Friday, November 15, 2013

"For everything, there is a season."

A month ago, my Mom-Mom died.

I can remember vividly sitting in News Writing 2 in 2009 during my first semester at Rowan, listening to George Clark talk about semantics in journalism.

"In journalism, people die," he told us matter-of-factly, leaning backward against his desk and scanning the room. "They don't 'pass on,' they don't 'go home to be with the Lord,' and they don't 'attain a new level of being.' They die. That's all."

I snickered that day. George would grow to become one of my favorite professors on campus for his blunt honesty and fierce love for his students.

That same semester, Mom-Mom had yet another exacerbation of the lung disease that dogged her for ten years. I would call home and listen to the rough weariness in my mother's voice as we hoped for the best.

But deep down, we also wondered how much longer sweet Mom-Mom could endure.

Alone in my apartment at night, I would sit up and rail at God. Why did He let her suffer so? She didn't deserve that. It wasn't fair. Where was He? And all the while I was petrified of going on without her laughter, her wisdom, her lighthearted dismissal of my mother's temper. I didn't want her to die. More than that, I didn't want to die. Heaven was too idyllic for me, and hell too bleak.

Eventually, I began to believe that God must not exist. It took a long time for me to recover from that period.

When I did, I emerged with a new appreciation for the sacredness of this one life I've been given by God. My journalist instincts kicked in and I sat down with Mom-Mom and an audio recorder a week before her 80th birthday in 2010. Lack of oxygen had begun to rob her of precious memories, and I wanted to preserve it all, preserve her, untouched and exuberant.

We talked about everything that day as the oxygen tank rumbled and puffed: The joyful simplicity of a childhood uncluttered by traffic and technology; her decision to give up the restaurant she ran to be more present to her children; her pride at our election of a black president; her suspicion of a society so bent on self-preservation that they attempt to play God.

I haven't listened to that recording since the day I made it, waiting for a moment after her death when I would miss her laughter. I'm going to edit it down and burn it onto CDs for my family.

I am not trying to bring her back to life. She neither wanted that or us to mourn too long for her. As she told us recently, she lived a long and happy life with no regrets. What more could she want?

She died on Saturday, October 5th at 3:00 in the afternoon, the same time I visited her since I was a little girl. That day, I was meeting with priests and searching for a reception hall. Mom-Mom wanted me to go. A few days before, I went to see her one last time and covered her with kisses. She told me she loved me.

Her ferociousness and the brightness of her spirit will burn on in my heart as long as I live, and if I can help it, they will be passed to my children.

She was a phenomenal woman, simple but strong, who died at peace in hope of seeing heaven and my Pop-Pop Lou.

I live in hope of being like her, and in hope of seeing her again someday.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Holy Panic

This weekend's Gospel is a mashup of what I believe are some of Jesus' most poignant parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.

Sure, they may be my favorite stories, but the truth is that they are also so familiar that they've almost gone stale. Most of us who grew up in the Church can probably tell these stories from memory. That familiarity can sap them of their power sometimes.

I went to Mass at my grandmother's parish today as we were going out afterward. The homily opened my eyes to the depth of these parables in a brand new way.

We already know that Jesus loves us and wants us to remain with Him. We also know that He is full of compassion for us when we do stumble or stray. But it also teaches us something else about God's heart.

You know that feeling you get when you lose your keys or your wallet? You tear the house upside down, beg St. Anthony for help, and after a few minutes with no luck a cold tendril of panic creeps its way into your bones.

You are anxious over the loss of the thing that is important or meaningful to you. You're not sure what will happen without it, because in some way you've begun to need that thing in your life. That's what we see in the first two stories, the lost sheep and the lost coin.

The addition of the prodigal son as the closing element of the reading is the clincher here. We rejoice over our lost objects or even lost animals, but how much more do we rejoice when a person we love returns to us? No found coin could ever compare to the miracle of a rekindled relationship.

And no anxiety over a lost coin could ever compare to the holy panic God feels for us, His precious children, when we are lost in our sin.

It's hard to imagine our perfect, omniscient God experiencing something like anxiety. But He is much more than just a God. He is our Father, our Lover, and our Divine Friend. He yearns for us and seeks after our wellbeing more than any human.

That knowledge on its own is a wonderful revelation. It should fill us with gratitude and peace.

And it should also motivate us to action, Monsignor said.

Think about it. Why is it that we're so passive when someone commits a grave sin or even leaves the Church? We avert our eyes, shuffle our feet and mutter meekly about it being between them and God. We're sad for them, but we don't want to cause any problems. We don't want to risk chasing them away.

Funny how all that changes if our loved one is diagnosed with cancer. We would beg, borrow and steal so they would have enough money for chemo. Our love would prompt us to make incredible sacrifices just for the chance that they may recover.

