Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A New Christmas Tradition

As humans, we are really drawn to tradition and ritual.  Just look at any sporting event that follows the same form or suggest doing something DIFFERENT for Christmas with your family, and you'll see how tightly we hold to tradition.

We feel secure.  Traditions give us peace and sense that when all things change, there are still some things left that are unchanging.

One of my favorite things I did this year was start a Christmas tradition of my own.  One that can be celebrated by myself or with others, that involves singing Christmas carols, reflecting on the BEAUTIFUL artwork and quotes that CL puts out for Christmas every year, and praying in front of my Nativity scene.

I was suprised by how much I craved the silent time but am scared I will only be distracted. Having an intentional structure made the few minutes spent on Christmas Eve in prayer especially rich and filling.  I wrote out the whole "program" so I wouldn't forget about it next year, and if there are people around, I'll ask them to be part of it.  I don't do it to be formal or follow rules, but because the time I spend preparing for Christmas I want to be meaningful.

In the end, I really encourage you, especially if you're living on your own, to embrace your "extra" time of silence (during the holidays or any other time) and do something "traditional" that maybe no one else will ever know about.  It's something special you can keep between you and God to grown in relationship with Him.  More and more, I want to experience this peace and deep joy opened up for us through the birth of our Lord, Jesus.  Paying attention and facing the silence is proving to be a great start for me!

Merry Christmas to all of my blog readers out there!  I'm so grateful for your kind words and praise God that what I say can move those of you who have witnessed to it.  What a beautiful gift we have to communicate life experience to one another so we can be sustained on the path.

Need more Christmastime blogging?  Click here for past posts :)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Our father who art in....Indy??

We can all read the facts about the newly installed Archbishop to Indianapolis, Archbishop Tobin, in our newspapers, watch stories on the news, or even get Twitter updates (I mean, that's where I get most of my news anyway...)--but a personal encounter is worth more than any of these, as I found out with about 200 of my closest friends last night at the young adult Mass in downtown Indy.

The fact that Archbishop Tobin is even with us is a bit puzzling.  He's spent the last 20 years overseas working in "big whig" jobs in the Vatican, with more feathers in his hat for Vatican stuff than I can really wrap my head around.  Honestly, he seems a little overqualified to be our Shepherd.  So, honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect.  Is this guy going to be too smart for us?  Will the Midwest United States be below him or something insignificant?  (You know...we are just a "fly over" state...)

Only six days after being installed Archbishop of Indianapolis, he was celebrating Mass with the college students and young adults from all over the Archdiocese and this was the event I was privileged to be a part of last night.  This is his second time being with our age group, as he also celebrated another young adult Mass just a few days before his installation.  This is evidence, I think, of his preference for young adults--a group in the Church that is often overlooked or viewed as impulsive, noncommittal, or at best, misguided.

As I've grown in my friendships in CL as well as with the young adults in the St. John's community, I can tell you for certain that these adjectives I just used to describe young adults are definitely not the norm of the people I hang out with, and in fact, we are looking for stable, strong authorities to guide us on a path that leads to true happiness.

Our Archbishop is first in command of this authority here locally. Judging by the way Mass was celebrated last night, you could see that his presence with us was taken seriously.  We were more dressed up (I changed three times before going!), there was incense, seven servers, (and darn good looking men, might I add...but that might just have been because they looked so snazzy in their matching "altar boy" get up) and the Eucharistic prayer was sung.  The liturgy felt more like a Christmas Mass than Advent because it was so solemn--a true celebration!

Most striking was Fr. Rick kneeling in front of the Archbishop for a blessing before he went to read the Gospel.  Seeing my father and guide of our young adult community, looking to someone ELSE as his guide put into perspective again this line of obedience that we follow as believers in the Catholic Church.  The gesture of kneeling was totally beautiful and a realization of "freedom" that our society just doesn't understand.

During his homily, Archbishop Tobin spoke of finding the "quiet" of Advent, saying that "in the silence, we find our humanity."  Easy to preach, but after meeting him, I saw how he lived the silence.  Most of us at the social after Mass had an opportunity to shake the Archbishop's hand and tell him a little about ourselves.  I'm sure an others' witness is the same as mine: he had a profound calm in his eyes; he looked into your eyes when he met you (for me, it caused me to look away, actually, because I'm not used to being looked at like that!!); he asked questions about your life, your job, making any connections that he could to his own experience.

Additionally, when he met my group, as a part of Communion and Liberation, he had a lot to talk about, having lived in Italy for a number of years and having a lot of contacts with people of our Movement.  He even took the time to look at our bulletin board!  So awesome!  I think my favorite part were the Italian gestures he used in speech...which reminded me so much of all of my Italian friends! :)

One of my friends said of me after meeting the Archbishop, "Erica is totally on cloud nine right now..." I hadn't realized it at the moment, but it was SO TRUE, because when you meet someone who has been living the same history as you, and has been appointed to lead your community, you get excited! I'm so so grateful for Archbishop Tobin, his generosity, and honest interest in our lives.

I'm also so insanely proud of the Catholic young adults of Indianapolis, a group of broken people who still struggle along the path, but ultimately desire all of what is promised and know where to find it.  With the Archbishop in front of us last night, I understood more than ever how we are brothers and sisters mysteriously put on this journey together.  I can't wait to see the beauty that unfolds!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Birthdays Are Sacred

I've had a couple friends say to me, "What's so special about a birthday?  The sun is in the same position in relation to the Earth.  It's just another day to me."  or even, "I don't really like my birthday."

Especially after I celebrated my birthday this past week, I'm convinced that this statement is just so sad.  A birthday is the celebration of your existence, the start of your journey in life.  We, as a humans with life, have a rational mind.  We have desires and hopes and dreams.  We have attachments to people and places, and interests in things like foods, TV shows, music etc.  We are attracted to beauty in a variety of ways.  We possess a unique "me" and can't even explain how we got that way.

THIS FACT OF EXISTENCE makes a birthday something to really be celebrated whether you've turned three, or sixty-three.

Last week, I turned the big 2-9! It's hard to believe I'm already 29, especially considering that most of my life, I thought near thirty year-olds had it together....

I'm so grateful to my friends and family who still hold birthdays to be really sacred.  They showed this in all of the gifts, dinners, sweets, and quality time that was showered upon me in the last week and a half.  I am completely undeserving of such wonderful people in my life--and so enriched by their ability to see life as a GIFT any day of the week--not just for special occasions.

My birthday really did help me remember that God gave this life and everything I need to be fulfilled.  In my 29th year, I'm still asking for the daily reminder and probably will be until my (God willing) 92nd year.

"For God is our strength and our song," as we were reading last night in our CL meeting and I am certain that  He will be just that for me in all my days to come! "Strength" to battle the daily apathy and ignorance that bombards me and the "song" of sweetness when I find His Love.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  We have much for which to be grateful!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ain't No Rest for the Wicked: Reflection on All Saints Day

Cage the Elephant sings a little number entitled, "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," and it's always stuck in my head.  Stinkin' love this song.  A part of the refrain goes:

We can't slow down
We can't hold back, though we know we wish we could
There ain't no rest for the wicked until we close our eyes for good.

The song is tragic, really, about people and situations that are leading nowhere and how they can't find a way to change (because their hope is only in themselves and their own power).  In the end, the answer is death.  At least then, all our chaos will be over.

Juxtapose that with the Catholic feast day we celebrate today of All Saints' Day.  A beautiful celebration of life AFTER death---not as an absence of chaos, but an INDESCRIBABLE FULLNESS for the rest of time.  This day points to saints truly at REST with their Creator because life, for them, wasn't about just getting ahead of everyone else.  It was about Someone Else.  So, even in their earthly life, they had more peace than any of those "wicked" in the song.

We'd be missing the whole point, though, if this feast day didn't show us the desire to be saints ourselves.  The saints were normal people like you and me who simply said "yes" to embracing a relationship with God in the every day circumstances.  Some were killed for it and others suffered greatly (publicly or not).  But, EVEN DURING their lives, (not just when they "closed their eyes for good") they were filled with great peace.

All Saints' Day is my day to be thankful for the great wisdom of the Catholic Church and the gift that's given  by preserving the tradition of the saints.  Knowing their stories and seeing how human they actually were shows me that it's really possible to be a saint here and now. 

