as if I was the cliffhanger everyone was waiting for. There are many decisions to be made, discernment will not end, it simply includes one more person. And with all this talk of charism, mission and history, well let me just say. My charism is this: Luke 2:19, my mission is furthering the church and my history is a herstory, but I'll save that for another time.
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
"What lies before us and what lies behind us
are small matters compared to what lies
Ralph Waldo Emerson
My dear Seniors of the Class of 2017,
They say you never fall in love twice the same way. I guess they are right, whoever "they" may be. I never think I'll love the next class as much as I love the last and each year I'm proven wrong yet again. YOU have changed my life. You have shown me to fall in love with so many things all over again. You are amazing. You are a little bit of everything for me.
Three years I've been blessed to know you beautiful people. Three long years and yet it seems not enough. Are you really graduating? Yes. Yes, you are. And you are headed to change the world for the best. So many of you are staying close by and yet others are traveling distances. I'm grateful and so blessed to know and trust that the world is a better place simply because you're in it. You will be doing great things with every step you take. I'm already so incredibly proud of you.
You have changed my worldview in so many ways. Whether it was by surprising me with your hidden talents in chorus or on the stage or even on your teams. You've performed beyond expectation. You've danced faster, sung better and shown me that all I have to do is cut loose. You've encouraged me to attend more shows and concerts than I ever have. But you've also beat records like never before. I've never followed a team so far in champs or cheered louder on the sidelines as you run past me. When asked who my favorite players are, you're number one forever. I'm sure a few of you will be famous one day!
You've taught me to love greater in so many ways. You're never failing dedication to service on nights when you're supposed to be doing so much homework astounds me. You have never ending energy to help those in need and give of yourself so selflessly. You laugh and love out loud and remind me that the finest things in life are the moments shared joyfully with one another. Just think about all the lives you have changed all over the city, the state and yes, even the country. Keep serving with your beautiful hearts.
You have taught me to laugh and to laugh loudly. Whether it's by showing me the latest funny video you found on the internet or telling me about your latest adventures, you have reminded me to take time out of the often too busy and too serious day to laugh. You've reminded me to stop stressing so much and to take a breath every now and then. Unless, of course, I'm laughing so hard I can't breathe. Thank you for showing me your authentic joys and laughter. You are some of the weirdest people I know, but you know, for me, that weird is more of a compliment. Keep being so true to yourself. That's the best part about you.
You have taught me to love greatly. You have also prepared me for motherhood way too prematurely, but I know, I know...I'll thank you later. There is so much about you to love. Your unique personalities. Your many gifts and talents. Your funny stories. Your hearts. Your souls. And your hugs. I've never been showered with so many hugs until your class came around. You have taught me to love greatly because of your example. You love beyond measure, without hesitation and without judgement. You love despite flaws. You remind me how to open my heart each day and be vulnerable. Thank you.
And finally, you have taught me to keep the faith. You are one of the most faith-filled classes I have met. You have faith in each other - you are each other's biggest cheerleader. You have faith in yourself - you know you can do anything you put your mind and heart to. You have faith in God - you trust he will carry you through the deepest valleys. Watching you grow in this faith, especially on retreat, is one of my greatest blessings. So many of you were apprehensive about retreat and yet, when you came back home at the end, I could see the faith in you restored. You have reminded me to never stop giving up - on others, on God and on myself.
You have changed my life for the best. I am a better person because I have known you. You have surrounded me with so much goodness. I'm not quite sure what I am going to do without the Breakfast Club, the Campus Ministry Groupies, my retreat leaders, my CSC girls, and the rest of you. You have been my greatest joys, my happiest memories, and my best times this year. Thank you for your smiles in the hallways, your dedication in the classroom, your affirmations and little note cards everywhere, your gifts, your plenteous visits to Campus Ministry (even if they are only for the snacks) and more. Thanks for sharing your greatest accomplishments with me and letting me rejoice with you as you make it even further in competition, get into your dream colleges, and make yet another landmark in your life.
The Class of 2018 has big shoes to fill. I cannot wait to see where you take the world with all your adventures and successes. I will continue to cheer you on from the sidelines. Continue to be the amazing, beautiful, wonderful human beings that you are. You are so incredibly loved. And remember, "my love will find you wherever you go." Be Where Your Feet Are, kids.
