Strength for the Journey

Sunday, November 27, 2016

I will be,
I will be,
I will be,
For the journey.
-       Michael John Poirier, “Strength for the Journey”

Hello there, reader.

How are you today? And I’m not asking in the casual way we use as a greeting, that way that really doesn’t require an answer. I mean, how are you really?

What’s weighing on your heart?

How can I serve you?

See, the task of pinning down my niche as a writer is a really difficult one, and I was hoping you could help me out. What do you need? Or rather, what do you need that I can give to you?

I want to give you hope. Encouragement. Inspiration. Support. Love. So far these are what I keep coming back to, but they’re not quite specific enough, are they? Who do I mean to encourage? And about what do I hope to encourage them?

I’ve been so hesitant to narrow and define my niche because I don’t want to turn anyone away if they’re immediately thinking, “That’s not me.” In recent months, I’ve begun regarding my writing as a ministry. And if ministry is service, then I want to serve… well, everyone! I want to write for everyone.

But I don’t know how to do that, because there are people with infinite experiences and struggles different from my own that I couldn’t speak to without feeling like a fraud. I don’t, for example, know what it’s like to be a mother or an athlete or a movie star or a musician. So I don’t write about those things, and instead I opt to “write what I know,” but still I feel, at only 24 years young, I can’t write about anything with the authority and wisdom born from experience.

But nonetheless, here’s what I do know:

I know a road paved with uncertainty, where trepidation and anxiety and fear of the future drip from the leaves over my head. I know straightaways that continue for miles and bends that come out of nowhere; I know streams to quench my thirst; I know rocky ascents and peaceful, flower-filled meadows, and God’s hand at my back, always. But mostly I know the relentless tug of wondering if I’m moving in the right direction, if I should have taken a different road. Would another path be easier than the one I’m on right now? And how do I learn to love the one God’s lighting for me, one bit at a time?

I hope that when I tell my stories, you see something of my journey in yours. Although the paths we walk are inherently different, they’re also the same – well-trodden with familiar fears and anxieties, missteps and stumbles, the generations who came before us, and those who walk beside us now to remind us we’re not alone. If you are looking for a companion as you walk your road, I want to be that for you.

I want to be your strength for the journey: the lifelong journey to understanding your self-worth, God’s infinite and unconditional love for you, your purpose, and the kind of intentional, love-filled life you yearn to live.

I will be,
I will be,
I will be,
For YOUR journey.
How can I be strength for your journey? What do you need today? Prayers, love, encouragement? Let me know in the comments below. :)

Replacing "I Can't" with "What If?"

Saturday, November 26, 2016

“I hope my future husband is good at cooking so I won’t ever have to worry about that on Thanksgiving.”

As soon as I said it, I was embarrassed, mostly because my sister was quick to challenge me: “Why can’t you learn to cook?”

It sounded accusatory, as though she assumed I was waiting for my future husband to “save” me from what I felt I couldn’t do. I’d meant it, though, in a way that just hoped he’d complement me. I don’t see myself as particularly proficient behind a stove, and I hoped his strengths would someday cover my weakness.

“You can do anything you want to do.”

I fought the urge to roll my eyes. Of course I know that; I'm the product of the generations before me who fought for women’s abilities to define their own futures, and the daughter of the ‘90s Disney princess revolution which urged us to dream big and dare. I spend idle moments with my iPhone searching for new inspirational quotes to use as my lock screen background, and I scribble new goals and dreams in my journal daily.

But still I know that even with the best of intentions, there are certain talents each of us inclines toward, and there’s a lot more resistance involved in pushing aggressively toward success in something we’re not naturally gifted in. That’s usually when we opt to leave that for someone else, and cultivate the things we really enjoy instead (as I did, for example, when I discovered my hand-eye coordination is seriously lacking and decided to pursue theatre rather than sports in my childhood).

But the thing about cooking is that I’ve never even really tried to learn how. My parents divorced when I was twelve, and though my mother has many talents, cooking is not her forte. She didn’t teach me, and I guess I’ve always considered the fact that I’ve never learned as proof positive that I can’t, because if I could, I would have done it already, and all these years of not having done it must mean it would be all the more difficult to try now… right?

It’s become a popular self-deprecating joke, a conversation starter even, when I speak with others about what we like to do: Oh you like to cook? That’s awesome. My cooking expertise usually starts and ends with grilled cheese and anything that comes out of a box. I can toss salads and dump ingredients in a crockpot. But real cooking? Like, turning-the-stove-on cooking? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

My sister’s comment the other day reminded me it’s time to reconsider this, not only because others seem to pity a twenty-something college graduate who still lives on a dorm room diet and who’s more than capable of teaching herself how to cook, but also because… well…

I’d put myself in a box, hadn’t I? And the discomfort I was feeling was the result of trying to cramp myself in a space too small for me.

We do this all the time, don’t we? Decide what we’re good at, who we are and are not, what we can and can’t do. We catastrophize "what if" (What if it all goes horribly wrong?) without ever giving ourselves the benefit of it – what if we’re actually really great at this thing we’ve never tried?

We think we’re being true to who we are, and there’s certainly something to be said for authenticity if it’s true. But how many times do we use “I can’t” as an excuse to not find out who we are in the first place… to keep hiding, to dull our sparkle, to stay shut inside our boxes when our potentials long to be unpacked?

