Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Curse of the Planners

Ever since I can remember, I have been a planner.  When a person loves making lists and has always been taught to be goal-motivated, I think it is impossible for him to escape developing such a habit.  From the smallest things to the biggest ones, I have a tendency to try to plan everything.  In many ways, this is a good thing.  After all, my plan to go to college motivated me to work hard in school and my plan to become an author led me to start writing online.  But there is one major drawback to being a person who likes to control and plan every major aspect of her life in advance: I have an incredibly hard time surrendering to God and His Providence.

As one of the few students who always dreaded group projects because it meant I could not be in charge of every aspect of my assignment, allowing another person to direct anything for me is a struggle.  Along the way my problems with stress and anxiety have made it very clear to those around me that though I might have a strong faith, I have much to learn about surrendering and trusting God completely.  I remember my Dad challenging me once while I was having yet another breakdown over college decisions, saying that if I was that worried about this that I was trying too hard to figure it out, and that I needed to reexamine my relationship with God.  In song lyrics, magazine articles, radio shows, and books I kept hearing about this process of surrendering everything to God, and the more stressed I became, the more the concept of not worrying anymore appealed to me.  Finally I asked my spiritual director how I could begin this process, and stop worrying so much.  He baffled me by laughing and responding simply with, "Just don't!".  Initially I was frustrated.  I was hoping for a step-by-step process, a how-to list, a plan.  But instead I received an impossible direction- to stop worrying.  Thinking that it would be of no use and that I would be able to call him in a month to tell him his advice was meaningless and that he needed to elaborate, I decided to put it to the test, and when I felt myself feeling overly-anxious about something, to simply try to stop.  This proved to not only be exceptionally difficult, but also incredibly perfect (irritatingly enough). 

Slowly but surely I learned to catch myself in the midst of stressful times and mentally slap myself out of it.  I started using phrases like "God-willing" or "I'll have to wait and see".  When I was tempted to give up or to convince myself that worrying was just something I did naturally and couldn't be helped, Gary Zimak's reminder that the quest to end anxiety is a daily struggle that must be fought saved me from giving up, and helped me revisit the challenge, though begrudgingly at first. And though I still have far to go in the process, I have found that just stopping and asking myself, "Why are you worrying so much about this and trying so hard to solve this on your own when God already has it handled?", has not only saved me many a headache, but also led me to discover the joy of living in the now.  As Christ asks His followers in Matthew's Gospel, "And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? [...] Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day," (Matt 6: 27, 34). 

So as these last weeks at home fly by, and I find myself tempted to worry about the future- how I'll survive without my family, how they'll survive without me, how I'll balance everything without being overwhelmed, or how I'm going to fit all my clothes into my tiny dorm closet- the words of Audrey Assad's song, "Everything is Yours", keep coming in my head, and I'm trying very hard to pray along with her, telling God that "If everything is yours, if everything is yours, if everything is yours, I'm letting it go, no- it was never mine to hold."

Though I'm finding that this is much easier said than done, I know that He will help me find a way.  And though I don't think I'll ever be entirely free of this cross, I hope that God will lead me to use this struggle as a way to find grace, instead of as a way to fall from it.

May God bless all the fellow worriers out there, and may I leave you with a prayer that my Mom gave me many years ago- a prayer that has continually helped me along the way:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Trying to Take it All In...

As my last days at home fly by and I try to take in every moment spent with my family before going off to college, this Chesterton quote comes to mind.  If only I could learn how to love and appreciate things to that extent before losing them!  For my college readers- what helped make leaving easier, and what helped ease the pain of homesickness once you all were away?
Hope everyone is having a blessed Sunday!  God bless!
Image from the American Chesterton Society.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Not Alone: Who I Am

This post is a couple weeks behind; for my take on the current topic, "Is it possible to be 'just friends' with a guy", follow the link over to IgnitumToday.

