Monday, March 28, 2011

Saint Paul Wasn't the Only One Struck Off a Horse

Saint Paul wasn't the only one struck off a horse! Yes, I too was thrown from a horse this weekend, maybe I should have made it clearer to God that I was already willing to follow! I was in no need of any enlightening and certainly was not looking for any epiphany!

Okay, theological joking aside, God didn't strike me off my horse, it was just a freak accident. But once again God is using my misfortune to teach me something about Christian living. I am totally with Peter, "No Lord, you will not wash my feet!" Asking for things has never been an easy experience for me, but now I find myself, on crutches with a new nickname compliments of Joan--Hippity Hoppity.

While crutches make it possible to use a bum leg, they in turn take away the ability to use your hands. If it can't fit in the woven bag swung across my shoulder or between my teeth than I cannot carry it. Crutches are a new experience for me, and one I hope to never have again.

In 2003 I was in a bad car accident, my campus minister at the time recently reflected on my experience in the context of Lent in an article she wrote for Liguorian Magazine entitled, "Embrace the Lent You Get." She speaks of our Lenten plan making and being open to the workings of God in our lives. She suggests that the "more seriously we take Lent, the more likely our plans are to be overturned by the unexpected."

I find myself returning in thought to 2003 and my recovery from that accident. Thankfully this recent accident is nothing compared to the experience I had then, but it is similar in my having to ask for help--something we all learn sooner or later--something I thought I "learned" but I'm realizing have forgotten. As soon as my mobility returns it becomes easy to let go of needing others, but this is what community teaches me. There is always a place where we need to rely on one another, whether physically, emotionally, or even spiritually. This is true community.

Hobbling from the kitchen to my bedroom this morning with an egg sandwich in a plastic bag held between my teeth I reflected on how difficult this experience would be without my sisters. They have been most generous with their time and care for me! But beyond the helping hands they are firm in their words when they insist I take it easy and allow my body time to heal. I start to feel lazy just laying around all day, I have always pushed myself to the limits, heal faster, get moving faster, everything faster . . . but they are helping me to slow down, to be patient with this process, and to allow time for healing.

So as Christine, my former campus minister suggests, I'm working on embracing the lent I get--Along with mastering the art of carrying things in my teeth of course!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Continually Called to Conversion

For the past few months I, along with two other candidates in the community, have been attending a formation workshop on the Psychosocial Aspects of Community Life. While most of the class is a dull reiteration of life lessons I've learned years ago, there are a few things I have found helpful to take from the experience. One of these such things is the human nature of judging.

In the context of this workshop we broke open the reality of our preconditioned mentality toward judging. When asked to share observations of our surroundings we do so by judging, by labeling experiences. I may describe the feeling I felt as "the breeze blowing on my face," a true observation does not label that experience "breeze" but rather says I felt a cool, blowing sensation upon my face. In some ways this was bizarre, as I'm sure some of you may be thinking even as you read this . . . BUT, there is a deeper truth hidden in these thoughts.

I was with my family recently for a family event. For me it was one of those gatherings that felt much more like an obligation than a celebration. Because of my preconceived feelings toward the evening I fell into a pattern of judging. It was easy to judge, for reasons probably too personal to publish online, but easy or not "appropriate" is a whole other story.

I was sitting with my parents, cousins, and godparents. My Aunt who is my godmother is quite an amazing woman. My cousin and I were wrapped up in conversation in which my cousin pointed out the generosity and love of my Aunt. "It doesn't matter to her, she loves everyone the same." she said at one point. And yes, this is true. My Aunt loves in a truly unconditional manner! As I reflect on my own issues concerning my sometimes judging nature and my Aunt's loving disposition I cannot help but think of Saint Francis. As Francis "preached with his actions" so too does my Aunt demonstrate the power of love.

If only I could start learning from their example right? And now the judging turns on myself. Here I have chosen to live this intentional Christian life and still I find myself falling into quite caddy situations and conversations.

I think the first place to start is to let go of the negative feelings of self. We aren't always going to get it right. There are going to be times when I don't like how I am acting or feeling, but that is where we are blessed with the gift of conversion. God created a world for us in which we are continually called to conversion. These opportunities simply help me to discover more fully the person God is calling me to be!

