Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fear of Work (Insert whatever activity forces you to give up free time)

These questions have been popping into my mind as my Christmas break comes closer and closer to an end:

How will I stay this reflective?  How will I continue to pray like I have been?  How will I stay on top of keeping my house in order? How, when I feel like my life is spinning out of control, will I be able to pinpoint SO FAST the trigger? What's going to happen to me when I have to go back to being super busy all the time?

Then, as always God saves the day!  (In He comes, flying with a cape like a super hero) This line is what I read from my "Prayer for Beginners" book today: "God designed us to be animals (rational animals), not angels.  He put us into a material world, and he put into our nature the need for many kinds of material actions, such as eating, sleeping, begetting and working.  He could not possibly have designed these things to be distractions and obstacles to our santification, but only means to it, for he designed everything to be a means to that end.  Therefore, we can pray even in working (not just as we work); we can make our works prayers.  How do we make our works prayer? Not by changing our work (unless our work is sinful or shoddy or dishonest or lazy), but by changing our motive.  Instead of peeling potatoes because we want to taste them, we peel them because we love God and the God who wants us to peel potatoes right now."

So, for today, A DAY OFF, is not really a day off from loving God.  Now, instead of trying to preserve all my free time because I only have "so much" left. I go live!  In about an hour, I'll leave my house and not be back until midnight....because these things are what God is asking me to do today.  And these events will in fact lead me closer to becoming a saint if I let them!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

All I Want For Christmas

Let's get the popular ones out of the way...

From Christmas carols/movies:
1. Hippopotamus
2. You (whoever "you" might be that year)
3. My Two Front Teeth
4. A Red Rider Action Rifle

When somone asked me this week, "What do you want for Christmas, Erica?" I responded "a husband."  Which was a joke.  I think.  But, it got me thinking....what do I really want?  Now, the following list is somewhat silly and serious.  I hope you can tell the difference in the items I mention.  In making this list I also know and believe that there is a faithful God who knows WAY better than I do what's good for me.  And He gives me everything I need TODAY. 

But, just for funsies, here's my Christmas List for 2010:

In no particular order....

1. A husband...let's just say it.
2. My grandma's hamloaf
3. Snow
4. Midnight Mass Incense
5. An automatic starter for my car
6. Hearing Jess sing "Mary Did You Know?"
7. Mistletoe (wink wink)
8. Another trip to Haiti
9. Snow Boots
10. No more divorce... ESPECIALLY for the parents of my students!
11. Cable TV
12. That I could actually witness (without fear) how much Christ means for everyone's life.
13. Trip to San Diego in the middle of February
14. Massage
15. That family divisions could be healed.
16. An adventure in Rome
17. Kissing my niece's cheeks!
18. Losing ten pounds! (Gotta lay off the Christmas goodies for that to happen!)
19.  Higher salaries for hard working teachers....less for professional athletes.
20.  To know Christ more fully each and every day!

(Last time I made a wish list like this, things started happening!  We will see...)

May God bless you and the ones you love with more than you could EVER dream up or wish for!




Thursday, December 23, 2010

Decorations Beyond the Tree....

So, it's December 23rd.  I have no Christmas decorations up in my house except the Christmas cards I've received and some ornaments my students made me.  But, yet, I feel more prepared for Christmas than ever before.  So, what happened?  How did I "decorate" or get ready for Christmas?

1. Attended an advent retreat and a few talks on prayer (for the Advent Season)
2. Went to confession at least twice....maybe more, I can't remember!
3. Started reading that book on prayer and learning more about how to pray...and then actually practicing.
4. DECKED OUT my classroom for the Advent Season....
5. Followed an advent calendar and Jesse Tree with my students
6. Lead the prayer services at school
7. Went to spiritual direction with Fr. Rick
8. Prayed the Christmas Novena (still working on it)
9. Daily reading of reflections in an Advent Guide

I am blessed.  Why?

1. Because I had so many opportunities to grow in these past four weeks, God gave me the time and I never made a plan.
2. Because my job encourages/requires me to do Advent activities with my students which in fact, leads to my own growth.
3. I have friends who do these things with me.
4. I have a priest who truly cares for me and will never let me stray!
5. Because despite whatever I can list of all the "spiritual activities" that I've done in the last four weeks...my heart grows so that I want MORE. 
6. This "wanting more" is going to continue to save me from myself (spending too much time on the internet, seeking unhealthy relationships,  not taking care of my body, etc.)
7. This "wanting more" has an answer and His name is Jesus Christ and his Church.  This is the ONLY place I've found satisfaction.

