New Year, New Soundtrack

Monday, December 31, 2018

Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

Well, just like that, another 365 days have come and gone. And honestly, 2018 was a challenging year for me. These nine ditties are the ones guiding me into the new year with hope, love, and courage. I pray they will do the same for you! A link to the full playlist on Spotify is available at the bottom of this post. 

"Open Up Let the Light In" by Steffany Gretzinger

The six words in the title of this song also happen to be its only lyrics, sung meditatively in repetition. It's a beautiful call to action at the beginning of a new year, inviting me to cast out whatever darkness is lingering from 2018, and open myself up to God's love and light ahead.

"Fear" by Ben Rector

I learned to dance with the fear that I'd been running from.

I've been trying to mature in my relationship to fear for some time now, wondering if it's really possible to ever be fearless, or even (more realistically) face my fear and do the dang thing anyway. I'm learning that courage without vulnerability is just bluster, and that, as Brené Brown says, "Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do." I'm starting to realize that owning our stories looks like acknowledging the presence of fear -- even understanding that it likely won't disappear completely. And that's okay, because real courage simply requires learning to dance with fear, leading it in the dance, instead of letting it own me.

"Glorious" by Macklemore (feat. Skylar Grey)

I feel glorious, glorious -- got a chance to start again. I was born for this, born for this. It's who I am, how could I forget? I made it through the darkest part of the night, and now I see the sunrise. Now I feel glorious, glorious..."

This power jam, in addition to making me feel like rolling down my car windows and singing at the top of my lungs (which I would 0/10 not recommend in subzero Colorado wintertime temps, in case you were wondering), also speaks to the beauty of strength, resilience, and living your life's purpose. This year, get. it. done.

"Not Home Yet" by The Gray Havens

All of your days, if it's well understood, will be working together, forever, for good.

I discovered the Gray Havens about a month ago and have more or less been listening to their album, "She Waits," on repeat ever since. This song in particular resonates with my current season, though, because for one thing, it testifies to the power of changing direction and starting over new. The line I've quoted above also provides some reassurance to me in particular, who has wondered, more than I'd like to admit, if I've been wasting my life. If I should have "arrived" wherever I'm going by now. If the pain has a purpose. The promise that all of my days have been working together for my good is everything my heart needs to hear as I wrap up the year.

"Freedom" by Francesca Battistelli

Break open the doors; You made me for freedom.

Marching into 2019 with the solid sense that I am made for freedom -- not for anxiety, sadness, and fear -- gives me the courage to push through those struggles as they arise in the future.

"Flashlight" by Hunter Hayes

It's funny when I realize all the places that Your miracles can hide. 

I honestly feel as if this song was written for me. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about God is how He relentlessly pursues my heart, capturing it even when I'm ready to give up on Him, even when I'm doubting and confused and frightened. He is still there, always, shining His flashlight, illuminating things that somehow always lead me back to Him in praise and thanksgiving.

"Trip a Little Light Fantastic" by the cast of Mary Poppins Returns

So when life is getting scary, be your own illuminary, who can shine a light for all the world to see...

This playlist was pretty much done... and then I went to see Mary Poppins Returns with my mom and my sister when I was home for Christmas last week. And I knew I had to add the film's eleven o'clock number. Without risking too many spoilers, I'll share that this song is sung when things are looking pretty bleak for our protagonists. Not a problem, though, when they have a lamplighter for a friend, who can belt this out while literally lighting the city of London with all of his lamplighting friends. Not too obvious of a metaphor about how we should light up our own lives when we've stumbled upon hard times, though, right?


The time has come to make a choice, and I choose joy!

Honestly, I feel a little weird about adopting well-intended mantras like, "Choose joy!" Because sometimes, when I'm feeling sad, joy is the last thing I want to choose. Moping around in sweatpants and eating all of the chocolate sounds like a much better option. But I think the reluctance I feel comes from equating joy with simple happiness, and the two are quite different. Happiness is often a fleeting emotional state, caused by circumstance. Joy, on the other hand, is a way of life that comes from trusting that God is good, no matter what. Now, I'm not saying that happiness doesn't have its place, or that I've got the whole "trust in God" thing down pat. I frequently fight sadness and anxiety, and I want to get better at reminding myself, in those moments, of God's faithfulness -- so as to build a joy that lasts.

"Something Big" by Shawn Mendes

Something big, I feel it happening.

I'm not sure what 2019 will bring. But I am sure it will help me grow into myself even more. And that feels... well, pretty big, honestly.


Here's a link to the whole playlist -- hope you find these songs as empowering, encouraging, and energizing as I do! Happy New Year, all! 