And here's this ARMY we have in heaven wanting that fulfillment for us!  They spend their entire day in Heaven, praying for fools like us who keep screwing up.  In my experience, when I ask the saints for prayers, I'm helped. Period.  Just like friends, we always seem to prefer a certain bunch over others.  For me, I tried to think of ten saints (I actually thought of a lot more...) who have played some kind of role in my life.  Here's what I've come up with:

1. Mary, Mother of God
            Praying the Angelus frequently has really helped me understand the power of a "yes" spoken to the proposal of God.  Mary was the most perfect of God's creatures and unblemished by sin.  My favorite place to pray is at the base of her statue in St. John's Church in downtown Indianapolis and I have offered her my pain in numerous breakups, asked her to watch over my friends, and asked her to pray for my family unceasingly.  Mary is likened to the moon because just like the moon only reflects sunlight, so she reflects God's light.  All I long for is an ounce of Mary's grace, but I'm certain she never forgets me.

2. St. Anne
            St. Anne was the mother of Mary, who offered Mary back to God immediately after she was born to do with her whatever He willed.  Praying St. Anne's novena this year was what FINALLY gave an answer to a question I'd been holding in my heart (yes, about a boy) for over ten months.  St. Anne has become a true mother to me.

3. Fr. Giussani (cause for sainthood opened this year)
           Fr. Giussani was the founder of the movement Communion and Liberation and his education has been the source of my faith life and continues to aid me in my journey.  All the good I do or say comes from his teachings and the friends I've met following this.  I had the great privilege of meeting Fr. Giussani six months before his death and the man IS a saint...whether it's ever formally recognized.  I've asked him to pray for me in situations where I felt so desperately alone, nervous about a leadership position I was in, or in thanksgiving for the awareness he brings to my daily life.

4. St. Anthony
          The finder of all lost things.  No seriously.  It's kind of eerie.  If you misplace something, pray to St. Anthony.  You'll find it within seconds.  My students and I use this method DAILY in the classroom.  You'd think St. Anthony would have better things to do than find a kid's math paper...

5. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
           I become familiar with this saint by visiting a historic site where she worked in New York.  She was a mother of five, then lost her husband and all children to various illness.  When she found herself all alone, she became a nun, founded an order of sisters, and started schools and orphanages.  As a teacher, she's my saint.  But, I mean, really?  She lost ALL of those closest to her?  It almost seems like all she lost motivated her to love God even more.  I want that zeal!

6. St. Rose of Lima
          My patron saint and the bomb diggity.  I already wrote a blog about her.  (Just click)

7. Saint Joseph
           Ditto on St. Joseph where I've already written a blog.  I will say that the statue at St. John's of St. Joseph is also incredible and I've given my desire to manipulate SEVERAL CRUSHES on boys over to St. Joseph--a true man.

8. Blessed John Paul II
            I wasn't all that interested in being Catholic when Pope John Paul II was our Pope and I feel I missed a lot of the goodness he shared in the world while he was alive.  HOWEVER, he was responsible for making Communion and Liberation official and legit for the Church.  He raised up young adults and inspired them to be priests and sisters.  My favorite priests were product of his love for our age group and an incredible number of my friends came to their faith in light of his initiatives.  I'll never calculate fully the depth of Blessed John Paul II's influence in my life.

9. St. Therese of Lisieux
           Much like Rose of Lima, my personality is almost polar opposite of St. Therese.  I'm blunt, loud and somewhat rash.  I love being social and going place to place to place.  St. Therese was a contemplative, cloistered nun and one who found daily joy in the smallest of tasks.  Especially when I see myself putting hope in something OTHER than God, I ask for her to pray for me.  I crave the peace she knew.

10. My Service Saints: St. Vincent dePaul, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St. Damien
            I volunteer about once a month for the St. Vincent dePaul Food Pantry here in town and I've enjoyed reading about St. Vincent's life and how he served the poor while preserving their dignity.
Also in light of serving others, I specifically asked for Blessed Teresa and St. Damien's intercession when working in Haiti with kids that kind of grossed me out and I was super uncomfortable being around.  If Mother Teresa could serve the dying in Calcutta and Fr. Damien the lepers on a secluded colony, why couldn't I serve our poor in Haiti?  After asking for their help, instead of seeing a couple of dirty kids, I saw Christ asking to be loved.  And yeah.  The transformation happened about that fast.

You can see ALL of my previous posts on saints/sainthood here.

"Expect a journey, not a miracle," has become a popular catch phrase in our group of CL members.  It's a reminder that life as a journey requires sanctifying work for which I have a role to play.  I'm thankful for my desire to be a saint and the Church's wisdom to put saints in front of our faces all year long as reminders of what life is MEANT to be.

Prayers for us all as we continue in this beautiful path to our lasting happiness!  The Saints are really pulling for us!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A True Father: Remembering Fr. Mac and The Reason I'm Still Catholic

A dear companion has passed away.  Father Joseph McNally, (Fr. Mac) a retired priest for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, is sharing in THE great reward after his recent battle with brain cancer.  In Fr. Rick's words from a text to me today, "Father Mac went home to heaven.  The angels welcome another saint."

When I was sharing this news with my fourth graders, since we've been praying for him for the last few weeks, I almost started tearing up right there.  It's amazing to have such emotion (especially me, who isn't all that emotional in public) over a man I haven't seen for a few years.  I can say nothing other than "Father" is the truest word for him.

Fr. Mac was our priest during my entire childhood at St. Barnabas parish on the south side of Indianapolis.  Ask any kid who went to Barnabas in those years:

1. He was always in a good mood
2. He was Irish--like REALLY Irish--and ended every Mass with the Irish Blessing.
3. His birthday was on Leap Day--which was just cool.
4.  He read "The Polar Express" as the Christmas homily every year.

My parents were involved in several committees during those years and when he called our house and I answered, he would always exclaim, "Erica!" with such delight--I can still hear it. I will always remember his smile when seeing MY face. He really lived what Jesus preached on, "Let the children come to me."  It was like I was his favorite.

He retired right about the time I went to college, so for me, St. Barnabas Parish and Fr. Mac can never be separated. (He was there 12-13 years?)

As a college student, I was hit hard with challenges to a faith I was, to be honest, pretty lukewarm about.  Being raised in a predominantly Catholic environment, no one ever questioned my faith, or the reasons for what I valued.  A lot of my life, to that point, was spent living to impress and follow the rules.

That all changed in college and I had TONS of people who not only questioned for themselves the meaning of religion, but the Catholic religion in particular.  In moments when I was losing the battle and Catholicism just didn't make any sense, I always remembered my mom and Fr. Mac and their certainty.

Were they crazy?  Were they leading me astray?  Those two were the most intelligent and faithful in my life and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they loved me and wanted my happiness.  My mom and Fr. Mac's example forced me to not just settle for what others were trying to persuade, but to go research the faith myself.  So, I did.  And, by the grace of God, here I am.  I love being Catholic.  I know it's the Truth.  I know I'm fully myself in adhering to the teachings of the Church.

But without this priest and my mom teaching us at home, I would have given up and fallen prey to the tides of popular opinion and thought.

In college, during a period of renewed love for my Catholic faith,  I wrote Fr. Mac a long letter telling him about my life and just how grateful I was for his service to me.  After that point, we wrote each other Christmas cards every year.  I'm so thankful today that I took the time to do that when I was twenty.

Into my adult life, Fr. Mac and I would have those "coincidental" meetings at some random daily Mass and he would take my left hand, see if it had a ring on it, and then say, "I want to be the priest at your wedding when you get married."  He was always very adamant about that. :)  When that day finally comes, I'm guaranteed he'll be there, just not exactly in the way I was picturing!

I'm just one of the thousands that can testify to Fr. Mac's joy and certainty in front of life.  What grace to live in such a way that you delight when you see people...you're not calculating what they might be approaching you with. You aren't already presuming what the conversation might be like. You're just simply rejoicing in the presence of another.  Fr. Mac loved Christ and Christ that came to Him in the people he served...and He wanted everyone to know God's love.

Now that I'm not a kid, I realize that Fr. Mac wasn't perfect, but what a relief that we don't have to be perfect to still point others to what is true.  I'm amazed by how God can take an unmarried childless man and make him a father.  For me, still unmarried, it gives me great hope to see what can be generated by virginity and service to God.  NOTHING is impossible for God.

We love you, Fr. Mac and I'm speaking for many when I say we can't wait to see you again!

