Saturday, December 22, 2012

What Christmas really means

I've got to admit, it hasn't been the easiest of Advent seasons.

It remains and probably always will be my favorite liturgical season. I love the sense of wonder and hushed anticipation that falls over my heart that first night we sing "O Come O Come Emmanuel" at Mass.

We are waiting for the arrival of Love Himself, the very reason for our joy.

And yet, the darkness of this world has cast a somber shadow over that hope.

We know the world needs God. But then a young man succumbing to mental illness and rage takes the lives of so many little children.

We know that God provides. But then end of the year layoffs come, leaving many jobless just in time for the new year, with little or no time to prepare.

We know that God calls us very good. But then it seems like even the best of our actions with the purest intentions are tainted by pride and sin.

We know that God's ways are above our ways. But then someone barely older than you dies tragically only days before Christmas, leaving his family shattered.

Scandal, loss, death, destruction, violence, selfishness, sin ... it's everywhere. And in our grief at the state of our society, in the struggle to find answers, healthy dialogue dissolves into bitter arguments, hurt feelings, and empty political rhetoric.

It's enough to tempt even the most steadfast believer to ask, "Where is God?"

My heart has been heavy over the last few weeks, weighed down by both personal trials and grief for the world around me that is hurting so badly.

The other night I went to a little chapel in town barely the size of my bedroom, a property built and maintained by five generations of a local family. I admired their large Nativity scene that was set up along the entire front wall and simmered in thought, trying to make sense of all that's happened.

I came up with only one thought. It's not an answer to the "why" on everyone's mind, and it doesn't attempt to pinpoint God's will.

But what I do know is this: this is why the Christ Child came. This is the world to which he was given, a world as marred by devastation then as it is now.

In the midst of this senseless pain ... Jesus has come. And He is restoring the world, one broken heart at a time.

Jesus is our Emmanuel. He truly is "God with us."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas Magic

I stumbled upon this video while browsing Facebook tonight. What a beautiful way to kick off the Advent season!


Monday, November 26, 2012

On catharsis and hurricanes

Last summer, Hurricane Irene barreled up the East Coast, plunging my home and my soul into darkness.

It was a pivotal time for me, a distinct event that opened my eyes to the miserable status quo I'd resigned myself to years before.

When the lights came back on, I emerged with a renewed desire to do things right. And, thanks be to God, that resolution continues to carry me through. Holiness is no longer something I achieve by "luck" in rare, isolated circumstances. It's a lifestyle choice.

But sometimes I stumble, as we all do. 

And a few weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy brought with her a torrent of rain and emotion.

I was down for a lot of reasons, struggling with some old sins and past hurts in a way that made me wonder if I've really grown at all. That discouragement only further weakened my soul and stoked a nasty temper to boot.

So last Saturday, I sat in the confessional with my father confessor, lamenting my actions and berating myself in the process for feeling sad and broken.

"But what are you really angry about?" he asked.

I was confused. But he told me that all of the lashing out and other sins were rooted in deeper problems that I hadn't considered. More importantly, he identified my tendency to hold things in as gasoline for my fire.

My penance that day, in addition to some Hail Marys, was to start talking about the things that trouble me. And not only did I have to talk about it, but I had to give myself over to whatever emotions I experienced. He wanted me to truly feel in order to come out the other side actually relieved, instead of resorting to quick, random outbursts.

And worst of all? He wanted me to do this specifically with my boyfriend. I fought Father on this, but he was unrelenting. "Hey, you want to share real love with him, right? Then you have to share yourself," he said. "Even the ugly parts."

That poor, poor man, I thought wryly. I already burden him so much. The last thing he needs is more of that nonsense...

But I listened. And this week I have soaked that poor man's chest with my sobs and given voice to deep worries I've only half talked about for years.

I'll be honest, it sucked. It hurt my pride. It made me feel even weaker and even more of a burden. I was angry all over again.

But at the end of that, I felt a relief that was palpable and lasting. I'm learning so much humility in this new little experiment. 

I'm learning that flushing those emotions out makes room for a clearer, calmer head, too. It's easier to make reasonable decisions when your head isn't full of junk.

And I'm learning that love, real love, is about a lot more than the moments when you're on the top of your game. 

Even with tears still dripping off my chin and snot bubbling from my nose, I am still loved. I am a hurricane in my own way, but I am still strong. I have ugly moments, but they will never take away the fact that I am a wholly beautiful woman.

What wonderful lessons to learn.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Older and Wiser

In the morning, I turn 23.

It's always a little bittersweet for me to leave one year behind and move into a new one. It's a poignant reminder that time doesn't stop for anyone, no matter how much we'd like to freeze some moments forever.

This year has been far from easy. I've been challenged in more ways and experienced more heartache than I think I ever have before.

But here's the thing: in all of that, I got stronger. I changed and grew. And I can say with a quiet sort of pride that now, on the other side of this year, I truly have come a long way.

The girl I was a year ago was someone defeated. I was trapped in sin, despair, and so much self-criticism that I couldn't even see straight. I looked to the future, to the life I saw ahead of me, and I choked on it. I didn't think I had it in me to become the woman God is calling me to be.

I learned something important about that from Simcha Fisher, a blogger at the National Catholic Register.

It's true that the present version of myself isn't ready for the future. But present-me is perfectly suited for where I am right now. And when I get to The Future, whatever it holds, I'll be ready then, too.