To continue with the insightful "Not Alone" series, being hosted by the lovely ladies over at "Follow and Believe", it is time to answer the "big question".  Who am I?  Is my identity found in guys, in my surroundings, my friends, my possessions, or in something greater than that?  When I am all alone and in silence, what is left- in other words, who am I at the very center of my being?

Though at first glance the topic may not seem to fit the series, in all actuality it is vital to it.  If young ladies never take time to define themselves without a guy, waiting on that future husband to help them shape who they are, they will never be strong enough to be in a relationship, not only with guys, but with God as well.

For the first few years of my life, I moved around frequently.  And though we've been in the same place for over a decade now, changes in schools and locations within the city have kept me from every really being able to become too attached to one person, object, or group.  To be entirely honest, I used to hate it.  I did not like change at all, and though at times I would become restless and ready for something different, I would later end up regretting it, whether it was switching schools or trying a new hairstyle.  I wanted everything to stay exactly the same all the time, because when things changed, I felt uncomfortable.  Thus, I should not have been surprised when I suffered from horrible insecurities during the second half of eighth grade and the first half of ninth.  Though nothing tragic had happened, I was bearing the weight of several different crosses, and trying too hard to do so on my own.  But just like the classic story of the footprints in the sand, God was carrying me the whole time, and right in the middle of the pain and self-loathing, He reached down through my parents and made it clear to me that I was not alone.  He showed me that the times I had been persecuted for my faith and forced to defend it had served their purpose.

I had a very child-like faith up through middle school.  I loved God, trusted the Church, and believed what my parents taught me- for the most part- without question.  But when an unexpected person began challenging my beliefs, I learned to respect and love the Church in a whole new way.  For the first time I had to investigate everything the Church did, why she did it, and while taking all of that in consideration, still stand strong and call the Catholic faith my own.  This experience prepared me for life in a way nothing else could, because it made me proud of who my parents had formed me to be, led me to realize how blessed I was to be born into a faith led by Truth Himself, and helped me realize that the Catholic Church was not just some institution that I chose to follow- the Catholic Church was my guiding light, and "Catholic" was not just a word I used to describe my religious affiliation- it was the definition of who I was.

Keeping God at the center, and letting my identity be found in Him, is a daily commitment and struggle.  It is not always easy, and- to be entirely honest- is something I'm finding difficult now as I approaching the dreaded/exciting day when I leave my family behind to start college.  But I know that when I'm on my own for the first time, experiencing the biggest change of my life, I will need Him to carry me once again- and will once again learn to find myself in Him, before anything else.  And then- and only then- will my heart find the peace it is searching for...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Cross of Being Pro-Life

The Cross of Being Pro-Life

I highly recommend that you all check out this beautiful and insightful reflection on the wisdom of the Church's pro-life teachings, written by Chris Ricketts in light of his wife's fifth miscarriage.

More to come soon- have a great weekend!

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Light and Serious

I hope everyone is enjoying their July so far!

In the past week I've post on the Ink Desk and over at Catholic Stand, and wanted to share the articles for all those interested.

Over at the St. Austin Review's "Ink Desk" I wrote about my difficult decision to add a country song to my iPod in the post "Sex, Drugs, and Country?".

On a more serious note, I wrote about the approaching reality of martyrdom for Catholic Stand; the article is entitled "From Bed to the Public Square".

Have a great weekend, everyone, and God bless!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Not Alone: Vocational Despair

"Most of us have times where we despair about our vocations, or, if we know them (i.e. marriage), we despair that they will never be fulfilled. How do we deal with that despair and what are our best tips on moving past the despair into hope?"

Above is the topic-of-the-week in the Not Alone Series, hosted by Morgan and Co. over at "Follow and Believe".  This week's topic is very timely, as the social media of today makes it much too easy to compare your life story to that of others, and quickly become depressed when it seems yours could never be as great as theirs.

