Uncategorized

Expertise

I recently read an article that made me question: In what am I becoming an expert?

After re-reading the article this morning, I realized that I  misunderstood part of its premise (I’ve always been slightly off in my reading comprehension). It takes about 100 hours to become “proficient” at something, to become better than 95% of the world’s population. (I apparently considered that being an expert.)

Either way, it begs the question: in what am I becoming an expert? At what am I becoming proficient? Upon reflection, I’m probably proficient at driving (at least my passengers hope so). I’m fairly proficient at cooking, although I still think it’s entirely important to measure each ingredient carefully while my slightly less “J” friends mock me for my precision and inability to “wing it.” I always wish I were better at Spanish, but I’ve definitely put in at least one hundred hours in speaking, reading and listening to the language.

There are some things I wish I weren’t so proficient in, though. I’m finding myself becoming proficient in watching television. I’m getting quite good at watching my favorite recorded shows and knowing that when this picture comes on during commercials

bigbangtheorytitlecard

it means that there are multiple other commercials coming right after it.

I’m worried that I’m becoming proficient in complaining, and not proficient enough in gratitude. I’m definitely proficient in wasting my free “bored” time on Facebook. I’m not yet proficient at silence, although I have spent some time on retreats dedicated to (deafening) silence.

So I pray that the next time I find myself doing something I don’t want to be proficient in, I stop myself. I hope that I use my time to become proficient in reading, poetry, running, praying, being, listening, patience, gratitude, and a long list of other things. (I’m a expert at list-making., you see.)

And so dear friends, I declare this year a year of intentionality. A year to be intentional about what I spend my time doing, because you never know when you might cross that line and become an expert…

 

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Uncategorized

Eat. Drink. Be Mary.

It’s time to renew my Consecration to Mary. Let me explain.
To consecrate oneself to Mary is to tell her, “Mary, here I am. I give you my prayers, my desires, my good works, my not so good works. I give you everything. You know Your Son as only a mother can. I entrust to you everything. Please help me be a saint.”
Louis de Montfort put it a lot better in True Devotion, but I don’t want you to feel like you have to read all 86 pages in order to read this little blog. It’s all about small steps, right?
I was first introduced to this devotion from Saint Louis de Montfort in high school, but did not feel called to consecrate myself then. I met a girl in college on fire with love for Mary, and quickly decided we should become close friends… So she moved to Australia. The next year, I really began to think about this Marian consecration. My favorite spot on campus was a little overgrown and underused grotto behind the freshmen dorm. It had a statue of Mary and many weeds. I would sit there and just stare at Mary, as if looking at her long enough would help me become more like her. Actually, I don’t think that’s too far off. Renewing my consecration is like looking back to Mary, asking “Am I doing this right? Am I becoming more like you?”
WWJD – a great motto. Just not my motto. I consecrated myself to Mary because my motto was “What would Mary do?” I knew I was no Jesus. Mary seemed like a perfect role model for me: a feminine, young woman who was probably closer to Jesus than anyone else.
So I finally decided to do the Marian consecration. I finally said my yes, my fiat – “Let it be done unto me according to your will.” (Top Ten Favorite Scripture Passages.) I decided to consecrate myself on March 25, a day of special importance to me for a few reasons. Plus, St Louis suggests this day as the perfect Marian feast for this consecration. I like doing things the “right” way, so March 25 it would be. The preparation for consecration is 33 days long, so my calendar told me to start February 20th. Perfect – I was going on a retreat that weekend, the 18th-20th, and what better way to start a little consecration like this.
Oh, Lord. Quite seriously. God had a little celebration apparently, and decided to affirm my decision a million times over. I met a girl at this retreat who had on a chain – a sign that one has consecrated oneself to Mary. Being the 112% extravert that I am, I introduced myself and told her I was excited to start my own preparation. She told me how glad she was that she made her consecration, and we chatted for a while about it, until it was time to sit down for a talk.
Sr. Mary Somebody gave the talk. I remember liking her – very personable, funny, young. When she started her testimony, she said “And then I consecrated myself to Mary according to St Louis de Montfort” and I just laughed out loud. She said something to the effect of, “oh, someone must be discerning doing their consecration…” and I mumbled a somewhat affirmative answer and disappeared in blush.
Unfortunately, I do not know where my notes from this retreat are, which saddens me terribly. My Jesus Journal goes from “Please help prepare my heart for this retreat” to “Thank you so much for the retreat!” But I do remember chastising the Lord at one point, saying “Okay, Lord, I get it – you want me to do the Consecration. Message received. Stop showing off.”
There are times God can be loud. And then there are times He can be loud and use a megaphone.
That’s how I encountered Total Consecration. Let me now tell you my lame excuse for not really keeping up with it. (De Montfort suggest that you renew this consecration every year, sort of like Lent – we do it every year, but it’s very different each time we go through it.)
I didn’t want to renew my consecration around the same time as Lent. “Too much spiritual stuff going on that time of year” was my excuse. But March the 25th is the Best Marian Feast Day Ever, so I felt weird doing it any other day, too. My response? Grow lukewarm, still talk about Mary as if she were my best friend, but not really act on it. Mary was still my friend and role model, but I never called her up to see how she was doing. I never asked her if I was following God’s will. We became distant.
My advice? Don’t do what I did.
I have finally seen the light. (When God shines His light, and it doesn’t make us blink, sometimes He uses a magnifying glass. Or a Family Missions Company conference called Proclaim.) God finally told me – or rather I finally listened – it was time to stop this “spiritual worldliness” (thanks Francis, EG 93). It was time to be a spirit-filled evangelizer. So I started reading one chapter of the Bible each day with a friend. (Did you know Mark records the story of Jesus feeding thousands of people? TWICE? Show off.) The same friend told me she was going to renew her consecration starting in two days. “Why not?” I said. No time like now.
I had grown comfortable, friends. Don’t ever be comfortable. Be joyful, be content with what you have, be happy, but don’t ever be comfortable.
Thank you Mary. Thank you for teaching me that being comfortable means lacking joy, contentment, and happiness. Being comfortable means going without – without passion, without purpose, without a fire under your butt. Thank you for getting me off my Spiritual Lazy Boy Recliner, and out on the roads, putting in the hours and the miles and reading awesome books like 33 Days to Morning Glory and finally praying the Rosary again.
Thank you for making it clear that I failed to live up to my promise to give you everything. Thank you for showing me how selfish I had been. Thank you for opening up the door to my Basement of Complacency and turning on that harsh but beautiful, living light.
As St Louis de Montfort writes, “God the Father gathered all the water together and called them the seas. He gathered all his graces together and called them Mary” (True Devotion to Mary, paragraph 23).