I've seen the hand of God all over my life, especially looking back on the tough seasons when I thought He had abandoned me. The truth is that He was never gone. If anything, He was closer then, working in the midst of it all to mold me into something even more graceful and good.

This year, he freed me from addiction. He brought me to love His wonderful Mother, who I've always been lukewarm about. He allowed me to face some of my greatest failures from the past in order to forgive myself.  He showed me I could be trusted to love and support another precious soul. He showed me I'm not the failure I thought I was. He showed me that I am good, that I can love fully, and that I am, in every sense of the word, unquestionably beautiful.

If that's not a laundry list of triumphs, I don't know what is! Alleluia!

The year ahead is full of questions and difficulties; that much is certain. But it's also full of hope, discovery and transformation.

I have God. No one can or will ever take Him away from me. With Him, and with the wonderful people He's blessed me with, I really can get through anything.

All I want this year is to experience more of that beauty, love and joy in my life, and to share that everywhere I can.

I can't wait to get started!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Beautiful Things

Last weekend I was blessed with the opportunity to make the trip up to Long Island and visit my boyfriend. My last time visiting was a day trip just a month into our relationship, and he was anxious to show me the new life he's built there.

It was, in a word, eye-opening.

The Diocese of Rockville Center is alive with activity, especially when compared to my own, rather elderly corner of the Catholic world.

We got lucky planning my visit when we did – as it turns out, a monthly holy hour for vocations fell during that weekend. I remembered him describing them to me in the past, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw.

People. Tons of people, from middle school to 20s and up. In fact, there were more than 500 of us there, so many that there was no longer any room in the pews. Instead, people sat on chairs and on the floor, in the aisles and around the altar. To say the place was packed is an understatement.

At dusk, before Adoration began I went to confession outside in the host church's rose garden. It was serene and quiet, which surprised me; there were ten or so priests scattered on the grass, and yet we couldn't hear their conversations at all.

I have to admit the hour itself was pretty cool. It was geared toward youth, and I was impressed by how eager the crowd was to get involved. Those kids could sing.  

And yet, in what could only be described as a miracle, you could have heard a pin drop as soon as the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. Have you ever seen a bunch of quiet middle schoolers? Everyone knew Who they were there to see.

I walked away from that night encouraged. Where I'm from, the Church believes that youth have given up on  faith. The number of youth groups has dwindled, with very little activity from most of those that remain. It feels to me that the attitude is one of "Why bother? They won't come."

Long Island proved to me what I always knew: they will come. And this is truly what John Paul II called the Church's "new springtime." It's beautiful. I'm so glad to be a part of it.


The next day we visited the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island, which felt less like a shrine and more like a 65-acre Catholic nature walk. The whole day was a perfect opportunity to reflect on the ways I've grown in the past year, especially in my blossoming relationship with Mary.

We walked the Stations of the Cross at the end of the day, the climax of which is a long flight of stairs leading to a life-size Crucifixion scene. I knelt on the stone ledge to pray and in about 90 seconds felt it digging deep into my shins and ankles.

I willed myself to stay down despite watering eyes and am so glad I did. Yes, it was very painful; I still have the bruises. But in that time of prayer, I got to experience suffering that meant something. It showed me in a tangible way what it means to suffer for the sake of love. All I had to do was look up at His face and remember. Pain is not the end.


A year ago, I sat on his bed weighed down by the elephant in the room and the terrible, aching distance between us ... the things we couldn't express then out of fear, confusion and the sheer newness of it all.

This year, curled up together with ice cream and old Nintendo games, it hit me.

Somewhere in the midst of the last year, we grew up. I look at him now and I don't see a strange boy that I don't understand at all. I see a man, my partner.

God has used every second of our fumbled attempts at communication and vulnerability to teach us. Through all our mistakes and the cross of separation, He has brought about an incredible good: honest, messy, life-breathing love.

It hasn't always been easy. But every day, we ask for daily bread. And we get back more than we could ever deserve.

It's like that Gungor song: "You make beautiful things out of the dust..."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Clothes Rant

Every now and then, a topic of discussion comes up that crawls under my skin and stays there. One of them is attire for Mass.

I came back to the Church at 17, and at that time I owned maybe one pair of dress pants. I wore jeans to Mass every weekend, thankful just to be there, grateful that God loved me just as I was.

As I got older, I started to make a conscious effort to dress more formally for Mass. I wanted to look my best for God. The jeans stayed, but t-shirts gave way to blouses and sandals or boots.

But today I sit in the pews and I worry.


In the Catholic circles I navigate now, discussions about clothes always turn to "suitability" and "appropriateness."

And it becomes a string of one-upping: who wears jeans, who says jeans are unsuitable, who wears dress slacks, and who wears a full suit or a skirt, saying that's the best way to honor God.

There's always someone who throws in the line that we should dress as though we were seeing the President. That one is my favorite. Now where did I hang that bridesmaid's gown ...

Underneath at all, there's a current of condescension: if you don't do these things, you're not being reverent. You're not making an effort. You're not giving God what He deserves. You're not good enough.

After a while, as you sit at Mass with these voices in the back of your mind, it can almost break your spirit.

Weeks later, you pull on your best blouse and dress pants, look critically at the curvy form in the mirror, and think, "Well, at least no one will think anything of me today."

Feeling safe at last, you head out the door.


This is the place I find myself these days, somewhere between endlessly frustrated and outright defeated.

I have always had the heart of one who sought to honor God everywhere I went and in everything I did. That internal state remains the same regardless of what I'm wearing.