Visitation and Funeral both at St. Barnabas.  Friday, October 12th: Vigil Service 7:30pm
Saturday, October 13th: Funeral 10am with burial and reception following.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Belated Reflections of a Godmother and Aunt

August 3rd, 2012: Garrett Matthew Heinekamp entered our world!  He was a beautiful, healthy baby with solid pair of lungs and a sweetness you couldn't get enough of!

I was so happy to be able to babysit him at two weeks old one Saturday afternoon where it was just him and I.  He never wanted to be put down, so we just chilled and watched chick flicks (sorry, buddy) while he slept on my chest all afternoon.  It. Was. Awesome.

There's something about a baby and his dependence on you that makes life so simple and beautiful.  I even was reflecting on Jesus and how He came in that little baby form--God totally helpless but eventual Savior of the World and Master of My Heart.

September 30, 2012: Garrett Matthew entered the world AGAIN, in a totally new way--wiped clean of original sin and forever chosen by God by the Sacrament of Baptism.  The Catholic Church has Sacraments as a tangible sign of an invisible grace (or at least that's what the 4th grade religion textbook says) I got a taste of that this past Sunday at Garrett's Baptism, while standing with his parents and Godfather as the Godmother.

The Rite of Baptism that was used at this ceremony was particularly beautiful, explaining the reasons for my brother and sister-in-law to choose to have Garrett baptized at such a young age and also the meaning of Godparents--as a support to the child and his parents throughout his Christian walk.

Will, Garrett, and I: Proud Godparents of a Precious Baby Boy!
At one point, the words of the prayer went something like this: "Parents and Godparents, you have agreed to raise your child in the light of Faith..."

Wait.  Back up. YOUR child?  This kid is Matt and Allison's...I just give him back when he's screaming bloody murder.  But, it very intentionally was written as "YOUR child" addressing both parents and godparents.  With God's grace and help, I saw kind of the immensity of what I was standing up and proclaiming.  First, that I myself believed in the Holy Catholic Church, my renunciation of sin, and my own personal commitment to live by God's commandments.  Moreover, I was agreeing in a solemn promise to promote the same for Garrett..whether physically or spiritually.

So naturally, I started crying...which is a little embarrassing when you're in front of everyone...

Why? I've always given God a lot of crap for not giving me a husband or a family in the time that I've wanted it.  And suddenly, I realized this was it.  My golden opportunity.  A child of my own, in a sense.  No, I'm DEFINITELY not getting up for 3 am feedings and I don't bear any responsibility for Garrett's physical needs, but something that Garrett really needs also is someone praying for him.  And in this small way, praying for Garrett blesses me abundantly in return and deepens my relationship with God.

Garrett's life and his Baptism have already taught me chapters about God's love for me.  He's inviting me to take praying for Garrett (and others in my life) seriously, because it's REAL and forms a relationship with Him. In a very minute way, God is acknowledging my heart's longing to be a mom.  Moreover, I learned that being a Godmother isn't just for the day of the Baptism--it's a lifelong commitment and one that I never want to forget!

I'm first praying prayers of Thanksgiving that Garrett has two wonderful parents who seek the best for their lives and their kids' lives.  I'm thankful for his extended family and how close most of us live by him.  I pray for Garrett's little heart, that it will always be open to God's beauty.  That God will give him lots of friends to help him along the path.  That he'll find an occupation he loves and find meaning in.  And mostly, that he will always know he's infinitely loved by God--much better than we could ever love him.

At only two months old, Garrett Matthew has truly blessed and enriched my life.  If nothing else, this is the dignity and meaning of human life.  No matter how small or how seemingly insignificant, God uses all of us as signs of something more.  I've also seen the power of Sacraments to really change you to the core.  Sure, we can see these things as simply formalities, but then, we're missing the best part!  Sacraments reveal hidden mysteries through "boring" rites, if we're paying attention.

Garrett, I'm sorry it took me two months to blog about you, my little Godson, but you were SUCH a blessing, it took me awhile to process!  Know that I've taken a daily commitment to praying for you and your  walk with God!  I love you always and will be as much a part of your life as you'll let me! :)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Boot, Scoot and Boogie: The Truth of Line Dancing

Line Dancing is a sign that I am loved by God.  There, I said it.

I have made comments before that if I could be buried underneath a dance floor of a line dancing bar, I would be happy for eternal rest.

I love line dancing.  I love doing it.  I love watching it.  I love the anticipation that rises in my heart before I walk on the floor.  I LOVE IT!

For those unfamiliar with the line dancing culture, basically, a DJ plays a song of the country variety and there is a preset, choreographed dance to it.  You walk out, and bust a move with your feet! Usually a series of steps in 8-count that simply repeat, over and over again.  Once you can see and dance the pattern, you are set for the rest of the dance! 

My line dancing history started in my college town of Evansville, IN where a group of friends went every week to the Brand 'N Iron, about as nice of a place as it sounds.  You didn't have to be 21 to go there and it was cheap, so in those days, it was perfect.  I learned all the "moves" there from very patient friends who taught me, step by step, at least 20 dances.  (I've actually never counted them up before, but I bet that's true.)

What's to Be Learned from This Cultural Event?

Lesson One: Risk
If you've never seen a line dancing bar in it's prime (not a night when there's a popular concert, but legit-hard-core line dancers), it can be a little intimidating.  You'll see couples in matching cowboy/cowgirl outfits. Masses of people dancing in unison to songs you've never heard of.  My dear high school friend put it one time, "It looks like we just walked into a musical and everyone suddenly knew what they were doing!"  When a friend who is new to line dancing steps out on the floor, I'm instantly proud.  That's half the battle and a huge risk to potentially make a total fool out of yourself.

Life is full of times when we are asked to risk our pride, our preconceptions and even face our fears.

Lesson Two: Steadfastness 

I wouldn't consider line dancing easy.  It can be frustrating when you don't see the patterns or when your feet won't do what your brain is thinking.  It's REALLY annoying when it seems like everyone on the dance floor gets it except you. However, your odds of understanding the dances increases when someone is right next to you, telling you the moves.  Over and over and over again.

There are SO MANY times in life when I just don't get it.  My only hope is that one day I will, and I stay close to the people who have the answers and the glimpse that I don't have.

Lesson Three: Obedience
(If you don't listen to said person next to you, or at least look at their feet, you'll probably fail.)

Doing something on my own without any authority feels awesome for the first millisecond that I might succeed.  Then, I look around and no one was there to share the moment with.  More often, I don't succeed on my own and I'm left alone with my helplessness.  Life is always better lived with another.

Lesson Four: Fulfillment When Working on a Common Task
Okay, so finally understanding and executing a line dance might not save the world.  But it DOES look pretty freaking cool and to be a PART of it is incredible.

Somewhere, ingrained in our natures, is the desire to do a common task with those around us--to be a part of something beautiful in a work that is edifying.  We have to follow the steps to make this happen, face our limits, and work in steadfastness, but a unity and harmony eventually comes through.

Lesson Five: Mission: The Power of Invitation

I've invited WAY more people to line dancing than I've ever invited to any kind of Church event.  First, the risk is less in my mind, because it isn't as important to me whether they like it or not.  And if you've been my friend for very long, chances are you've joined me in this adventure at least once.

But, I think my desire to invite my friends to something that I find beautiful is why we evangelize about Christ in the first place.  Sometimes, I might not fully understand this "Jesus" that I'm following, and therefore, am not as forthright in my invitations as with other things.  But for things we understand and love, inviting isn't hard.

Bottom Line:  We have a loving, merciful God who promises unity, harmony, and meaning to our work each and every day. He gives us so many people to walk that journey with us and when we are in love, we invite our friends to meet Him who we love. I pray that we are all given the eyes to see through little signs as banal as line dancing to remind us of our deeper purpose.

On a final note, yee haw, y'all.  See you on the dance floor.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Jealously Loved...A Humble Correction

Next to my computer at school, scattered through my apartment and even on my phone are lists of blog topics that I've had inspiration for writing.

My summer was more packed with events that many people might accomplish in two years.  I'm so thankful for the summer breaks I have to share with family and friends...and SHARE IT I DID!

Between taking Grandma to Edinburgh, rocking out at my friends' first paying band gig, falling in love again with CL and the Rocky Mountains, and babysitting my amazing niece, I had PLENTY to be thankful for and witness God's mercy/charity towards me.

Behind all these things, all the time, was a nagging voice, "It's not enough, Erica.  None of this is enough." And I wanted more and more and more.  More beautiful nights singing with my friends.  More lunches with friends I haven't talked to in ages.  More Zumba classes at St. John's!  But is that really what I want more of?  My summer could have lasted three more months with more trips out of town and more vacation, but would that have satiated my thirst?