Mary, I want to be you when I grow up. Please grant me your profound humility, lively faith, blind obedience, continual mental prayer, mortification in all things, surpassing purity, ardent charity, heroic patience, angelic sweetness, and divine wisdom. Amen.

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Friend

Sit with It

“Sit with it”

 

When Anna asked me a deep question that I didn’t know the answer to, she told me “Well, just sit with it.”

 

When my spiritual director wanted me to wrestle with something, this was her response. You’d think she’d tell me to pray about it, but she didn’t. Instead, she said,

 

“Sit with it.”

 

Okay, fine.

 

It seems like something so passive, so easy, so natural. I can sit. I’m quite good at sitting actually. I like to sit and read, sit and watch movies, sit and eat, sit and chat with friends, sit and crochet…

But I had to learn how to:

 

“Sit with it.”

 

Let me tell you something: it’s not easy. Another disclaimer: it can be uncomfortable. This isn’t an uncomfortable that comes from hours of sitting on a cold hard bench watching a football game. I’m talking about an uncomfortable that comes with a real encounter of yourself. Understanding your own emotions, joys, flaws, sufferings, desires, sins.

 

I used to hate “sitting with it.” I hated it because I wasn’t good at sitting still and just accepting things. I wasn’t good about thinking. And I stank at thinking about what bothers me – my middle name is “positivity,” not “broods over sufferings.”

 

But with so many people I trust telling me to “sit with it,” I gave in like hard rock gives was to constant water. My breaking point was healing: if I wanted healing – which I desperately did – I needed to “sit with it.” I had to sit with my former self.

 

It was awkward at first, especially since we hadn’t talked for years and we both hated each other, me and my former self. But this is where I learned the valuable lesson: “sit with it.” On my couch, journal in lap, pen in hand, I began to think about things, allow memories to teach me, encounter the hard questions. I finally stopped avoiding the things I hated or disliked, and began to see them as guides into truth and humility. I took sorrow and suffering in my hands and asked them to guide me.

 

What bothers you? What do you avoid thinking about? What plagues you? What dreams bother you the most? What dreams make you smile upon awaking? When do you feel happiest? What is your favorite thing to think about? What has God been trying to teach you lately? What had changed in you since New Years’? What do you like most about yourself? What do you like least about yourself?

 

Not quite sure?