Here I must make a confession- though I do not read many "mommy blogs", I am VERY guilty of frequenting wedding blogs, scrolling through all the gorgeous pictures, and then letting out one of those pensive, dreamy, "when will it be my turn?" sighs.  While reading about the bloggers who are just beginning beautiful, Catholic, married lives, it is easy to become impatient.  They sound so happy, so peaceful, so content, and it is much too simple to think "I cannot wait until I find my future husband, then I'll be happy".  But therein is where the problem lies.  Personally, I spend way too much time dreaming of all the fun I am going to have once I meet my Prince Charming, and not enough time living in the moment, enjoying every second of every day that God gives me.  This is what inspired a post I wrote on IgnitumToday a couple months ago entitled "The Top Five Ways to -NOT- Grow in Emotional Purity", which I invite all of you to read.   I truly believe that cultivating emotional purity is the absolute best way to avoid depression and despair in the days before your vocational calling is fulfilled.  By abstaining from songs or movies that trigger your thoughts in a negative direction, learning to view the guys around you as potential friends- not boyfriend candidates-, and centering your thoughts on Christ instead of Romeo, you will find much more peace of mind.  By working on bettering yourself, you will be doing the absolute best thing possible to prepare for your vocation- whether it is marriage, the single life, or religious life.

As far as moving from despair into hope is concerned, making sure that you do not allow all of your thoughts to become self-pitying ones is essential.  When you're having one of those days when it seems like everyone has a significant other except for you, and no matter where you turn you cannot escape the reality that you are the only human being out there who is still single, your mind stops thinking about anything but how miserable you are.  That is called self-pity, and it leads to judgment, jealous, envy, and selfishness.  It is important that when  you catch your thoughts heading in that direction, you stop and do something distracting and uplifting.  Put on some music that makes you smile and bake a cake.  Put on your most comfortable exercise outfit and go MOVE!  Grab your sunglasses and let some good ol' sunshine bring a smile to your face.  Call a friend or bribe a sibling and check out a local restaurant.  Go see a funny movie, or read a funny book.  Do NOT wallow in those thoughts, or make them worse by consuming an entire bag of Doritos while watching "Say Yes to the Dress" re-runs.  Doing something active will boost your energy, and doing something for or with someone else will help you refocus on the people around you, instead of yourself.  Or, to use the clichĂ© phrase, work on finding J-O-Y by remembering what it stands for: "J-esus, O-thers, Y-ourself".

Focus on Christ, thank Him every day for your blessings, and when you are tempted to fall into anxiety or sorrow because your future vocation seems unreachable, say a prayer for strength, for your future husband/ religious life, put in a Michael Bublè CD, bake a batch of sugar cookies, and offer up your troubles to God, because it's hard to sing the words with a frown on your face!

May God bless all of you, and give you joy!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Purgatory Examined

"And of that second kingdom will I sing/ Wherein the human spirit doth purge itself,/ And to ascend to heaven becometh worthy". 

So begins Dante's Purgatorio, the second part of his legendary The Divine Comedy, in which he offers an unparalleled depiction of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven by traveling through them.  Following the despair and intensity of Hades, Dante's Purgatory is depicted as a difficult place.  Nevertheless, it is a place full of hope where Heaven's closeness is always at the mind's forefront, giving the suffering souls a reason to persevere in their journey towards the top.  Though the pain is real, it will end, and the Paradise awaiting will be more than enough to make the purification worth it.

This "middle stage" between Heaven and Hell has been artistically depicted in a variety of ways by authors ranging from the legendary C.S. Lewis to the "storyman" Neal Shusterman.  In every unique depiction, whether or not the author calls it "Purgatory" by name, the idea that there is a place before Heaven where souls who are not damned, but not yet ready for Paradise, go until they are ready, is the same.  And whether that place is one of punishment- as in Purgatorio- or one of peace- as in Cynthia Rylant's Heavenly Village- the inhabitants know that they cannot stay, and that a greater good awaits them.  In every story it is up to each person to work his way to Heaven while in this stage, whether by learning to let go of earthly pleasures, enduring penitential trials, or pursuing a lifestyle until it has served its purpose.  Some stories, like Tolkien's "Leaf by Niggle", combine several of these concepts, and the main character must labor to be cleansed, and must also learn to lay unfinished business on Earth to rest before he can advance to the greater glories awaiting him.