Thus, my absence from this blog.  I can't pinpoint what in the hell my life is missing.  After five/six novenas, and people on the Camino praying for my vocation (thanks to all of you, btw), I still have this inclination/desire to be great, to be full, to point others to universal truths in their lives, to love without measure, etc. And I fall into the temptation of thinking that a big answer to my lifelong vocation is going to bring all of this to me! A restlessness totally exists within me, and it's uncomfortable.

This sounds dumb to me, but I couldn't even admit this restlessness in a blog post.  God forbid I let some kind of uncertainty show when I'm supposed to be "taking care of my heart."

We're educated by Fr. Giussani (founder of the Communion and Liberation movement) over and over again that this restlessness and tension exists in our hearts PRECISELY because it is there where we can reach out to God and know His saving Love.

My "mission" two years ago for this blog was to celebrate how God saves EVERY circumstance...to celebrate the surprises in my life when my heart just vibrates with the beauty He gives and when He fills life with meaning in an unexpected way.

My original blog title, "Taking Care of the Heart" in what I've learned over the summer.  My heart is more needy than I can ever wrap my head around.  It needs more love than 1,000 well-intentioned boyfriends could ever provide, and I SUCK at taking care of it.  I lack will power, energy, and courage to stand in front of this needy heart and fall all the time to stupid habits, gossip, and mediocrity that displays a paler "me" than my Creator originally designed.

And so, here I am.  With a new blog title and one that I've learned fits more with my life.  "Jealously Loved." Because without a doubt, I am jealously loved by Him.  Circumstances reveal to me that boys I love, Zumba classes I lead, and praise I get from my students' parents are NOT the answer to my heart's needs.  And so, here I am, Lord.  Needy. Once again begging you to show me the way.

Friday, August 31, 2012

An Unexpected Unity in An Unlikely Place

My blogger faithfuls!  I've truly missed writing this blog, and my absence from it has caused even more reflection...but THAT will be for the next entry.

I just wrote an article for my parish, St. John the Evangelist, in downtown Indianapolis, giving my reflections on hosting a summer Zumba class for the parishioners there, but really, the general public as well.

After having a hell of a time finding anyone who would give me space, I was graciously given the parking lot of St. John's and had a blast leading Zumba for the last three months!  What was verified about my faith journey was a complete surprise in front of a Zumba class, proving once again that God really isn't limited by anything.

Here's my little spiel..for what it's worth.

An Unexpected Unity in An Unlikely Place

St. Josemaria Escriva said, "Gluttony is the forerunner of impurity." Two years ago, this statement both shocked and convicted me a little and I started changing my eating and exercising habits almost immediately.  Joining the local YMCA, I found Zumba fitness--this hyped-up, loud, dance party that the instructors claimed was exercise.  Mixing many different movements of Latin dance and hip hop, simple, repetitive choreography was matched with popular songs and beats to make one amazing exercise routine. 

After about a year of staying committed to going to Zumba classes and losing twenty pounds, I decided to take the plunge into becoming an instructor myself--something I NEVER dreamed for myself.

Through Fr. Rick and the St. John community's gratuitous support, I have been able to offer Zumba classes in the parking lot to our parishioners every Tuesday night this summer. We sweat.  We got frustrated when we couldn't remember the moves. We may have almost passed out in the July heat. But most importantly, I discovered an unexpected unity from simply doing this task together.  Even when it was difficult and we were tired, we danced together, holding each other accountable by simply not giving up.

And isn't that our call as a community of Christians?  We stay together even when we don't like it, aren't enjoying the task at hand, or feel like giving up because we trust in the authority of the Catholic Church. We see the deeper joy of its members and want that for ourselves.  So, we keep on.  

In my interactions with the varying ages, races, and/or religions of those who participated in Zumba class this summer, I learned that the human heart longs for a place that promises fulfillment--with a community to take along on the journey.

It's a pretty amazing lesson for something as simple as an exercise class.  But, thankfully, we've been graced to acknowledge Christ in the every day routine. He truly never abandons us and is offering us real, rich happiness, no matter the size of the event.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What A Two Year Old Can Teach You About Mass and the Catholic Faith

"Erica, are you coming with us?" my two-year-old niece asked as she walked out my apartment door with my college friends.  Yep, that's Lydia off to Mass with my friends.  I wasn't planning on taking her, but she saw my friends were going and wanted to go.

Lesson One: Sometimes a little peer pressure will keep us on the right track.

"Is Jesus coming back?" she asked after the deacon left the pulpit from saying the noon Angelus.  Lydia is in a constant state of confusion on whether the priest/deacon is actually Jesus Christ himself. Maybe it was the robes?

Lesson Two: The priest absolutely is the instrument that brings Jesus to us in the Eucharist, and all other Sacraments.

Although playing with my chap-stick was a source of distraction for her at daily Mass (hey, could be worse things...), she was instantly pulled out of that when the bells rang during the Consecration part of Mass.

Lesson Three: Those bells are there for us too, to pull us out of our less visible distractions of heart and mind.

"Ooooh!  Do we get to go up there?" This was at the part of Communion.  Because her parents take her to Mass, Lydia knows pretty well what happens at this part, and she was excited to walk up to the priest.  Once there, she just stopped a stared at him for a few seconds, mouth wide open, then said, "Can I have that?" referring to the Body and Blood of Christ.

Lesson Four: The Eucharist is something to be desired and the gesture of receiving together makes us unified in grace and tangibly--so much so that those who can't partake WANT to.

(My favorite).  When she saw me genuflect upon leaving the pew, Lydia squatted down to do the same.

Lesson Five: Even when you don't understand everything, you trust and imitate those who love and care for you.

A simple day and one of the thousands of Masses happening around the world today...but Lydia's innocence brought an ever new meaning to daily Mass and following the faith.  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fortnight to Freedom

"It's a cute title with the alliteration and all...but 'Fortnight to Freedom?'...two weeks to freedom?  What's going on?"

This was my initial reaction to a Facebook invite about two weeks ago to join a group to pray for our religious liberty here in the United States.  As time goes on, however, and I've been reading more and more about this, (via Facebook, Twitter, the Criterion...Catholic News Agency...seriously, it's everywhere if you know where to look), I'm getting more into following the "Fortnight to Freedom" (see what I did right there, with the alliteration?)

Bottom line: The Fortnight to Freedom is an opportunity proposed by the United States Catholic Bishops to educate others (not just Catholics, it should be mentioned) about the value of our religious freedom and how the recent proposed healthcare mandate could infringe on this said religious freedom.

There's a novena (a prayer to be prayed every day for the duration of these two weeks leading up to July 4th) as well as daily reflections that you can find here on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

I'm seeing that this argument isn't about birth control, as I originally posted in this blog a few months back...(forgive my ignorance...although it still wasn't a bad blog post about the necessity to understanding what it means to be a woman.)

This fight isn't about being against universal healthcare...

It isn't about specific people  in the positions of making these laws become a reality...

It's a desperate cry to say, "WAKE UP!! Do you know what passing a law like this could mean for the future of religious worship in the United States?"

The increased education being provided to us from the Bishops is an attempt to teach us the deepest needs and longings of ALL human hearts (not just those of certain faith traditions) and to stand up for Truth in a society where relativism reigns.

The daily reflections have brought HUGE insight to me about what it means as a human being to seek the truth, and having the freedom to do it, both publicly and privately.  If you care for your heart, take the time to read at least one of these reflections--our dignity as human beings demands it!

The link again: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/fortnight-for-freedom-reflections.cfm

Sunday, June 10, 2012

It Takes a Village

"It takes a village to raise a child" is an old saying that we've probably all heard.  I was reminded of this saying again a few weeks ago as it appeared in my textbook.  My immediate reaction was "...child?! It takes a village to raise ME!"

For anyone who knows me, these last few weeks have been especially busy as I was closing out my sixth year of teaching at St. Susanna while also starting nine credit hours of graduate school--along with everything else I already did.

I was drowning in deadlines, trying to not let anyone else down, still be "happy and stress free," and basically manage my life...get to all of my appointments, be love and service to others, etc.

It was not pretty.  It was the last day of school and I hadn't even STARTED my report cards when they were to go out that afternoon. (My coworker picked up that slack and took my class so I could get the work done.)  I forgot to pick up the pizza for the rewards party... (the janitor covered my butt for that one.)  I submitted an assignment for grad school at 9:58pm for a 10:00pm deadline.