What’s something you’ve always assumed you couldn’t do? This week, take one tiny step towards trying. Learn one recipe. Watch an instrument tutorial on YouTube. Write a poem that no one else will ever see.

Replace "I can't," with, "What if...?" and give yourself the benefit of believing you can.

Photo Credit: tsuacctnt Flickr via Compfight cc

Enough: Learning to Open My Clenched Fists

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I’ve written before about my struggles to realize I’m good enough, have enough, do enough. I’ve written on these topics so frequently that I might even say, “The struggle is real.” Which it is. The struggle for “enough” is real and relentless and exhausting. And it never ends, because whatever goals we set for ourselves now are the things we’ll see in the rearview mirror on the way to the next milestones we’ll seek.

What will happen, for example, once I reach 100 blog subscribers? I’ll want 200. Then 500. And someday, thousands. And tens of thousands. And so on and so forth. I will probably never feel satisfied if I pin my idea of success on such metrics, and I realize this is just one example of how we think we’ll be happy when we achieve something, but that happiness will always come with the next thing, never with where we are now, even when where we are and what we have are the things that were once out of reach.

You feel me?

I’m convinced, more and more, that “enough” is an illusion, and striving for it by worldly, external, competitive standards just leads to emptiness. But we’re conditioned from our days as students working for one A+ after another, to look to external validation as a means of measuring our worth. And I am afraid, as the Dutch priest Henri Nouwen prays, “…to open my clenched fists! Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to? Who will I be when I stand before [God] with empty hands?”

I am afraid to let go of the idea of earthly success, because 1) it’s so tantalizing, and 2) even when I try to rest my heart on love for, connection with, and service of other people – the really important things, we might say – I still often feel that I’m not doing that quite right, either.

I meet a friend for dinner but I’m not present to her, my mind on my to-do list while she’s pouring out her heart to me. The trash needs to be taken out, the dishwasher emptied, the floor vacuumed, but I leave that work for my sister (who also happens to be my roommate), because my list of things to do at the moment feels more important. My pride says I have to have the last word in every argument. I don’t volunteer as much as I should.

And that’s just the beginning of a number of things that add up to make me feel like I’m doing a less-than-satisfactory job at all that “important stuff”, too.

So, to echo Henri Nouwen’s question, “Who will I be?”

And to answer it: Who I will be, is who I have always been. Worthy. Enough. Loved.  Just as I am.

It seems suddenly silly to me that we spend our lives striving for a sense of worth that is actually our birthright as humans who were loved into existence. And it’s especially silly when I consider the fact that three years ago at this time, I attended a retreat at my university that affirmed my worth and identity as a member of the human community and a daughter of God – a retreat that essentially served to remind me that I am already enough, that I am already loved.

In the post-graduate hustle to find purpose and the shuffle to make a name for ourselves and accomplish big things, it's easy to forget we don’t need to do all that.

Instead, we can rest in God’s unconditional love and grace. That is what will always guarantee we're enough.

I don’t have many scripture verses memorized, but as a lifelong choir member and cantor at Mass, I do have a handy number of Catholic liturgical songs memorized. So I’m going to leave you tonight with three of my favorites to remind of your worth when you doubt:

“Do not be afraid; I am with you.
I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me,
I will bring you home.
I love you and you are mine.”
-       “You Are Mine,” David Haas

“You know my heart and its ways,
You who formed me before I was born,
In the secret of darkness,
Before I saw the sun,
In my mother’s womb.”
-       “You Are Near”, Dan Schutte

And this last one, my favorite, so good it makes me cry when the meaning really sinks in:

By name I have called you.
By name I have saved you.
By name, you are mine, you are precious to me.”
-       “By Name I Have Called You”, Richard Carney

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Sainthood: It's Not Just for Priests and Nuns

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Me, a saint?


I’m too flawed for that. Sainthood is for someone else. A priest or a nun, probably. The pope, definitely. Someone whose feathers never get ruffled, who floats on this serene prayer-cloud 24/7, hands folded, eyes closed, rosary beads clutched. Someone who serves the poor in third-world countries, who gets martyred at a young age.

Sainthood is for someone perfect.

And me? I’m so far from perfect. I’m so imperfect that to desire holiness seems at best unattainable and at worst hypocritical. I hold grudges. I get selfish and prideful and impatient and jealous and judgey. Sure, I can try to be a vaguely “good person”, but even that is a struggle sometimes. There’s something about the word “saint” that just makes me feel like I’m taking it too far, like I’m showing up to a party I wasn’t invited to, with all my brazen sinfulness in tow.

Only… I was invited to the party. At Baptism. And the incredible thing about the invitation issued to me then is that it didn’t come with a dress code, or the request to bring something to add to the potluck. It only asked for me, and my open heart.

And so it occurs to me that a holy life, a saintly life, is less about achieving spiritual perfection or unblemished piety (because let’s face it, those things are impossible anyway), and more about something far, far simpler:

Showing up.

It’s about us, showing up with a desire to lead a holy life, and believing that God can work wonders with that honest intention.

And secondly, it’s about letting God show up for us. It’s about letting Him in to all of our small, ordinary moments, both joyful and sorrowful, trying and triumphant, mundane and magical. It’s about asking God to be present in our words when we speak, our minds when we think, our hearts when we struggle to love. It’s about offering up individual moments as sacrifices and asking God to transform them – and us – with the gift of His grace.

And to do that, God doesn’t need our perfection.

He only needs our “yes.”

Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) Flickr via Compfight cc