But I am getting older now, and the college student label no longer "excuses" me. I find myself bending over backward about one too many things, if only to prevent cracking under the pressure of becoming a Godly woman. I do what I have to do in order to be accepted and to feel like I'm satisfying the church culture around me.

I want to shout instead to the women in dresses and the men in suits that they're not good enough, either; that they are no holier or more beloved in the eyes of God than I am, despite our efforts.

I want to embrace the girl I've seen the last few weeks in chains with green hair, sitting in the front pew and going through the Mass like she means it. I've seen people nudge each other and whisper about her.

The week we lost power in a terrible storm found me walking into Mass wearing a concert tee and short shorts — we didn't have any water to do laundry and it was all I had clean. People stared at me. Feeling humiliated, I wanted to turn around and walk out.

Instead, I thanked God with so much joy for something I so often forget: God is holding nothing back from me. Not from me or from anyone else there, for that matter. We give Him our broken hearts and He gives us everything.

Maybe I'm too progressive. Hell, maybe I just don't understand.

But for right now, for this place in my life, I am trying. I confess that there are days I just want to hear, "Yes, you are beautiful, and yes, you are good enough."

The God of all creation says that about me!

I want that to be the only thing that matters.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The woman of my dreams?

I watched an interesting video tonight by Catholic speaker Sarah Swafford on the idea of emotional virtue. It's a simple term she coined that means to control and harness our emotions in a way that lets us grow in virtue.

I'm not going to leave that video here tonight, though. Instead, I thought it would be good to do a little freewriting. So much is going on with me right now (hence my long absence – mea culpa!), and a lot of it is too jumbled for my usual posts here. Tonight, I just feel like writing, even if I don't have any "wisdom" to share.

Swafford said that the first step to being virtuous with our emotions is to have a goal in mind. "Ask yourself: who do I want to be? What qualities do I want to develop? Who is the woman of my dreams?"

Her premise was that in order to find the man of your dreams (moral, kind, strong, etc.), you have to become the woman of your dreams. If you have low standards for yourself, you'll attract guys with low standards and vice versa.

I already have the best man I could have hoped for (yuck, excuse the mush! ;)), but that's no reason to stop striving to grow. If anything, I find myself wanting to work harder.

So, here goes:

Who do I want to be? 

I want to be brave.
I want to be emotionally strong.
I want to be joyful.
I want to be classy and elegant.
I want to be gentle and nurturing.
I want to be self-assured.
I want to be modest -- inside and out.
I want to be secure in my identity as a woman.
I want to feel comfortable in my own skin again.
I want to accept with grace who I am.
I want to concern myself only with what God thinks of me.
I want to put others first.
I want to be selfless.
I want to be firm and courageous in the face of opposition.
I want to persevere.
I want to work at my goals with a peaceful and confident attitude.
I want to trust God fully for all my concerns and needs.
I want to embrace what God has given me, and be accepting of what He hasn't.
I want to live in the present moment with hope for the future.
I want to be a shelter for my future husband.
I want to be a reflection of God's love to the world.
I want to make a difference.
I want to love like Jesus.

That's the ideal version of myself. That's the woman of my dreams. Isn't she beautiful?

You'll notice I purposely avoided negatives ("don't, less, instead of") when making this list. It was tough to speak positively without criticizing my flaws, but if I hope to make progress in this, I need to talk about (and to!) myself the same way I want to treat others – with compassion and respect.

I guess it's important to see the progress I've already made, too. I've come a very long way, that's for sure, especially in the last year. Little by little, I'm becoming the woman of my dreams. I just need to keep at it and be patient.

What would your list look like? Feel free to leave a comment or write a post of your own. :) Have a great week, folks.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

This is not the end.

While my official job title involves work as a health reporter, I also work a few evenings a week on the copy desk, proofreading pages for the next day's newspaper.

A few weeks ago, I read this column by syndicated Washington Post columnist Esther J. Cepeda. It's short, so I encourage you to read the whole thing, but just in case you don't, here are the highlights.

Recently, all signs have pointed to the fact that a lot of people -- especially those of us with the unbending egotistical belief that we have what it takes to be among the few survivors of a cataclysm -- are sort of pining for "the end."  
How else to explain the zeal with which news of the bizarre Miami tragedy, in which a naked man attacked a homeless man by stripping his clothes off and then mauling his face, spurred rumors of a coming zombie apocalypse?

It's very true that the news has been exceptionally dismal and bizarre in this post-9/11 world. And Cepeda writes that some people took comfort in the possibility of the Mayan calendar predicting the Apocalypse this December.

After all, when things are this bad, they can't exactly get much worse, right? At least if the world ends, the violence and turmoil we're experiencing will go with it.

Poverty, war, injustice, abuse, divorce, abortion, infidelity ... they've always been with us. Read the Old Testament if you need evidence. Cepeda continues:
It seems like everything's going to pieces anyway, so why not entertain the possibility that the end is near? It's comforting. How else are we expected to cope...?
To those who lack faith, it's very easy to despair. Without faith, there's no way out of this. We are helpless and there's no hope, never mind an explanation of why this is happening.

But for those with faith, the truth is simple: this world isn't home. This isn't the way things were meant to be. We are called to something much greater. These things are written on the hearts of every person, theist or otherwise.

That's how I would answer Esther Cepeda. We cope because we believe this is not the end, and that there are better things in store.

More than that, however, we also believe that redemption is possible here and now. It takes a lot to change a society, but it begins with one heart at a time. Hearts can change.  Sometimes, all they need is someone to remind them.