So, me and judging? Like this crazy adventure we call "life," I'm working on it!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Camera Tells All

There is something mystical about the lens of my camera that allows me to see deeper into the created world than my own eyes allow me to see. The way the manipulation of light, and time allows beautiful images to appear makes me feel as though my camera is a gift from God that allows me to understand the gift of creation more deeply than by the mere workings of my humanness.

I was at a formation workshop a few months ago in which the image of the photographer was brought into conversation. The woman on the video we were watching suggested that our cameras distract us from the reality of what is in front of us. I have heard many people share these same sentiments when they say there are some things a camera cannot capture. I would argue, while there is some truth to a camera not being able to capture everything, there is also a whole heck of lot that we cannot capture without the camera.

I've spoken before of the contemplative nature of my photography. My Sony SLR and I have a holy and reverent and at times rapturous relationship. These past few days we went away together, me, my camera, and God. I spent some time in the woods . . . well as "woods" as you can find in Delaware County. The hermitage is simple, only the basics, but that is all that is needed when one goes on vacation with Jesus, for the Lord provides more than this world has to offer!

I cannot share everything, after all a girl doesn't kiss and tell . . . and in many ways God shared holy-intimate kisses with me. But what I can share is what my camera captured of God's gift to me this week, for the camera tells all.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Sludge and The Flour

The rain was pelting my face, my galoshes sloshed around in the 5 inches of rain water accumulated outside our basement door, and as I bailed out the lowered step to stop the water from making its way into our house I slowly realized I was going to have to de-clog the drain that was OBVIOUSLY not doing its job!

So there I squatted elbow deep in dirty rain water scrapping the sludge from the bottom of the drain. Several times my hand disappeared into the now murky water to emerge moments later with another fist full of filth! This was Thursday, my last day as Campus Minister at Neumann University, and a day I will not soon forget--not because I was leaving my job, but because it was the day the floods made me feel as though I were a contestant on Fear Factor.

The next day, although not really sunny, the rains had subsided and for the most part it was a fairly decent day--at least it was dry . . . er. Friday was Sr. Maureen's birthday!!! If you've been following my story you understand my belief in the importance of birthdays--days worth celebrating every moment! Maureen had shared that her favorite cake was strawberry shortcake. The night before I found what looked to be a heavenly recipe, what I did not take note of was the fact that the blog on which I found the recipe was written by a woman in England, where they use the metric system. All I have to say about that is praise the person who invented google!

Fact, I am a wonderful cook. Fact, not all cooks can bake. Fact, I am one of those cooks! Baking is not my forte. I did however, finish the day out with a BEAUTIFUL homemade strawberry shortcake, but I didn't get there easily. At one point there was flour strewn about the kitchen, not a counter top was spared. My mother tells a story of one Christmas in which she allowed my brother, sister, and I to make gingerbread houses, she shares that by the time my father came in from work the three of us, (two mere toddlers) were sitting ON the kitchen table with flour covering just about every inch of our bodies. At 28 I came very close to reenacting that very scene.

Why am I writing about sludge and flour? Well, besides the suggestion of Maureen (come on, it does make an awesome title), I realized this too is Lent. Tis' the season for cleaning up the mess of our lives, whether it be self inflicted or imposed by an outside force for which we weren't quite ready. Holding the sludge in my hand one day and being covered in flour the next I realized the mess we make of ourselves. Lent is about digging out the sludge and dusting off the flour of our hearts.

As I further reflect upon this image I am brought back to community. In both instances I would not have found myself doing what I did had it not been for the greater good of the community. I went out into the rain because I didn't want the sisters with whom I live to have to be standing in the cold rain bailing out the step. I was cleaning up the flour because I wanted to make something special for Maureen's birthday.

In the end, living in community has helped me to de-sludge and de-flour my life, because it is in community that I am called to--AND held accountable for--my actions. Living alone I easily fall into the rut of not caring, but in community there is no room for that sort of apathy. In community you hold each other up and call each other to a deeper understanding of self, God, and Christian community!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent: Preparing for the Party

With the marking of ashes upon our foreheads earlier today we have entered into the solemn season of Lent--not my favorite liturgical season--but often times a fruitful one! Being resurrection people I suppose it makes sense that my absolute favorite time of the liturgical year is the celebration of the holy Triduum, Holy Thursday to Holy Saturday. But what I must annually remind myself of is that the party only happens because we've prepared!

