Little by Little

This year at the beginning of the year I prayed for the Lord to give me a theme for the year, some word or phrase that would guide me throughout the year. After much praying and pondering the Lord told me my word would be bloom. This has been something that I’ve continued to ponder and pray with throughout this year. It’s been a year of falling into things, of settling, of laying down roots so as to be able to bloom.

Something that has been popping up quite a bit in the last few weeks for me has been the concept of being little. This past week was St. Therese of Lisieux’s feast day, the patron saint of littleness. She is the queen of being little and reminds me constantly what it means to live little. Also this past week my favorite podcast, abiding together, touched on a concept of poco a poco (little by little) and then I watched a video from the CFR’s that went a little deeper into this concept of little by little.

What I realized after much pondering if that this concept of little by little fits perfectly into what the Lord has been doing in my life this past year. The concept of blooming has seemed like one event to me, like something huge was going to happen this year where I would be able to say – hey, I made it, this is the bloom. But I think what blooming is really about is taking things one day at a time. Flowers don’t bloom in a day, they need watered and taken care of each day and then eventually there are some blooms but that also happens over time. Some die and then more come. Blooming is a continual process not a one time event.

I am always looking for that quick fix, the answer to solve all the problems in the world and specifically in my life, but it just doesn’t work that way. What I’m being called to remember is that this journey to Heaven, to holiness, is a step by step, one day at a time, little by little journey. All I can do is take whatever God gives me today and do the best I can with it.

Advertisements

He Feeds Them All

So this week is the beginning of a new year of faith formation programming at the parish where I work. Everything starts this weekend. While I am excited to start my second year, the beginning brings with it a lot of anxiety as well. I find myself constantly wondering if I’ve done everything I need to to make sure that all the programs start on the best foot. I never quite feel like I’ve done enough.

I’ve been lamenting all of this for the last few weeks as the kickoff date has approached. Last week I met with my spiritual director and he told me to pray with the story of the loaves and the fishes, the feeding of the 5,000. As a refresher, in the story, Jesus and the disciples have been traveling and Jesus has been teaching. The crowd has been growing. It’s been awhile and everyone is hungry and needs to eat. The disciples tell Jesus to have everyone go get their own food, but Jesus tells them to feed them themselves. The disciples freak out wondering how they are going to pay to feed all of the people. Jesus just asks them what they have. The disciples come up with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish which Jesus blesses and everyone is fed.

The disciples just gave the little they had and Jesus multiplied it to feed everyone. This has been such an important reminder to me. Jesus isn’t asking me to take care of every little detail all on my own. All He asks is for me to give my very best, which often times feels like nothing, like scraps, and He will do the rest. He knows I am going to forget or miss things, but He is faithful and will take care of the messes that I make.

The Lord reminded me again today that all He asks is for me to be faithful and to give Him my weakness through this passage:

I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of spirit and power,
so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:2-5

Ministry, and for that matter being a disciple, doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it. It just requires us to step out in faith, trusting that God will use our weakness to show His glory. He isn’t afraid of our weaknesses and failings. He actually loves our weakness and because of it is able to show forth His glory even more powerfully then He would be able to if we were capable of doing it all on our own.

And so with these reminders, I’m going forward this week trusting that while I know I am weak, the Lord will be able to use my weakness to bring amazing results in the hearts of those I minister to and with. I will choose each day to give Him my five loaves and two fish, trusting that He will be able to feed the five thousand with my scraps.

 

My Dear Friends,

This is the letter I wrote for the bulletin a couple weeks ago. I figured I’d share in case you all were interested. As a reference, the readings for the weekend that I wrote this can be found here.

My Dear Friends,

The psalm this weekend is one that is often chosen for funeral masses. It brings up really comforting images of being taken care of and provided for which we equate with Heaven. It is truly a beautiful psalm that a lot of us are very familiar with and sometimes because of that don’t think about what it really says about the Lord.

