Tuesday, November 14, 2017

To Believe or Not To Believe

On a cloudless autumn day, under the sky so peacefully blue, the sun shines down like rain.  The tops of the trees catch the light like fire and begin to flicker like flames in the soft breeze.

And in the midst of the warm, bright plans we make, doubt creeps in and darkness grips the soul of it all.

Sweet gray pots etched with silver words and holding baby flowers catch my eye and speak to me: Love, they say.  Joy.  Believe.  Words that remind me, words that call forth beauty, hope, peace, words that call me on to live these things in my life.

We don't need any more plants in our tiny apartment, but the words and the sweet baby orchid blossoms of white and purple beckon me.  On closer inspection, I see the pots are cracked--hence the reason they are sitting in the break room marked down for associates.   

I don't need a broken pot with another orchid in it, I tell my husband.

No, you don't, he says, but you're going to get one anyway.

He knows me well.

I find it difficult to choose only one, because I need all of these reminders!  I know that the greatest of these is Love and that in the humdrum routine of the daily grind I struggle often to be Joy, but I choose the healthiest looking plant with promising baby white blooms and it tells me Believe


Life goes on and continues to resist our efforts to move forward.  As darkness and doubt creep in, it would be easy to let them consume us, to crush our hope.  But there in the corner of our living room is a little broken pot that reminds us:  Believe. 

Believe.  And I know that this imperfect pot is a grace, a simple moment of beauty that God is using to show me my imperfect self and a deeper truth.

While we make our plans, we trust in God and His perfect plan.   We know that when the outcome is not what we would prefer it to be, ultimately it is what God wants, and therefore, it is perfect.  This is not always easy to grasp, but then, the cross never is.  And we know that without the cross, there would be no glory.

Without our cracks, our brokenness, our wounds, our weaknesses, our darkness, we would not need His Mercy. 

We are all imperfect, cracked and broken, but no matter how beaten and bruised we are, we always have a home with God.  He heals our wounds and uses them to make us more beautiful than we were before.  We learn to trust in Him.  And life happens and we get hurt again and again, but we continue to trust and believe in His Mercy, His Healing Love, His Goodness. 

Sometimes the wounds cut deep and take time to heal, and sometimes the darkness seems never-ending, and as we wait to feel healed, we wonder what the point is of continuing to believe, to hope.  But in the darkness and in our pain, we are closest to Him on the cross.  He holds us in His Heart so that our thirst is His thirst, and I have found that the surest way to quench this thirst for both of us is to choose to believe, to pray over and over, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24).

And He will.  He will absolutely help your unbelief.  And it probably won't be at all in the way you think, but He will fix your broken pot, and in the meantime, He'll give you grace, which might look like precious baby orchids.  Or something else entirely.  Or something that you can't even see.  No matter how the grace falls--like petals, like snow, like an invisible strength deep inside you--never forget that He loves you, He loves you, He loves you!

HE LOVES YOU.


P.S.  If you're looking for a more book-length encouragement on how to keep hoping in the darkest darkness, check out Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors.  I highly recommend it! #goodreads
 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Slowing Down

The last few weeks have been busy for me.  I attended several workshops on how to set small manageable goals and habits for developing a prolific writing life (or whatever life you want to have, really).  In the midst of that I've been meeting weekly with a group to prepare for Marian consecration on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  And in the middle of all of that, I've had some intensely stressful things to deal with.

While I enjoyed my workshops and meetings, they caused my work schedule to be even more up and down than usual and the stress was starting to take its toll.  I was so exhausted to the point where I almost wasn't sure I was going to get through work on Monday.  I was off early that day and two glorious days off in a row followed, so I had all sorts of lists going of things I wanted to accomplish and errands I needed to run.  Of course, I also had to crank out a few hours on my fiction writing project, since that's what I vowed to do in my writing workshop.

But by the time I left work on Monday, I knew none of that was going to happen.  No, not even the writing.  If I was going to survive this week, I needed to slow down and take time for myself.

It's interesting how clear it all came to me while I was taking those workshops.  I was busy making plans and creating schedules so I could follow my dream to write a book, and life happened, as life does, forcing me to reevaluate my priorities.

Like I said in my last post, writing is a part of me, and I owe it myself to write regularly.  What I've discovered for myself though is that the writing will take different forms.  Sometimes I'll have the creative energy to put into fiction (and eventually I will finish writing a book!).  And sometimes I'll need to write in my journal or on this blog in order to slow down, to reflect, to process what's on my mind and in my heart.