The truth is, those who are trapped in sin are afflicted with spiritual cancer. And doing nothing is essentially allowing them to die without a fight.

How far are we willing to go for the people we love to be well again? What are we willing to risk?

Holy panic, he said, would do us all so much good.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Die Slowly

I found this poem tonight while browsing Facebook. My first exposure to Pablo Neruda came during a memorable poetry course in my sophomore year of college. I liked him then, and I love this piece. It reminds me of what I'm striving toward.

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones "it’s" rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn't know, he or she who don't reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let's try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Childlike Faith

This week, Brian and I have escaped to Charlotte, NC to spend some time together and visit with a few Phatmass friends.

The Papists, as I'll call them, are a wonderfully devout couple with a young, growing family. There are four children from 8 years old to 5 months old, and it amazed me just how much I've learned so far...

Naturally, I hope to raise my own children with love for God and for their fellow man, but I've never really thought about what that would look like in daily life. With Papist and his wife, I've gotten to see how one family does it.

We went out together tonight, just the four of us, to drink and talk and learn from each other. The conversation turned to starting our own family, and a thick lump of fear hardened in my throat.

The two of them are so open to life and to God. It humbles me, sometimes to the point of conviction, where I am brought low by my hidden selfishness and lack of trust.

Part of me feels like I need to live like that. Assuming I have 25 years of fertility left, I should prepare my heart at least for the possibility of more children than I want today.

As the discussion unfolded around me and I caught sight of the joy in Brian's eyes, a storm of grief brewed inside of me.

God, please open my heart. Please help me to want to give of myself.

We got back to their house just in time for the little ones to go to bed. As soon as we walked in, the kids screamed our names and ran for us with an accompanying shower of hugs and kisses.

All of us went upstairs for prayer time.

In those few minutes together, we were allowed to witness something both very intimate and so special. We got to listen to the honest prayers of the children.

You have never lived until you've heard a 2-year-old pray. Brian and I were both moved to quiet tears.

We let the Papists retire then, offering to read bedtime stories to the four of them. The entire day was full of wrestling and giggles, and this moment was no different. We were spent by the time they were in bed, but our hearts were full.

In these simple, ordinary moments, God is continuing to stretch my heart and help me embrace His call to marriage ... He is casting out my fear with His love.

I love my new little friends. But more than that, I love what He has done through their love.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Storing Up Treasure

“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, 'Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!'”  
But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”  
—Luke 12:16-21

There is nothing I crave or love more in this world than my sense of security.

I am a creature of comfort. In this world full of uncertainty and change, I long for something to cling to, somewhere I can set down my roots and know that I am safe.

So for me, there really is no place like home.

After graduation two years ago, I found that adjusting to my new life and new job didn't come easily. Anxiety settled in like a smothering blanket. It was up to me to earn my living. The safety net so conveniently placed beneath me through my school years was gone. No pressure, right?

It took time and some bumps and bruises, but adjustment did come in time. I found Brian, we fell in love, and I settled into the comfort of our dating relationship and the years I thought we had before taking the next step together.

Then, he popped the question. In an instant, our lives changed. The watertight, perfect plans I'd so carefully laid were suddenly up in the air.

Not knowing what else to do, I sat in the bagel shop the next morning and cried.

Don't misunderstand. I was thrilled to be embarking on a lifelong journey with the man who had quickly become my best friend. But our engagement introduced a whole new set of questions and anxieties I had told myself were still years away.

We spent a lot of time in prayer over the next few weeks as we considered our options. Do we wait until Brian's graduation to marry to build a stronger financial future, or marry sooner and end our long-distance relationship?

I could tell he wanted to marry. He told me that while it would be difficult, we could make it work.

My brain stopped at "difficult" and didn't want to hear anything else. I told him we'd be so much happier and more stable if we waited. We set a potential date for 3 years out.

But we were both unhappy. It was the new unspoken elephant in the room.

The truth is that I was afraid to leave home. The transition into adulthood has been less than kind to me, and the thought of leaving my job and my family to begin a new life with Brian in New York was terrifying.

Fear ruled me. And it left me with a hole in my heart for something more.

I was that rich man, hoarding my money and my comfort and my control-freak ways inside the little barn of my life. Too scared to venture out, I shut the door on my vocation in the name of security.

Unsurprisingly, I grew to resent it. I was running away from the beautiful life that God is calling us toward all for the influence of a few "what if"s.

Finally, I cracked and told him of my change of heart. We spent a weekend together praying and talking with our parents and couples we trust.

We emerged at the end of it with a new wedding date that is not too far away. It means I will leave home, my job, my friends, everything I've ever known.

You'd think I'd be melting. But actually, I have more peace and joy in my soul than I have in a very long time.