So, hopefully, when I'm with people this Christmas they will see the "decorated" me.  (Ha, I'm imagining myself with lights, tinsel, popcorn, the whole bit!)  My prayer is that they will see me for the light I carry within that's been ignited once again with Advent and its Christmas preparations.  And may my eyes be opened to the complexities and beautiful simplicities of those in front of me as well.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Friday, December 17, 2010

O Come Let Us Adore Him

My new book on prayer is really helping me!  (See Reading List) First off, it goes right into saying that simply reading ABOUT prayer isn't actually praying.  How simple of a statement, yet how often this is how I justify my prayer time.  What I love about this book is that the chapters are short, so you can practice what is talked about afterwards....

Anyway, last night's reading really hit home for me.  It talked about WHAT to pray for or what to say.  It uses an acronym: RAPT (Repent, Adore, Petition, Thank...) and suggests that the crux of your prayer should be on adoring because this is something that is limitless--since God is limitless.  Right away, I thought to myself, "Adore God?  I don't even know what that means!"  So, obviously, I spend little to no time on this step.

So, after I was done reading the chapter, I started "trying" it out with adoring.  Okay, if I'm with someone I love, how do I "adore" them?  Compliments, staring lovingly, serving them, spending time with them, etc.  So, I started with the compliments part...because that's really all it took....giving God a compliment.

I started thinking about a moment in my day yesterday when my class and I were all singing at the top of our lungs during the spelling test.  (Yes, sometimes this happens because the only sentences I can think of for the specific spelling word are song lyrics.)   The time we spend singing together in my fourth grade room are numerous and beautiful.  I've never had a group of kids who love to sing and dance as much as these guys. 

So, back to my prayer...I thought to myself, "God, you are so awesome for giving me children with such enthusiasm for life...their smiles, their joy, their unique likes and dislikes...and for giving us the gift of music that makes us happy together..."  just daydreaming about how God creates us so pure and innocent and yet super complex and mysterious all at the same time.  And in this moment, sitting on my couch in my living room, I started to laugh!  Not bust-a-gut laugh, but giggle...like I was being tickled from the inside of my stomach.  It was weird, I'm not going to lie.  One of those freaky moments where you think to yourself, "What is going on here?"

I've read about this before where saints were given the gift of laughter, where they would be laughing uncontrollably in prayer...I'm not exactly saying that this is what that was...but I was definitely amused and there was NO ONE else in the room.  Well, God's Presence.

And whack! It hit me...Prayer is real.  Have I ever really known this before? It's not something I do to make myself feel better or apply to my life like medicine or a magic trick.  I need it...as tangibly as a drink of water, food or companionship.  And I can ADORE the Lord about ANYTHING..my adoration/wonder topics are endless: people, the path my life has taken and how God has rescued me in so many instances, the Mysteries of the Church, nature, etc.  All those wonderful things only He created that I could never be smart enough to dream up.

Thinking up all these topics got me fired up a little bit, because my prayer could be interesting, exciting---not just a chore like I always have treated it.  As time passes, I will be able to speak more on this, hopefully.  For now, I'm in wonder of my giggles during a "serious" time of a prayer and what that means for life!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Given Everything You Need....

Thursday night, after a significant amount of moaning, I had a friend remind me that "you have everything you need every day."

I used to know this fact.  I used to reflect on it all the time--ESPECIALLY when things in life were not going my way.  It was in that time about six months ago (when I was really desperate for love from God) that He would surprise me in incredible ways--things that took care of my heart that I couldn't have even fathomed for myself.  The blessings were showered and in abundance.

Fast forward to six months, where I'm more "stable" and life's circumstances have changed.  My job makes me tired and I have to work very hard in my first year in this new grade level.  I'm dating a guy who loves differently than me, and who has a completely different schedule than my own.  Unlike this summer, where I was able to spend a lot of time reflecting about myself and praying, I don't have that free time during the school year.  So, I don't pray because I'm talking myself out of it!

But, "I have everything I need right now."  What does that mean?  Again.  Even though I thought I already knew this.  What does it mean that I can be happy in my job that feels so demanding?  In front of this guy who it might not end up working out with? (whatever that means....because a lot of things work, even if the expected outcome doesn't happen) How do I have all the prayer time that I need when I feel so strapped for time?