Merry Christmas (We are Loved)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

I don’t always “get it,” Lord.
            But tonight, I did.
            Tonight, I got it when Fr. Joe spoke of the dual nature of gift-giving at the heart of our Christmas celebrations. Of Mary gifting our humanity to God by giving Jesus a physical body, and of God gifting Himself to humanity, so that they might share in His divine, blessed life:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life. (CCC 1)

            I don’t often permit myself the space to roam this mystery, to wander the halls of its significance, to feel the weight of its life-changing implications settling, soothing, over me like a sweet perfume.
            I do not have to exist.
            And yet.
            I do.
            And not as if by happenstance. God willed me to exist. He has always wanted me.
            In a plan of sheer goodness, I’m told.
            And He loves me so much that He wants me to return to Him, wants me to give my heart back to Him.
But He doesn’t force me. Quite the opposite.
He comes as a baby, meek and mild, so needy He who is so needed, dependent on others He upon whom we depend for the very breath in our lungs.
He came that we would know Him.
Born to die someday.
And still, years later, at the Last Supper with His disciples, He gave of Himself. Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
He does so still.
In the Eucharist at every Mass, He willingly mingles His divinity with our humanity, humbling Himself again and again, hundreds of thousands of times each day in parish churches around the world.
All for the sake of knowing us, of loving us.
In the words of Fr. Joe, it’s awesome.
And I cannot, will not, keep silent about this reality.
I want to sing it from the rooftops:
We are loved, we are loved, we are loved!

Merry Christmas, dear reader. I hope you feel loved and hopeful today.  

No Use Crying Over Spilled Tomato Soup.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Photo by Heather Schwartz on Unsplash

...Even when you spill it all over your beautiful Blessed Is She planner.

Because it was lying open on your coffee table and you just couldn't wait until after lunch to watch the 2017 finale of the Great British Baking Show on Netflix.

I'm embarrassed to admit how angry I got with myself for my over-confident bowl handing. I leapt up, grabbed a paper towel, began desperately rubbing the stains out of the pages, all the while saying many unkind things to myself.

"How could you do this, Sarah?!"

"Dangit, Sarah. You're such a spazz."

For the next seven months (I'll get a new planner in August), I'll have to write on pages rimmed with orange, all sad and waterlogged. And all because I'd forgotten Mom's cardinal rule to be extra careful not to spill red things. To keep superfluous items off of eating surfaces.

I could have kicked myself.

But then.

I remembered how my therapist has been speaking with me recently about self-compassion -- about learning to be kind to myself in those moments when I move automatically toward self-criticism.

Moments like, um, this one.

So I changed the way I was talking to myself.

"It's okay. You're only human, and sometimes humans spill things! Besides, you can still write in it. And, you know, you do write a lot of things in it, but you only spend a few minutes with it at a time. This isn't something that will ruin the rest of your life." I even tried to laugh at myself.

And it's not like it brought about an instant transformation. But I can't change the past. I can only change the way I speak to myself about a completely human mistake.

And -- I also thought of this: God wants to meet me in my mess, in a general sense. But usually I don't want Him there. So sometimes He has to force Himself in in a very literal way, I guess.

God wants to meet me in the ordinariness of my daily life, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to a Catholic planner in the first place. And what could be more ordinary than tomato soup splattered on its pages?

Long (melodramatic?) story short, I'll be okay.

I'll even try to smile when I open my planner every day for the next seven months.

Because God is still there, in all my mistakes and humanness. And He's there for you, too.

Be Still and Know.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Photo by Namroud Gorguis on Unsplash

From the ages of about two to four or five, I would listen to a cassette tape each night while falling asleep. Because I lacked the punning capabilities and wordsmithery I currently possess as a young adult, and because the tape was chock-full of songs my mom sang, I called it "Mommy's Music".

"Mommy's Music" featured many songs from the Catholic Mass -- a variety of what my family has affectionately termed in the years since, "Catholic Top 40." If you attend Mass regularly, you likely know the ones I mean:

Here I Am, Lord. Blest Are They. Canticle of the Sun. City of God.

Since well over twenty years have passed since those days, and since cassette tapes are more or less archaic by now, I have these songs in my iTunes library now. And there's one I find myself returning to every time I need a gentle reminder that I am loved.

It's called "By Name I Have Called You," by Carey Landry. The prelude, refrain, and the first verse go like this:

Be still, be still 
And know that I am your God.
Be still, be still
And know that I am with you.

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,
By name I have saved you.
Forever with you 
I will be.

Before you were born
I knew you.
Within your mother's womb
I formed you.
I appointed you to speak
in my Name.

I get chills thinking about how this reminder was sung over me every night as a small child: these words of the Lord, sung by my mother, a lullaby of my worth and belovedness and purpose, gently inscribed in my heart.

But these days, I've forgotten. Mistakes and secret shames and imperfections and other struggles have squirreled away into my heart, burrowing into the space God longs to inhabit, stopping Him at the door when He knocks. "Uh, God, are You sure You want to come in? I'm a mess."

I frequently find it hard to just... let Him love me. To let Him sing over me again. To listen as He calls to me still.  

Because still, I am called. Saved. Chosen. Precious. Known. 

And Beloved.

Be still, friend. Be still a while, here, with me. 

Be still and know that the same is true for you. 



You are so loved, dear reader. Remember that today.