Together, we made a decision to step out of that barn and give freely to each other what God has given to us.

It's time to take that light once hidden under a basket and let the whole world see its radiance.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Things I want to remember

I saw this on Facebook today and it spoke to my heart. I think I'm going to memorize it.
“O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action. Amen."  
--Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity

Friday, April 5, 2013


Two weeks ago, I went to Long Island to spend some much-deserved time away with my other half.

Since we were approaching Holy Week, he brought me out to a nearby parish that was hosting a Lenten retreat experience called "Journey to the Cross."

The parish hall had been turned into a space of prayer, full of candles and music. The room was divided into 12 stations, each one depicting a particular event from the last week of Jesus' life. We blessed ourselves with holy water on the way in, and were greeted by a volunteer who told us to take as much time at each station as we liked. The room was open all day long, so we also had plenty of privacy and space.

The first wasn't actually about Jesus, but about us. Signs on the wall asked us to think about how we would spend our last week in life. There were postcards and pens on the table, and we silently sat down to write.

I exhaled hard. Even contemplating death sends me into a tailspin.

Still, I quieted my mind and pushed back the lump in my throat. What did I want?

I wanted a week full of family, faith, joy. I wanted to travel. I wanted to thank my parents for everything, especially the seeds of faith they planted in my childhood. I wanted to be with Jesus in Adoration.

I will fear nothing, because I know that I belong to the God who loves me. He has always cared for me, and He will never let me go. 

I stared at the little card and blinked back tears before writing the last line:

I want to leave this world in Brian's arms, and walk into His.


Later, the stations found us contemplating the Passion. We wrote a note to God on palms, tossed coins as the moneychangers in the Temple in repentance for our sins, washed our hands as a reminder of our redemption, ate bread as the Apostles did at the Last Supper.

The second half was darker: drinking straight vinegar from the "cup of suffering,"  writing our names on a kiss of betrayal, nailing our sins to a wooden cross.

But at the end we planted seeds, a sign of the Resurrection. Jesus waited for us in Adoration there, the floor covered with carpet, pillows and blankets.

I sat on the floor wrapped in a blanket inscribed with the words of the Serenity Prayer. Brian laid prostrate beside me. I counted my blessings and thanked God for each one. He has always given me exactly what I need. And He always would.


We sat at an Irish pub later that night, watching one of our friends play a classic rock gig. I sipped a White Russian and tried to savor every moment of these days as a "normal" couple ... I would go back home the next day. Back to distance, back to waiting, back to life without him by my side.


I startled at hearing his voice on the microphone. Our friend sat beside him and started to play the guitar. What was this about?

Internally I groaned. I hate attention, but bless his heart, the man is not shy about showing his love for me. I did my best to focus on the words as he sang, glad for the gesture but wondering why he would do such a thing.

Baby, can you answer this question for me? 
When did God seem to find the time to make you so perfectly?
And baby, I think we're much more than maybe, 
So what's the point in wasting all this time? 
We've got all our lives to see. 

I listened closely, the musician in me racking my brain to figure out what song this was, but I'd never heard it before. It was hard to focus. Unbridled, reckless joy rolled off of him in waves, and I couldn't help but feel emotional knowing it was over me.

The song was almost over. I kicked my feet, still trying to shake off my bashfulness at the public display of affection.

Baby, can you answer one last question for me?
'Cause I've had this on my mind
And I think it's time to see.

"Oh, my God," I said aloud, at once flushed and freezing. I couldn't be. It couldn't be. But as he watched my face and grinned from ear to ear, I couldn't help but beam back at him. I knew. And he knew I knew.

So will you...

I will forever remember him walking back to our table as he sang, microphone in one hand, the other in his pocket.

Will you...

He stood in front of me, then knelt before me, offering a delicate ring. Sparkling but simple, not glitzy. Elegant. Just my style. Perfect.

He was perfect for me.

Marry me?

I didn't hesitate.

"Yes I will."


Now, we plan "we." I look at the diamond on my left hand and wonder if this is all real. You couldn't have told me two years ago when I met him that I would marry Brian.

But God has mapped our steps. Over and over again He has pointed us toward each other, crossed our paths, even given me a second chance when I turned him down once before.

"All things work for the good of those who love Him..."

Our life together will be a living witness of His love.

We can't wait. Please pray for us.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


It takes a lot to disrupt the rhythm of work at my newsroom. We are a daily newspaper, and for most of the reporters, deadline is always looming.

But on a Wednesday afternoon three weeks ago, white smoke from the Sistine Chapel brought our workday to a standstill.

I am the only Catholic in the newsroom, and some of the editors began to pepper me with questions: how long until we know? What are the odds it'll be an American? Who are some of the front-runners?