This last month has been a total mess.  And despite all of my thinking, "What did I do wrong?  How could I have fixed the circumstances? What could I have managed better so people aren't having to wait/work around me?" I was left with no solutions.  And I've been incredibly unhappy.

Managing your life is simply not as fun as living it.

I had forgotten everything I'd learned before--my worth, my happiness, does not come from what I achieve, who I impress, or (yes, even) if I hit deadlines on time.

My happiness comes from a fact much more obvious than that.  I exist, I was created "to be."  I exist to love, to serve, to learn, to teach....but I exist.  Which means that God who created me to exist, is still here with me now.

How merciful is God to not only give me a huge heart that craves Him so much I can't settle for anything less (hence my dissatisfaction this last month) but He gives me a village (more like a whole freakin' KINGDOM) of people to show God's love, patience and forgiveness daily.  I'm surrounded by people who love me and push me to see the truest purpose in life and God bombards me with them--even when I don't plan it.

For me, this weekend (I was with the Movement Communion and Liberation on a Spiritual Exercises Retreat) has been one of rejuvenation that I hope you see as this blog continues.  God, my Creator, came to Earth as Jesus Christ and never left it...that means that tomorrow, He'll be there, present in that village of people, educating me on how to see the beauty inherent in the "boring crap" of life.  I never again want to forget my heart and it's huge desire for Him again---but when I do, He'll rescue me again, as He does through the faces of all who surround me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Little Black Dress

Never, in the 18 month history of my blog, have I EVER written about clothing.  Accessories, shoes and the current fashions just don't interest me.  However, as I was getting ready for school last week, I had a "blogging inspiration" and hence, this post.

So, I have this black dress.  Not being a fashionista, I will try to describe it....knee-length, sleeve-less, kind of cinched on the side.  Simply put, a black dress. Definitely modest.  Definitely slimming.  And definitely a sweet deal.  I got it for $10.00 at  Target when I was a senior in high school.  Yep, 10 years ago.

This dress is like those jeans in "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."  It always fits.  It never wrinkles.  It never fades.  And it's appropriate with any occasion.  A day at school.  Weddings.  Funerals.  Parent Nights.  Bachelorette Parties.  I've never tried it at Zumba, but I'd bet it would work there too....

Getting ready for school last week, I realized that I LOVE this dress.  I wear it all the time.  People must forget because I always get compliments on it.  They ask, "Did you lose weight?" and "Where did you get that?" EVERY SINGLE TIME.  Seriously, I've had this thing for ten years!!!

But after going to Haiti, I've found clothing matters very little to me.  (I mean, it should be clean and in nice repair...and maybe don't wear navy blue with black...)  However, if my apartment were to go up in flames, I would miss this dress...big time.


Before labeling myself as a shallow, typical female, maybe there's more behind the passion for my black dress.  God created all of us worthy of praise, beautiful in His Image, and yearning for comfort, security, and love.  When I'm wearing that dress, I'm at peace.  I'm comfortable in my own skin.  I'm getting compliments from people.  It makes reasonable sense that I cling to this dress.

Thankfully, I've been given an education (first from my parents, then from my community of friends) that our need for affirmation, comfort and security doesn't stop at the clothes we wear.  It doesn't depend on what others say, or even how I'm feeling that day.  I don't use clothes as a method to gain confidence or make myself feel better.

You and I are ALWAYS beautiful and ALWAYS worthy of praise, simply because He made us.  We have a God who wants to shower us with gifts and teach us to live securely in His Love.  Bizarrely enough, He used my black dress to remind me of this daily truth.

So, if I do lose everything I own (because seriously, that's the ONLY way I'm stopping wearing this dress), the grandeur of my beauty still remains!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cleaner Water, Happier Lives

What if you had to shower in your animals' waste?

Then, reuse that water to wash your clothes?

Then, drink it?

This is a daily reality in the villages in Haiti where I have visited.  It's unjust that our brothers and sisters having to drink literally "crappy" water.  And it's time we did something about it.

Saturday night, I went to a benefit for Haiti at my parish here in Indianapolis whose goal was to raise $5,000 to provide a water purification system for the village of Mole, Haiti...the village where we have a sister parish (St. Nicolas) with St. John's AND the place where I spent a week last May for mission work.

Missy, Scott, and Steve along the bank of river in Bassin-Bleu, Haiti.
Rivers in Haiti are typically used for bathing, waste disposal, washing animals, cars, and clothes, and for DRINKING WATER!
Speaking as a person who has seen it, drinking water quality is the major determinant of a suffering village to a thriving one.

But hope is here!  Using creativity and genius that only God could have blessed him with, Bill Farrar developed a system that purifies water quickly, simply and in a way that villages can self-maintain once it's installed.  Using simple table salt and a 12 volt battery, this water purification system can sanitize water making it healthy for drinking for a village of 5,000 people!  He's installed water purifiers all over the world (and took my friend Joe with him to Haiti last year!) and has created a non-profit organization called "Fountains of Hope."


The great news: We reached our goal of $5,000 and will be able to give Mole, Haiti the water purification system they have asked for.  Additional expenses include providing a storage shed for this purifier so it can stay protected and last for the decade it's designed to.

If you would like to help our project through St. John's to St. Nicolas and the town of Mole, Haiti, you can offer a donation to St. John's and write "H2O for Haiti" in the check memo line.

You can also donate online to Fountains of Hope so that your gift will help the countless villages around the world who suffer from lack of proper drinking water.  Really, this is a no-brainer cause to support.  I'm amazed at what God gives us right at our fingertips to help those in need.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Happy Birthday to my Lydie Bug!

How could you NOT love this little face?

Thank you, God, for Lydia Rose!  Being an aunt is just a really cool, fun gift that causes me to love a child to a deeper level than a student.  You know, Lord, more than I do, how much Lydia has taught me in her short life.  Her surprise, constant questioning, and undeniable need reminds me of how You created us.  Help me, and all her family, to love her for what you've made her to be and to always want her happiness before our own.

Guide and protect her in her journey through life and help her to constantly seek You in all she does!


Monday, April 16, 2012

In His Own Time and Space

So, I'm tempted to say I did not have a profound Easter season like last year.  I mean, check out these Easter blog posts from last year...I couldn't even keep it all in one!

Holy Thursday

Good Friday

Holy Saturday

It has definitely been true in my life that I do not control when I'm really "moved" by something.  In fact, the sheer unexpectedness and surprises of life are the supreme indication that we are not the Masters of our reality.  For this I am grateful.  In something I just read, it pointed out how the surprises in life are "our salvation."

So, this Lent has been a begging: "Lord, I want to see your face.  I'm not even sure what your face looks like or how long it's been, but I want to see your face and be certain that it's you."

This has been a really humbling move for me, because I lead a lot of things and people often look to me for advice, certainty, insight into who God is and it's been a little scary to say, "I don't know."

This question, "God, who are You?" has been a new starting point for me and has given me life again.  It's making me a desperate seeker of truth and certainty that I can't talk myself out of.  I'm reading my texts from Fr. Giussani with more attention, I value my time with others and try to talk about things that really matter...I'm soaking it up in opportunities to visit others, make myself available even if it's a risk of time away from home, my chores, etc.  I'm really being honest with God in prayer..."This is what I want, Lord, show me.  Mary, take care of me."

I look back to my last year's posts on Easter and think, "Man, I really missed something this year."  But even that statement presumes that I have some mountaintop experience on a certain day.  Instead, He comes when we least expect it.

Like in Cincinnati when, with friends, we decided to go to Mass on Saturday night at this dinky Church, hoping for a "quickie" so we could get on to the other evening's activities, when we were HIT with the Presence of this priest.  A Chinese man who was so full of life you had to be dead to not see it.  He spoke of never stopping the questions that arise in our hearts--to be the doubting Thomas--to not fake certainty.  Here's a guy who came out of Communist China to be a Chinese priest.  I mean, he's either crazy or Jesus is real.

And as I'm looking down this row of friends in Cincinnati with me, all different ages, different professions and interests, but we are linked by something.  So much so that all weekend people asked me, "Who are you guys?  How do you know each other?"  And honestly, we are linked in our search for truth.  That's it.  But it's a deeper link than most have with anyone.

