Thoughts of a Restless, Desiring Heart.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

"In all my desirings, I was desiring you."

I've been sitting with this quote from St. Augustine this morning. Originally, I had planned on sharing the photo above on Instagram with some carefully articulated caption about having a pilgrim's heart and yearning for God in the midst of the day-to-day, even at the times when I'm not sure or even completely unaware that that's what I'm doing.  It would be perceived as thoughtful and wise, get a couple dozen likes, and I'd spend the rest of the day restlessly checking Instagram every ten minutes to see, not necessarily an honest measure of how many lives I'd really touched, but at least a solid indicator of how many people had taken a half second to double-tap my post while mindlessly scrolling through the other updates in their feeds.

Oof. Sometimes I'm struck by just how much I desire to be seen, known, and loved, even in the smallest of ways. And nothing brings that to the forefront of my consciousness quite like planning an Instagram post. In thinking of how I wanted to share St. Augustine's insight with my hundreds of followers, I had become the person who most needed to hear my own words.

So, to the blog I went, thinking of all of the things I am desiring at this moment in time: a successful career doing what I love, a romantic relationship, more money, awards, accolades... basically, all of those things which, if I had them, would (I'm convinced) finally persuade me I'm enough. That I'm seen, known, and loved. That I matter in this world. 

The thing is, I'm already seen, known, and loved, by the God who knew me from all eternity. The earthly things which I desire, which propel so many of the decisions I make and drive the deepest longings of my heart, are decidedly human ways of seeking Him whom I was made for, in what feels most accessible to me on this worldly plane.

That's not always a bad thing! There is so much goodness in this world, and I believe God delights in us noticing it; he put all that goodness here for our benefit, after all! And the things we perceive as good and worthy of love are only so because they reflect something of His goodness and beauty and love.

And that deepest longing of my heart -- to be seen, known, and loved -- is there because God Himself wants to fill it. But not, ultimately, in any of the ways I restlessly search for it.

And so I am always, always -- at the root of all else -- simply searching for God. As Pope St. John Paul II famously said in one of his World Youth Day audiences:

It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; 
He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; 
He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; 
it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; 
it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; 
it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.

The truth is, I do very much have a pilgrim's heart. And while I wait to be reunited with God someday, I am committed to picking up the breadcrumbs of His presence that He drops everywhere I look. I am committed to contemplating my desires and what they have to teach me about how I'm desiring God in each new moment, most of all. 

Wild Miracle, Beautiful Life.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Photo by Brett Ritchie on Unsplash

Today, I am 26.

I spent a few hours this morning and early in the afternoon at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science with my older sister Lizzy. (Side note: by 1pm, I really needed a nap because that is my unabashed reality as a true grown-up now. Another side note: prior to our museum trip, we completed the Hot Chocolate 5k on the promise of copious amounts of chocolate at the finish, because my inner child is still very much alive.)

Anyway, to the point...

The Museum has an impressive prehistoric exhibit, where I learned (or maybe, was reminded?) that Earth is in fact some 4 1/2 BILLION years old. And, if I'm correctly remembering the scales used, humans have existed for the equivalent of something like the last four days in December on a 12-month calendar, or the last fifteen minutes of a 24-hour day.

Whoa. How's that for putting my birthday -- my little and blessed lifetime -- in perspective?

It gets even crazier when I think about it this way:

Today I celebrate 26 years on planet Earth. 26 years of learning to love others, learning to love the world, and letting other people love me...

...And today I also celebrate an eternity of having existed in the mind of God.

Because in all those 4 1/2 billion other years (and before then, even, because God is outside of time and has always been and always will be and just because the earth wasn't around until 4 1/2 billion years ago doesn't mean other planets and celestial bodies weren't)?

God knew me still. He chose me. And He was waiting, deliberately, to send me into this time and place in history, planning to give me to my family and friends and all of the other lives I interact with daily.

This truth leaves me truly breathless in wonder, awe, and gratitude when I let it fill my consciousness and spirit.

It is a humbling reality, that each of us could be individually wanted in this way.

But we are. I am. You are.

Thanks for giving me the greatest gift I could have asked for, God, today and every day.