For instance, last Sunday my community and I hosted another Murder Mystery, this time a Mardi Gras brunch. A number of guests poured into our humble home to the wafting smell of french toast, breakfast casseroles, bacon, sausage, and warm sticky buns. How did we get here? We planed--a guest list, menus, shopping, decorating, etc., etc., etc.

Easter is the party, Lent is the planning! But it's not a physical party, it's a spiritual and introspective one.

40 days Jesus went out into the desert, the unknown, where he was tempted by the devil. These 40 days brought him to an understanding of his call to ministry. Today I am embarking on the most profound 40 days to date. Tomorrow is my last day as Campus Minister at Neumann University. I have loved working with the students, and will miss them dearly, but I have known for some time now deep in my heart that this is the time to move on. Tomorrow I step foot into the desert.

It's a weird conglomeration of fear and excitement that exists within me. It's always difficult to move on from something, no matter how good, bad, difficult, or easy that thing has been, at least it was "known." The desert is unknown and that in itself is intimidating.

A few months ago I shared with the candidate director my desire to ask for official acceptance into the Novitiate with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia. I have been filled with joy since making this decision known, but I also recognize there are many things to settle in my life in order to be prepared to make this move. Leaving my full-time ministry is giving me the space to work on preparing for this next step, both physically and emotionally.

While I will be spending time volunteering to fill my days, I am looking forward to having the time and space to just be with God. In spiritual direction last week my decision was confirmed, it is as if God has carved this time out in my life and has invited me into a deeper relationship through the gift of this space. For the first time I am entering into Lent with a renewed excitement and sense of mission.

Closing the chapter on Neumann has been more emotional than I originally expected, but today I was gifted with words from a dear "Soul Sister" of mine. She wrote, "Your mission here was far beyond your comprehension . . . " her words of affirmation of God's work through me brought me to a moment of deep spiritual ecstasy where I realized that God is giving me everything I ever desired, just not in the package I had imagined. My Lent has begun with resurrection, crazy but true, the hope of this resurrection leads me deeper into the sands of the unknown, where I will undoubtedly be planning the next party!

Monday, March 7, 2011

God is in My Funk

I traveled to India this past summer to visit a friend working with the Salesian community in Tumkur, a small village in the southern part of the country. Whenever there was a lull in conversation or there was a decision to be made I would frequently hear the phrase, "what to do?" Accompanied with a shrug of the shoulders. Not what do you "want" to do . . . or what "should" we do . . . no, it lacked these specifics, instead we were left with "what to do" as if there was only one answer--the thing that was meant to be next. The problem was we rarely knew what that was.

Friday I came home pumped to go out, to do something, filled with energy I was ready to dance the night away. Unfortunately I had no where to go, no one to go with me, and no way of releasing the built up energy. I recently learned how to bleed a radiator, I wish I had a key to bleed the pent up energy inside of my body! What to do?

I can't explain why Friday night has stuck with me, but today I found myself in a funk--a bad/sad mood brought on by something I don't totally understand. Yes, a funk. The word itself sounds like I feel--funk. Maybe it's a sense of loneliness. Even though I have very caring and loving people surrounding me in life these days, there is still occasionally a sense of not getting everything I need--or maybe in all honesty it's a "want." But either way, there is something that I felt the absence of Friday night that has been the root of this funk.

I just wanted to dance. Instead of wallowing in my own self pity I shut my door, I turned my music up, and danced around my room singing into my hairspray makeshift microphone. Yeah, it wasn't what I wanted to do, but it released some of my energy and gave me a small sense of relief. Maybe the phrase "what to do" teaches me something deeper, I didn't get what I "wanted" I don't know if it was a "should" but I do know it was what had to be done.

No, the funk is not over. I have hopes for tomorrow, as Scarlet O'Hara proclaims, it is another day! But even in whatever this icky feeling is in the pit of stomach that caused the tears that I earlier shed, God is speaking to me--or maybe that's my way of giving purpose to it--either way (of God or of self) bringing meaning to my life, even these more difficult moments, helps me to get through. My prayer tonight is that God is in my funk.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Art of the Budget: One Homemade Product at a Time

When I turned sixteen and finally got my license my father gave me a twenty dollar bill. My eyes lit up, my heart jumped and my mind started racing as I thought of what I could spend this congratulatory money on. These feelings were quickly squelched when my father said, "this is your emergency money, you keep it in your glove box in case you are ever in a situation where you need cash and don't have any on you." WHAT?! The new pair of shoes I had already bought in my head disappeared into reality.