This unexpected event has jumpstarted my week.  I came home last night aching to pray and wrote my prayer in a poem...which I've never done in my life, but kind of liked. (I'm thinking about posting it, but we'll see..)  I was already late for work, but I HAD to pray the morning prayer today...it was the only adequate response to my heart that wants to see Christ again like I saw Him in that priest.

I've spent a good chunk of my morning trying to find some contact information for this priest in Cincinnati because I want to tell him what keeps all my questions alive, why I keep coming to Church and the place where truth is never taken for granted.  He knows too that it's in the Catholic Church and for me specifically, it's in my education with Communion and Liberation (or CL) which I write about a lot too!  The Blog About CL

I'm so grateful to have had Mass on Saturday and to be up against this extraordinary man.  If nothing else, seeing him reminded me again that we can't plan for God to move us.  He just does.  I live today with renewed hope that He'll come again and I'm holding the question, "Where are You?" as the most important of my day.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What Wonderwall, Pear Trees, a KLOVE Song, and Jesus All Have In Common

(Editor Note: This was SUPPOSED to publish on March 21st, but didn't...Secret's out--I schedule my posts!  Haha.  Oh, well.  It's still a beautiful reflection to share even if it's three weeks late!)

A lot of things were working together on Sunday morning when I awoke.  First, I read something in my Lenten reflections about Jesus fully knowing our humanity--its fraility, its ability to be easily distracted and persuaded, its limitedness--and HE STILL chose to die on a cross for us.  Because He knew us better than we knew ourselves.

Second, I was thinking of two friends from my college days who, when we get together, always play the song by Oasis, "Wonderwall" on the guitar for me when we are together.  It's not a secret amongst people who really know me how much I love this song.  What's moving is that these two guys don't even ask, "Erica, what's your request?" anymore.  They just go into it, with this smirk on their face saying, "When's she gonna figure out that I'm playing the song she loves?"  I, of course when I hear the first few chords, smile, whoop, cheer, whatever, and am left in awe of their selflessness in front of me.

Third, there's this song on KLOVE called "Something Beautiful" by the group Need to Breathe that's really amazing.  One of the lines in the refrain is "...this is my desire, consume me like a fire, because I just want something beautiful to touch me..."  It's a song about begging for something beautiful to reach him in the day--because his heart can't take it if there's no beauty there.

So, it took me beholding these beautiful PEAR TREES on my parents' street Sunday afternoon to link all of these three seemingly random thoughts together.  But, I turn the corner into my parents' housing development and BAM...trees in full bloom.  Totally gorgeous.  Taking my breath away.  Song "Something Beautiful" is playing on the radio.  And BAM.  It hits me again...God was just WAITING for me to figure out that this was all just part of His little gift today.

God as Jesus Christ, knows our humanity better than anyone else.  This means He knows the crappy ways we fail, but He ALSO knows all the things/ways we delight.  I didn't wake up Sunday thinking, "Wow, I can't wait to see blooming trees today!" But God gave it anyway because He knew I'd love it.  Much like my college pals Josh and Dave playing "Wonderwall" for me even when I don't ask.

And the reward for God?  My smile, my cheering, my heart leaping!  (Pretty much the same reasons the guys play songs for me....)  It's amazing to think that my smile, my praise could bring so much joy...

How many times a day do I miss the little gifts that God is waiting with upraised eyebrows saying, "When's she going to see what I'm giving her?"  And just like a determined child, God continues to pour them on...not getting mad and giving up...but persistently helping me drown in His beauty.

Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Joseph's Day: A Tribute to Men

I've always felt for St. Joseph.  He was stuck in the house with two literally PERFECT people--Jesus and Mary.  How could you ever compete with that?

Throughout my life, I've asked St. Joseph to pray for me because I've felt like he had a deeper understanding than I have of what it means to perfectly love, even when you don't necessarily get all the glory.  He served Jesus and Mary with his entire self...while not being Jesus' actual dad and having a sinless wife.  Wow.

I was super excited when www.praymorenovenas.com asked to start a St. Joseph novena ten days ago.  A novena is just a prayer you say for nine days in a row, asking a saint for prayers.  You can add your own personal intentions as well.  Praying this novena allowed me to really reflect on husbands, fathers, and just guys in general...(lucky me...haha) and it was soooo good for me to place all my deep desires for a good, holy husband at the core of this novena.

St. Joseph is a model of purity, charity, and holiness for all of us--particularly men that they could have the grace to live as St. Joseph did.  But I think for girls too, it helps us understand the traits we want in a husband and future daddy of our kids. 

Everyone knows I love guys.  Especially "deadly" are the guys who have real passion and talent for a sport, art, or intellectual area of study.  As I get older, I'm understanding that my attraction to their passion is because in front of their "trade" those guys really come alive--are truly what they were created to be.

St. Joseph truly came alive in following God's will--as all men do when they really follow.  He took care of Mary and raised Jesus not because it was a rule to follow--but because it was here that he knew he had ultimate Happiness.  As I was praying my novena this week, I prayed for lots of men in my life..my dad, grandfathers, and godfather.  New daddies like my brother and close friends.  Priests and seminarians.  Husbands-to-be and those who are dating seriously.  And all those single men who are still trying to find their way.

Thank you, God, in your Infinite Wisdom, for giving us St. Joseph to follow as a model of what it means to come alive while obeying Your authority.  He exemplifies selfless love and preserves the dignity of families. Listen to St. Joseph as he prays for my future husband and my discernment in finding him! :)  AMEN!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Just Face It...

Although I may not know a lot about it, I love the technology we have.  I'm really new to these Apple products, but I won an Ipod Touch in a raffle and now I can't get enough.  I can't wait for the summer so I can learn to use my interactive white board.  It's awesome that my students are using laptops in my classroom to blog. It's totally amazing that through Skype you can see and talk to a loved one thousands of miles away instantly.

What's hard for me to justify, however, is when I use technology to hide.  I'll send an email instead of actually talk out an issue with a friend.  I'll text someone saying I can't go to a party or appointment because I know it would hurt their feelings to tell them to their face.

In an exchange with a friend and then a conversation with a parent of one of my 4th graders just these past few days, it proves again that communication would be SOOOO much better if it was face to face.  A lot less confusion, hurt and headache.  Now, we don't always have those luxuries, especially with those that live far away, but I catch myself choosing the "easier" option all the time.

The real kicker here is that I do it in my prayer life too.  Instead of just asking a hard question in prayer--something I really want, like the husband question, or if I'm a good leader, am I good teacher, etc.-- I feel more guilty that the question even comes up at all and so I try to hide in my myriad of activities or "self-improvement" plans so that maybe I can answer these questions myself OR they'll just go away.

My knock back to reality happened this past Saturday with a Lenten Retreat that CL offers to our communities every year.  The entire theme of the retreat was taking us back to what we, as humans, really need from life and asking, "What will save me of these intense desires?"  Not "save" as in reduce or take away, but "save" as in fulfill, or actually realize.  Christianity claims Christ saves these needs.  But not only does He save us, He FASCINATES us while saving us--so that we'll stay.

And here's where the light bulb hit.  Fascinate.  When in the last two weeks had I been fascinated?  I wasn't even looking for that!  In fact, I am really, really bored.  Sure, I do a lot of things that are really cool--I'm a Zumba instructor.  I'm an elementary school teacher. I have some pretty wild and crazy friends.  But none of this matters if you're not looking into the FACE of who is giving you those gifts.  And they're being given to you so that you're fascinated...inspired, moved.

A friend in Thailand serving the Peace Corps just said in his blog, "I was waiting to blog about something interesting that happened and then I realized, it had been happening all the time."

Right then and there on Saturday, I was honest with God.  "Lord, I'm bored." (which has a nice rhyme now that I'm typing that.)  "Save me from this boredom." and even that recognition, facing God with that heartfelt prayer, gave a freedom I hadn't felt in weeks. I was finally saying, "God, I don't have it all together.  I don't see all your glory in my daily life and yes, I'm supposed to be leading tons of people to see that too and I can't even do it myself.  Help me."

The retreat reminded me that being authentic to ourselves is the most attractive of ways to live.  My authenticity with myself, the people around me, and God is sometimes severely lacking because I'd like to believe I have all the answers.  I'd like to believe I can fix your problems and I'd like to believe that I could fix my own.