My Words for Year 26

Friday, October 5, 2018

Photo by Lorene Farrugia on Unsplash

I’ve noticed it’s a common practice among bloggers and podcasters these days to select a single word to focus on at the start of the new year, or at the beginning of a new season of life. I’m guessing it’s easier to think about focusing on a single word rather than a laundry list of to-do’s, though for the indecisive among us (hi), there’s a lot of pressure associated with picking the right one. I want to be so many things, I think to myself. Where do I start?

With my 26th birthday approaching this Sunday, I’ve been praying a lot recently about the word I should build my life around this year. I’ve often seen fellow Catholic bloggers write about how God just “speaks” to them in prayer, laying such distinct and surprising thoughts on their hearts that they know they can’t have sprouted from within themselves. So I’ve been meditating with this question in Adoration in recent weeks, hoping that God might take the initiative and plant a definitive guidepost for these next twelve months in my soul.

But of course, God doesn’t work that way. I know this. As someone who’s taken a few professional detours on her way to building a career that she’s passionate about, and a graduate student who still, in some sense, feels she is waiting for her life to begin (cue the Tangled soundtrack), I know that God doesn’t tell me what to do.

It’s rather annoying at times, to say the very least.

Which brings me back to my recent prayer, and my thoughts about everything that’s coming up in the next year -- everything I need this one word to support for me.

I think I’ve got my life more or less figured out in the short-term: Graduate from my MA program in literature. Start school for my PhD next fall. Or teach English at the high school or middle school level in the Catholic Diocese of Denver.

I have a plan, though it’s spiced with uncertainty. Will I be admitted to PhD programs? If so, how do I pick? Will I be accepted to the one I most want to be in? How exactly do I apply for jobs in the Diocese? What if they’re not hiring English teachers, or the timing is not right for some other reason?

And of course, that doesn’t include the most terrifying question of all:

What if none of my plans work out?

I find that sometimes I approach my conversations with the Lord as I do most others: I plan out what I am going to say before the other finishes speaking. See, I have these hopes and dreams for my life, and although the Lord encourages me to bring these to Him, and it’s a practice in holiness, I believe, to place these in His care, I have to work on letting go just a little bit. I have to work on letting Him speak, and on taking the time to thoughtfully respond.

On listening to the nudges that will carry me through, or lead me down a different path than what I have in mind.

On developing sensitivity to the inner movements of my soul, the quiet spaces where God speaks loudest.

And then surrendering, day by day, with trust and confidence, just a bit more of myself to His will.

I realize this is a tall order. Idealistic, you might say. And it makes me uncomfortable, because it doesn’t come with quantifiable methods of ensuring my success. In fact, “listen and surrender” sounds like exactly the same sort of vague resolution most would frown upon, because, without any exterior metrics for improvement, it seems the sort of thing one would easily give up on.

I like instant gratification. I like chasing measurable perfection. And I am half afraid that if I focus on these two words -- listen and surrender -- I’ll reach 27 wondering if I actually did either of those things.

I want to reach 27 having crossed lots of new things off my bucket list, having chased my dreams, being able to “take stock”, so to speak, of what I’ve done to grow more into “me”, and to become the person I’m created to be.

I hear God calling me to surrender that, too. He works slowly, and He doesn’t waste anything. And if I’m able to spend the next year growing closer to him -- listening and surrendering -- then I’ll get to 27 being who He wants me to be.



Bring it on, 26.

A Lesson from the Leaves

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Photo by Greg Shield on Unsplash

Call me #basic, but I really do love the season of fall.

It might have something to do with the fact that my birthday comes during fall. Or it might also be because fall begins the most hygge-licious time of year. And it miiight also be the fact that I enjoy a good pumpkin-spice-flavored treat as much as the next girl.

I will add that in Colorado, I really look forward to the way the leaves change color during fall each year. I'm from Las Vegas, Nevada, and I went to college in San Diego, California, where palm trees and "desert landscaping" are the norm. So fall foliage still really excites me. And my enthusiasm for it still decidedly pegs me as an out-of-towner, even three years into my life here. I just can't get enough of the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows that spring up all over the state once the weather starts to cool.

I was thinking about this today as I was picnicking with my sister at the YA YA Apple Orchard in Longmont. And suddenly, it struck me as very unusual that we should find so much beauty in leaves that are essentially, well... dying. That there can be something lovely in the decay of leaves no longer bursting with life-sustaining chlorophyll (for more info on the whole leaves-changing-color thing, because I'm certainly no scientist, see this helpful article).   