Little by little, God is re-educating me through my circumstances about what this means.  First, He gave me a book from Fr. Rick called "Prayer for Beginners" by Peter Kreeft.  In the fifth chapter, it gives a method for prayer that is SO SIMPLE, you can do it any minute of the day.  You STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN to God in that present moment.  For a minute, thirty seconds, but you just rest in Him.  Inevitably for me, I usually remember what's at the heart of that situation when I stop, look and listen.  For example, on Friday, in the middle of a semi-stressful field trip with fourth graders, I stopped (right there in the middle of the statehouse!) and was practicing the presence of God.  Suddenly, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, I saw my students as these Infinite beings hungry for knowledge and love.  It made more sense to be attentive to their endless questions and excitement because through ME they will understand how God comes through reality. I just have to say "yes" to being present to my kiddos!

One of the most beautiful lines in that chapter by Peter Kreeft is, "A good way to act out our acceptance [of Christ dying for us] would be to stop reading this book and pray for at least one minute.  Will you give God one minute?...Are you finished?  Don't read another word until you are. Now, ask God to help you do that again and again for the rest of your life." pg. 36-37

I can't help but get chills thinking about all the times my personal relationship with God can grow in these little one minute "breaks." (which, by the way, are not breaks at all because it's the ONLY time I can truly see reality for what it is....)
I know this post is getting a little long, but I wanted to also share the Scripture for Mass on Friday as well---proving that God was really trying to push home this "you have everything you need" business on to me that day.  The first reading was from Isaiah 48: 17-19

"Thus says the Lord, your redeemer
the Holy One of Israel:
I, the Lord, your God,
teach you what is for your good,
and lead you on the way you should go.
If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea..."

If I still wasn't listening, here was the Psalm response:

"Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life." (Psalm One)

The Lord teaches me the ways that are good and leads me on the way I should go.  I truly do have everything I need THIS day and always.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My First Post of December!

Okay, so I haven't made an original post in awhile...meaning something that isn't a link or what I copied off the internet.

Truth be told, I've been kind of "blah" about life lately.  I'm simply existing.  I'm managing my life fairly well (or so I think) and have actually managed to "plan" everything out.  I became what happens in the utopia in my favorite book, The Giver.  I created my own world where I felt no pain, loneliness or sadness.  On the flip side, you also lose the happiness, joy, excitement in life too because suffering and joy go hand in hand.

Thankfully, God's always looking out for you.  He created me with a heart that LONGS for Him and so I can't stay in this place of consistency for very long.  Throughout the last week, I've had several "wake-up" calls as I'd say it from reality begging me to let go of my plans and live life with my eyes wide open.

First and foremost, it is the beautiful season of Advent in my Church tradition.  Advent is four weeks of preparation before Christmas designed to be a time of prayer and service as a way to purify your heart for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.  My classroom is DECKED OUT this year for the celebration of Advent--there's no way my students could say they don't know what time of year it is or what Advent means for our lives at school.

However, it's amazing to me that those things don't always necessarily carry over into my personal life.  I found myself in the last month getting kind of lazy and not taking great care of myself.  I'm gaining weight, not going to bed on time, complaining about my job more, not making prayer a priority, etc.  I can't really find the cause, other than it was something very subtle because I didn't even see a problem with the way I was living until a week ago!

Well, a few events pulled me out of this crap I was "satisfied" with and made life a little harder.  But with these hardships, as Fr. Rick has said to me, can come great fruit.  And it's ringing true again.

The first BIGGIE "change your ways event" was something I can't really talk about on a blog!  Argh.  But, I will say this: I let a friend down in a HUGE way.  Huge to the point that it even amazed myself that I could act the way I did.  Has this ever happened to anyone else where in the moment you see yourself doing something and inside you're screaming....NOOOO, STOP!...but for some reason, (usually a selfish one) you don't??

Something like this happened in the past week to me to the point that I really had to stop and evaluate (again) what exactly I'm doing with my life.  How am I using the gifts God has given me?  How am I treating God's creatures and the people He puts in my life?  Would I be having such a hard time if I prayed once in awhile?  Why have I not felt sadness in three weeks?  Why have I not been giddy with excitement in two?  What's going on?

Since I started asking those questions (to myself, my friends and most importantly, God) amazing opportunities have been given to me to get to work on this conversion that I just realized I desire. 

1. Advent things EVERYWHERE: Prayer services, special talks, discussion groups, personal devotions, etc.  Having prayer time with my class at school, learning about the Old Testament with them, etc.  Being responsible for the prayer services my school is putting on (which, after complaining about it, am realizing that it's just what God uses to save me...not burden me.)