To make life more interesting and to not be bored anymore, I have to admit that I'm lacking some of this!  I'm full of need and my core of humanity needs a FACE. More face time instead of screen time.  It's here where we really grow to understand the FACE of Jesus.  Not an email.  Not a text.  But, His real face.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Top Ten Ways to Miss Out on Great Friendship

At a young age, we start discerning who we do and don't want to be friends with based on experiences of our past or preconceptions from family, TV, movies and the general culture.  Some things are helpful (I don't want a friend who does drugs...) others are not as helpful...(I won't be friends with someone who doesn't have the most modern cell phone.)
Being asked to give a talk for the local university's Catholic Student Organization about "virtuous friendship" got me thinking about some of these "unhelpful" things we say to ourselves about who we can or can't be friends with and share parts of our life with.  In the end, these ten things might be helping you miss out on a great confidant and friend.

1. Loving your friends as things and your possession.
2. Judging someone on a first impression.
3. Thinking that people have to be your same age, have same interests, live in the same place or be single (insert married if you are married, in college, working etc.) for you to get along.
4. Friends have to be people who agree with you.
5. Friends having to be "Church" people or never making any mistakes.
6. Using your friends as an ego-boost.
7. Keeping your friends in their separate circles.
8. Holding grudges for past hurts done by that friend.
9. Thinking that since you are only in a place for a certain length of time, friendship is probably not possible.
10. Friends go stale, so we need to always be making new friends to keep it fresh.

I could say a lot about each of these topics (and I did at Monday night's CSO meeting..haha) but in the end, the question that arises is, "What is the criteria for a true friendship?"  I think, through experience, I've come to learn the the only necessary criteria is that both parties are open to the truth and want you to discover the best version of yourself--the person you were created to be.  These two parties would fight their whole lives for this discovery and rejoice unselfishly for one another when it's found.  There can be nothing greater than companions on a path to ultimate greatness.

So, with this post, I'm so thankful for the endless faces of friends I've had through the years, have currently and will have in the future.  God's face is an ever-changing Mystery, but He's always been present in a community who loves me and is showing me the way to true happiness.  My prayer is that all people can love and be loved in this way!

Monday, February 13, 2012

What St. Valentine REALLY Wants You to Know...

Just doing a quick search on the history of St. Valentine on the internet, it's actually disputed if there is only one St. Valentine...there may be two! :)  At any rate, St. Valentine (one of them) was associated at the patron of love and happy marriages because he (a priest) was caught sneaking performing marriages to Christians.

But his martyrdom was based in more than that:  He had the chutzpah to try to convert the Emperor of his time--and THEN was condemned to death.  (I mean, he had to see it coming, right?)

So, as we are approaching this Valentine's Day, what does St. Valentine (or any saint for that matter) really hope for us still here on Earth?  

The problem with Valentine's Day is not what it celebrates--love is an amazing, powerful reality that causes lives to change.  Every human person craves love--to give it and receive it.  But we have the tendency to truncate what love looks like (for me, ESPECIALLY on Valentine's Day) by our definition of love--a certain expectation of someone else, a measure of a particular gift or gesture. That if we don't get that one thing or one person...life is crap.  Love continues to be a great Mystery--enough that poets, songwriters and playwrights have used as a muse for centuries.  Love's power in our lives is too big to be reduced as we reduce it.

I remember a very wise man telling me, after I suffered a really, really hard break up, that no guy could fill my heart.  "In fact, Erica, a 100 guys couldn't fill your heart."

This comment really made me want to understand my heart the way this guy did.  What did he see in me that I didn't...because honestly, I was pretty sure THAT guy who just dumped me COULD fill my heart! :)

More and more each day, I see he's right.  And more and more each day, I find a deeper love present in my daily reality than any one human being could have to offer that also transcends to the relationships with my family, my friends, my coworkers, etc.  It was with THAT love that St. Valentine courageously asked the Emperor to convert to Christianity--because St. Valentine knew not only what his heart needed--but that Christ was the answer!

This Valentine's Day, let's ask St. Valentine to really reveal the deepest nature of our hearts, so that we can live open to what satisfies it!

So Happy Valentine's Day!  Like every day, may it be an opportunity for us to accept Love and show Love to all we meet on February 14th!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Women's Rights: The Answer Isn't Birth Control

For me, it all started with the statement made by the Susan G. Komen Foundation when they retracted their plans to quit funding Planned Parenthood with the statement, "We apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives..."

My heart sank...

I was confused why, if the Foundation wasn't funding Planned Parenthood, that meant they weren't committed to saving women's lives.  How was Planned Parenthood saving or helping my life?  Planned Parenthood helps you do just that--plan your parenthood.  They do this by providing contraception, abortions, or other procedures to prevent pregnancy.  However, as Christopher West states in his book Good News About Sex and Marriage "...contraception was not invented to prevent pregnancy.  There already existed a perfectly safe, infallibly reliable way of doing that; it's called abstinence.  Upon deeper reflection, it becomes clear that contraception was invented to indulge sexual instinct."

That's not to say that all people who use birth control are sex-crazed loons.  Please!  We've been raised in a culture that tells us that to be responsible to society is to use birth control, or after you've had enough kids, get a vasectomy.  Just take care of the problem, you know?  We see it in our movies, magazines, TV shows, and now United States law....

The newest mandate about the new health care laws (making ALL the headlines these days) require providing women with birth control and other contraceptives as "preventative services for women."  The other services on HHS’s list seek to prevent serious disease – breast cancer, lung cancer, AIDS.

We've been told that babies are a hardship, a disease.  Male and female's power to create life is a force to be stunted.  But, come on.  Life is not a disease.  My capacity to create life and nurture life in my womb is not a problem.  You don't take medicine when you aren't sick, and my fertility is not a limitation that needs prevention.

Way back in 1951, Fulton Sheen wrote in his book Three to Get Married that "A wife who had a young tree planted in her garden would not go out each night with a scissors and cut off each new branch that might grow upon the root.  She knows it is normal for a tree to sprout branches..."  But we want to control when the "branches" sprout.  It's a "woman's right" to have that control of her body.

But look at how we live.  We seek to control EVERYTHING...our jobs, our friends, our family members, our security, etc. How many times have we been WRONG in situations?  ...we thought we had control of something and didn't OR it didn't go our way and actually turned out for the better?  Daily life is a constant reminder that we aren't in control.  Every day in front of fourth graders is a reminder I can't control life.  Contraception, too, is an illusion...we're in control, but really, we're afraid of what sex is--what it could lead to.

I've heard on several news reports that what's at risk are women's rights: "If I can't control this part of my body, and my future, I'm doomed or I can't succeed in the world domineered by men."  Christopher West again speaks directly to this in his same book, "Contraception is actually opposed to women's equality.  It seeks to turn her into someone God didn't make her to be--that is, the kind of person who can have sex without getting pregnant--in order to be 'equal' (read 'the same as') men."

Sex and its openness to creating life are inseparable--that's the whole point.  There is a 100% way to assure ourselves of not getting pregnant which is to not have sex.

But this requires another kind of control almost scarier than birth control--SELF-control.  And not being married, I have no room to talk on this abstinence during marriage thing.  I'm VERY sure it's falls into the category of "easier said than done."  But, I could talk about not being married and wanting to have sex!!! :)  In all seriousness, I do have the experience of withholding from something I wanted so badly I thought I couldn't make it, and I did!  The happiness and freedom in that moment!  That I didn't become slave to my passions/desires!  Talk about my right as a woman!  My right is to be truly free!

I know plenty of couples who are married without using contraception who inspire me to live in a way that reduces nothing of my truest womanhood.  If you want more information on responsibly planning a family that is still open to life in every way, see http://nfpandmore.org/ or I can refer you to a friend who advises couples specifically on this! 

In the end, our rights as women aren't realized by taking something that reduces the greatest gift that makes us women.  It's time to live life without the brakes and see what beauty becomes of it.

*Reason for this specific blog post:  I'm a 28 year old girl living in the humble state of Indiana...but through this blog, I guess I do have a little voice.  Mother Teresa encouraged us to do our best with the little corner of the world we have, and this might very well be mine! I wanted to respond in some way to all the news I've been hearing lately and the attacks on the Church's views on human sexuality.  I hope that people in our world can see the fullness of their humanity without reducing it in any kind of fear!  To truly LIVE TO THE FULLEST has always been what this blog (and my life) is about.

**There is plenty of literature on this topic of contraception, specifically the reasons behind why the Church teaches what it does.  You can find the books I've referenced, or find something on your own to answer your questions. Also, this site is pretty full of stuff to read! http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/catholic-teaching/

***More information on the latest government laws that would require all health care plans to provide funds for contraception: 
Bishop Dolan's Address

(We run the risk of saying, "Well, the Catholics believe that, and it's okay for them, but I need this!"  In the end, the Catholic Church promotes a universal truth whose fruit lies in its moral opposition to contraception--and its proposal of life is for all, not just those who take "Catholic" as their religious faith.)