Though Catholicism is the only religion that will universally declare a belief in such a place, the varied stories surrounding it prove that it is a concept that many have pondered- but why?  Why would various people of opposite backgrounds all imagine the existence of a place often thought controversial?  The simple answer is: because reason demands it.  When going to visit a king, one would not think of leaving the house without showering, dressing up, putting on his best things, and bringing a gift of appreciation.  Why then would it be any different when going to see the King of the Universe? 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Purgatory as the "final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned,".  It explains that "all who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven," (CCC 1030-1031).  Though there are no biblical verses which clearly outline the existence of Purgatory, The Books of Maccabees depict soldiers praying for the souls of those who have died in battle- a practice which would be pointless if those who had died had certainly reached their final resting place.  St. Paul also speaks of a cleansing fire in which the works of those on Earth will be tested.  Since the earliest centuries prayers and Masses were offered up for the souls of the departed, in the interest of shortening their time in Purgatory and bringing the joy of Heaven closer. 

In his well-known City of God St. Augustine wrote that "temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment,".  Thus, Purgatory is the final cleansing place which God in His mercy provides to enable more souls who honestly lived for Him, but died with unfinished business or venial sins, to be able to enter Paradise with Him. 

May we all learn to thank the Lord for this ultimate second chance to purify the good intentions and correct the failed attempts of our mortal life, so as to enjoy immortality with Him.

See Catholic Answers' "Purgatory" tract for more information and biblical connections.

Image from Wikipedia.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Michael and His Angels

This morning Pope Francis, in the company of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, consecrated the Vatican City State to St. Michael the Archangel and St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus.  In the speech following his blessing of St. Michael's statue, he made a very eloquent statement regarding the constant presence of the angels in our lives:

"We are not alone on the journey or in the trials of life, we are accompanied and supported by the Angels of God, who offer, so to speak, their wings to help us overcome so many dangers, in order to fly high compared to those realities that can weigh down our lives or drag us down."

What a beautiful way to start the day in which the Pope will publish his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, or "The Light of Faith"!

Have a good morning!

Story from
Photo credit: USA Today

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July!

Go out, enjoy some fireworks, eat plenty of yummy food, and say a prayer for our nation on her Independence Day!
May God bless America, and may He bless all of you!
Photo credit: Yahoo!

Not Alone: Preparing for the Future

This week's topic is: "What can you work on NOW to prepare you for your future vocation?"  The description it makes it clear that this is something which will vary from person to person, and depending on one's vocation.

In light of preparing for marriage, there are a variety of fun and prayerful things young ladies can do to be sure they are ready when Mr. Right comes along.  Filling a Hope Chest with old notebooks, photo albums, articles and books on relationships, love, and marriage, little things one may have outgrown, but would love to pass on to future children, practical house items, and sewing projects is a great way to actively anticipate the coming joys and demands.  Many enjoy the practice of writing letters to their future husbands as a way to keep them in mind, and to show them how they were preparing for them long before their lives intersected.  Personally, I do both of the above- but not as consistently as I would like.  Since I've had periods of doubt concerning where my future would lead me, I was often afraid that filling a hope chest and writing letters for someone who might not exist would only make letting go of the dream of marriage harder if God called me in the other direction.  But now that I feel more certain in my calling, I'm hoping to revisit those lovely traditions.  A 54-day novena for one's future husband is also a wonderful thing to do, for it keeps one's thoughts on love and marriage God-centered. 

Most importantly though, no matter what one's calling is, the best thing each person can do to prepare for it is to work on becoming the best they can be.  Joseph Pearce likes to call it the "Healthy Trinity"- making sure the mind, body, and soul are being fed and exercised regularly.  Each tip of the triangle is an essential part of the whole- though the soul is the top.  Working out and eating healthy keep the temple of the Spirit strong.  Reading a variety of books, and making sure to go beyond what is easy to read in order to make the brain work a little, is an excellent habit to develop.  Playing a musical instrument, learning how to read music, and listening to classical tracks all help expand one's mind in an enjoyable way.  Above all else, make sure that time each day is set aside for prayer.  Things like fasting or reading a theological book are great ways to exercise two areas at the same time. 