2. School of Community with CL.  OF COURSE these weeks would be filled with discussions on the meaning of suffering and sacrifice and OF COURSE there would be readings on my vocation as a child of God.  No coincidences in life, my friends.

3. The witness of a friend: I saw a friend this past weekend who lost 50 pounds just by paying attention to what he was eating and exercising 30 min a day.  It seemed simple enough, yet, for me, taking care of my body has really fallen to the waste side.  So, I'm on it!  I'm counting calories, I'm trying to find time to exercise and just, in general, I'm finding motivation to praise God with the body He's given me by not treating it like crap.

4. Friends.  If you don't have friends that you can talk about life seriously with (to the point that they tell you things you may not want to hear about yourself) you are missing out!   God has blessed me with some of the best friends, not because they do everything right all the time, but because deep down , they want to never stop desiring the best that life has to offer in the TRUEST way.  The best is watching (and living with them) as they deal with the dramas of life to see how they react.  I have friends who drive their patients home after work and friends who drive across the country to move someone out of their house.  Friends who say, "I'm not doing this for you because you have to learn it yourself." Friends who make dinner for each other every week.  Friends who live their hardships with bosses, coworkers, family members, or even personal health saying, "Christ, come to me in this place.  Show me your face."  For this "safety net" of support, I am truly grateful.  Because I can't imagine slipping through the cracks with these friendships that God makes possible for me.

In ALL of this.....God is the reason.  He orchestrates all of these things to show me the beauty of the life I have and challenges me to really live---not just micro-manage so nothing hurts.  In this past week I've seen myself asking more questions of my vocation, being more patient with my students' infinite questions, and trying to look at those I interact daily with a newness and freshness...because like I've been made new in seven days...It's possible they have been too!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Random Acts of Culture

I want to be hit with a random act of culture before I die!  This video made me tear up at my desk today! :) 

I hope you enjoy!
Happy last day of November!  Let our hearts get ready for the coming of Christ!

http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2010/11/awesome-pop-up-hallelujah-chorus-at.html#comment-form

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving Post

BE THANKFUL...

  • that you don't already have everything you desire.  If you did, what would there be to look forward to?
  • when you don't know something, for it gives you the opportunity to learn.
  • for the difficult times.  During those times, you grow!
  • for your limitations.  Because they give you opportunites for improvement.
  • for each new challenge.  Because it will build strength and character.
  • for your mistakes.  They will teach you valuable lessons.
  • when you're tired and weary.  Because it means you've made a difference.
It is easy to be thankful for the good things.  A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.  Find a way to be thankful for your troubles.

(Oh and P.S. I completely did not make this up...It's one of those email forwards...but I've had it since 2007 and it was in my Thanksgiving files at school...I figured with the kind of year I've had, these words couldn't be more true!  I am so thankful for persevering through challenges, hardships and being given so much grace to see joy in any circumstance!  Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Birthday: The Morning After

This is what I wrote in my very first post about the purpose of having a blog: "It's about looking at the origin of our being...who/what we were actually created for and what characteristics all of us share.  For example, my heart is made up of need for beauty, for truth, justice, love and belonging, etc.  Without these, a part of me feels dried up, empty or unsatisfied.  And so, this blog is going to be experiences, musings, sharings based on where I saw the needs of my heart explode and start asking again."

Now, it's with great humility that I admit that not all of these moments that really made my heart explode are ones that give you the warm fuzzies.  In fact, some experiences are just down right ugly BUT in what I am about to share I started asking/evaluating again that question, "What am I truly made for?"  THIS makes the event "blog-worthy."

Hands down, my birthday should have completely fulfilled me.  I had quality time with friends and family doing things that I LOVE (eating, dancing, singing, etc.).  People made special sacrifices to be with me like being uncomfortable line dancing because they didn't know the steps or leaving their baby with a sitter for the first time.  My sister and other college friends travelled long distances to see my face on my birthday.  And for this, my heart really, really swells with a deep sense of gratitude and knowledge that I could never repay the goodness that was done for me those days.

Then enter the mistake of getting swept up in the party for myself--people are happy to buy me drinks and I'm happy to take them--and before you know it, I have lost the meaning of why I'm with friends and family in the first place and what this means for the big picture of my life.  I got selfish and for those events of a few hours--and the poor witness I was to my friends--I am very ashamed.