Unfortunately, Jesus said it best: "The harvest is ready, but the laborers are few."

Clearly, we still have work to do. Let's get out there and do it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An invocation to the Sacred Heart

I'm finally starting to wrap my head around devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts. It makes sense, especially considering that St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was draw as my patron saint for the year 2012.
O Heart of love,
I put all my trust in Thee;
for I fear all things from my own weakness,
but I hope for all things from Thy goodness. Amen.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"We're all phamily here, right?"

Back when I was in high school, it was still a little odd to say you had friends on the internet whom you'd never met before.

But for me, I've had faraway friends almost as long as I've been online. The first batch came from the virtual pet site Neopets. I still have all the letters that my friend Lieren and I exchanged from the time I was in 7th grade up through my early college years. 

In high school, I fell into the fandom of a wonderful novel-length story posted on I met Courtney then; she was older than me, and both of us were practicing Pagans at the time. She was there for me when I got saved, and I shared her joy when she made the same decision a few years later. We cried together when she learned she was pregnant in my senior year, and celebrated when she delivered healthy twin girls.

Then there was ExWitch, where I made many lasting friends, including the man who became my first serious boyfriend. We were together for 3 years, and while it didn't work out, I can say honestly that I wouldn't be who or where I am now if not for the time I spent with him. 

So it felt like the most natural thing in the world, then, when I piled into my boyfriend's truck with all my stuff and headed to Pittsburgh two weeks ago, a place I'd never been before, to meet some of the folks from Phatmass for the first time.

It wasn't weird. Not for a second. If anything, being with them felt like being home.

Here in the flesh were people I had laughed, cried and prayed with for five years, in some cases. The only difference was this time, we were finally in the same room. 

Living Catholicism with every drop of my strength is sometimes a very lonely road. I came to Phatmass just two weeks before I finally went back to the Sacraments. When I did, they were there. And they've always been there, every step of the way, teaching me and lifting me up and sometimes carrying my cross when I was too broken to do so alone.

One of the places we went together was St. Anthony's Chapel, which contains the largest collect of relics from the saints outside the Vatican. Before we left, I knelt at the old school communion rail to pray, and shivered. I was keenly aware that all the saints were there with me, praying with me.

I felt it again at out last Mass together at St. Paul's Cathedral, overwhelmed with gratitude that God could connect so many lives from all across the world.

We've always called ourselves phamily. Sitting around the table eating and drinking (and drinking more) together, it became more real to me I can express. "Wherever two or more are gathered in My Name..."

I love you, guys. See you next year!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Little Visitation

It's been an insane, surreal couple of days. Unfortunately, I don't mean that in a good way.

I spent the long Memorial Day Weekend vacationing in Pittsburgh at the first-ever Phatmass Phamily Reunion, which I'll write about some other time. It was a wonderful trip full of new friends, fantastic food, and plenty of grace.

As it turned out, I needed that grace in spades this week. When I got home, I found out that my grandmother, who's been ill for almost a decade, had taken a sudden and very serious turn for the worse while I was away. She remains critical in the hospital tonight, and combined with the injuries from a recent fall she's not well at all. Please keep her in your prayers.

The "hospital rhythm" is something my family is very good at. Every few years as my grandmother's illness exacerbates, we sink back into a flow of hospital visits, odd meals and odd moods. It's gone on for so long that in some sense, it almost feels normal.

But I never get over the hospitals, the nurses, the fall risk bracelet or how sad she seems there. Her pain makes me hurt. And I am the sort that tries to run from and ignore and drown my pain by any means necessary.

Needless to say, then, visiting her in the hospital is a very difficult thing, especially now that I'm older and can choose to go on my own.

My boyfriend suggested we visit her the other night, but I blanched at the idea and brushed it aside, saying I'd see her Saturday when I visited with my Mom. But after he went home that night and I laid in bed thinking about her, I felt neglectful and a touch guilty. So the next day, I told my boyfriend of my change of heart and we trudged down to the hospital.

Seeing her was fine – it's the hospital setting that I find difficult. I chattered with her aimlessly for 20 minutes or so, eager to avoid the empty, awkward silence that likes to descend on me when I don't know what to do.

From that difficulty, though, came something profound.

I made her laugh in that 20 minutes. And I brought joy to her face and, I'm sure, to her soul. Real joy. The kind of joy that God breathes into us and wants to show us every day.

It hit me like a ton of bricks when we left the hospital room, that sense of rightness in my gut. I had forced myself beyond my comfort zone of selfishness to truly give of myself to her. And the results made not just her day, but mine.

As we walked to the parking lot, I smiled at the people we passed. And they smiled back. I gave them a reason to smile.

That's how simple it is to bring God's joy to the world. On this feast of the Visitation, I always find myself reflecting on the joy Mary brought to Elizabeth's heart when she came.

God's joy is everywhere. All we have to do is open ourselves to sharing it, just like Mary did.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Staring at the Sky

I had a wonderful Ascension Thursday this week. My Grandma was kind enough to take me to Mass, where I got to see one of my best friends from college.

The readings gave me so much to think about, but for now, I just want to focus on one verse.

"Why are you standing there looking at the sky?"

The question is posed to the Apostles who just saw Jesus ascend into heaven by a man dressed in white garments, likely an angel.

This scene is one of many that I can picture vividly in my mind. I find so much genuine humor in Scripture, especially when the Apostles are involved. I love them – they are stubborn and clueless, just like me. ;)

But I digress.