As some of you may know, I spent 8 months discerning religious life while living in a convent. For me, this psalm took on a wider meaning when I entered. In the beginning, I struggled a lot with being away from my family and friends. One of the sisters suggested praying with Psalm 23 for them. She said to put my loved ones names’ into the Psalm. For example, I would pray for my sister and say “The LORD is Sara’s shepherd; she shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives Sara repose; beside restful waters he leads her; he refreshes her soul…” I would often do this for my parents or my siblings and even friends sometimes when I was really missing them or wishing I could support them better.

By praying this way, I was constantly reminded that the Lord will take care of me and the people I love. He loves my friends and family even more than I do and knows better what their needs are and how to take care of them. While I was in the convent, it was helpful to be reminded that ultimately my loved ones need Jesus more than they need me and that He doesn’t need me to take care of them. He is completely capable of doing that all on His own.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with trying to take care of everything ourselves but the Lord wants to remind each of us this week that He can and will take care of us and everyone we love. He is the Good Shepherd who gathers all of His sheep together and provides for them. We see this expressed through all of the readings this week.

In the first reading, Jeremiah is speaking for the Lord against people who were leading the Israelites away from God. Even when circumstances are not the best, the Lord brings the situation to a better end. He promises by the end of the reading that He will bring a better leader who will guide the people and bring them security. In the second reading, St. Paul talks about how Christ brings together all those who are far off and that in Jesus we find peace. We are reminded that Jesus truly is our shepherd. When we choose to follow the Good Shepherd, we can trust that things will turn out for the best in the end, even if we are “walking in the dark valley” right now.

In the Gospel, Jesus shows us how much He cares for His people, that while He was tired and exhausted and trying to go to a deserted place with His disciples, He didn’t get annoyed at the crowds who kept following Him or continue to run away. Jesus chose to keep being present and taking care of His people instead of resting. He shows us what it looks like to be the Good Shepherd and never abandon His sheep.

I want to encourage you to spend some time this week reflecting on how the Lord is the Good Shepherd in your life. If you are struggling or someone you love is, pray through Psalm 23 and place your own name or your friend or family member’s name into the prayer and let the Lord comfort you and remind you of His love and providence for you and all those you love. Whatever your week holds, know that the Lord is with you and for you!

Please pray for me as I pray for you!

 

The Gift of Writing

Last week I was reflecting a lot on the last month, preparing for spiritual direction. I was getting caught up in all of the troubles and struggles of the past month. I was getting stuck on all of these negative attributes of mine and finally came to realization that I had lost sight of myself. I know that the Lord created me as His beautiful beloved daughter with tons of gifts, but I was really struggling to see what those were.

So I asked Jesus to show me who I am, to reveal my gifts to me. As He always does, the Lord delivered. The week previously I had spent several days writing a letter that would be put in the bulletin at the parish where I work. Several of my coworkers made a point to stop into my office during the week to compliment me on it. I didn’t really think much of this, until Saturday, when the Lord got a little more obvious.

I was at a friend of mine’s wedding reception, chilling with some friends who I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I started a conversation with one of them and we were catching up a bit and then she started to talk about how much my blog has meant to her. I never really know what to do in those situations, when someone is very complimentary, but I tried to take in all she was saying and be gracious. As I’ve been reflecting on this conversation and the others I had last week, I’ve realized that the Lord was speaking me to me through all of those different people, and especially through this friend of mine. He was reminding me that He has given me the gift of writing.

It might seem silly to you, my lovely blog readers, to think that I forgot that the this is a gift of mine, but I really had. I’ve severely fallen behind in how often I write these blogs and had kind of let my gift fall to the wayside. It’s so easy to get caught up in life and lose track of the things that I love. While I do love writing, actually committing to a regular schedule is daunting. I rely heavily on inspiration when I write these blogs and when I don’t have anything strike me, I tend to really struggle to write. However, I feel like it is a disservice to the Lord not to use the gift that He has given me, so I want to attempt to write once a week.