I didn't TRULY thank those around me for being with me.  I missed valuable conversation and moments.  I was a mess of a person and had to live with myself the morning after...scandalized that someone (me) who is so involved with the Catholic Church, a teacher, a leader in the community could be such an IDIOT.

But, being Catholic is the coolest thing to be because there are graces offered to us all the time when we choose to accept them.  Although it was really difficult to do because I was still so embarrassed by my behavior, I went to Confession the next night and found God's infinite love and mercy again and a hope to begin again.  I've apologized to certain friends and am really trying to abolish this myth that just because it's your "birthday" you are allowed to do anything you feel like.

The truth is that sometimes doing anything we feel like does not lead to ultimate happiness.  In my experiences, I have found that the times when I am most selfless and simple are the times that I am happiest. The opportunity for simplicity and selflessness was there on my birthday night. (because the presence of alcohol and dancing are not the problem--I am the problem!)

So, I get up and move on because I can't erase my past.  Instead, I seek conversion ever more fully wanting to understand more who is this "Christ" who says that NOTHING will fulfill you except Him.  I was pointed again in my inner longing to something beyond myself and even what my friends can provide for me.  My moral life stems from this love for Christ in the people and situations around me.  So, I need an increase in knowledge that Christ is really here and that He really does save my nothingness.  So, in my love for Him, I do the right thing.  Our greatest falls might in fact be the greatest opportunities for conversion.  I'm already seeing my change of heart in just the past few days.  I'm curious to see where it takes me!

Friday, November 12, 2010

You Know You're a Teacher When...

We hear that being a teacher is not just a job, but a vocation.  This is true in MANY ways, but four things specifically happened yesterday that made me laugh...

I Know I'm A Teacher When...

1.  I can "hold it" for eight hours or more

2. I take my papers to grade into the eyebrow threading place.

3.  I'm making chocolate pudding at eleven o'clock at night for my students' "Fun Friday" activity.

4. Instead of saying that one of my friend's was sick, I said he was "absent."  Haha.

I plan to add more to this list as things naturally occur.  It won't take long.

To any soon-to-be teachers out there, be ready for that classroom of kids to be a HUGE part of your daily life.  And for master teachers, don't be upset with yourself or think you're life is "out of balance" when it does.  You are just a GOOD teacher!

MORE OBSERVATIONS
5. You also grade papers at the dentist's office and occasionally miss time with friends to do this.

6. Refer to them as "my kids" on a quite daily basis.

7. I see my students awake more than their parents seem them.

8. My mood affects their mood.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Six Months Since Haiti

What is God asking me to do with my experiences in Haiti?

Six months ago (today, in fact) I was busily packing my bags, making a week's worth of lesson plans for my substitute, and stressing about this trip to a third world country where I had no idea what to expect.  My St. Susanna community, lifelong friends and family had all backed me with more financial support than I ever thought possible.  The students at St. Susanna donated Tshirts to the Haitian children and I even received old backpacks and suitcases to take my stuff in so I could leave it all there!

Despite everyone else's excitement, I remember feeling confused...and a feeling that actually still sticks today.  Why me?  What can someone so limited in life experience (especially world travel) and limited in vision to "save the world" (really, this just doesn't interest me...maybe I'm too selfish...) really do for the Haitian people?

I still don't have an answer for myself, but I can sense that my heart has been opened.  There's a little crack of compassion and personal sense of responsibility for the people of Haiti.  So much so, that I cried when I heard about the cholera outbreak.  Thinking, "Really, God?  Haven't they suffered enough?"

And this crack of compassion that is in my heart HAS to find an answer somewhere...

Will it be another trip to Haiti?  Would it be a longer stay there?  Am I going to be a missionary teacher?  Will I raise funds and send OTHERS to this country?  Will my mark even be made in Haiti, but elsewhere?  Regardless,  I know that my experiences over six months ago in Haiti still get me thinking, "What was all that about?"  These people suffer.  I raised money for them.  I met them.  I shared my experience.  Does it just stop?  That doesn't seem right.

Like I said, I'm not much of a visionary myself OR really ambitious for that matter...so I can hardly see myself writing up grant proposals or talking with the United Nations for some solutions on the Haitians water supply.  Some people's gifts are there.  In fact, a few of my friends from the May mission trip are already doing things similar to this.