 

Sit with it.*

 

*don’t “sit with” all these questions at once. Choose one. Pick the one that interests you. Pick the one you’ve never thought about. Pick the one you think you know the answer to. Pick to one you most dread asking and answering. And sit with it.

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Holiness, Saint

Proper Spelling of “Holiness”

I have always been a fairly good speller, contrary to the 60 I remember receiving on one spelling test in third grade. I had a friend in high school who once spelled “knowledge” beginning with a “g.” She should have gnown better.

“Holiness” seems so far away sometimes. It seems like we have to be perfect in order to get there: pray seven times a day, never get distracted during prayer, give all your possessions to the poor, kneel on rocks for penance, fast every Wednesday and Friday, pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament for at least an hour every day…

Surely I’m not the only one who thought of holiness like that. I thought it was utterly unattainable, something only for the perfect, something I could never even come close to.

All this time, I have been spelling “holiness” the wrong way, and I had been thinking about it the wrong way. I read recently that we might try out a different spelling:

whole-ness.

When I think of “whole-ness,” I think of something complete, someone living to their full potential, an entirety of something. I think one of the hardest things for me to realize is that God wants ALL of me. He doesn’t want just the good parts like my prayers, good actions and holy thoughts. But at the same time, He doesn’t want just the bad parts, the aspects of my life that need conversion. No, God wants ALL of me, just the way I am.

This is a terrifying concept.

Why can’t God just want the bad parts so that He can fix them and let me get on with my life? Why can’t he just concentrate on the good parts so I don’t have to expose the wounds of my life? Why can’t God just accept the little bits I give Him and be satisfied with that? Goodness gracious, He’s so demanding, wanting everything. Greedy, even.

Blasphemy? Hopefully not. God wants you desperately, and He doesn’t want just morsels. Don’t tease Him with little tidbits of your life. Don’t throw crumbs down for Him. Don’t torment Him by saying, “You can have everything Lord. Oh, except this thing. And that. And this, don’t touch this. But feel free to have Your way with everything else!” It’s like telling a master painter to paint only with two colors. Can he still make a beautiful masterpiece? Of course. But the beauty of art is in the complexities, and the beauty of us is in our idiosyncrasies and joys, fears and failures, boredom and excitement strengths and hypocrisies.

The Saint that is Just Me.

Danielle Rose has a beautiful song called “The Saint that is Just Me.” I discovered the song years ago, but sometimes I listen to it as if for the first time. She sings my story: I have tried to emulate the saints, hoping at least do one thing like them, but eventually I realized I could stop attempting to masquerade as someone I can never hope to be. As Danielle sings, “You didn’t die so I would try to be somebody else, you died so I could be the saint that is just me.”

As hard as it was for me trying to be Mother Teresa or Catherine of Siena, I have also found it hard to be “the saint that is just me.” I cannot tell you it has been easy. But it’s so freeing. I gave myself permission to not expect a crazy strict prayer life. I allowed myself room to grow and explore the Catholic faith. I questioned the reason the Church says and believes certain things. I asked Jesus to show me who I am.

I’m finding it’s a lifelong process.

I finally learned that to give God everything is to be free. Happy. Joyful. Blessed. It’s a scary leap, a free-fall into God knows what, but we can fall because we know God knows what He’s doing. When a woman finally quits trying to lead the man in dance, she will stop getting stepped on. She can relax and enjoy the beauty of the dance. Giving God everything means allowing Him to lead you in the beautiful motions of life.

God wants all of you. Stop pretending God doesn’t care what you eat for dinner. Next time you wash your laundry, remember that God knows where that sock went. God cares about what books you read and movies you watch, not because He’s a cosmic parental control, but because you are His child and He wants to be in every aspect of your life. He cares that you had a bad dream last night. He knows you were nervous about seeing your ex. He, too, understands that inside joke with your best friend. He was laughing with you.

I challenge you: do not live your life in segments. Don’t put prayer in one little box, separate from hanging out with friends and your job. Did you have a bad day? Offer that to God, along with your distractions. Your emotional struggles affect your prayer life, your physical activity influences your mental health, what you learn on the soccer field can change how you pray. You are one: be who you are. Don’t leave anything out. God accepts it all. It’s about time you started seeing yourself as a whole person, too.

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Friend, One Little Word, Uncategorized

“Speak Friend and Enter”

While I would like to spend less time on my computer this year and more time reading, knitting, running, etc. I am thankful for many of the things I find. Some of my friends are choosing a word for their year. One of them chose “strong,” for example, a wonderful word to conquer 2014. I was intrigued, and did what any other person of our generation would do: I did some googling and discovered One Little Word. In short: pick a word for 2014 and see where it takes you.