I can’t promise I’ll be faithful to this promise, but I will promise to at least try. I know that I’m not perfect and that there are a lot better writers out there, but if the Lord is using me, through my writing, to speak to people, I need to keep writing. I want everything I do to speak of the Lord’s love and this is just one way that I can do that. So, until next week my dear readers, keep fighting the good fight!

When Weakness is Strength

I started my prayer time with complaints which, I’m embarrassed to admit, is often how I begin my prayer. I’m often just so discontent. I am never quite happy with where I am or what the Lord has given me. I’m constantly trying to skip ahead to the next big thing. I’m pretty bad at just being in the present and embracing the now. I want things to be perfect, idealistic, the way things are just isn’t good enough for me.

I was lamenting this weakness of mine for quite awhile, recognizing that by trying to skip ahead, I miss the gifts the Lord has given me in the present. I was getting really down on myself and feeling like a failure for not appreciating what God has given me. It got to the point that I just wanted to finish my prayer time and move on with life.

But instead of letting myself leave, I pressed in and decided to read the readings for this coming Sunday. I got to the second reading and tears started to block my vision as I read:

“Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but He said to me, ‘ My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”            2 Corinthians 12:8-10

St. Paul was experiencing a difficulty and was begging the Lord to get rid of it for him, just as I had been begging the Lord to rid me of this character flaw of mine. But, I realized I’m not alone in trying to run from my struggles and weaknesses. If St. Paul struggled with the same thing, I’d like to say I’m in good company and I’m probably going to be okay.

I also realized, the Lord doesn’t want me to lament my weakness. He knows where I am weak, He created me. Those weaknesses give Him opportunities, openings, to come into my life. They give Him space to bring His glory. That is why the Lord tells St. Paul that in his weakness, His power is made perfect. For what better way to be sure that the Lord is working than to see Him in our weaknesses, where we know for a fact that it’s not us working?

The Lord doesn’t leave us in our mess and weakness. He puts us in positions of discontent and struggle to bring us back to Him. When everything is going well, I have a habit of losing sight of the Lord. It’s when things are difficult that I really cling to Him and grow closer to Him. So I will try to be content, as St. Paul was, “with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ,” and I will try to remember that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” I hope that you can also allow yourself to enter into your weakness and embrace it as an opportunity to be drawn closer to Christ instead of running from it.

Staying Built

“With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will build you, and you shall stay built.” Jeremiah 31:4

This scripture was shared with me early on in my time in the convent. At the time, I took it at face value, that the Lord wanted me where I was and that He was working. That was true, but throughout this season of Lent I’ve been realizing how the Lord has been fulfilling this promise to me right now.

I’ve been encountering a lot of challenges lately at work that have caused me to have to act in ways that I wouldn’t ordinarily. I’ve had to speak up for myself in instances where I would much rather just let things be.

I was discussing the challenges with my sister the other day and sharing how I dealt with the issues instead of running or avoiding them like I usually do. She replied by saying that while it’s difficult right now, there is obviously something really good happening. Through these difficulties, I’m being called to grow. The Lord is using these struggles to rebuild me in a lasting way.

I often just see struggles at face value and forget that the Lord really does use everything for our good. It’s usually in times of struggle and difficulty that the Lord is working the most. These are the times when He is calling me to be faithful to Him. He uses challenges to help me to grow in virtue and become who He created me to be, to build me anew.

I’ve always struggled with self-confidence and understanding my worth, but throughout this season of Lent, and really since I entered the convent, the Lord has been teaching me how much He loves me and that my worth comes from that love. I’m coming to realize that He really is just calling me to be myself, to love myself enough to stand up for what is right and for what I deserve, and by living that truth He will work wonders through me.