My "style" and the way that God gets me is through invitation.  When will He invite me to be part of this third world journey again?  I know it's coming; I just don't know when.  Until then, I live my life right here, right now, as a middle-class suburban teacher as a missionary.  By my understanding of God's love in my life, I'm helping my 4th grade students understand what it means to love others--even their "enemies."  God asks me to live in REAL relationships with my family and friends where we are constantly correcting one another, fighting, but also joyfully giving and loving.  There's hardly anything selfish about my life here in the United States and as long as I'm always focused on the true source of life's happiness, I can't stray from the overall plan for my life.

So, Lord, if you want me back in Haiti, show me.  I'll be here doing my other work that you have so graciously blessed.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Those Things That Surprise You

A surprise helps us to remember that we don't create the reality which we live in....

Good or bad, surprises are your wake up call that YOU don't (and can't) control your own life.  I've had so many surprises hit me in the last week, that I thought I'd share a few.  Some are really good and others are bad, but ALL point to the fact that there's a deeper Mystery about life that we just can't comprehend.

For me, I'm saved from being slave to all these surprises (good or bad...because being slave to a good surprise is just as horrific) when I realize that the One who gives them loves me and He's here to walk with me to my greatest possibility of happiness. My hope is that I can help others to that certainty while growing in my own as well.

Top Ten Surprises to Erica's Week (in no particular order)

1. My shower drain clogged AND the shower head sprayed water EVERYWHERE all on the same day.  A Monday, of course.
2. Your brain can actually grow new brain cells. (There's hope for all of us!)
3. A dear friend blogged about my blog in a tremendous affirmation.
4. One of my fourth grade student's homes burned to the ground.  All are safe, but they have nothing.
5. Parent Teacher Conferences are just as awkward for the parent as the teacher and generally, the parents are on your side.
6. A deeper sense of who someone is can be revealed in their Halloween costumes.
7. We had four new (or returning from a long "vacation") people to CL on Tuesday night.
8. Heather was at Caitlin's Halloween Party and I haven't seen her in what felt like years!
9. My sister had some crap handed to her in life and I have to let her live it!
10. A man is stepping up to the plate and risking dating me.  God help us.  Quite literally. (and with THAT comes about 20 more surprises I would never blog about....haha)

Quite a list for one week, eh?  Since it is the Feast of All Saints, I feel like it could be mentioned that saints were nothing spectacular except that they lived the circumstances they were given in extraordinary ways.  There are saints who had jobs, were married, had temptations, sufferings, etc. but they followed God with unwavering faith, despite the SURPRISES. 

Lord, may I truly desire to be a saint...because I think that's the only real thing I have to do--make the commitment to be one!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Who Truly Looks at You?

Christ's gaze.  You know it when you see it.  It's that intense look people give you that is so filled with love, your heart melts.  And it's not in the romantic sense.  I remember in college when I started looking for Christ's gaze, that I first found it (or Him??) in an old man who was a volunteer for the Red Cross.  It's a look that shakes you, but more so, makes you see that there really is Good in the world--something to live for.

We are reading a section in my weekly CL meetings about loving yourself the way that God loves you, not by the false expectations we put on ourselves.  And the only way you can know how God loves you is through that look of Christ that we get from others in our daily lives.

I was trying to prepare for this meeting and asked myself, "Who looks at me this way?  For all my faults, my betrayals, but also with profound honor and respect?  Who sees me for what I was really made for, not necessarily only based on my efforts?"

Incredibly, a long list of people came to mind:  Fr. Rick, my spiritual direction and priest at St. John's the Evangelist, downtown who, no matter how busy he is, always makes time for me.  My mom who I'm sure I've betrayed more than I even know and who I come crying to often (even when I make stupid decisions.)  My closest friends in CL here in Indianapolis: Caitlin, Ali, David, Davide, but even those who are in different states; Chris, Roland, Monik, Fedi, people who really see the greatness that we were all made for. 

But what I'm going to say this week at SofC actually came in my reality yesterday when I was cleaning my apartment and found an address for a friend, Julia, who is now a sister at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Queens, NY.  We are trying to get together a package of notes and letters for her, since she isn't really allowed contact with anyone, and I've been trying to write her one all week!

So, I finally started writing this note and through it, realized the immense impact that she has had on my life.  Julia, now Sister Gemma, was a classmate of mine at USI in my first day of classes my freshman year.  Although she was an introvert, I am not and we started talking, found out we were both Catholic and she invited me to go to Mass with her.  I always hear of stories where college students are having a really hard time finding people who share similar interests and values as them--for me, this was never the struggle.  It was simply as easy as meeting her.