Thanks Giving

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

I'm not sure how this happened... but suddenly Thanksgiving is in a week!

I'm sure you've noticed. The commercials and storefronts and grocery store deals on turkey and stuffing are all dead giveaways. :)

I'm sure you've also noticed that in celebrating this particular holiday, and during the month of November as a whole, the emphasis is always placed on that first word -- thanks. We're always talking about being thankful for what we have. When we speak about giving, it's usually only in the context of giving thanks, i.e. sharing what it is we're grateful for.

Gratitude is a vital habit of the heart to cultivate.

But so is the habit of giving.

The deacon at my parish put it so well in his homily at Mass this past weekend. The Gospel was the story from Mark 12:41-44 about the widow who put everything she had, "worth a few cents," we're told, into the treasury. Jesus praises her for giving from her poverty rather than her surplus.

The deacon said that there are three types of givers:
  1. Grudge givers give because they have to.
  2. Duty givers give because they ought to.
  3. Thanks givers give because they want to.
If I'm honest, I'm usually a "grudge" or a "duty" giver. I give because someone else first gave to me and I feel like I owe them something. I give because I live comfortably and if I can afford to make some sacrifices for the sake of others, I feel like I should. I give because it's a requirement of the Christian life.

But more often than I'd like to admit, I don't give at all. I tell myself that on a graduate student budget, I don't have much of a surplus to give from.

But is that really all that Jesus asks for? My money?

I think we can interpret the widow's "poverty" in last Sunday's Gospel in a few ways. In a literal sense, she has limited financial resources. But what resources do I see myself lacking? Where can I give from my poverty? And where can I do so in joy?

The most resounding and all-encompassing answer for me involves time, that elusive resource we all seem to be running low on, constantly.

I don't have much. But I have fifteen minutes to be fully present with a student who is struggling, instead of working on my own projects.

I don't have much. But I have a half hour to call my grandpa, instead of indulging in a surplus of Netflix episodes.

I don't have much. But I have an hour to treat a friend to coffee and to receive her in her sorrow and joy.

I don't have much. But I can trade the surplus of time I spend surfing the internet in the morning and offer it to God in prayer instead.

...And, when the opportunity calls, I can even spend the $25 I was going to put toward a new t-shirt on donating to a charity instead. Even a graduate student budget can afford to do that. :)

Here's to giving, more often, from our poverty. Here's to giving, more often, from thankful, joyful hearts.

Here's to giving thanks.

And to thanks giving.

Learning to be Little.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Photo by Mecedes Kallo on Unsplash

You'd think that someone who tops out at all of five feet and two inches would have a pretty decent handle on being little.

Alas, I am only just beginning to learn what littleness entails.

I find that I can sometimes be a bit Hermione Granger-y about the spiritual life. I immerse myself in spiritual reading by renowned saints, listen to a lot of Catholic Podcasts, and spend an hour in Adoration every week. That last in particular has me envisioning God chuckling, as I bring a slew of different things to do during my weekly Holy Hour -- Bible, journal, Spotify worship playlist, devotional, spiritual reading, Rosary, papal encyclicals...

It's more than any reasonable person could seek to do in an hour, but, you know, I want to do it right. I want to pray the most deeply. I want that intimate union with God. I want to be awash in His grace.

...And so I need to be prepared with backup options in case the psalm I choose to meditate on that day falls flat, or maybe my favorite Audrey Assad jam isn't speaking to me the way it usually does (I actually don't, but persistence in prayer is a topic for another day).

The point is that I get caught up in trying so hard to be holy. Self-help junkie and perfectionist that I am, I try to get there on my own.

Instead of letting God work gently, quietly, slowly in me.

I think that maybe if I just learn enough about the faith, if I master all the steps... someday I'll be perfect.

My spiritual director, Sister Hope, shook her head and staved off a smile when I told her this last night. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no. That's not how it works."

No? I waited eagerly for her to tell me what the real secret was, then. 

"We forget that when we pray," she said, placing a hand over her heart, "God does the work."

It sounded so good, the way she said it. And I imagine it would be freeing to take some of that pressure off of myself -- to say to God, "Okay, Lord, I'll just promise to show up. You do the heavylifting!"

I know He wants to.

But then, what exactly does it mean to just "show up"?

Sister Hope had an answer for that, too, drawn from the wisdom of St. Thérèse and her little way:

"Just be who you are before the Father, in your littleness."

I've been mulling this over since our meeting last night, and here's a working set of guidelines I've assembled for "becoming little" and "being who I am before God" -- because old habits (and list-makers and step followers) die hard, apparently:

Be broken. Let God mend the cracks with His abundant mercy. 
Be bold.
Be honest.
Be unashamed. 
Practice humility, remembering in gratitude the God who freely created us out of His own generous, life-giving heart.
Trust that God is doing the hard work of building something better with every brick of your heavily-laden heart that you surrender to Him.

And then, finally, rest in His love for you -- right now, exactly as you are.

You are enough, and You are loved.

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.