It's easy to imagine the array of emotions cycling through their heads immediately after Jesus ascended. Only six weeks before, they watched their Lord and Savior suffer an agonizing death at Calvary. That same Jesus who had healed wounds and changed hearts after performing countless wonders was torn from their lives.

And then He rose from the dead, defying everything the Apostles knew about our world. Jesus was back – transformed, glorified, and ready to continue His mission.

After the glory of the Resurrection, to see Jesus leave would have broken my heart all over again.

Can you see the shock and confusion on their faces yet? How about their pain, their disappointment, their feelings of betrayal? I can.

He rose from the dead, and He has gone away again, saying in no uncertain terms that we cannot follow, not yet.

In that moment, the magic finally ran out.

That's why the angel showed up: to remind them of their hope and their vocation.

"What are you doing, you idiots, staring at the sky as though something were about to fall from it? Jesus has gone to the Father to prepare a place for you. And until He calls you home to that place, He has given you a mission! Don't just stand there! Get out there and do something!"

I like to think that's what was really said.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Questions from a Round Peg

Today, I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time. A dear friend is struggling with a call to a beautiful vocation. He can't reconcile in his head who he is now, and who it is God is calling him to be.

I know his struggle. It's one I have every single morning when I look in the mirror.

Who am I and where am I going?

I know where I'd like to be. The distance between here and there, now and then, suffocates me.

I'm too stubborn. Too bitter. Too jaded. Too...

Too much of a round peg in square hole, generally speaking.

I was okay with that until recently.

Suddenly, I have a future and a bold, brave, wonderful calling on my heart. This tiny mustard seed I've kept locked away, safe from the elements, is finally ready to do something.

But I'm not good enough. I'm just not good enough. And I'm not sure what to do about that.

I know who God says I am. I know who I want to be. But will the rest of the world accept me?

...Since when have I cared what "the rest of the world" thinks, anyway?

Is there room for me and all my quirks in this Church? Can I be an example to others without taking on some cleaned-up, saccharine plasticized image of womanhood that just isn't me?

I've always been my own woman. And I never want that to change, that's all.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Next Five Years

I want the next five years to be different.

I want the next five years to be...
Less about mourning what I have yet to do,
But more about what God has already done 
And is doing now –
Not only in my own life,
But in every life,
Every heart,
Every soul.

I want the next five years to be...
Less full of worry for the future,
But more full of trust in what God has planned for me
And those I love –
Knowing that everything we went through yesterday,
And endure today,
Is all shaping us for tomorrow.

I want the next five years to be...
Less built on a faith of laws and rules and obligations,
But more built on the rock of God's unending love for us 
And for this whole world –
His presence in our suffering,
His compassion in our failure,
His joy in our triumph.

I want the next five years to be...
Less about

And more about


I want the next five years to be about love.

And that's all I want.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Last Five Years

It's hard to believe that tomorrow afternoon will mark five years since I came back home to the Church.

Hard to believe because it feels both like ages ago and yesterday. My soul has blossomed into something I never anticipated – something strong and free and beautiful.

And yet...

Taking stock of everything this week has left me in an odd state. I gave up so much for this faith, for God. I have been pruned and tempered and humbled and tried in more ways than I can even begin to count. I have been brought to the limit of my strength and then pushed beyond it.

There were a lot of moments I wondered if I would ever see this milestone, honestly.

In those moments where I was broken and isolated, my prayers evaporating into the air unacknowledged, it was so easy to ask myself if any of this matters at all.

I found myself longing for a time when it didn't matter, when my mind wasn't constantly occupied with unanswerable questions and inconsolable worry.

God was always there for me, yes, and the tide is slowly turning. My paternal grandmother is back in the Church; I have many dear friends in the faith; and this year I've been blessed with a wonderful man who believes just as I do, that every moment should be joyful and full of His light.

...But in the last five years, I confess that I've let much of that goodness go to waste, drowned in my penchant for worry, judgement, and despair.

I may have "made it" five years, but my attitude isn't one of celebration. Mostly, I'm just glad that I survived this long.

You know something? That's a damn shame. It took me five years to realize that while God has set me free of so much, transforming my mind and soul in the process, the real gift of His love for me, for this whole world, has yet to reach my heart.

And now that I've realized it, I'm willing to do whatever it takes to let Him change that.

To be continued ...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thomas and Me

Alleluia! Christ is risen now and risen forever!

It's been a while. But oh, what a productive while it's been...

For now, though, I need to start with the present. Divine Mercy Sunday.

One of the most beautiful things about the Church's tradition for me is our feasts. We celebrate and honor every aspect of Jesus' life and heart. And it seems that every year, there's a deeper layer of meaning to explore.

This year, sitting next to my grandmother at Divine Mercy parish of all places, I couldn't help but offer Him a humble thank you. When I began this journey of faith six years ago, I had no one. In little ways, as subtle as it may be, that tide is slowly turning.

What struck me especially this weekend was one of my favorite Gospel stories that I've heard plenty of times before: the encounter between Jesus and St. Thomas the Apostle. Elated, the eleven others who saw Jesus appear to them ran to Thomas to share the good news. But he didn't believe them.

He said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand in his side, I will not believe."

In that moment, I heard the bitterness in Thomas' voice and saw the sadness in his eyes.

On Good Friday, the apostles were utterly defeated. They had seen a man walk on water, heal their wounds, change their hearts. And then, all of that died with Jesus.