Over time, Julia and I developed a close friendship.  She was the first person my age who I could see really loved her faith, but not at the expense of herself--her interests, her personality.  She had hilarious quirks, and was still striving for holiness.  Until that point, religious people were "weird" or unattainable to have friendship with...Julia was cool!!!

As probably most Catholics who leave their Catholic bubble and go to a public university, I really struggled with questions of why the Church did certain things and why we believed what we did.  I even was part of a Christian group who challenged that even further.  However, Julia's friendship (along with my mom, and priests from my childhood) saved me.  She was someone I could ask questions to and if she didn't know the answer, she looked it up!  She recommended books, invited me into friendship with other Catholics who lived like her and was just simply herself.  Julia is the most unassuming, humble girl you'll ever meet.  And with my pride, this characteristic is simply refreshing!

All in all, my own commitment to the Catholic faith came in that freshman year with the help of her example and friendship.  The "ripple effect" of that friendship has lasted seven years of being in Communion and Liberation and leading several of the small groups at the university level and now in Indianapolis.  It has contributed to my love of Mass and the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  I can't imagine what kind of girl I would be without her and I was so thankful that we got to share two years of school together!

Now, life continues.  With the memory of the way Julia looked at me, I can have mercy on myself and others.  I was so happy to be reminded of the miracle of our friendship yesterday through writing her that note (that actually turned into a little bit of a letter!)  May God continue to bless my life with these characters that always make me move with joy!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"God's Grandeur"

A poem read to me by a dear friend in a time of need:

GOD'S GRANDEUR by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the gradeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and share man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can a foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

To Be A Friend

In the Pope's recent cannonization of Cardinal Newman, he called all followers of Christ to a deeper conversion, so there is no longer any separation between our beliefs and our actions.

Fr. Carron, leader of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation, also says that conversion has a clear goal: more life and more love.  Conversion is always wanting more of the good.  And it's something we cannot do on our own.  God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us friends to help along with this conversion.

But, sometimes, in my insecurities, I feel a little like I'm always the one getting the help from my friends, but I don't really point them to a deeper conversion.  Usually, because I'm just so stinking worried about myself.  I'm responsible (in a way) for my friends and their adherence to what life is asking of them and for them not to betray their hearts.  Do I ever do this?  Do I ever love in such a way?

Sunday night, after I read these things about conversion, I started to panic a little. CRAP!  I'm not a good friend...I don't show my friends  anything about what it means to truly live!  And probably, somewhere deep in my brain, I started analyzing what I was going to do to make this better.  Start sending emails?  Inviting people over for dinner?  How was I going to pay attention to the conversion of my friends?

But God caught me before I could even make a project!  (and projects are not helpful anyway if they didn't happen to you first)  Monday I received an email from a dear friend who loves her heart and lives with great clarity expressing a desire to start School of Community (the meeting of the movement Communion and Liberation) with a group of mothers she meets with weekly.

She was asking me for advice.  Why?  A great question!  This lady has been in CL since practically before birth and knows the human heart so well!  Why was she asking me?  Practically speaking, I had just taken the risk of starting a School of Community at my parish--which, by God's grace has really been fruitful.  But I was moved that she asked me for help on how to get started.

And I realized that what it meant to be a true friend was precisely this...RESPONDING to my friend's needs.  In whatever limited capacity I can give it.  God was giving me the opportunity to be responsible for one of my friends...In that moment, and by responding to her with my experiences and sharing with her some emails I had drafted, I found that I was being a true friend.  Helping her along the journey.  Because none of us is ever so aware of reality that we don't need help.  May I always remember that I am absolutely dependent...just like this woman who I think should "know all the answers" was showing she was dependent.  By acknowledging our limitedness, it is THEN that we can experience conversion!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

There HAS to be more to life....

It was last Wednesday when I really thought to myself, "Geez, I should really be blogging."  Two events that day had brought me to tears and both had to do with life on this Earth as being temporary.

First, was the realization that a dear friend of mine had passed away.  Now, when I say "dear," mind you, I didn't even know this man's name.  He and his wife would come to St. Susanna daily Mass with me and had been for a few years.  They were a beautiful couple because the love between them was so evident.  He had a hard time getting around and would lean on her, almost totally, for support getting up the aisle for Communion.  Still, the sacrifice and mutual respect they gave each other was such a profound witness for my life.  One of those feelings where  you want to be married because you want it to be like THAT.  These two people had a great faith--attending daily Mass and receiving the Sacraments often.  It was obvious to me that they knew they could not love each other alone.  They were dependent upon him.  For the past year and a half, I had not seen "my favorite couple" at Mass, and I tried not to think about why.  Maybe it was too cold and the weather was bad, making it impossible for them to attend Mass.  But as the seasons changed, I knew that wasn't the case.