So yesterday I didn't venture far from home.  I enjoyed a leisurely morning, then did some basic cleaning around the apartment, walked to the nearby church for noon mass, watched an episode of Dr. Quinn (the whole series is on Amazon Prime, fyi) while I ate lunch, did some reading and journaling, walked to the library to return a few books, and then drove up to work to pick up a few grocery items for meals for the next two days just in time to give my husband a ride home.

I still accomplished some things, but I didn't kill myself over it.  I took the time to notice the clear blue sky devoid of any clouds, to feel the heat of the sun and the cool whisper of the gentle breeze, to sit on the balcony in silence and eat an apple while watching the neighborhood unfold beneath me.

And after that slow-mo day yesterday, I feel more rested.  I had the clarity to sit and write here, and there's creativity flowing in my brain again, so, depending on how the day goes, I may work on my fiction later as well.

Part of me feels guilty that I didn't follow the schedule I made for myself, especially after just coming out of those workshops!  But I think we need to learn to forgive ourselves when we don't accomplish everything we want to.  Sometimes, especially when life throws us curve balls, we have to slow down and take care of ourselves.  Otherwise, how can we ever be expected to care for others?

During these two days of slowing down, I've lived more intentionally, more mindfully, and I've reconnected with my center, which is Jesus.  He's still holding me close; He never let me go.  And He hasn't taken the pain away, but He's transforming it, and transforming me so that I can bear it with all the love with which He bears His.

This book by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, changed my life. Just FYI.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Way I Am

As I sit here letting my fingers glide over the keyboard, I know that it has been too long since I've really written on here regularly.  Ingrid Michaelson is playing, and I am reminded of that time her song "The Way I Am" was an incredible grace for me.

The song was new to me, but I loved it.  I was on a retreat with the Little Flowers (my household, which is like a spiritual sisterhood) my sophomore year of college.  In a moment of prayer, little introverted me received an immense grace.  I felt for the first time really and truly unconditionally loved for me.  I felt I had lived my life up until then content to hide in the shadows of my older siblings, lost in my own little introverted head.  God whispered to me that day that I am unique, that I have my own light to shine, and I don't have to compare myself or try to live up to someone else's expectations:  I have only to be me, and God will take me the way I am.

With the words of Ingrid's quirky song in my head, I felt really and truly loved and alive.

It's funny how over the years we change, and yet we stay so much the same. 

I couldn't resist!

At a workshop I recently attended, I heard it put this way:  Change is inevitable; growth is optional.

I love that.  Change will always come with time, and often without our having any control over it--seasons, age, sickness, outward obstacles that prevent us from going where we want to go.  Growth, however, is an option.  Growth is born out of our reaction to whatever life throws our way.

Lately I've been focusing on that whole, "Bloom where you're planted" idea.  Part of that blooming means first rediscovering myself.  For too long I've played the victim of circumstance.  I can't seem to get ahead making any big changes, so I'm starting small.  These small steps are creating momentum, and I find that I'm accomplishing more, but more importantly, I'm remembering who I am.  That helps me remember to do the things I love. 

By making a priority to write, I am remembering that writing is a part of who I am.  It's how I express myself, how I best communicate with others.  I have stories in me that I need to tell, and I'm letting myself tell them now.  As I allow this part of me to bloom, as I accept my need to be this person, I am being more true to myself, and that will help me not only move forward but also live more fully where I am.

In many ways, though I've changed and grown a lot over the years, I am still that immature, romantic college sophomore who made the song from an Old Navy sweater commercial her anthem.  She's a part of me, a part of who I have become, a part of who I am becoming.  The darkness that has fallen over my life these days is similar to the darkness I experienced before that revelation, but I've placed my hope once again in God and in His particular care for me.  

In my time of need, He is reminding me how much He cares for me.  He is telling me that He won't take away all the pain, because the pain brings me closer to His own suffering heart.  He wants to hold me close to His heart, to let His blood cover me and purify me.  He takes me the way I am.  He wants more for me than I want for myself, and when I give Him full reign over my life, He teaches me how to love myself better, and in turn, love others better.    

He takes me the way I am.

He takes you the way you are.

He loves us unconditionally.  Even if we keep making mistakes and falling and failing miserably and ignoring Him completely, He is still there to pick us up.  And He wants us to do this for each other.

I aspire.




Thursday, September 28, 2017

Note to Self

"Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.  Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you." (1 Peter 5:7-10)
 Cast all your anxieties on him,  Give him your worries, your pains, your fears, your tears.

for he cares about you.  He loves you with an everlasting love, a merciful, steadfast love.  He loved you first and will love you forever.