Doing things every day to help remind oneself of the lifestyle to come, but also focusing on improving and becoming stronger now are the best ways to prepare for one's future vocation.

How do/did you all prepare for your future vocations?

Be sure to check out "Follow and Believe" for the host's thoughts on this topic!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Not Alone: What I Love About Being Single

When I read last week's topic, "What I LOVE about being single", my reaction was on the negative side: it seemed a bit counterproductive to write a post about the joys of single life when I feel that God has called me to the opposite.  But then I remembered something I read (possibly in a Jason Evert book) about the importance of remembering that though I may eventually be called to marriage- today-and most likely for several more years- I am called to be single.  Hence, it is important that I do not spend all my time now dreaming about, wishing for, and waiting on the days I am married.  Though happily anticipating this time is a good thing, allowing my life now to be less than ideal because I'm waiting for my vocation to be fulfilled is not what God intended.  If the years leading up to one's vocation were useless, then God would not have provided them.  Since He did provide them, assuming that He did so for a purpose would be safe.  So as I create yet another list, read in it the light of what I have written- I enjoy this time because I know God has designed it for a purpose, but when the time comes for me to trade my singleness for a wedding band, I will do so even more joyfully- knowing that I used the time leading up to that moment to prepare for it.

  • Accountability- Being a single lady about to leave for college means that I am about to be accountable to only one person- myself.  Though I will have teachers with deadlines and commitments to keep, ultimately I will be the only one making the decisions.  During childhood, I was accountable to my parents- and though going off to college does not remove the respect I owe them, it will be time for them to step back and allow me to make my own choices.  Once I am married, my husband and I will discuss matters before making a joint decision and be accountable to each other.  But for right now, I'm enjoying the responsibility and growth that come with knowing that I am acting because it is something I've decided is necessary, and if I do not do something I should have, it will be up to me to take the steps to correct my error and ensure I do not make the same mistake twice.  I think this is a wonderful lesson in being responsible, learning to humbly admit when I've made a mistake, and figuring out the best way to manage my time.  (Of course, I am always accountable to God above everything and everyone else, and it is of the upmost importance that I never forget that He is the master judge).
  • The Excitement- I'm in that wonderful place where I do not have a boyfriend, do not have any romantic history, but know that I have reached an age where beginning to experience such things is appropriate.  Though the relationship stage has its own set of rules, its own ups and downs, I know that the right time is closer now than it was four years ago, and that soon the man God has prepared for me- and prepared me for- will be with me.  It's fun to wonder about this: to wonder if I've met him yet, or if he's still miles away, to wonder what kind of person he will be and how we'll get along.  Songs like Michael Buble's "Haven't Met You Yet" reflect my feelings as I anticipate the wonderful relationship God will eventually introduce into my life.
  • Growth-Sarah Swafford advised young women to "become the woman of your dreams, and you'll attract the man of your dreams".  In the same vein, she shared advice that a priest gave her regarding the search for her future husband: "“He said to run toward the Lord — and when you get there, look out of the corner of your eye to see who has been running with you,”.  This time is meant for becoming "the best-version-of-myself" (Matthew Kelly).  These years are set aside for me to work on personally growing closer to Christ, on becoming fit spiritually, physically, and mentally, and to set my foundation firmly on Christ.  Entering the dating world without a Christ-centered life could be disastrous, because when Christ is not the center, a guy could become that center much too easily.  Thus I will continue to try to use these years of singlehood to form myself around Christ, so that when God places the right man in my path, I will be strong enough to meet him.
Stay tuned each week for the newest Not Alone topic, along with other posts.  If you missed the introduction to this series, make sure to check it out, along with stopping by "Follow and Believe" to read the host's thoughts on singlehood. 

May you all have a wonderful week, and an blessed July!