There are many words that jumped out at me at first: love, humble, laugh, kind, solitude. These are all things I have been focusing on lately or are my favorite words (or least favorite – like solitude – but important nonetheless).

Though it happened only moments ago, I don’t know what inspired me to think of the word “friend.” This leaves me to hope the Holy Spirit had everything to do with it. I jumped on the word friend because it encompasses many of the words that were swimming in my head:

  • Love: I choose to love my friends and make sure they know that I love them. I choose to accept their love for me as well and delight in our friendship. I also would like to spend more time becoming friends with family members, writing letters, making phone calls, etc.
  • Laugh: my friends know how to make me laugh. About a week ago three of my friends and I celebrated New Year’s together. It started with a game of Settlers of Catan, continued with an impromptu visit to neighbors we had never met before and singing karaoke with strangers, and ended with a marvelous and insightful conversation about the past year and our hopes for the future. I have a general distaste for New Years’ Resolutions: I applaud anyone who even remembers resolutions come February. That being said, this conversation was different from typical resolution-talk. We sat in our family room and simply asked each other questions. Anyone could ask, everyone had a chance to answer. I got to laugh at many things: myself, great karaoke, and my friends. It seems we are navigating similar waters.
  • Solitude: This is certainly an “opportunity for growth.” I do not often do well with alone time. I’m getting better than I was, but I’m still not entirely comfortable with long periods of time by myself (i.e., three or more consecutive hours). One of the questions we New Years folks tackled was “What was most challenging for you this past year?” My answer was, simply: alone. I’m discovering what it means for me to be single (still working on the “and lovin’ it” part), I’m living 1,700 miles from where I grew up, and living in this new place has given me many “opportunities” (forced periods of time) in which to explore my subconscious dislike of being alone. And so, I hereby declare this a year to be friends with myself. I’m looking forward to doing the activities I like to do and I’m especially intrigued by my new interest in journaling… It helps me realize that there really are some cool thoughts, feelings and ideas happening in this head of mine, and they are worth writing down, thinking about, and reviewing from time to time.

And so, friends, my “one little word” for 2014 is friends. That, of course, includes you. Thank you for reading –whether you are my best friend from childhood or someone I have never met before, thank you. As us Woos say: “Strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet.”

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Uncategorized

My friends and I had a four hour conversation about life this New Years. The conversation was deep, light, fun, personal, and though-provoking. Here are our questions.

  1. What was the most important thing you learned this year?
  2. What was most challenging about last year?
  3. What do you look for most in a person you meet?
  4. What are you most excited about this upcoming year?
  5. What was your favorite part about last year?
  6. What’s one thing not true right now that you would like to be true by the end of 2014?

I encourage you to comment your own thought-provoking questions. I like asking them as much as I like answering them.

Questions for the New Year

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Christmas

Stony Hearts

Christmas came too fast this year. Jesus should’ve been patient to celebrate His birthday.

That’s not really true – I just wasn’t fully prepared to celebrate Christmas this year unfortunately. But it was a beautiful Christmas all the same.

A few weeks ago, in the Advent spirit, I attended an Advent service at a local church. A lady told us in a heavy spanish accent to “make our hearts the manger so that Jesus can come there.” It stuck with me.

Many people visualize Jesus born in a stable and placed in a feeding troth, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Perhaps there are some shepherds sprinkled about, or a bunch of wise men bearing gifts from afar. For some reason this is not how I picture Jesus’ birthday. I see Mary getting a little nervous, asking Joseph to stop for directions or at least for a place where she can rest. Joseph promptly finds a place, though certainly not a place he deems worthy for his bride. The place Mary and Joseph find is not a house, an inn, or even where the animals are. In my head, Mary and Joseph find a damp, dark, cold cave.

Someone once asked me “Have you ever considered that Jesus might have been born in a cave?” Ever since then, I have pondered this image (in my heart) and grown to love it. The Word of God came into the world in the crudest way. He was born. Having never witnessed a birth, I don’t know exactly what goes on but I’ve heard it’s not easy and not entirely pleasant. But that’s exactly what Jesus did: he came into the world to experience the difficulties, to go through the unpleasant (and much more).

If you, like me, feel that your heart wasn’t ready for Christmas this year (or isn’t ever ready to receive Christ), it’s okay. If you feel like your heart is not quite a warm and welcoming place, if you think your heart is more like a cold, hard stony place, it’s okay.  Jesus came to us in a damp, dark, cold cave. Dark, cold places are nothing new for the Son of God. In fact, that is exactly where Jesus chooses to go.

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