Be sober, be watchful.  Get off your phone.  Turn off the TV.  Be mindful of the words you say, of the thoughts you entertain.

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.  Keep your eyes on God, let God be your strength, your focus, your light, so that you do not become easy prey.

Resist him, firm in your faith, Give God your yes in all things--embrace the crosses and the sufferings he sends your way, trusting that he will carry you through the darkness, no matter how long it takes.

knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.  No one is alone in their suffering, in their fight against sin.  We all experience anxiety, temptation, fear, loss, doubt.

And after you have suffered a little while, even if it seems much more than a little while,

the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, because he calls all of us, because he loves us dearly, more dearly than we can ever know

will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.  You look forward to it, and hold onto the promise with hope, and in the meantime you continue to Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." (John 15:9)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Hello!

It's been awhile.  Too long.

You know how sometimes life is just going too fast and everything's changing and you can't keep up to catch your breath, much less blog?  This is the opposite of that.

Everything in our lives seems stagnant right now, and all the efforts we make to move forward have so far been fruitless.  It's hard not to get discouraged, but we've found ways to make sure we keep our priorities where they need to be and also take the time to stop and smell the roses.  I haven't written on here because I felt uninspired, but just making a few changes in my routine has made some huge improvements, so I thought I'd ease back into writing by discussing them here:

No news. . .is good news.
We stopped watching the news on a regular basis. It's nice being able to catch snippets here and there about the big, important things going on in the world, but without having to sift through the white noise and constant chatter of politicians spewing ignorance and hate.  This little change has gone a long way to improve our moods and our ability to deal with the frustrations that we face while working in customer service.

More Good News
In my last post I mentioned that I set a goal for myself to read the Bible in a year.  I was doing well for a few months, but eventually I reached a point where it became something on my to-do list that I just wanted to get over with.  I usually intended to do it right when I got home from work, but if I didn't feel like it, I would push it off by procrastinating (i.e. watching Netflix), and then feel guilty for reading anything else until I had read my daily Bible readings.

About the same time, I realized that I was miserable in the mornings.  Working at a coffee bar means I wake up stupid early most of the time.  Usually as I ate breakfast, I would browse Twitter and become increasingly depressed and angry at the world.  I tried to read my Bible in the mornings on occasion, but most days I didn't have enough time to finish that day's section and then I would be extra disgruntled and rushed.

I decided to do something completely crazy and get up an extra 15 minutes early every morning.  Which means 3:10 am some days, and 5:10 am other days.  It was crazy for me, and I knew it, but I had to try it.

Oh, how sweet it has been!

Beginning the day with scripture, whether or not I am 100% awake to fully appreciate it, puts me immediately in the presence of God.  I am filled with hope in His Word and not losing hope in humanity.  I am not really any more tired, and in fact I find myself more at peace and prayerful as I go about the rest of my day.  The rest of my day has more purpose and fulfillment, more order.  And when I get home from work, I don't have that guilty nudging to read the Bible hanging over my head.  I can read more if I want, or go back and re-read it with a slightly more aware state of mind, or I feel free to pursue other things, like the many writing projects I have started or reading a fictional book or exercising.  And I've done a lot more of all of those things!

Books I've Been Reading
It can be hard to get back into reading when you've been out of the loop for awhile.  Once I find a good book though, I have a hard time putting it down.  Two of the books I read recently were recommended to me and I liked both a lot, the third I picked up for free and it was a total bust. That said, I am now taking recommendations for good books!  On my list currently are The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (thanks, Justine!), Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh  (I was supposed to read it in college, but didn't get far past the Spark Notes...oops), and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (thanks, Morgan and Margaret!).

Recently read:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (thanks, Kathleen!)
This was a very sweet story about a middle school boy with a facial abnormality who goes to school for the first time.  It's told from various viewpoints which add depth to the story and the characters.  I recommend reading it before the movie comes out in November!