I bet I know how Thomas felt that night. For once, I thought things would be different, he must have thought. I had hope. I trusted Him. Then, with a sigh and a shake of the head: Perhaps I was too trusting.

Resigned to that despair, it's easy to envision the wry smirk that probably appeared at the expressions on the faces of his dearest friends. How crazy they must have looked after all they had seen. For Thomas, it was rubbing salt in the wound.

He and I, we're not all that different. We have this incredible gift of grace in our lives, but in the face of the bleak world before us, it's hard to take it seriously. It's almost impossible to believe.

So imagine Thomas' joy at that meeting. I'd wager he didn't just go to his knees before the Lord, but that they simply gave out in shock, amazement ... and relief. Jesus kept His word. He came through for Thomas, and for them all. For me.

His love and mercy endured. And it will endure forever.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tough Love

The Ranter wrote today about the harsh measures that God takes sometimes to get to our hearts.

As a stubborn mule, I can relate. Most of the time, I know exactly what it is I need to do in order to be who He is calling me to be. I just ... don't feel like it, that's all.

There's often a myriad of reasons for this, some more acceptable than others. I doubt my abilities. I'm afraid. I'm lazy. Heeding the call would require too much sacrifice. The list goes on.

It's why I relate so much to Jonah. He resisted the Lord so obstinately that He sent a whale to swallow him. Only then did he do what he was asked.

That's been happening to me over the past few days. I've ignored the nagging voice of my conscience for too long, or made halfhearted attempts to change my habits only to revert to my old ways soon after. Deep down, I feared that my actions would come back to bite me.

Lo and behold, I was right. And now all I can do is own up to the truth, accept the consequences, and do what I can to rectify it not only in the future, but today: proactively and with commitment.

Humility is a hard lesson to learn, that's for sure.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I am the woman at the well.

This weekend, my parish used a different set of readings in honor of our catechumen going through the First Scrutiny. In the middle of Lent, those preparing to enter the Church go through a number of ceremonies to help prepare their souls for the Sacraments, and this first one was an exorcism.

The story of the woman at the well has always meant a lot to me. But this year, my pastor offered an insight I never considered before.

The Samaritan woman was a hard worker, and this trek out to the well must have been a part of her daily routine. She was exhausted and stressed from work, and yet she had to make the journey anyway.

It's no wonder Jesus piqued her interest with the offer of water that would satisfy her always.

In some ways, this woman was caught in a cycle that would never fulfill her desires – not only physically, but spiritually. She was striving for a deep and meaningful life, moving from one man's arms to another over and over again.

Sin is like that. She wanted what we all want: just to be happy. And it took that meeting with Jesus to tell her she could not, could never, achieve that under her own strength. It takes more than just willpower alone to rise above our own failings. Most of the time, we're too proud to realize it.

Too, the woman was amazed that Jesus was even wasting His time on her, a Samaritan. She was second-class. And more than that, she was an adulteress.

In that moment at the well, He saw all of the dark, wounded places in her soul that no one else had ever seen. I know how she felt then. Awe and shame and a deep sense of unworthiness.

Yet He gave her life and love anyway, knowing full well what she was.

He does the same for me, knowing what I have been, knowing that I will always fall short of the mark.

Who am I to refuse that love?

God wants to use me anyway. All I can do is thank Him, and then show the world what He has done.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Little Birdie

Perspective really does change everything.

This morning was miserable and rainy, the sort that makes it hard to resist pulling the covers up around your ears.

Beyonce's "Single Ladies" blasted obnoxiously from my radio. My stomach grumbled impatiently for breakfast. Bleary-eyed from not enough sleep, I sighed heavily and attacked the snooze button. Nine minutes of precious silence.

I rolled over onto my back, cocooning deeper into the blankets as I began a familiar chat with the ceiling.

"Dear Lord, thank You for the gift of this day. I offer You all of my joys, my worries, my successes and failures..."

It's a morning ritual of mine. The nine minutes of that snooze period are meant for grace to shape me into something semi-capable of charity. It also steels me to face the chaos of the newsroom. I end this way:

"...and help me to see Your fingerprints and the mark of Your presence in my life today."

There are a lot of mornings when those are empty words, but I say them anyway, knowing that I need to. Knowing that it feeds my soul.

But today I just hated the rain and the noise and the day ahead. I would have much preferred shutting everything out and being a recluse.

In the last minute of my snooze time, I cursed the seconds passing way too quickly. Time to get this day over with, I thought.

And then, through the torrents of rain pounding against my window, I heard birdsong.

The little bugger was singing its heart out, bad weather be damned. He was going to be happy anyway.

I couldn't help but smile, then laugh. God's fingerprints are everywhere, all the time, if we're open to seeing them.

Today was a great day, all thanks to a bird.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

An Ambitious Lent?

For the first time in ages, Lent was a welcome sight on the calendar.

God in His mercy has done so much for me this year. High up on the list is that I have a clearer sense of my  vocation to marriage and motherhood than I ever have before.

In the past, it was always something I wanted, like a good job. But now I know that it's a true calling. God is asking me if I will serve Him this way when the time is right.

Truly realizing that has drawn both incredible joy and a lot of self-doubt from my soul.

I'm so many things: selfish, immature, insecure and bad at expressing what's on my heart. How in the world am I supposed to love a man with my whole life? And then, with that love, take part in creating new life? Nurturing souls? Guiding people to heaven?

The hugeness of that is enough to paralyze me at times. But it also starts a fire in my bones.