You see, it’s not about what I do, but about who I am. The Lord is gradually and slowly rebuilding me so that I can stay built in my identity as His beloved daughter. He longs to rebuild each and every once of us, so that we can each encounter His enduring love and truly live as His sons and daughters. When we are able to do that, then the world will be transformed.

It’s About A Person

Recently I’ve been writing a lot of talks and giving a few too, some for retreats, some for a Lent series we’re doing at my parish. I had sort of taken a break from writing talks for awhile and so this has been a little challenging for me as of late.

I was talking with one of my friends and coworkers today about what to write for one of the retreats I’m planning and she said something that made me think. I was asking for advice on what to include from my own story in the talk, about how specific to get. I’ve been trying to write this talk for the last three days and kept getting stuck because I didn’t want to share too much. But then my friend called me out. She said I’m trying to not get personal. I was trying to remove myself from the talk.

It’s much easier to talk to a group of people about a topic, to teach them about the Church and how great God is and how much He loves them. And that is extremely important work, but part of being a follower of Christ is that there is a personal connection there. And how better for someone to be able to know what that looks like or to understand why they would want to start a relationship with Christ than to hear an example of what that looks like?

It’s easy to tell people that they need to pray and they need to listen to what the Lord is telling them. What takes a little more effort is being willing to get personal, to share how the Lord has spoken to me and how I responded, or didn’t.  We need to stop hiding from vulnerability. For far too long we as a Church have focused just on the head knowledge. I’m not saying that it isn’t important to know Church teaching or to learn about the Eucharist or what happens at Mass. I’m not saying that all the curriculum we focus on in faith formation is a waste of time, but there is something, someone that makes all of it relevant.

Our faith is personal, it’s about a person, an encounter with Jesus Christ. Without Him, it doesn’t make sense. Without Him, we’re just a bunch of people following some rules. If it wasn’t about Jesus, our faith wouldn’t be worth giving our lives to. So let’s be willing to share our personal encounter with Christ with each other. Take the time to share your story with your friends, with your kids, with your spouse, with that random person you meet around town who is looking for something more. The more we talk about the personal side of our faith, the more people will realize that Jesus saves lives. Let’s get real so that others can truly encounter the one who makes this whole Church worth it.

 

The Journey Home

In the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on both my decision to enter the convent and to leave. January 21 will mark one year since I left. It was a difficult decision on both ends but so worthwhile.

There is one truth that really sticks out to me from this whole journey: God loves me as I am, not for who I think I should be but just for exactly who I am, who He created me to be.

God desires my happiness and joy and He doesn’t ask me to be something that I’m not. He doesn’t call me to fit myself into a mold that forces me to lose myself, my personality, my joy, or my hope. He does call me to be more. He calls me to virtue; He calls me to holiness. Those things are difficult, but that path looks more like becoming more myself and less like the image of the perfect Christian woman that I created in my mind.

I spent most of my time in the convent trying to fit myself into the mold of the perfect postulant. I worked really hard to do everything I was supposed to just as I was told. I showed up the places I was told when I was supposed to be there. I was present to the people who I was asked to serve. I prayed when I was supposed to pray. I played games with the other sisters when it was scheduled. I did exactly what I thought would make me happy and I even acted happy. It’s not to say that I didn’t have joy filled moments while I was in the convent, I most certainly did, but not as many as I tricked myself into believing.

You see, the reality was that when I was in public or even just with the sisters I was always putting on a show. I was pretending to be at peace and joyful. I was acting how I thought I was supposed to be feeling. I was faking it except I was so good at it, I didn’t even realize it was fake. Looking back I’m able to see the intense stress I put myself through. There were more days than I can count that I would come down after evening prayer feeling exhausted, not from working hard physically, but from working hard to convince myself and everyone else that I was good, that I was just fine, that I was joyful and at peace.

I thought the only way to Heaven, the only way to be holy and the person God created me to be was to make this path work. I thought the pain I felt was just part of the process and eventually it would pass.