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.  Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him we humbly pray and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Hosts, but the power of God, cast into Hell, Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Year of Zumba!!

The official date I started Zumba was January 22nd (I only know that because I joined the YMCA the same day.)  so I'm a little behind on the one year anniversary, but I had to dedicate at least one post to this newest (most surprising) hobby of mine.  I don't exactly like to exercise, but I know it's good for me.  But I LOVE to dance..enough to do it in my free time.  So, I found a mixture of both!

Zumba is defined as a Latin-dance fitness class that uses Latin rhythms and beats as its base music and movements also inspired from that culture.  You sweat.  A lot. You smile.  Usually.  And it hurts.  All the time.

I've had a lot of fun trying to make my own dances, but find that I'm actually probably a better follower than a choreographer...and end up learning my moves from the DVDs the Zumba Network sends me (pretty sweet, huh?)

I figure like most fashion trends, Zumba has only a short life...but we live in the present, so why not lose some weight, have fun, and DANCE??!!

I've also seen this activity bring great unity to my staff at St. Susanna, as we have class together two times a week.  It's a gift to be able to get together in a way that ISN'T about test scores, logistics of running a school, or to complain.  We're trying to lead healthier lives while trusting each other to look RIDICULOUS doing the dance moves that we do! :)

So, whether this little hobby continues for a year or twenty years, at least I can say I've experienced Latin dance in its most interesting of moments!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Encounter in New York

I spent three days in New York City without leaving the block of 33rd (or was it 34th St.?) and 8th Ave (or was it 7th?).  I didn't wave furiously behind any talk show windows.  I didn't even see Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty.  Yet, I can say, I didn't miss a thing.

Not that those "tourist attractions" aren't fine and dandy, but for me, my reality led me elsewhere: to the New Yorker Hotel and Manhattan Center (both on the same city block) for three days of lessons, exhibits and cultural performances.  I saw folk dancing from five unique countries, heard a presentation on the American painter, William Congdon, toured exhibits on the White Rose and John Henry Newman, and attended an awesome concert that toured through the roots of American music: blues, jazz, and rock and roll.

My weekend was explicitly a challenge to embrace reality with the positive hypothesis that it was PERFECT FOR ME.  And I fought that a lot--I had to be at meetings when my friends could sleep in...I had to volunteer when others could chat, etc.  But when I really obeyed, I saw with super-clarity that in this place with these people--the co-ordinators of the event are from the Movement Communion and Liberation--the infinite needs of my heart are taken seriously.

So, I could have gone to tour around New York City by myself, but, instead, I stayed to test this hypothesis of reality being positive.  Is reality positive?  How do you know?  I heard this over and over and continue to keep that question alive while I'm here in Indianapolis?  Is reality against me?  Or is there Someone who knows my name and is so Present in my life I can't avoid Him for much longer?

I'm so unbelievably grateful for the witnesses in my life who show me the simplicity of following Christ--just allow yourself to be surprised and allow yourself to be moved.  It is here, that we discover, not only our truest humanity, but the Beloved!  I'm not perfect at this recognition, nor do I have all the answers, but I do know that I'm on the path.

Another blog post about the New York Encounter from Fr. Alex Zenthoefer of the Diocese of Evansville:  http://fralexz.blogspot.com/2012/01/true-encounter-in-big-apple.html

Click below to see a small sampling of Fr. Carron's address to us about Fr. Giussani's book, At the Origin of the Christian Claim.  If you look VERY closely, you will see me in the audience! :)

What is Christianity?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Acceptance of Adulthood

I woke up at 7am yesterday (a Saturday...yet another point in what I'm about to say) with a "food hangover." For those unfamiliar with the term, a food hangover is when you feel like crap because of all the crap you ate the day or night before.  Symptoms of food hangovers are grogginess, belly ache, other intestinal issues I would prefer to not mention here, dry mouth, and lack of appetite.

As I was cursing myself for eating McDonald's french fries at 1 am on Friday night, I got reflecting...

"This NEVER happened to me when I was younger..."

In my naive younger years, food hangovers didn't exist.  The only hangover I had was from drinking too much.  I'm finding that food hangovers are almost as bad as the "real" ones.

Here are some other things I found myself thinking this fateful Saturday morning at 7am:

"I can't drink caffeine late at night either..."

"I said to my students this week, 'You don't know what a cassette player is?' "

"That high school kid at Kroger called me 'Ma'am' this week..."

"My favorite Christmas presents weren't toys are even gadgets or electronics.  They were home decor and appliances!"

"I'd rather go home than go to Broad Ripple."

"A lot more of my sentences are starting....'When I was in college..." lately."

"Lowe's is becoming the new Claire's.  I can't get out of there with just one thing!"

"I have more Baptisms to attend this year than weddings!!"

"I have to actually think about how to manage my weight....argh."

I'm in a weird place in life because I'm not old---gray hair, wrinkles, and gastro-intestinal issues are still a bit on the horizon (let's hope!)  But I'm definitely moving out of that "YOUNG adult" spectrum and just into adult.  It's crazy to look from the outside at yourself and see just how much you are changing...

But life goes on...and things change.  Instead of lamenting what I DON'T have anymore, I celebrate what I do!  I instruct Zumba classes.  I host dinner parties.  I OWN MY OWN CAR!  I have a budget.  I manage my own classroom.  I'm kind of an adult that has been given much responsibility.  I just hope God knows what He's doing! :)

I'm going to butcher this Bible verse, but the one that says, "May Christ complete the good work He has started in us..." comes to mind.  During my adult years, may God continue to work the miracles in and around me that He's already done in my first 28 years of life!  It's definitely an exciting adventure!

So, even if I'm still getting zits, like Disney movies (just watched Enchanted last night), and call my mom when I'm sick, I'm definitely NOT a kid anymore.  So here's to buying my own acne medicine, making sure the movies I watch are over by 10:30 so I can go to bed, and calling the doctor myself when I need it.  Adulthood is here whether I think I'm ready or not.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rebel Pride on Christmas Break

I remember being 10 and praying with all my might that my mom wouldn't send me to Roncalli High School. I had been raised in the public school system and my parents were deciding on whether or not to transfer us to Catholic school.  It was scary.  It was new.  And those kids were weird.

Despite my prayers, God didn't listen and I found myself at St. Barnabas for sixth grade and Roncalli High School until my senior year.  In His infinite wisdom, I've been blessed with more great people from my high school days than I deserve and this Christmas break highlighted that fact yet again.

A few times a month, I eat dinner with seven or eight friends from high school who made a conscious decision to stay together about three years ago.  We rotate the cooking/hosting responsibilities and it's been a really great thing for me to do.  It says a lot if you can continue on friendships that have been around for 15 years--and 15 years of MAJOR life changes. 

Last Wednesday, I had lunch with the "Post Girls" four girls who shared the same position as me on the basketball team.  We grew into great friends and even after the season and into college, I continued to meet with Warner, Knoll, Weber and Frank (okay, those are last names: Kara, Jessica, Anna and Erin in the grown up world...haha) for dinners and conversation.  Ten years later, Kara is pregnant (YAY), Erin is engaged, and Anna and Jess are finishing up school.  (they were the young ones)  I'm so blessed to have had them as teammates and now life-long friends.

Friday was the last of my Rebel-filled surprises with coffee with the Trulocks!  Pat was a close friend from high school and someone who was always incredibly real with me.  He and his wife Megan are a beautiful married couple who really understand what it means to be happy and joyful with the simple things of life.  I could tell from just observing them that they are not only spouses, but best friends and that's something that I wish for myself one day!

I've learned through these high school friends that you aren't friends with someone because of what they have accomplished, what they do for you (or vice versa), or even interests or topics you hold in common. A friendship is possible with ANYone simply because it's a humanity that binds us.   Like I said, when you see 15 years of history with some of these people, you start to understand that there is something a lot more lasting that binds you besides some high school memories or dumb hobby.

I've so enjoyed seeing my high school friends grow into the young adults they are now and learning their new quirks, interests and dreams for the future.  Although I kind of hate to use the expression, "Proud to be a Rebel...." I AM proud of my friends, how they desire the good of one another, and how they stay loyal to those they've been given.