Monday, May 1, 2017
"This is a love story. I never knew there were so many kinds of love
and that love could make people do so many different things.
I never knew there were so many ways to say good-bye."
- Maggie Stiefvater, "Linger"
Growing up, I was the queen of Girl Scout Sing-A-Longs around the campfire at camp or at any given night of meetings. Anything from the "Princess Pat" to the "Littlest Worm," I basically had every word memorized and if not, I always had friends nearby to help me out. We loved the fast-paced ones, the ones with dance moves and of course, the sillier the better. We really weren't big fans of the slower songs. Honestly, we would rather tell ghost stories of Cabin #4 or Mary of the Lake. Trust me, I was really good at scaring the Juniors. Remember that one time...nah, never mind. Girl Scouts was my favorite thing in the world, a place I could really be myself. I loved camping, I loved being outdoors, I loved learning all about nature. Girl Scouts most certainly gave me the skills and love for the outdoors I have today. But there is one thing Girl Scouts has reminded me of more and more now as I am older and the message lies in that one slow song we actually liked: Mhmmm....I Wanna Linger.
Lingering - it's a lost art. Honestly, most of us were probably told many times in our lives, "stop dawdling," "hurry up," "we're running late," and more. I know I was and now I'm so time paranoid that I will give myself more than ample time to get ready, get out the door and make it to my destination with much time to spare. I hate being late, and I constantly feel like I need to be somewhere or do something. Now, one might think that being this type of way, I would be severely annoyed by late people, but that does not really bother me. Truly, it's only when I am running late (and mind you its just later than my projected time and I'm probably still going to be early just not sixteen hours early) that I get flustered. But slowly, I've learned the art of slowing down and lingering a bit.
My work study boss in college was consistently lingering. She would stop on our errands to talk to every single person, in English or in Spanish. She would ask questions about their lives, ask how their families were, and more. It was as if she every single person on campus personally. Now a days, I strive for that in my own life. I purposefully walk out of my office at the change of classes so I can greet as many students as I can, and though it's hard, I try to do so by name. But there's more to lingering than just this.
When I visited South America, they would tell us one time but it wouldn't be until moments later (sometimes upward of a half hour) that whatever we had been invited to would begin. People there took their time doing anything and everything. The first week there, it was rough - why weren't people moving, where were the buses, how come nothing was ever on time. But by weeks three and four, we strolled casually down the streets after school and took our time visiting with the students, the teachers and naturally, our new friends. We lingered a little longer day by day and loved a little differently, each day, too.
Now, after years of slowly but surely breaking my anxiety about lingering, I linger a little longer. I find myself "dawdling" a little more and more each day. Sometimes, I feel the rush of "I got to go right now" and then attempt to rush off to something that, yes, probably could have waited. But there are more moments of my lingering now than my rushing off to the next very small, minuscule, minute thing. I think back to all the times I rushed out of a conversation with someone who is no longer around and I wish I could have learned to linger a little bit sooner. But life has it's lessons and lingering is one of them.
On the road to Emmaus, two of Jesus' apostles were walking and conversing when Jesus appeared is their presence. Sound familiar? It was the Gospel yesterday, the Third Sunday of Easter. I think about what would have happened if the two disciples were rushing off somewhere. Would they have said to the Jesus they did not recognize, "Sorry, gotta go spread the news."? I'm not sure. But I do know that Jesus and the disciples lingered together for seven miles and then for supper as well, when Jesus broke the bread. Imagine if the two disciples drove through the supper just like we do at McDonald's, Chipotle or even Wawa. The disciples and Jesus have taught us so many times, the art of lingering. There are so many instances of lingering in Scripture, and yet, we, whoever we may be, Christian or non, do not linger.
I have learned to linger. I linger with my students in the hallway. I linger with them when they pop in and need a friendly, non-academic conversation. I linger with my friends when they need prayer. I linger with my family, I linger with my colleagues at lunch. I linger a lot more often now, because if the disciples hadn't lingered on the road to Emmaus, Jesus never would have been revealed to them. When I linger, I know Jesus will be revealed to me. Mhmm...I wanna linger.