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples:

"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it." (Mk 8: 34-35).

The leaves know when they have to die to themselves in order to becomes something else that is necessary for the beauty of God's design, for the bigger picture of the world at hand, for the cycle of life.

Do I?

The truth is, I'm still very much learning what sacrifice involves in my current state of life. What giving of myself wholly to God and to others -- putting my own wants and desires on the back burner -- looks like. And honestly, I'm not too good at it.

So today, I long to be just a little bit more like the leaves. I want to let go a little bit. To die to myself so I can live vibrantly in Christ.

And to trust that there is beauty -- and a life more colorful than I could ever imagine -- if I were to do that.

The Best Is Yet To Come

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

"Remember not the events of the past, 
the things of long ago consider not;
See, I am doing something new! 
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? 
In the wilderness I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers."
-- Isaiah 43: 18-19

Oh, hi, there.

It's been a while since I've last popped into the blogosphere.

Without sharing too many personal details, I'll just say I've been in a bit of a dry and desolate season of life this summer -- the kind where I've wondered if God is really up there, listening to and answering my prayers. I show up to prayer anyway, and I keep crying out, but it's been hard to feel God's presence and hear His promises in the midst of my fear, worry, and sadness.

I usually read the epigraph at the start of this post by its last two lines: "In the wilderness I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers." And I take it to mean that God will come to me in my heartbreak and renew my spirit, causing my life to flourish in new, unthinkable ways. I understand it to mean that He won't waste my despair, and that if I surrender it to Him, He will make something wildly beautiful and unimaginable out of it. And looking back at every other time in my life when I've felt similarly despondent, I can see how, yes, everything in fact has happened for a reason, and God has worked in mysterious and incredible ways.

That's a beautiful way to read this passage, and it certainly isn't wrong. And yet, whenever I stand in the wasteland once again, I find ways to convince myself that this is the time when He won't come through.

But here's what the study note for the above passage reads in my Bible (which is the St. Benedict Press NABRE, published in 2011, for all you curious types):

"God's new act of delivering Israel from the Babylonian captivity is presented as so great a marvel as to eclipse even the memory of the exodus from Egypt."

That's right: God's latest act of deliverance is even better than the best thing that has come before.

I can't see it right now, how God will bring my trials to fruition. But His promise is pretty clear: what He does next will be better than anything He has done before.

For you, too.

Keep on hoping.

The best is yet to come.

The Connective Tissue of Art

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Photo by Magnus Lindvall on Unsplash

Tonight, my friend Emily showed me the series of paintings she's been working on this summer -- all impressions of movement, reflection, shadow. A cloudy lavender sunset. The gentle play of rippling shadows on a stone wall, or amongst eager shoots of grass. Twinkling sunlight filtering through rustling leaves. She explained that the cornerstone for her series is a favorite quote from Mary Oliver: "My work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished."

"But, I don't know," she said, putting her phone back in her bag. "I still feel like I'm not doing anything important."

I get where she's coming from. Both creative types (Emily is getting her MFA in painting and I have my words), we've expressed a mutual fear that we're just not doing important work. Physicians? They do important work. People who work for nonprofits with noble mission statements? They're doing important work. My college friend who is volunteering with the Peace Corps? She's doing important work. Another college friend who is earning her Ph.D. in biochemistry and is (I feel certain) going to find the cure for cancer one day? She's doing important work.

So many people setting the world ablaze in ways that excite and inspire me. It's easy for me to affirm their work and question the value of creativity, which can feel self-indulgent and not as earth-shattering.

And yet, still reeling from the beauty of the works Emily shared with me and the profound implications of learning to stand still and view the world through new, ever-astonished eyes, I said, "You are doing something important. What you just showed me changed my heart. It changed the way I want to engage with the world. And that's pretty amazing."

She nodded. "I think all art is like that," she acknowledged, leaning back on her hands. "Connective tissue."

Let's just say it's been a while since I've taken my last science class, so I needed to refresh my memory on what, exactly, connective tissue is. The good news is that it's pretty self-explanatory: the first Google result that came up defined it as "tissue that connects, supports [and] binds... other tissues or organs..."