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult (even though it was free, no thanks!)
I was really into this book.  Despite weak character development and therefore underdeveloped relationships between characters, I was still intrigued by the narration of this story which explores the lives of both a former SS soldier and a survivor of Auschwitz.  Both are fictional, but the details written from extensive research provide a tiny glimpse into what life was like on both sides of the concentration camp.  It's not easy to read at times, but I kept going hoping for a good resolution.  I won't give away the details, but ultimately weak character development leads to a pitiful "twist" that's only a twist because it's so incredibly inconceivable that this character would do what they do.  I was angry for days, but hey, it motivated me to jump back into my own fiction writing so that I can write something better!  So that's something.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (thanks, MIL!)
This was an interesting story about a black labor and delivery nurse who was ordered not to touch the baby of a White Supremacist.  The baby dies anyway and since the nurse was there when it happened, she is charged with murder.  Told from the perspectives of the nurse, her white lawyer, and the White Supremacist, it provides a timely glimpse into how race is treated both in the justice system and our society.  Again, Picoult's characters are flat and stereotypical at times, but it's a very interesting story and a good starting point into the issue for someone like me who has grown up white surrounded by white people and doesn't understand how/why racism is still a thing.

So again, I'm taking recommendations, but my husband has asked that they be happier.  I think he's tired of me yelling and crying at my books.

The Writing Life
Because (insert one or more of the many excuses I have made to explain why I haven't developed a disciplined writing routine, i.e. my inconsistent work schedule, my lack of a perfect writing space, my inability to pick one of the many writing projects I have started and focus on one, etc.), I am still working on developing a really consistent, disciplined writing life.  However, like I said before about how changing my morning routine to accommodate time for Scripture reading has given me more order and freedom in my day-to-day life, this has been leading to more and more times where I sit itching to write.  Also, like I mentioned above, reading poorly written books lights a fire in me and motivates me to want to do it better.

With real motivation, I've been working on sitting down to write for an hour each day, whether it's one of my novels, a nonfiction piece, or this blog.  My hope is that as I continue to practice, my stories will begin to unfold and I will find a good direction to follow a piece that I may actually finish.  The key will be keeping it a priority that I make the time to write!

We have a joke of the day at work,
and I get a lot of mine (like this one) from @ThePunnyWorld on Twitter.
I love this husky.


Diddly Squats
Exercising is not my thing, but of course, I try to get some in regularly.  I am not by any means a yogi, but I find that I feel better when I do yoga or even just stretch at least once or twice a week for 30 minutes.   I had a few videos of routines I like that move at a decent pace and aren't too long, but I eventually found it hard to focus when I had the videos memorized and just wanted to get through the routines.  Since yoga is a meditative activity as much as a physical one, I decided to go full-on Catholic nerd and incorporate spiritual meditation with my yoga.  I found audio of people reciting the rosary (on YouTube) and I started doing my yoga while praying the rosary and meditating on the mysteries.  It's a win-win situation.

And a bonus for all that reading I'm doing now?  The library is within walking distance, so whenever I finish a book, I go for a little walk to drop it off and pick up a new one if I need to.

Other Random Things
We have been cooking at home more which has helped us feel more settled (and full of delicious foods).  And as of right now (knock on wood), we are without a next door neighbor in our apartment, so the small second floor balcony is all ours.  We made it a home for our pepper plants and herbs as well as some comfy chairs.  We've gotten to do a lot more porch-sitting in the evenings either talking or reading or heckling the passers-by like Statler and Waldorf.

"It's good to be heckling again."
"It's good to be doing anything again."
"Doh-ho-ho-ho!" 

Overall, not much has changed in terms of the big things, but the little changes we're making have helped us approach life's daily trials with a little less anxiety and a lot more hope.

"Let me hear in the morning of Your merciful love, for in You I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul." (Psalm 143:8)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Winter Blues

Is it summer yet?

Just kidding.  But not really.  I need summer in my life.

This was actually going to be another post about how much I hate winter and how the first few weeks of every year leave me depressed and full of self-doubt and whatnot.  And then I was like, OR. . .

I could write about HAPPY things.  Like, what exactly, despite the horrific blanket of cold grayness that covers us here in Ohio during 97% of the winter

Is it 9 am or 3 pm?  Who can tell?  It's all the same sort of blah.
#DREARYANDDEPRESSING
I am actually excited about this year.  So here we go.  I have made a list of five of my favorite ways to ignore the winter blues this year without resorting to hibernation under an electric blanket with lots of delicious food and feel good movies about people who live at the beach because while that all sounds wonderful, it's not even remotely healthy. . . or possible:

1)  Love & Sunshine
A photo book by me in which I took advantage of a FREE Shutterfly photobook coupon by smothering the pages with my own photos of brighter, warmer days and happy moments of grace that I captured last year.  It's a good reminder that winter is only a season, and that spring will come again and be AWESOME.


Mmmm....I love sunshine.