I may not be ready now, but the Spirit is crying out to me just like John the Baptist did. "Prepare the way of the Lord!"

Lent couldn't have come at a better time. I needed motivation to evaluate my life and start taking baby steps toward change.

This year, it feels less like sacrifice and more like stretching my aching muscles after years of laziness. It hurts like hell right now, but at the same time, it feels amazing.

I started with cutting out sweets (including coffee, sigh) and adding gentle exercise in an attempt to rein in the screaming toddler that my body can be. While I've taken huge strides in self-discipline over the past six months, there's still a depressingly long way to go.

Only a few days ago, I stole a second idea from a friend: praying and offering my daily sufferings for 40 people who have asked, one per day. I'm hoping it'll teach me to think a little less about my needs and more about those around me. I'm already starting to see beautiful things happen as a result of those prayers, if only subtly.

On Wednesday, when I took ashes on my forehead and marked myself with His Cross, it was the most natural thing in the world. My brokenness and need for Him is painfully easy to admit. There's no way I'm going to become the woman my future family -- whatever it looks like -- needs me to be without His grace.

The beauty of this season is that if we play our cards right, we get to rise out of this stronger, a little more capable, and a little more like Him.

I'm not going to run or bemoan the challenge this year. Instead, I want to milk it for all its worth.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Regime Change ... Again

Three years ago, my first true confessor left our parish for a new assignment. At the time, I wrote of my own anxieties about starting over with someone new.

I was getting ready to transfer colleges and live on my own for the first time. Everything around me was changing, and this was the last straw: the steady presence of my spiritual community was shaken.

Soon after Father left, I started talking with great reluctance to a "baby priest" who was given his first assignment here. The last thing I wanted to do was open my soul again for someone else to dig through unwelcome.

God, in His great mercy, knew what He was doing putting that one into my life.

The first few months were hard. At school, I struggled with homesickness and turned to both my vices and my faith to cope. By midterms, I left a long-term, long-distance relationship. My grandmother was fresh out of the hospital from another exacerbation of lung disease, and my love for her fostered a resentment toward God that flirted dangerously with atheism.

There were a lot of frantic emails and calls home to my new confessor that first year. But to his credit, he helped me through it. For the most part, it was just through listening and prayer, but that was what I needed most.

Now, three years later, it seems we've come full circle: I graduated college and moved on into the unknown of adulthood. I'm relearning how to love in this new relationship. The merger that began in my parish when my new confessor arrived three years ago is now complete, and he moved to his new assignment yesterday morning.

I'm moving on. So is he.

But you know what? This time, I was ready for it.

The other thing I learned from Father is to always strive first and foremost after God, for the sake of my own spiritual independence.

While there's still a lot going on in my soul that I need help working through, I'm probably in the healthiest place I've ever been. I'm learning to let God show me where to go. And that's why, as much as I'll miss him, I know I'll be OK.

God has always provided. He will again.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Love is Enough

I would be remiss if I didn't write some kind of silly love post for Valentine's Day.

To be honest, though, the holiday has never been more than another day on my calendar.

A lot of that comes from my preference for simple things. I'm not a flashy girl. Don't get me wrong -- I love presents, flowers are beautiful, and it goes without saying that chocolate should be a food group. Generally, though, flattery leaves me feeling both bashful and humbled. As someone who spends a lot of time trying to look tough, that isn't the most comfortable mix of feelings. ;)

Maybe I just need to get used to it ... the idea that sometimes, we really do deserve good things. That every now and then, we should spoil the people we love.

True love is accepting another person as they are, warts and all. It's not so much about what they say or do, but more about embracing something a lot deeper: the unique, unrepeatable soul that God has made and called not just good, but very good.

He calls us very good. And He loves us with more depth and strength than we could ever love any human being.

If that makes you feel uncomfortable, it probably should. But that's the beauty of true, God-driven love: it's given anyway, with no reservations, whether we deserve it or not.

There's really nothing any of us can say or do to repay that. David knew that well when he asked, "How can I make a return for all the Lord has done for me?"

All I can do is be thankful ... and do my best to love that much in return. That's really all He wanted in the first place.

Friday, January 20, 2012

As for religion, I love it.

If you've been paying attention to the spiritual blogosphere lately or even just Facebook, then you're bound to have seen this spoken word video about Jesus and religion. That original video has spawned dozens of responses from Christians, atheists, and all sorts of others.

There have been a few from the Catholic perspective, but the one I want to share is from Indiana's Fr. Burns, aka Pontifex. He not only serves as a diocesan priest, but he's also an incredibly talented hip-hop artist. I've been one of many touched by his music and ministry in the Phatmass phamily.

The point is this: Jesus didn't hate religion. He hated hypocrisy from anyone, regardless of creed. Dead hearts broke His heart. Liturgy and ritual is only empty if we treat it like a chore and not a real, physical encounter with Jesus.

Check out Father's video, and when you're done, come and talk with us about it. The discussion thread is here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I don't often write poems anymore, let alone post them publicly. But when the urge to write one does come along, it's fast and furious,  and more often than not they come out almost ready-made.

This one encompasses nicely everything I took away from the retreat, and the direction I'm trying to go in now. Enjoy.

January 11, 2012

I need
To think.

Slow down,
Breathe in;

To look up and search for those
Little streaks of You
That I see mixed in, just barely,
In the paint of the night sky.

I need
To remember.

To dig deep,
Wake up;

To shake off the haze of this
Complacent status quo
That I built, like a wall
Around my fragile faith.