When I came home after Christmas, last year for a week, is when things started to change. I struggled to be present at home because I was dreading so much going back. I was so caught up in the fact that I believed God called me to the convent that I couldn’t accept the fact that maybe He didn’t mean forever. I was so focused on being who I thought God was calling me to be I couldn’t hear Him whispering my actual identity.

My friends and family noticed a difference in me. Most of them weren’t vocal about it until way later, after I had made the decision to leave the convent, but they noticed. One of the only people to actually say something to me was my sister. I remember specifically lying in bed one night talking and she asked me if I was happy. I gave her some response about being asked to be selfless and sacrificial and penitential. She didn’t let me get away with it though. She reminded me that God wants me to be happy. She asked me why I stopped caring about my own happiness. I thought I was being selfless but really I just wasn’t listening.

God used my sister’s honest concern for me and questions to open my heart just enough that He could get in. That little crack that was made in my hardened heart was slowly broken open more and more when I returned to the convent after my home visit. The Lord used homilies, class lectures, a video by Fr. Dave Pivonka, and an appointment with a counselor, plus lots of prayer time. I was moved to start reflecting on where my peace was coming from and whether the Lord was asking me to do something different than what I had originally imagined or thought I heard.

We watched Saving Mr. Banks one Sunday and I remember immediately following the movie I made my way to the chapel. It wasn’t a scheduled time for prayer, I was in the chapel all by myself. The Lord used that movie and that time in prayer to help me to see His Perfect Fatherhood. He showed me His love for me and helped me to see that He had made me a certain way and that way didn’t line up with how I was trying to live.

You see, for months I’d been wanting to leave community but I just couldn’t let myself. I thought if I just forced myself to stay just a little longer that things would get easier for me and that eventually I would find the joy the Lord had promised me. But the Lord gave me permission to be myself that day as I reflected on His love for me as my Father. The Lord helped me to understand the freedom that comes with being in relationship with Him. I knew in that moment that He was giving me permission not just to be myself but to leave community. He was telling me it was time to step out once more in faith.

I took a few days to pray through what I had experienced. I asked for confirmations and the Lord came through. He used class lectures and scripture that following week to help me to be confident in what I had heard. And just a week after that afternoon alone in chapel, I was riding in my parents car on my way home for good.

The Lord created each one of us uniquely and He has a specific call for each one of us. I don’t know what exactly that will look like in your life. What I do know is that the Lord doesn’t ask us to be someone we’re not. He asks us to stretch and to grow but He never asks us to wear masks or pretend. He calls us to be authentically ourselves and whatever the Lord’s call on your life is will bring peace and lasting joy beyond what you can imagine.

Two bits of advice before I finish this incredibly long blog post:

  1. Have the courage to speak up when you think someone you love is unhappy or struggling. They may not even realize what’s going on. God uses us to speak to others and your words may help them to be open to what the Lord is trying to do/say.
  2. Never forget how personally, deeply, intimately our Heavenly Father loves you and desires your peace, joy, and happiness. Have the courage to follow where He leads even if the path looks different than what you thought it would.

Thanks for reading. Know of my prayers for you!

2017: A Year to Arise

What a year it has been! This time last year I was just returning to the convent after a week home visit. I rang in 2017 with Mass, timing the consecration right at midnight. What a beautiful experience it was! Just a few weeks into the new year I made the decision to leave the convent where I thought I would spend the rest of my life. The Lord was faithful to me through the trials of that decision and the transition. I felt so much peace and consolation in those first few weeks of leaving.

My family went through a lot in those first few months with both of my grandparents going through serious health concerns. It was a gift for me to be home and able to help in whatever way I could.

I ended up working at Old Navy once again, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. I also started working at a nursing home. At the time I thought it was the direction the Lord was calling me to serve long term. However, He was taking me on a journey of trust and helping me grow to accept myself as I am. It was definitely difficult working two jobs and it stretched me a lot. I learned how to find God in the moment instead of focusing so much on what His plans for my future are.