2)  La La Land
It is romantic and beautiful and absolutely one of the best movies (if not THE best) I've ever seen.  It's like a dream with incredible detail and fun singing and dancing.  I left the theater in such a dreamy state that I hummed and danced my way through the street to our parked car, and Nick was in such a dreamy state that I could tell he almost considered joining me.  I've been listening to the soundtrack constantly and reliving the beauty, which has proven to be a fabulous way to rise above the winter blues!  "Here's to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem..."
For the record, this is the FIRST screenshot I have ever taken on my phone. I'm quite proud of myself.  Watch out world. I can do technology now.

3)  My Best Friend's Wedding
Not the movie, but the actual event of the wedding of one of my best friends ever who is getting married in St. Louis in February!  We've been making plans and gearing up to celebrate and reconnect with old friends for a week-long getaway from work in the middle of the winter.  Just having something to look forward to helps brighten the days (even though, I'm sure I'll be dealing with post-wedding blues when it's all over, but that will be for another post!). ;)

4)  My new Curly Girl Planner!
If you haven't heard of Curly Girl Design (Leigh Standley), I highly recommend you check her out!  I have been obsessed with her work for years.  Her greeting cards are adorable and I simply love all of her designs!  I was just saying the other day how I wish I could have a book with all of her designs in it.  The NEXT DAY I came across this planner on clearance which is chock full of her adorably inspirational designs and quotes.  Hopefully it will make this year of adulting (which will include my transition from my twenties to my thirties *gulp*) a little more colorful!

Too. Cute.


5)  Reading the Bible daily
I wanted to read the whole Bible this year and to really understand it better, so I've been reading it every day.  Reading the Word of God has filled me with a subtle but real sense of hope, peace, and comfort, and plenty of questions!  I dug out my old notes from my college Bible study classes to help gain clarity on some things.  It has also made me curious to learn more about Judaism and Islam, and to see how our roots are all connected, so I plan to do some more reading on those religions as well.  #themoreyouknow

*To make sure I get through the Bible in a year in a manageable way, I downloaded a free app that breaks it down into easy-to-digest daily readings.  The app also offers cheesy little videos with overviews and insights to supplement each book or major section.  There are probably better apps out there, but this is the one I happened to pick--let me know if you've found a different one that you really like!  ALSO, while the app displays the readings on your phone for you, I choose to read from my actual Bible, mostly because I prefer the feeling of actual books, especially THE BOOK.  But when I finish reading from my Bible, I click the check mark on the app so it keeps track of my progress for me.

Anyway, that's how I'm managing the winter blues this year, because I don't want to let seasonal depression and self-doubt and stressing out about adult things take away from the simple joys of every day life.

Here's to the new year!
  


Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Fall

This fall has been the most beautiful I can ever remember experiencing.  The warmer temperatures and glorious sunshine that lingered allowed the leaves to ripen ever so slowly, drawing out their true colors in a spectacular show of God's palette.

Treetops stand out like flames blazing over rooftops, 

     

fireworks suspended in the branches,

 

glowing yellow dappled lights that work as the sunshine's minions even on the darkest, cloudiest days.




The extraordinary beauty of it all may be a result of weather patterns, or maybe I'm just more aware.  I am at a place of serenity, where God has given me the grace to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change (or at least attempt to change) the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  

This season has been a serene one here in small-town Ohio.  At least, as far as the beauty of creation goes.  The world is tumultuous, our country is divided, and we as a race of humans are slowly coming to grips with the ramifications of our distracted half-living. But I have hope.

Because in the mornings I see the way the sun glows rising



and spreads its light through the trees to shower the earth.



And in the afternoons when I take walks and stop a thousand times to try and capture the way the light spreads through the leaves like fire 



and my phone's camera fails to do God's creation justice, I smile, knowing that all our man-made technology will never be enough to inspire and foster hope, goodness, love, mercy.  For that, we need something, Someone greater.

Because of that, I find myself more often on my knees giving thanks and seeking mercy.  On election day, I consecrated myself to Divine Mercy, because God is BIGGER and BETTER than this mess we have created for ourselves.  

I joke that I'm an eternal optimist--95% of the time.  But I am eternally optimistic, that is, optimistic about eternity.  No matter the messes we make for ourselves or the struggles we experience in dealing with other people or with our health or with the demons in our own minds, we have hope.  

I believe in our redemption through Christ and the cross, and I believe in the hope that rises with His resurrection, and I believe in the grace of His Divine Mercy which He offers any time we ask for it.

I pray that in this time of turmoil and change, as fall fades to winter and our country transitions to the next phase and the world continues to turn, that we all find the serenity and peace of mind needed to carry on hopefully.