Tissue that connects, supports, and binds.

I'm thinking now of a line from the opening number at this year's Tony awards that has stuck with me since hearing it for the first time. In referring to all of the nominees who would walk home empty-handed -- and heck, everyone in theatre who never even garners that honor -- Josh Groban, Sara Bareilles, and ensemble members from each of this year's nominees for best musical sang, "If you make art at all, you're part of the cure."

We live in a world that is fractured in so many ways. And art -- in all of its manifestations -- helps bring us together. Whether it's the art of fine cuisine and a shared meal together; the art of a good conversation; the art of a quality piece of literature, poetry, film, music, theatre, or dance; the breathtaking visual art produced by a professional or the fingerpainting at the eager hands of a five-year-old... art is connective, supportive, binding.

So go make art today, friend. Take photos. Sing into your hairbrush. Dance along to your current favorite song. Learn calligraphy. Sketch the tree outside your window. Write a poem. Write a story. And please, for the sake of the original Artist, our loving Creator, whose work we share in every time we do something creative, don't worry about making it perfect.

Create. Share. Connect.

What Surrender Looks Like

Monday, June 4, 2018

Photo by Will Li on Unsplash

I've always thought that to surrender looks like letting go.

Like a balloon drifting quietly away into the atmosphere, surrender must involve a relinquishment of some kind.

And I've been on enough retreats, and sufficiently combed through Scripture, and heard enough about the lives of the Saints, to know that surrender also means a total abandonment of oneself to God.

In other words, surrender is an act of letting go.

But it's also a tenacious holding-on.

To surrender is to let go of what isn't important, and to cling to the One who is.

I've been thinking a lot about my future lately, because my first year of graduate school is over already, and in less than a year I'll either be a) navigating the job market again, or b) preparing to continue my studies if I decide to pursue my doctorate.

And I am trying to picture what it would look like if I surrendered both of these options to God. If I said, "Okay, Lord, here's what's on the table. These are the two things I see myself wanting. You know how indecisive I am, so why don't You just take it from here? Throw up roadblocks if you need to. Plant obvious signposts by the exits I'm supposed to take. Just get me wherever it is I'm supposed to go."

Of course, there are action steps I need to take to move in both of these directions. Network. Set up informational interviews. Research companies I'd like to work for and schools I'd like to teach at. Polish my resume and CV. Work on my writing sample. Solicit letters of recommendation from faculty members. Write that personal statement.

And honestly? I've been looking at this list recently and feeling paralyzed by overwhelm. It's just as tempting to stand back and say, again, "Okay, Lord, here's what's on the table. Why don't You just take over and do the thing?" But surrender that arises from a place of paralysis is not really surrender, either.

So what is surrender, exactly?

In Catholic tradition, one figure stands out as being the epitome of what it means to surrender: the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her she would conceive of the Holy Spirit and bear Jesus into the world, she had every reason to react with paralysis and fear. But she didn't. She surrendered to love, and said a bold "yes" to what was asked of her in the moment. And she continued to do so for the rest of her life.

Mary's surrender wasn't as much of a letting go as it was of a holding tightly to God's will for her life, and an eagerness to always do the next right loving thing.

On a seemingly different note (I promise it's related!), I love how excited kids get to share their artwork with other people. "Look at this!" they'll say, holding up an abstract fingerpaint masterpiece, or shaking glitter onto the floor from their latest project. I sometimes think of God this way, grabbing me by the hand and leading me through my days looking (to use one of my sister's favorite phrases of late) "pleased as peaches" to show me all of the good things -- all the works of art -- He's giving me right now. No waiting required. "Look at this! Now look at this! And this!"

But usually I am too caught up in what I want to see that I don't notice the blessings right in front of me, and the myriad opportunities to say "yes" to love again and again.  I'm usually too worried about the logistics of how it will all work out to realize that God will take care of it if I just keep showing up. To surrender, I'm slowly learning, is to let myself dig into the reality of where I am, of where God is finding me in this moment, and of how He is asking me to serve others and myself.

To surrender is to hold a little less tightly to my expectations for life. Instead, it asks that I hold a little more tightly each day to the outstretched hand God offers me, and follow wherever He leads.