Just last Wednesday, I saw the wife in Church--alone.  "Maybe he's just sick.." I said to myself.  Until I saw others at the Mass consoling her at the Sign of Peace.  Bummer.  He's gone.  And I started to cry--quite unexpectedly because I usually don't feel things like this.  I cried because I would never see the beautiful married witness again.  I cried for the pain she must be feeling of losing a lifelong companion.  I just cried.

My second experience of death this past Wednesday was quite different.  It involved a teenager.  One I had taught as a 7th grader my first year of teaching.  Now, as a sixteen-year-old. I found out he was in the hospital after an alleged suicide attempt and was on life support and not expected to live.  (In fact, he died Friday.)  This boy had some troubles.  He was a challenging student in that he wasn't very interested in learning and was hard to motivate academically.  He had severe mood swings and at times, preferred to just be by himself.  Despite his family's attempts to make him a happy boy at peace with life, it seemed that he had a hard time finding his place--and was violent towards the world and those who loved him most.

If you read the paper and see the news reports about this boy's dramatic death, you would think he is no more than a criminal.  A troubled teen who was in and out of juvenile detention centers, reeking havoc on his community.  But I saw something MUCH different in that 7th grade boy that was in my class.  This was the kid who when his class was planning a surprise birthday party for me (their teacher) suggested they act like he got sent to the principal's office for something, so that I would have to leave the room and take care of it.  I remember that day, the principal (fake) yelling at him while he's smirking and I'm thinking, "What?? Why are you smirking? This is serious!"  When all along, he was in on the surprise.

I can remember (and I still have) the yellow piece of scrap paper I found on my desk one day with the exact time AND location for a soccer game he was playing this evening...just in case I decided to show up.  Oh, and don't forget his parents' cell phone numbers too.  In case I got lost. 

What was going on inside his head those last few hours of his life I may never know.  What I do know is that this kid had a heart that longed for the same things I do--he wanted to know he was loved, he wanted justice (boy, did he ever) and for some reason, despite everyone's efforts to give him that (because he was NOT a neglected child) it never satisfied him and his life ended in desperation. 

When I found out he was in the hospital, I asked all my friends to start praying for this sixteen year old.  Asking God for his mercy and love to just cover him up in his last hours of life.  The only comfort I am given is knowing that God is all-knowing and all-loving and if I've seen events that make this kid a kid--not a convict--then I know God sees it too.  After all, Jesus came for the sinners.  Not the righteous. 

So, for me, these two events of deaths: the elderly man from St. Susanna's Mass and my sixteen-year-old student, although very different in circumstance, are no different at the core of the event.  Death points to something more.  Why?  Because I can't live my life with meaning if it all just ends in death anyway.  No matter what I do, who I love, the accomplishments I make.  If it ends in death, who cares?

For me, life is positivity...it's hope.  Why?  Because Christ came for the man at St. Susanna's and my student who committed suicide...and has the ability to actually save them from death.  My hope and prayer is that both are seeing the eternal light, happiness and peace of God's grace in heaven.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Purpose of A Blog?

So, I'm a busy girl.  Why should I do this whole blogging thing? For one, it's an experiment...placed in front of me by a webinar I took this month about making classroom blogs for my students.  Since I've never actually done this, I figured I would take some time to educate myself before I got carried away with it in front of my students!

Also, I don't want this to be a waste of my time...or anyone who reads it's waste of time either.  So, I really want this blog to be about issues concerning the heart.  What's the "heart" you ask?  It's more than just our emotions, feelings, opinions or even preferences.  It's about looking at the origin of our being...who/what we were actually created for and what characteristics all of us share.  For example, my heart is made up of need for beauty, for truth, justice, love and belonging, etc.  Without these, a part of me feels dried up, empty or unsatisfied.  And so, this blog is going to be experiences, musings, sharings based on where I saw the needs of my heart explode and start asking again. 

Asking for what?  FULFILLMENT!  But is that even possible?  Can we really find what our hearts long for?  I continue to verify in my life that I have met a Man who says that yes, this is possible.  And by letting Him lead my life, I am actually able to experience more joy and peace than I ever have on my own.

I hope that blog can bring me clarity, joy, and greater verification that Jesus Christ is risen and living in our world.