Eventually I felt the Lord calling me back to ministry in the Church and found a job and moved an hour away from my parents.  It was a scary step to take and it took a lot of relying on the Lord to come through, but I did it. I experienced a lot of peace in my decision and knew it was where the Lord wanted me to go.

The last six months of this new job have been challenging to say the least with many opportunities to grow and rely on the Lord. Moving to a new place and starting a new job all at once was overwhelming. Through the challenge and being overwhelmed, I’ve learned how to trust not just the Lord but also myself and have confidence to act. And I continue to have opportunities every day to embrace the present and find the Lord in each person and experience.

I’ve gone through so much change and transition in 2017. The word that was constant for me this past year was “arise.” It’s been a year of learning how to listen to the Lord’s promptings and choosing to trust Him even when His plan doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Each and every step, change, and transition has stretched me and helped me to see the Lord’s faithfulness. This year has been all about learning to live in my identity as a daughter of the Father, to accept His love and live in the freedom of a child of God. Each day has been about learning to accept who I am and become the woman that I was created to be.

While it’s been quite a challenging year, I am so grateful for all the experiences and I wouldn’t take any of them back. It’s been an incredible gift to see the Lord working around and through me. The last year was all about action and movement. I’ve been asking the Lord for a sense of what this next year will hold and He gave me the word bloom. While I don’t know what the Lord has in store or what exactly He means by bloom, I know that He is faithful and I trust that whatever it is will bring joy and bring me closer to Him. So here’s to 2018, may each of us take a chance to look back, be grateful, and trust that the Lord will continue to take care of us as He has always.

 

Risks, Growth, and Surrender

Sometimes Christ asks us to do things we don’t want to do. Sometimes following Christ means walking into the fire instead of away from it. Sometimes it means making a mess rather than cleaning one up.

The thing is, that following Christ means being willing to take risks, to be courageous, to step out of the boat. It means being willing to have that hard conversation with a friend because you know it’s the right things to do even if it’s going to hurt. It means showing up at the hospital when someone is sick and suffering to be there with them through the pain. It means taking that job that requires you to move away from what you know. It means walking up to the stranger and inviting them into your community.

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me…whoever loses His life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16: 24,25

Following Christ means embracing the cross. It requires us to lay down our life for His purpose and for the good of others. When we are able to accept this, that’s when He can start working and healing. I’ve noticed in my walk with Christ that the times when things are the hardest and most challenging, that’s when He’s working intimately. That’s when He’s calling me to learn how to lay down my life and follow His example.

My experience has been that the Lord uses these challenges to take a risk to make me aware of where I need to let Him more deeply into my heart. My first response more often than not is to avoid and to run from whatever the issue at hand is. But that usually just leads to pain and struggle. When I am able to allow the Lord into the problem, to surrender to His plan, that’s when true healing and growth begins. When I’m willing to accept the challenge and move forward, that’s when I start to learn how to truly lay down my life.

It’s not like it happens immediately, that I embrace the pain or see the growth, but that’s when the actual stretching can happen. When I allow the Lord in, that’s when He can show me how my pain or challenge is making space for something more. That’s when I start to see that He’s teaching me how to be better through this struggle. When I surrender, that’s when He can really start doing His thing.

This storm is making way for a beautiful rainbow. When we choose to accept the pain and suffering and challenge of this life we also open ourselves up more deeply to the beauty and hope that we have in the promises of Christ.

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Christ left a beautiful example in His own life for us. He had to embrace and endure the pain and suffering of His walk to calvary and the crucifixion before the glorious new morning of the resurrection. He laid down His life before He could take it up again.  Surrendering and laying down my life is a daily challenge and the Lord uses many different tactics to teach me. Each one unique and so worth the struggle.

I promise it’s worth the struggle. It might not feel like it now, but God is with you and He is using this pain to make you stronger and to make room for something amazing. Keep fighting the good fight, my friends.