I need
To let go.

To realize Your love is the strength
Running through my veins
That I receive even if
It’s the last thing I deserve.

I need
To accept.

…That I am not an island in this world.
…That life is never perfect,
…That I am not perfect.

But even so,
I am Yours.

And for that,
I am beautiful.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Little Voice

If I had a nickel for every time someone made a reference to the "still, small voice" of God, I wouldn't need to work anymore.

Most of the time, my skeptic heart has dismissed the phrase. To me, language like that is just a pretty way of saying that God doesn't really speak at all.

But on retreat, I came to a different conclusion that somehow makes more sense, at least in my mind.

One of the seminarians who traveled with us gave a talk about the value of meditation and how to get started. As a Pagan, I meditated often, but the sort Catholics speak of is very different. Eastern-style meditation seeks to empty the mind of all thoughts, but in our spirituality, we open ourselves to whatever wispy ideas come along. Those, the seminarian said, could be God's way of reaching out to us.

Of course, I thought that was a bunch of hokey, too. But when our quiet hour came, I gave it a try.

Walking the grounds of the retreat house is always a spiritual experience in itself. Running downhill with the sun on my back and the wind in my hair, everything around me screamed of Him. I may be a skeptic, but as my father told me once, "You can't look around at all this and not believe there is Someone who made it all, and who cares for us."

God cares so deeply for His creation, for us; so much, in fact, that He's woven Himself so tightly into the fabric of this world that you almost miss it. He's so much a part of our world that His voice is no longer booming, but subtle and saturated into everything around us. We experience Him daily in a million little ways.

This is a new revelation for me. It's like Samuel hearing the voice of God, but thinking it was someone else speaking as we heard this weekend ... those pesky thoughts that "interrupt" our time with Him are often truly His way of speaking. Our supernatural, extraordinary, divine God has chosen to reveal Himself in natural, ordinary, very human ways.

He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of reason. We have an innate desire to do good. And more often than not, intuition will show us where to go. It may not be a burning bush, and He may not appear in flesh, but He does appear and speak all the time. He speaks through us.

All we need to do is listen, like Samuel did.

Friday, January 13, 2012

More like falling in love...

I came back from retreat on Sunday afternoon, and have spent large chunks of time since then trying to unpack everything that happened there.

It was not the easiest weekend, but at the same time, I'm extremely glad I went. Being in an unfamiliar group with a different priest stretched me out of my comfort zone. Thankfully, I'm social and got to know lots of great people.

More importantly, though, the only one I really had to lean on was God.

I ran from Him for the longest time, even after I came back to my faith. I didn't want to change. I didn't want to see everything in my heart that needed fixing. Perhaps the biggest reason was personal: I blamed Him for circumstances in my life that weren't His fault.

For so long, then, I associated God with a host of negative things. I knew that, but was too afraid to face it. It would hurt too much. But this weekend, I allowed myself to get to the bottom of all of that, and when I did, I found Him waiting with open arms.

We are building from the ground up a relationship that began six years ago out of confusion and desperation. It was a broken relationship from the start because, in so many ways, I was broken.

Little by little, I'm finding that brokenness is fading. My flaws are many, but He has healed and continues to heal me of so much.

Retreat allowed me to open myself to His love in a way I was never able to before. At one point, alone in front of the tabernacle, I thanked Him for that ... but the answer I got wasn't what I expected at all:

Thank you for letting Me in. It's about time.

I hope this is only the beginning.

As with most things, this song says it much better than I can.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Thou Shalt Laugh!

Before I leave for retreat, here's a silly video. I typically find "Christian" comedy extremely lame, but this made me smile. This is Michael Jr. of Thou Shalt Laugh. Thanks to Brian for passing this on. :)

Have a good weekend, everybody.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole

Merry Christmas, happy new year, and apologies for being so quiet over the Christmas season...

I spent the last two weeks with family, friends, and an exorbitant amount of food. And I walked into 2012 a few pounds heavier.

More than that, though, I am a touch holier than I was at the beginning of Advent. Let me explain:

When you really love another person, there's often this compulsion to be different, be better, for their sake. They have given you so much, they deserve so much, yet all the ways you can think of to show your gratitude feel ... inadequate.

That sense of inadequacy hit me hard over this vacation, both in the ways God has loved me and the ways others have. Over and over again, He has given me more than I could ask for.

This new year, I marked six years since I gave my life to Christ. Until recently, I thought I was doing pretty well. Perhaps I am. But lately, I have learned just how abysmally far I have yet to go.

That frustrates me. And I'm thinking it's time for some progress.

This weekend, I'm going on retreat with a group of young adults I've spent only a short time with. I don't know them well at all, and am admittedly uneasy about sharing my heart with mere acquaintances.

Too, there's the daunting realization that, while there, I have to face Him alone once more. Being one half of a spiritual team has become so natural to me -- it is my eventual vocation, after all. The departure from that, however brief, is a bit nerve wracking.

Being alone with God is usually too much for me to handle. If I can avoid Him, I will. And I have.

But this walk is all about seeing ourselves for who we are, and not the puffed-up delusion we imagine for ourselves. It's only when we own up to how badly we need Him that He can truly work.

My only goal this year is to emerge a little stronger, and a little more worthy of the name "Christian." An ambitious goal, maybe, but it's long overdue.

So I'll do what I dread and face this retreat, even if it hurts. Everything worth having is worth the struggle ... and a better, healthier, more joyful me is more than worth it.

Please pray for me.