It was about a month later when my dad asked to see the twenty dollar bill he had explicitly deemed "emergency money." Realizing the money was no longer green and in my glove box but pink and hanging in my closet I frantically fumbled for words. All I could say was, "daddy, sometimes a really cute sweater and a really amazing sale IS an emergency!"

Budgeting--it definitely didn't come naturally to me! It still doesn't come naturally. Sometimes really great sales are STILL emergencies in my mind! Celibacy? That will be cake compared to giving up my plastic!

About a month ago I sat with two sisters as they discussed the amazing sales happening at a local RiteAid store that was closing. The one sister turned to me to share that this was the type of thing I had to start to learn to look out for and take advantage of! Yes, in deed I need to start gaining this skill set in my life!

I must share, albeit a boastful manner, that I have come a long way in these past few months! As a candidate I am financially responsible for myself and so not yet required to live on the budget given to sisters. In the fall I began paying attention to what I was spending, without making any conscious effort to change my shopaholic ways--this was to have a baseline, what was I spending on personal products? In January and February I was actively attempting to live off of the budget I will be accepting as I continue on this path. And much to my surprise I am doing fairly well.

Googling "home recipes" for products has become my new best friend. Typically eye make-up remover (for the mascara of course) is not cheap. This was the first thing for which I attempted to find an alternative. I FOUND ONE! Girls, did you know that olive oil removes even that hard waterproof mascara!!! Honest! Put a dab on your fingers and rub it in--not only does it come right off, but it moisturizes AND conditions your lashes!!! My lashes have never looked so healthy!

They say "necessity is the mother of invention." Praise Jesus for the Internet and the inventor of Google! Budgeting, it really is an art, maybe someday I will be a true artist! For now I'm just taking it one homemade product at a time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Questioning Brings Us Answers

Sometimes I wonder if we are crazy, we talk about these things we believe but they seem so out there beyond our understanding how could they possibly be real? Sometimes I seriously ponder these things, and I'm left baffled. Sometimes it's simply easier to believe it because someone said so than it is to take the time to discern it myself, because in spending too much time mulling it over in my own head I start to question more than believe.

An Oblate of Saint Francis DeSales once asked me if I had questions about my faith. I quickly said I had none, I believed everything and lived my life according to that faith. He shook his head and said, "when we stop questioning, we stop truly believing." There is great wisdom in his words--great wisdom I didn't fully grasp sitting there with him at 18 years old.

Questioning is definitely not the easy path, but in the end I have come to an understanding that it is (as we will hear in this coming Sunday's Gospel) the more solid rock on which we should build our foundation. After wrestling with God, Jacob was henceforth called Israel, which means, "He who struggled with God and prevailed." Faith isn't a business of non-questioning, it's all about questioning!

I share this all to bring you to a pretty amazing story that has unfolded in the past few months of my life. For those who have been reading regularly, you may recall a posting in December entitled, "Sisters of Old, Sisters of the West" in which I spoke about an experience with Sr. Francisetta Linus. I never knew her, in fact she died the year I was born, but one day praying in the cemetery I decided to pray intentionally with one of the sisters (believing that she is a member of the Communion of Saints).

What I am about to share is a solid foundation on which my questioning is supported. The Communion of Saints can be one of those things I spoke of earlier. It can be a concept that is hard to wrap your head around. But my connection with Sr. Francisetta has opened me up to the reality of the Communion of Saints through lived experience.

Shortly after writing about this prayerful experience Sr. Marijane approached me and in one sentence sent holy goosebumps all over my body. She told me that not only had she lived with Sr. Francisetta, but that Sr. Patty had been with her when she died. I have shared many intimate conversations surrounding my discernment with Marijane and Patty together over monthly meals and faith sharing all of which lead up to my finally being able to say "yes." For Sr. Francisetta to be connected to both of them, my "first community," is truly amazing!

Going back to that cold day in early winter, sitting at her grave stone asking for her support and prayers, I know that she spoke to me. It was not I who chose her, but "Nellie" (as I have come to know Francisetta was called) who invited me into her life. And that is only possible because of the Communion of Saints!

Questioning is good because questioning brings us to answers. And this answer I have found continues to affirm my "yes." Thank you Nellie.