I told them what I knew, then spent the next 20 minutes with my other half on the phone, glued to both the TV and my computer. Whenever something big happens in the news, I immerse myself in social media. It's an incredible way to gauge the world's pulse. But I digress.

Habemus papam!

Finally. Finally the Chair of Peter was filled. The uncertainty and waiting were behind us now.

I remember the first time I heard the name Jorge Bergoglio. "What?" I asked aloud, as if the cardinal making the announcement would repeat it for me. "Who is that?"

Of all the names I had read and studied since the announcement of Pope Benedict's resignation a month before, Bergoglio's wasn't one. He was brand new to me and, judging by the muted reaction from the crowd, I wasn't alone.

But like many, in the scramble to learn as much as I could as fast as I could, I grew to like him.

And when the smiling, easygoing Pope Francis bowed before the crowd in St. Peter's Square to ask for their prayers, my heart swelled with hope.

In the days immediately following his election, just about everyone buzzed about this gentle, but uncompromising Jesuit from Buenos Aires. And to my great surprise, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, even among those in my life who are fallen away or non-Catholic.

He had reached them already with his unassuming acts of love.

Only three weeks into his papacy now, Francis is still causing ripples across the Church and the rest of the world. Some are incredulous at his unprecedented break with (small "t") tradition. Some are hopeful it means the Church will change her teaching. Others are convinced he will reverse much of the good accomplished by Benedict.

I try to ignore all that. What I know for sure is that the Holy Spirit will always protect the Church, whether Francis succeeds or fails.

But from what I've seen so far, I believe God has given us just the man we need right now. I say to the doubters what he said to us just a few days ago: "Don't let anyone rob you of hope."

I won't.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Faith and Feelings

Happy Easter! I come to the end of the day as I do every year: relieved, at peace, and full of amazement that I am sustained by God's grace.

This Lent was a challenge in ways I never expected. I've spent the entire season tending to my health, and the demands of recovery often caused serious distractions in my prayer life.

Now that I'm finally beginning to recover, I confess that part of me wants a second chance at Lent, another shot to "do it right."  At the same time, though, I was confident that there would still be lessons to learn.

The biggest lesson of all came during the Triduum this week.

Recently, during a discussion with my deacon's wife, I was asked to confront my feelings surrounding death and the afterlife. Both of these are difficult subjects for me — I've struggled with an intense fear of dying since I was very small, and the idea of an afterlife is perhaps the most trying on my faith. That conversation, coupled with my own contemplation in the following days, prompted a visit from my old friend Doubt.

But I've walked this road so many times that it almost doesn't hurt anymore. Almost.

At the Good Friday service, I found myself feeling desensitized by the Passion. It was all so long ago, and we are so far removed from it now. Can we trust what we've been told? Do I really believe all this?

I cried as we knelt for Communion. There are days when I feel like I have no faith, that I'm living a lie and shouldn't really be there at all if I don't feel it ring true in my soul.

But as I walked up to receive, it hit me.

I might not have warm fuzzies of belief in my heart or a bedrock certainty of God's existence, but I do have the desire to believe. I'm very far from perfect, but that's not going to stop me from showing up and living out my life trying to love like Jesus. God looks at our intentions, especially in our struggles.

Faith, like love, is a decision that we have to make every day. It's not the consolation. I was mistaking faith for feelings.

And I may not always have belief, but I've learned that I really do have faith, after all. That is something to rejoice in this Easter season.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Create in me a clean heart..."

"Do you realize what I have done for you?"

I can imagine the night when Peter sat down for the Seder with Jesus. The stuffy warmth of the upper room full of conversation, prayer and song, and in the midst of it all, a torrent of emotions.

Judas' impending betrayal. The devotion and zeal of the Eleven. Jesus' fear, pain and doubt.

And I can imagine the awestruck hush that settled over that room when, moved by love, the Messiah stooped down to wash the feet of the one that would deny him the very next day.

Can you imagine it? By then Peter knew the truth about Jesus, but didn't quite grasp its full implications. He knew that he had been named the Rock, but didn't understand what that would mean.

And now the Christ was condescending to him?

Peter's reaction to this gift — vehement refusal — rang familiar in my heart. "But why?" the both of us seem to think incredulously, "Why are you doing this? This shouldn't be!"

Yet Jesus did it anyway. He washed Peter clean knowing full well everything that would transpire in mere hours between them.

He wanted to set a precedent. Serve even when you are no longer served. Love without limits. Give without expectation. Forgive before the apology, or better yet, forgive even before the sin.

His is a radical, earth-shattering, life-altering love that offends our sense of justice. With Jesus, we never get what we deserve.

Or perhaps we do. In the midst of our grit and grime, sin and shame, failure and floundering, we are still children of the God who loves us with immeasurable depth.

And he will continue to wash us clean. All we have to do is ask.